A Himalayan Griffin Vulture, the second largest of the Old World Vultures, showing off it's fake eyes.
Learning Good Head and Shoulders from the Great Bird
The Tibetans are very big on Good Head and Shoulders. It is the most important attribute and gift of the warrior. Trungpa Rinpoche defined Good Head and Shoulders as the head not being in conflict with the shoulders.
It is connected with the lha or heaven principle. This is represented by non aggression, blessings pouring down, gentleness, appreciation, sensitivity, sense of smell or extrasensory knowledge, goodness, kindness of the great beings who have come before, surrender, giving out that goodness that one has received, devotion, compassion, gratitude, homage to the source, etc.
The tibetans are very big on the Vulture. If you want to understand good head and shoulders or the more subtle aspects of meditation, particularly as it relates to posture, study the vulture. There are many, many references to this point in the sublime texts, the most subtle pointing out type instructions. Mostly they leave it up to you to figure it out but perhaps I can point out some further hints. This is particularly true in Shambhala but in Nyingma and Kagyu also.
I had the fortunate circumstance on one occasion to spend a somewhat dharmic weekend with a flock of vultures and I was able to observe them closely.
My father came into possession of a large house on Lake Brownwood, as a property intended for sale for cash. We had access to the place for about a year. My friend and I spent a weekend there offseason. The house had been vacant, especially during the winters, as was the house next door. This house could comfortably house 25 hunters or other such vacationers, boaters, fishermen or whatnot.
I think the flock of vultures had pretty much had the run of the place for years. They roosted on the roof of the house next door and we could observe them easily from 120 feet or so. They are huge, massive birds. I would guess 30 pounds and roosting maybe 5 feet tall. They are totally immovable for hours upon hours. They have such presence. It is overwhelming. Inscrutability, I would say. This is something the tibetans value very highly. They don’t move all day.
One stunning thing about these birds is their fantastic head and shoulders. No one I have ever met except Chogyam Trungpa had such brilliant head and shoulders. Their shoulders are not tense. They slope down in such a manner that it is clear that there is no extra tension in the head, neck, or shoulders. You see this often in the greatest of athletes. You see this in F. M. Alexander. You see this in Sitting Bull.
One salient point about the vulture is the way they fly in the air. Mostly they soar on the wind currents. Much of the time they appear immobile while soaring through space. Their head and shoulders are fantastic there also.
In the texts, we are exhorted to expand our head and shoulders and emulate them. Drop our shoulders. Allow our necks to be long. These roosting vultures will blow your mind in both of these aspects. Their necks will beleaguer comprehension. Their shoulders will make one faint on the spot.
Vultures feed on carrion, which everybody else rejects. This is similar to the vajrayana approach of using the negative emotions (which everyone else rejects and avoids) as the quick path to the transmutation of these energies into wisdom.
There are other virtues, or vices turned into virtues, that these birds exhibit. In this way, they are similar to garudas. Garudas are important archtypes and mythical creatures in Tibetan Buddhism and Shambhala.
Garudas represent the dignity of inscrutability. They are difficult to fathom, they do not measure themselves in conventional ways, and their scope of thought and action is very vast. They encompass space which is as expansive as the sky and beyond measure.
They delight in playing with and feeding on poisonous snakes, again representing the negative emotions.
In conclusion, this good head and shoulders represents vastness of non thought and non action, including profound thought and vast, all encompassing actions.
There is a not doing anything that is a very important aspect of meditation, mindfulness, and post meditation experience which is very germane and might be a little difficult for Westerners to discover and appreciate.
A careful study of good head and shoulders, honing the tools necessary for such, a discovery of the vast treasure of ease and freedom available there, makes one able to come face to face with the great drala, the great bird, the vastness of the buddha mind.
The Garuda is pictured in red. Also pictured is the Tiger of meekness, the Snow Lion of perkiness, and the Dragon of inscrutability.