We are getting over a billion mantras into the Mahabodhi Stupa at LMB by using microfilm, in addition to many cartons and rolls of mantra printed on paper.
Obtaining the microfilm has become much easier recently because of the work of Tai Vautier and the FPMT Education Office. We can now order rolls of microfilm with exactly the mantras we need from a company called Linco Micro-Image Systems, in Clackamas, Oregon. Linco has set up a special website for this at www.buddhistmicrofilm.com .
Mandala Magazine published a story about Tai and the microfilm evolution earlier this year (by Donna Lynn Brown):
Getting as many mantras as possible on the film, while keeping them legible, was Tai’s aim. At first, using an old Ditto machine, she copied mantras from Lorne Ladner’s book, Wheel of Great Compassion: The Practice of the Prayer Wheel in Tibetan Buddhism, but shrinking made these illegible. She then got the original of one set of Lorne’s mantras, which had come from the office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This she scanned and edited in Photoshop. She managed to get an astonishing 880,000,000 manis onto a 2,000-foot (610-meter) roll of microfilm. But although the mantra remained readable, the master, due to the shape of the Tibetan letters, was too fragile to withstand the constant duplication needed to fill large orders. While this master is still available for small jobs, a sturdier one was needed. Tai worked long hours in Photoshop to thicken some parts of the Tibetan letters and spread others apart, in effect designing her own font in order to create mantras that were readable after reduction, and didn’t cause the film to weaken with heavy use.
Tai’s Photoshopped images turned out well, but the files had too much data to be sent digitally to a microfilm camera. They had to be printed. Even the best printers bleed when letters are that small. And no matter how smooth the paper was, its grain distorted the tiny letters. Tai persevered. She discovered she could send her images digitally to a machine that used a highly sensitive photomultiplier tube. With this, a page of miniature mantras could, like a photo, be developed and printed on completely smooth 11” x 14” (28 cm x 36 cm) paper. This was photographed and printed onto a 5/8” (16 mm) frame of microfilm. Each mantra, at this point, was no larger than the tip of a hair and visible only by microscope.
Just how small could they go? In her passion for numbers, Tai worried that she might be shrinking the mantras too much. She consulted Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Size didn’t matter, he said, as long as the mantras remained perfectly clear under magnification. To improve quality, she upsized the mantras slightly, going from “super high-density” to “high-density.” A 2,000-foot (610-meter) high-density roll of microfilm now holds 685,809,230 mani mantras. Over the years, she made a total of 18 such high-density masters for various mantras requested by different Dharma groups, each one taking months of painstaking labor to complete.