The Wheel of Torsion

Torture Wheel High Resolution Stock Photography and Images - Alamy
Exercising your right to vote shouldn’t feel like this.

I’m one of many ex-pats, but ex-pats don’t vote very much. I wish they did. There’s millions out there who could. I’ve no idea if campaigns are reaching out to them. But I’m doing my part. Not by watching the debates, or cable “news” shows. I’m doing the weighty work of slogging through legalize.

I spent all my free time this week reading the 100+ page voter guide on California’s 12 different ballot propositions. It’s work that is tortuous, but needful if you want to make an informed decision and keep your democracy thriving. I also listened to Augustin Dumay while doing so to make it easier.

I have to review my sample ballot next, but that’s a simple affair. Not many races, all clear cut choices. The most hotly contested race here? It’s for school board. Yes, really. The only truly interesting on the sample ballot is the in-person voter locations. Since the whole state is VBM, there are limited in-person locations. Our county has 47, the majority in public-owned spaces.

File:The Nonpartisan Leader cover 1918-01-14.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Yep, this was 1918, during a pandemic. Fox “News” (Entertainment) cozying up to republicans, is nothing new. Neither is a plutocratic party trying to manipulate the working classes for its own benefit.

Some of those spaces are unique private spaces though 2 hotels, 3 American Legion/Moose lodges, 2 theaters (not cinemas), 1 art museum, 1 golf club. Seven are in churches (no mosques or temples) that have large halls. Then there’s the one at the Army National Guard Armory, uh…. ok, I can see that. But then, there’s…. wait for iiiiiiiiiiiit….. The Reagan Presidential library?

Not putting too fine a point on this but, law forbids electioneering within 100 ft of a polling place. You can’t go into a polling station if you have a partisan button, shirt, cap, etc on. I’ve been a poll worker. I’ve had to escort people out beyond the 100′ mark and ask them to remove their buttons before coming into the polling area.

A polling place at a presidential library is partisan. Having a literal, dead body on site included, makes this a partisan shrine. It’s big-time electioneering. I find this plan a level of nuts right up there with the only roundabout in town. It used to be a straight road, then they made it a flat roundabout — so the large fire trucks have to drive dead through the center of it to go into town. There are single family homes off to the one entrance. The opposite side was open fields. Was.

Going the rounds: New traffic circle gets mixed reviews | Thousand Oaks  Acorn
Yeah, this a bad traffic circle.

The geniuses in city planning decided to permit a large, large senior complex on the field. Not only are older drivers not trained to grasp the usage of the roundabout — which is “planned” as their only entry/exit — even the construction workers are having problems The roundabout is already covered in orange “Traffic conditions changed” signs. And those orange signs? They have orange flags attached to them as well! I dread the complex opening and next year’s senior citizen v. roundabout fatality count.

And speaking of roundabout…this week in “election propaganda” mailer history…we received two mailers from “the November 3rd Project”, one cloaked in Faith and Freedom guise, for white evangelical Christians, and one cloaked in Catholic Vote guise, for Catholics. This is a coordinated RNC influence campaign dressed in sheep’s clothing designed to spread disinformation and manipulating Christian voters. It’s pretty awful.

Example? Q 1 on the WEC version? The Dem-controlled US House of Reps recently voted to allow illegal aliens to vote in US elections (lie, Facebook misinformation). What’s your reaction to this Dem position(lie, not a Dem position)? The scale of responses for WECs is not totally disagree at all to totally agree. It’s : Evil/Insane/Alarming, I agree with Democrats/the Left, I oppose, or No Opinion.

Washington Post online now available to Stanford | Stanford Libraries
Real news, real information. Accept no substitute.

For Catholics, questions are no less rabid. Scale of their available responses? Outrage, Dismay/frightening, disappointment/concern, I support the Left, or Not sure/no opinion. None of this is legitimate survey work. It’s misinformation designed to influence voters. I think this sort of things should be banned. 501(c)(4) groups should be 100% banned from engaging in politics.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life and have it in abundance.” John 10:10. This is a verse about leadership. If you’re leader steals, lie, kills and destroys….they’re a false leader. You shouldn’t vote for that person. Pretty straight forward for Christians. I’ll go you one better.

Matthew 4: Then the devil took Jesus to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.  “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Sandro Botticelli, The Temptation of Christ (detail 5).jpg
Would you do it?

If you have someone asking you to fly in the face of common sense, God-revealed science (you know, like gravity to prove you’re God, or, not wear a mask or social distance, to prove they’re God over you) then that someone is not of God. He’s asking you to tempt God. And that ends badly….with you destroyed from the face of the land (Deut 6).

Jesus didn’t take the bait. If you’re a follower of Jesus, learn from his example. Vote so that your days may be long upon the earth.

Okay, moving on to the wish-fullfiling wheel….. When I started my White Tara project, I was fortunate to find a great photo of the image, post conservation, taken by a person who had been to see the original in situ in 2012.

This is the post-conservation version.

I cleaned it up a little digitally to see if the idea of re-creating it was really worth doing. When I saw what the image could be, I got excited.

Here’s my digital clean up.

Before I went further, I stopped to do research on thankga paintings and thankga painting. There are lots of great English sites out there, which was surprising to me given less than 1% of the US espouses any form of Buddhism. I read an old book on thangka painting that was helpful to me, but it’s probably way more than you want to know. I read a lot of articles online and watched a lot of videos.

I wasn’t if I should attempt a recreation, from a “respect the tradition” aspect. But I realised I was doing it with good intention from a place of respect. And too I thought I could make a reasonable job of it. A real thangka artist would do better, but…I’m all she’s got right now.

This video below is a good overview of the modern tradition. You might struggle a bit with understanding this master painter, but I think you’ll get the gist. I like this guy’s style, he does beautiful line work, which you can see even in the still below. Also, if you want to know what it’s like to listen to the Dalai Lama give a lecture, it’s a lot like this.

There are some subtitles, but he is speaking English.

I had Office Depot put the digital WT image I had on a 18 x 24 poster paper. It did pixelate a tiny bit, but it still looks great on the wall and it was definitely good enough from which to do a re-creation. I did a rough sketch on paper from that, and then made a study of every part of the image, to understand what was there. If you saw that study mock up, it’s covered in scribbled notes and lots of arrows.

In my experience, people look, but they don’t see. They listen, but they don’t hear. There are long time practitioners with thangkas that have no idea what’s right in front of them. They can’t name the things in the picture or tell you why they are there or what they mean. And, that’s okay. I started like that. But I didn’t stay like that.

It’s okay to be a child, when you’re a child. You can have someone teach you from a book when a child, but you should read the book and think things through yourself as an adult. To be an adult though is to make independent decisions, based on your knowledge and experience, and take responsibility for the outcomes of your decisions.

Tara on my light box, with tracing overlay. Hint: you need the room to be dark for the light box to work!

Eventually, I threw a piece of tracing paper over the poster and made what seemed a quite good tracing. I’m still gathering information about the image as well, it’s an ongoing process. But I started. After the rough tracing was finished, I knew I had get the poster and tracing on my light table to see all the stuff I’d missed.

The SO sent down my good light. My Amico architect’s light. Via UPS. It’s easy to take that light, flip it upside down under the plexi and light up the art. It has 4 temperatures of light, from daylight cool to incandescent warm. Within each of those colors, there are 4 power settings, 100%, 75%, 50%, and 25%.

Being able to shift the light temp and strength quickly and easily, let’s me see the most detail possible. I wasn’t really surprised when masses of detail I never saw before suddenly appeared. Still, it’s always awesome when you discover these things because it tells you so much about the artist. And as these old works are typically by artists unknown, it’s a way of meeting them “personally” through the quirky details you discover.

Homemade lightbox!

My light table here is homemade and basic. It’s 4 6×4 wood blocks, topped by a wood frame for a canvas painting (sans canvas), and a sheet of clear plexiglas. I have to sit on the floor to use it, but I sit on the floor a lot. As a kid I had a really small room, to make the most of it, I slept on a Japanese futon and worked on a kotatsu.

Kotatsu Hot Tables – Too Hot to Handle
ahhh, kotatsu time.

At this point I want to refine my tracing. It’s not what traditional artists would do. They use iconometry and a more basic outline form. They fill in various details as they go along. Because I’m copying a known work, I have to get the details right…. I’ll probably post my tracing at some point, in case anyone feels like a meditative break / coloring project.

I haven’t really decided what I’ll do next. I could use Saral paper to transfer the drawing onto watercolor paper and do a mock up, to figure out what colors I need to use on the final work. Or, I could take picture of the drawing and have Office Depot print it onto canvas and just go for it. So, while I waffle over some waffles this morning, I’m going to tell you a little about the history of White Tara, who is associated with a quite real person.

Kind of like Catholics have saints with backstories, ditto some Tibetan yidams (meditational deities). Yidams aren’t real people, like Catholic saints. In Tibetan Buddhism, though, real people are sometimes thought to be expressions of a yidam. A manifestation of that energy in human form. It can get confusing. Just remember, there are real saints, who were real people, who appear in thangkas, like Padmasambhava, and then there are yidams, who aren’t real, like White Tara, but early on real people became associated with them.

Sketching - The power of Tibetan paintings – Mandalas Life
Iconometry, not just a pretty face but a very precise art form. This is Bhrikuti Devi, aka Green Tara.

Once upon a time there was a real man named Songtsen Gampo, 33rd king of Tibet (c. 605 CE). The king had two real wives. Bhrikuti Devi, a Nepali princess and Wencheng Li, a Chinese princess. Politically a good move since they were his neighbor countries. All three of them believed in Buddhism, so they worked together to establish Buddhism in what was primarily a culture that practiced shamanism (called Bon).

Bhrikuti became thought of as an embodiment of Green Tara. Wencheng was thought an embodiment of White Tara. Both wives worked together to in harmony. Co-equals. Yet, if you ask around today, though Tara comes in many iterations –much like the Virgin Mary — Green Tara is the universal favorite among the people. Green Tara is who people call on for practically anything.

White Tara is considered a specialized go to. White Tara is who you’d call if you wanted a long life (as well as more wisdom and compassion). WT naturally therefore gets more attention among lamas and serious Buddhist students. They want to have a long life to study/teach the dharma and become a better people, have better karma, aspire to become bodhisattvas.

Green Tara
Finished Green Tara. Lots of powerful women practitioners in Buddhism. And highly respected too, like Samding Dorje Phagmo.

I didn’t know White Tara had a specialty when I bought my first, one and only, thangka and it was of WT. It was just a weird coincidence that I didn’t want to die, wanted a longer life, and I felt drawn to WT. It was just a weird coincidence that WT meditation was exactly the thing a lama would have told me to do — had I asked.

I think another reason WT gets less play among people today is, in addition to being seen as having a narrower field of interest, after China invaded Tibet, many Tibetans fled to Nepal. So, Green Tara, the Nepalese princess, being the favorite iteration these days? No surprise there. It might just be more of a political solidarity thing.

I once heard of a lama telling an Buddhist practitioner artist, a European Western white girl, that she should make White Tara look like herself. He saw it as making Tara more accessible to Western practitioners, I guess. To me, that was striping a real person inextricably bound to WT of her Chinese ethnicity, a key facet of her identity. It seemed racist and dehumanizing to me. I would never do it.

Colorful, no?

If you buy a WT thangka today, it’ll look like a lot like the one above. This is a very modern style. I like it a lot of things about this style. My original WT thangka, which I lost about a decade ago, was in this style. I love the over the top color. I love lots of things about it. I thought about buying another one like this past June, but then… I did a 180 to the past.

In my thinking of buying a new thangka, I looked at a lot of thangkas. Eventually I came upon this picture of the WT thangka. It’s nothing like the new WT thangka I had. But, for a lot of reasons, it struck a chord. After I thought about it a while, I realised, much as I liked my garish lost WT thangka, it was probably lost for a reason. I needed to move on.

The old one is very different, but the more I looked at it and studied it, the more beautiful and special I saw it was. And the more I wanted to use this one as a mediational support, and attempt to recreate it in its former glory. I didn’t want the WT of my childhood back. I wasn’t a child anymore. I wanted to go forward, into deeper, wider understanding. And this ancient WT had appeared to help.

experiment gone wrong jumping
How high is too high? I think she now knows.

Admittedly it is all an experiment. I might fail in my re-creation, but I’ve already learned a lot. I think I have a lot more to learn by going through the process of trying and failing and trying again. No one is born an Old Master. You get old, trying to master something.

Sometimes you don’t live to achieve mastery, but that’s ok too. You can pass on your torch of knowledge and someone else uses it to light their way to mastery. Still a big win.

It’s a bit like how our Founders’ set up our democracy knowing it was imperfect. They lit up that torch of liberty, trusting it would help all future generations to find good paths forward even though they knew those future generation would have to deal with those parts of the flaws of their legacy. They dared to make a start, in faith.

Fire Torch Burning at Night Stock Footage Video (100% Royalty-free) 7696999  | Shutterstock
You use a torch to see your way. When someone uses a torch for torching things instead, you end up in the dark. Be careful to whom you give a torch.
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