Tibetan Buddhist Mantras

•December 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The term mantra is a Sanskrit word, which probably means protect (tra) the mind (man).

A Mantra, (which I culled from various definitions on the web) is a sacred sound, syllable, word or verse that is considered capable of “creating transformation” in the spiritual sense.  It is comparable to a prayer or incantation in other religions. The use of mantras originated in the Vedic period of India, and spread to countries such as China and Japan. A few other religions, including Hinduism, Sikhism, and Jainism also make use of mantras.

Mantras are especially practiced in Tibetan Buddhism where they are associated with particular deities and are repeatedly used as part of their meditation.

So this week, I would like to introduce my dear friend, Dechen Shak-Dagsay as my guest blogger.  A bit of background from her website: http://www.dechen-shak.com/biography.html

Dechen is a Tibetan who has spent most of her life in Switzerland. “When her father Dagsay Rinpoche wrote his book “Practice of Tibetan Meditation” he suggested that Dechen should sing the Mantras that he was explaining in his book. These Mantras were captured on her Debut Album “Dewa Che, Universal Healing Power of Tibetan Mantras” and surprised everybody with its great success.

Her second album “Shi De, A call for World peace” followed in 2002 and at the end of 2004 her third album “Dcham Sem, inner peace through the Power of Compassion” was released. The fourth album (2007) called “Tara Devi, Inner Journey toward ultimate Happiness” was awarded “Best Devotional album” by the Tibetan Community and that same year, her debut album “Dewa Che” was given Gold Status for Switzerland.  In 2009, an album with American singer Tina Turner called “Beyond” and featured with Regula Curti and this year saw the release of “Jewel”.

I asked Dechen what it meant for her to sing these ancient Tibetan Mantras.  Here is her response:

Dear Latana,

It is an honor for me to write this blog on your page. Although we don’t see each other so often you have become very special to me. We both have our social projects that bring us so much fulfillment and both of us are gifted with a talent that allows us to reach out to the people. You do it with your amazing Photography and Art; I do it with my voice.

Singing the ancient Tibetan Mantras for the modern hectic world has become my calling. On my newest album “JEWEL” my producer Helge van Dyk and myself created a unique sound to enhance the beauty of the Mantras. People call the music on “JEWEL,” totally enchanting, powerful and pure. They also find it beautifully arranged.

We have really succeeded in creating a catchy sound that touches people’s heart at the deepest level. To me chanting or singing these mantras means so much as it has an enormous power to bring peace into my mind.

We believe that the chanting of a Mantra unfolds a special blessing, that can protect your mind and body from negative energies. What makes them so precious is the fact, that the mantras are said to protect every being regardless whether you are a Buddhist or not.  A Mantra does not discriminate. It unfolds it’s special power to everybody.

With my kindest wishes,

Dechen Shak-Dagsay


Addiction and the Young

•December 6, 2010 • 1 Comment

Teens and young adults are at a critical age that is quite confusing and challenging.  Although many adolescents, while transitioning from child to adult, are quite resilient and have a good support system with family and friends and can balance their teen angst with various successes…there are others who question their identity and how they fit in as they start to assert their independence.

Some of the young adults that I interviewed for my book “Barely Exposed” felt that they were in a constant state of limbo.

Jason states:  “I feel lost in the world I live in.  I hang around people who do drugs and have no ambition in life…”

This natural transition in life, child to adult, can bring conflicting sentiments of low self-esteem and feelings of unworthiness.  Add to that parental conflicts, stress at school and just simply the pressure of growing up can lead the most vulnerable to fall into a destructive pattern of alcohol and or substance abuse.   Very often they might start with casual drug use and continue experimenting because of peer pressure and just having “fun” not realizing that the biggest consequence of recreational drugs can be true addiction.

If you are a parent or a friend of a young adult who has a substance abuse problem, talk to them and encourage them to get help.   The sooner you or someone you love gets help, the more likely they are to achieve successful recovery.

However, what if… they continue to do drugs and refuse help?  On the EHF website: “Addiction Recovery-How to Help a Loved One” you will find steps to help a family member with alcohol or substance abuse.

Nature Of Addiction:

The nature of addiction is a lie that addicts tell themselves, that a drug or drink or other substance or action will fill the void in them and make them feel whole, if only temporarily.

Don’t Believe A Word An Addict Says:

Believe what they do, not what they say.  If they voluntarily quit and check themselves into a program, have hope.  When you insist on seeing solid proof, you’re helping your loved one understand what it’s going to take.

Set Solid Boundaries:

This is where your help is needed most.  By setting solid boundaries and being inflexible to their pressure, you show your addicted loved one how important it is to live within those boundaries.  If your loved one isn’t staying with you but asks for help every now and then, the boundary has to be the same…quitting.  It isn’t love to give a child everything it wants…it’s abuse.

To Help Them Don’t Help Them:

We’ve heard from many family members who felt they weren’t contributing to their loved one’s addiction…just helping them survive.  As painful as it is, if you have a loved one so addicted to drugs or alcohol that they need your help for food, clothes or housing, the worst thing you can do is give those things to them.  It makes it easier for them do be an addict.

Don’t You Become Addicted:

When trying to help someone recover from addiction, many become addicted to being needed by the addict.  Codependency is as serious an addiction as any drug. True love is expressed by doing and saying, not what your loved ones want, but what they need…even if it means losing their love.

Geshe and the Phukthar Monastery

•November 24, 2010 • 1 Comment


I cannot believe that 7 years have passed since “The Phukthar Monastery” was published.  That being said, then it must be 8 years since I found myself walking towards that extraordinary edifice sitting precariously on the side of the mountain.  I will never forget the image of the young monks running towards me dressed in their red and saffron robes, hats askew, with little ones trailing behind.  I almost felt that they dressed up because they knew that visitors were coming. Obviously not the case since there was no possible communication between the monastery and the helicopter and the pilot had only been there once before.

It was only on close inspection that you could see the holes in the clothing, the hand me down shoes that were too big for small feet and the not so warm layers that covered their little bodies.  The runny noses were everywhere and the hacking coughs stayed with me throughout my visit.

Early on, I was very lucky to have found the lama who would help me buy, transport and deliver the necessities to the monastery.  His name is Geshe Ngawang Tenzin.

In June when the snow has melted and the passes in the Himalayas are open, he travels by bus, walks miles with the horsemen and horses packed with goods through precarious routes and finally delivers to the monastery… only to return back to Manali before winter begins.

Since March of 2005 to the present, I can happily say that the sale of my book and the few events that I was able to muster have helped dress, shod, feed and medicate about 170 inhabitants of the monastery.  Apart from the clothing, dried food and Tibetan medicines, they now have a solar panel for electricity and new pots and pans for their kitchen.

One year, Geshe participated in the teachings of His Holiness in Dharmasala, India.  Realizing how lucky he was, he asked me if it would be possible to put money towards a monitor so that the monks at the monastery could see His Holiness and hear his teachings on DVD?  (I love the photos of Geshe trying to work the equipment while they all wait patiently).

At the end of every year, I receive a letter with receipts and photographs of what has been bought and how much has been spent.  (Check out the blogs and photos on the Phukthar Monastery Website)

And so this Thanksgiving…I am so grateful for all the support that many of you have given me by buying my books and so thankful that I can continue to…Pay it Forward.

For more information or to Pay it Forward, visit www.phukthar.com and check out the video of Phukthar Monastery.

Travels and Color

•November 17, 2010 • 1 Comment

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I am probably a frustrated painter.   In the early 80’s, before the advent of the snap and shoot digital cameras that can now metamorphose a portrait into a cartoon character, I reverted to the old art of hand coloring photographs. It was about this time that I started seriously traveling and decided to alter my travel images and transform them into large-scale painted canvases. I was mainly photographing in black and white and for some reason, kodachrome and fujichrome slides were just too bright and colorful for my images at that time. I loved adding muted colors to portraits or just a bit of color in some areas and leave other areas black, white or gray.  Obviously, I am not a purist.

I graduated from Marshall’s transparent colors on 8×10 to large tubes of Winsor & Newton oil paints that were applied to giant enlargements on photographic paper.

My first exhibition with the hand painted images was called New York Nights, Paris by Day.  It was held at the Musee de St. Paul de Vence in France.

I look back at the way one worked then to how quickly we have advanced with computer software.   Now we can scan an image and transform, paint, restore, etc. etc. and with a few clicks on the mouse or a few buttons on the camera…you can have an image that took me weeks to perfect be completely finished in a few hours.  The result is that now hand coloring is done by everyone and not very special but in retrospect, I can still remember the joy it brought me to bring my images to life.


•November 9, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Fallen Angel

Recently, a close friend, a mother like me was discussing the spate of young suicides resulting from bullying. It is always heartbreaking when the young pass for any reason but is even more confounding and sad when it is a life that is taken by one’s own young hand. How does life become so terrible that to sleep forever becomes more attractive than waking up to a beautiful sunny day full of promise and surprise? The obvious answer, for some, is that life has become so fragile that there is not enough strength to fight the inner or outer demons that exist. And so…to end the torment of the tormentor or to end the torment of those inner voices…the long sleep becomes the only option.

Many of us, while young, have thought of suicide as an option but most of us through time manage to override those feelings of helplessness with various support systems or simply with our own strength. However, not all of us have those capabilities or resources.

I am certainly not an expert on this subject. I only caught a glimpse of how young people feel while preparing my book, “Barely Exposed”. 60 young adults is a small sampling and certainly not an in depth study but from some of the responses to my question, “how do you see your world?”, I sensed that underlying feeling of unease and fear of what the future holds for them in this world of economic upheaval, war and terrorism. My subjects were from different countries and varying social and educational levels. My choice was random. There is a quote that I find appropriate and I don’t remember who said it but it goes like this, “Show me a man and I will know men, show me a child and I will know children, show me mankind and I will know humanity.”

“How do you see your world?” Two Korean brothers answered, “The world goes around without us.” Jason “feels lost in the world he lives in.” Maja says, “The fact that I will soon be alone in an enormous, unknown world is scary.” Hagar from Egypt, “We teenagers are at a very critical age. Adults will have to understand us…in order not to lose us.” We as parents and as a society must have a continuing dialogue with these young people and a commitment in the belief that they have unique perspectives and their insights warrant our attention and very often…their cries for help.

Check out this link: How to prevent young suicides: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=6353321n

Favorite Photography Technique with Photos

•November 1, 2010 • 2 Comments

To date, I am most proud of my book “Fragments” – the Abandoned Villa Series.

It was painstaking work and took me two years to complete. I remember photographing each space as I walked through the rooms of this abandoned villa in Tuscany.  I did not focus on one area but allowed my mind’s eye to take it all in…almost like watching or directing a film.

Once I was back in the darkroom (it was all done on Ilford XP1 film) I made a sketch of the image and placed it under the enlarger to see what “fragment” of the image would appear.  I then painted definite brush strokes with silver emulsion on different fine art papers and then went through the various photographic processes to completion.

At times I came up with the exact area that I hoped for and at times I had a happy surprise and it was better than expected.  However, if it was not what I wanted, I had to repeat the procedure over and over.  Although now, I could probably do something similar with Photoshop or some other software in much less time, I do not think that I would have the quality and depth of the brush strokes that I have in the original.

With “Fragments,” I was able to fuse photography and, drawing and painting, and come up with a unique and conceptual art piece.

You can view the result on my website:  latanastudio.com.  And look under the “Fragments” portfolio.

Barely Exposed

•October 27, 2010 • 1 Comment

The inspiration for “Barely Exposed” came about because my son was soon approaching the passage from adolescence to adulthood.  As a mother, I wanted to seize that moment in his life before he became an adult and hold on to that half child, half man.  This idea became the inspiration for my book, “Barely Exposed”.   A book of images of 60 young adults between the ages of 17 to 21.   In the dictionary,

21 is the “ age when one becomes qualified to assume certain civil and personal rights and responsibilities”.  In other words when we, as parents give up complete control of our children.

What passes through the minds of these young soon to be adults??  What are their hopes, fears and dreams?  How do they envision the 21st century?  “a world connected by technology but fractured by war, opened up by the possibilities of boundary crossing and endangered by pending environmental calamity. A world that was created-and could be destroyed-by people working with and against nature, each other and themselves.”

The definition of “barely” is scantily or scarcely.  The definition of “exposed” is to reveal or make known.  The title “Barely Exposed” relates to “The bodies of these young men and women-like their hearts and minds-are open and closed…”  they are a mystery to themselves and stay a mystery to us.  This book becomes a mirror image of humanity.  Some of these young people will go forward, be successful and fit into society.  Others will be failures or too fragile to face their problems and as happens much too often, decide to end their young lives.

%d bloggers like this: