Bhutan Journal THE WORD | 35 YEARS AGO…

I supported myself teaching drawing, bookbinding and calligraphy — it was a way to add something to the cost of the college tuition and living expenses.

But what I explored, as usual, was the idea of writing — the translation of the mind — as being something magical, not merely the scribblings, but markings — descriptions — that take one form of content and move it to another. The concept of that demarcation having power is at the very fundamental apex of the origins and history of writing.

The traditions of writing and magic exist(ed), have presented themselves, in Africa, the Middle East, India, all of Asia. But it’s less about the concept, in more advanced forms of discussion, to magic — and more about the power of the deeper symbolism of sound and character that can be emblematic of much more profound senses of meaning — and marking them.

Devanigiri (sanskrit for God’s script), Sanskrit is the base spiritual language of the Himalayas. And Tibetan and Bhutanese scripts are variations on Sanskrit, created Uma and Uchen — 26 consonants from 52 in the original tongue — and these come from a mystical visions and studies. But Bhutanese, Jogyig, a script created by Denmang Tsemang, is something still further evolved. To hear the Bhutanese guide tell it, the origins of the script and the creation of 4 additional consonants, are wrapped in mystery and the mists of time; that the evolutions and learnings are derived from meditation and inspiration by the Tibetan priest who dreamt of speaking with a person bathed in white, that spoke in sounds that had no alphabetic characters. His name was Thoenmi Sambota, and is called the (7thc) master of Tibetan grammar.

Regardless of how they might be derived, where they are from, it’s a matter of thinking about the core concept — that script is a kind of divine filigree, holding some mystery, some hidden clue that lies beneath. Surely there is function to the reading of the gathering of the characters and the text. But there’s layering.

And that pattern, I find compelling. What lies beneath?

The seed monogram: wangchhugnamdhen. This composite (above) forms the basis for applications that you will see everywhere; it’s the emblem of the powerful seeds of the primal sounds at the beginning. Later, those become mantra. And song.

The idea of the word, the text, finding its way into multiple applications is subtle and not always readily observed or perceived — and I see this patterning as a kind of expression of psychic insertion and interplay. What I mean by that is not so much the idea of the psyche and some kind of phenomenalogical interpretation — ESP — but rather the holding place of psychic memory and containment of the moments of consciousness. And these symbols of language and what lies within each of these seeds, forms a powerful insertion into the mind that might be potently direct, or in other persons views, subtly intrusive.

See below, the colorful interlayers of text and decorative matter, of form and content that springs outwardly, supporting these massive overhangs, or ceiling details as the visitor — or the supplicant — is drawn into this world.

The altar of language, the drawing of the mind, the cauldron of memory.

Punakha Dzong | tsg