Finishing up the Printing Press

Two weeks had past since we decided to build up the printing press. To be honest, we thought at the beginning that although this task would take time, it would not be a difficult one. Now, it appears that we were too optimistic; the task was not only time-consuming, but also complicated. First of all, just as a 16th century work points out, the most important thing for producing a Buddhist book is the quality of the materials. Paper, ink, and decorative minerals for printing a Buddhist sacred text are all too expensive and hard to obtain. For example, different kinds of paper have different qualities that suit for different texts; the Mongol paper can be either smooth or coarse; Indian paper is generally soft, whereas Monpa paper is usually praised for its super softness. We spent about three days only to determine which kind of paper should be used for each book, not to mention that we need to write some most sacred texts, like the Lotus Sutra, in gold ink. Our ink provider, Sarah, complained about this, saying we could not afford for such a large quantity of gold ink. Furthermore, both the tools and craftsmanship should be of good quality as well. This somehow frightened our builder and crafter Reah; she feared that her construction skill might not be good enough to meet such a high standard. I encouraged her by telling her that building up the printing press used to be the most important event in Tibetan cultural and intellectual history, so our printing factory would likely to be the most significant achievement in our village; we should not be afraid of failure, we should at least try with courage.

Finally, when every member was happy to devote into the task, another fatal problem occurred — our resources were not enough. We were actually surprised by this, because we did careful calculations that if everyone donated the previously agreed amount of resources, the fund would be enough. After careful research on the account books, we found out that some monks and nuns in the local monastery, who agreed to donate at least 100 resources, did not make any donations at all. So, Leah, as the head teacher of the local monastery, and me departed to the monastery to find out why they did not donate. The reception monk told us that they regretted on their previous decision after they heard that we wanted to print some esoteric books on meditation. They argued that by printing these books, practical instructions would not be sought after, and people would come to know the instruction only by obtaining the text. They felt a kind of responsibility to guard the esoteric teachings, making sure that only the most faithful people could have a chance to learn them. By this, they also meant that only they had the ability to judge who could learn it, not the books; they would take disciples and transmitted the esoteric teachings orally. They also warned us that if we gave the reading permission to people who were not actually practicing, the Vajradhara himself would come and crack open our heads. So, according to them, printing books would not only destroy the esoteric teachings, but also destroy our own lives.

After hearing their explanations, Leah and me both laughed and responded to them by arguing that the production of books was a central aspect of the introduction of Buddhism to Tibet, without the publication of various Buddhist texts, Tibetan people would have no chance at all to learn them. In other words, what they had learnt, or what they now referred to as the esoteric teachings, came from India to Tibet via writing. It was said that paper and ink were among the necessary materials for the founding of the first monastic complex in central Tibet; without writing and publication of Buddhist teachings, the monastic where we now stood was impossible to exist. Moreover, printing Buddhist books would provide more people a chance to learn the Buddhist teachings; this made the very act of printing to be intrinsically meritorious. By reading the Buddhist books, people could also experience the moment of great transformation, and conversion experiences were often prompted by the faith produced through reading. It was therefore unreasonable for them to claim that such act would anger the Vajradhara. The monks and nuns could not counter-argue with us, so they finally gave us the 100 resources we desperately needed.

Although problems and difficulties occurred, we finally finished the task by today. The opening ritual and ceremony will be held soon, and we have invited all village members to witness one of the most significant events in the village. It is the end of November now; snow will soon cover the entire Himalayan area. I posted a letter to China after I returned from work, telling my master and wife that everything in the village was fine. Now, I should join the villagers outside to prepare for the New Year celebration.