Yesterday was the Feast of the Epiphany in our house. It’s always Jan 5, irregardless (yes, ir-regardless) of the Church calendar. Sometimes we do presents then because it’s the feast of the arrival of the 3 Kings, who brought presents. I wasn’t expecting presents this year, but there they were when I woke up, nestled around the nativity. It was quite the haul 6 Stillman & Birn coldpress sketchbooks for the months I’m travelling, 5 pair of Mutts.com socks, 4 Pentel drafting pencils, 3 pots of vegan buttercream icing, 2 tubs of bag balm (1 for me, 1 for the pets feet/noses), and a 15.7% Zin from the home county.
Also included, a Rhodia Goalbook (5A dot grid). The Significant Other said a weekly Leuchtturm1917 Bullet Journal planner was probably not the best idea for my 2021, given I was going on 2 more tours of duty in So Cal, and the year was basically a write off before it’d begun. (Dutch honesty can be quite bracing.) He was right of course. On the other hand, his year apparently would require a Hobinichi Techo!
Weirdly he bought the all Japanese version. He doesn’t speak Japanese. He said he was hoping it’d push him to think outside the box, maybe learn Japanese (or, maybe he just waited too long to order the English one?). Either way, we popped the Zin open at dinner and spent the evening having fun with grids, rulers, washi tape, tabs, and color pens and talking about our different planning styles, which may sound utterly crackers. But one might need to come from a Germanic or Asian background to understand the concept of peace (ie, the illusion of control) through planning.
Having had to deal this last year with Gran using all “on the fly” planning, which I’m fine with for myself alone, I’m trying to be a little more of a planner in 2021. But lazy planning. For instance, I riffed on AmandaRachLee for January. Having goals, rather than plans? That’s probably better. I need the flexibility. I might make it to Easter, or even May Day, with a few goals getting accomplished, if I don’t plan. Planning might lead to overwhelm.
And on that note, at this point, if you wish to avoid the last of the Buddhist stuff, which you might find overwhelming by now, you can “joyscroll” (my newly minted 2021 word) down to the cheerful picture of the orange slices.
The following is basically a guilt-gift post.
I see La Mere twice a week when I drop off her groceries. I always bring a couple of her dishes, from the recipes she gave me, prep-ed to go into the ovens. We let them bake while I clean their condo and play with my cats. Then we try the dishes together, sometimes with Le Pape, and I get “tweaks.” Not critiques, just adjustments to the recipe if needed. The leftovers go home to the Significant Other, who never has any comments but “I love this!”
Dining with La Mere one day, she said, “I wish I had more to teach you.” She gestured to her family history written in cuisine on the table before us. “My grandmother would never share her best recipes.” It’s always sad when people die before their important knowledge or secrets go un-transmitted. “Maybe she thought you’d discover her secrets, on your own, down the road?” I replied, trying to sound positive. “Why must I first reinvent a wheel to travel down this road?” she asked. I had to admit, she had a point.
I thought it would be fun, especially for any Buddhist folks, if I left some things about the WT for people to figure out on their own, down the road. But now, I’ve come to think that was an error. It can take a long time for lost knowledge to be discovered again. If it ever is. And the preservation of knowledge was the whole impetus for the Rime movement. So, today I tell you all I know. So you have a wheel, which you can hopefully keep turning, and which may someday take you where you need to go.
In the world of Tibetan Buddhist thought and symbolism, I’m not a person of high learning nor was I ever privy to deep secrets. And that’s as it should be. I’m Jonathan Pangborn. I got my miracle and went back to my life. I’m not embarrassed to own that. WT, Tibetan Buddhism, and I, we’re all still tight. And maybe for me, turning back, was what was supposed to happen. After all, without Jason Pangborn, how would Stephen Strange have found his path?
I’m sharing things I know/suspect/think about this artwork. It’s not all that can be seen or known. It’s just what I seen and know. Hopefully this helps someone, someday, see and know more, and gets them further down their own path. You never know. Ok, so, that said….As an artist, I deal in the illusory world. I know a portrait of Vigee-Le Brun, is not Vigee-Le Brun, even if Vigee Le Brun painted it. It’s an illusion. It’s shape and shadow, light and color masquerading. It’s a version of reality.
Art can be seen as magic, in a way. But it’s magic I understand, which to me is the definition of science. Art is also a magic I practice. I’m versed in it. Because I can understand and work this type of ‘magic,” when I really stop to look at art I can sometimes see understand messages artists leave behind that casual viewers miss and figure out how the spell was cast. (It drives my friends mad. I have to go to museums alone now.)
I’m far less versed in Tibetan Buddhism. This can be a difficulty. Each sect has its own way of describing things, the same things. If I look at a Kagyu or Sakya or Gelug artwork, I understand it less because my background in Nyingma. Though the main symbols are the same for all sects, the nuances can be different. A Gelug friend once stared talking about the 3 doors. I said “The 3 Doors? What 3 doors?” After a bit of discussion, I realised the Nyingma call them the 3 gates.
Sure, gates and doors are similar. But also really different. I don’t speak Tibetan. Maybe in the sutras, the same word is used in Tibetan or Sanskrit. Maybe the problem is a variance in the English translation. But maybe not. Maybe the 2 sects actually look at the same thing slightly differently. And if that’s so, you have genuine worldview and philosophical differences because what lies behind a door is always way different than what lies beyond a gate.
Anyway, all that to say, I think the WT above is a Nyingma piece of art that was given to a Sakya mind incarnation (JK Wangpo) of a Nyingma lama (Jigme Lingpa). I may be 100% wrong but, for purposes of this post, that’s my viewpoint. I’m a good artist, but I’m not a trained thangka painter. My view on the art and symbolism is limited. You should feel free to question my views and substitute your own better informed ones.
So, let’s jump off the cliff and start with this: although WT appears to be a meditational support thangka, and it is that, it’s also something very different.
In the world of thangka there are 2D representations of 3D (or more D) worlds. The picture you see just above is a standard Kalachakra mandala. I’m sure you knew that. But it’s also a 2D version of a 3D world. To “see” the 3D world, you have to mentally pull it up from it’s center point. If you do that, it looks more like what it actually is. This image below is the 3D world which the 2D thangka art represents. Definitely a bit easier to mentally walk around in for us.
Long before the modern Western world had an inkling of cosmology, physics, and multi-dimensional universes, people in India, China and Tibet were actively working through these ideas, these realities. I don’t claim to understand the life of an atom or its sub-particles. But I know they exist. I can barely grasp the world of the tiny tardigrades (waterbears) that can live, and love, even in the vacuum of space. But I know they are real. As for the world of the mycelium? Way beyond my understanding – even though it’s a real world, that I’m a part of.
These are worlds within our very world. And we still know little to nothing about them, except that they exist. What of the worlds beyond? It’s humanity’s essential nature to seek out truth, wisdom, to explore reality. A Native American tells people there’s a dragon under the mountain, you can’t go or dig around there, you’ll die. People do go and dig, and find radioactive uranium ore, which can kill you. So, does the dragon exist? Do Buddhas exist? Are they an ancient scientific stand-ins for energies we don’t know how to name?
People were flushing toilets indoors, in their homes, in the Indus Valley in 2500BC. But, that knowledge was lost. It took a long while for us to get back to that level of knowledge. Ancient knowledge isn’t something we should….pooh-pooh. It’s a base to build on. Thankgas are loaded with ancient knowledge about the world, the cosmos, physics. But you have to be willing to accept that’s trye, and to look with an open mind. Otherwise, you miss some really intriguing ideas, questions, answers, etc.
Ok, back the 3D world. When you look at the Kalachakra mandala, and mentally pull it up into 3D, into your reality, you see something completely different. You’re no longer living in 2D Flatland. Flatland exits, we can see it, but it’s not our world and its inhabitants cannot grasp our world. Our world is 3D (Fatland?). This same sort of thing is going on with the White Tara. Her thangka is a 2D Flatland version of something that’s real and powerful in the 3D world, a stupa (chorten in Tibetan). And it’s a very specific type of stupa, a Dharmakaya (Enlightenment) stupa.
This kind of stupa is supposed to lead you to enlightenment just by looking at it. And you can see why in the photo above. If you know the language it speaks, the language of shapes, the first elemental language we grasp as children, and the language of Buddhism, you can work out how to get from step 1 (Samsara) to step 7 (enlightenment). Why do so many Tibetan Buddhists have epiphanies when they pull up in front of our specific WT thankga? Because it’s speaking to them at subconscious level, using shape. In the deep recesses of their minds, it’s recognized for what it is, an enlightenment stupa.
An enlightenment stupa has a specific shape, which you can see above. It’s shape contains the 5 wisdoms and 5 elements. It basically binds the power of the natural world to the spiritual world, so to speak. One could say, that’s a bit of magic (science). I can’t say it’s not. The Nyingma have always been okay with that sort of thing. If it freaks you out…remember Tesla knew a world of wireless communication was possible, long before it happened. Some people freaked out and called it magic, or worse madness and impossible folly. Today we live in Tesla’s world.
If you look at WT below, the outside is square. Inside that square is a circle. Inside that circle, if you pull up from the top 3 leafs, the bottom 3 jewels and the 2 side clouds, you get the 3D, 4 sided triangle. If you pull up again, the rings outside WT become the parasol. Her lotus sits on top of the parasol. You then have the moon seat, under Tara. The moon becomes the sun. And Tara herself becomes the jewel. All the parts of the enlightenment stupa are there in 3D. Pretty cool, right?
Now I’ll show you how the artist discretely added all the extra bits. You can think of the 4 corners of the square as the 4 Noble Truths. Then, as you look up the central axis, you see the 3 jewels (the common refuge). Straight up above the 3 jewels, you see the root of the lotus. Here’s where things get kind of Nyingma. Nyingma has also an uncommon refuge, called the 3 roots. See the 3 leaves at the root of the lotus? I think they represent the uncommon, 3 roots, refuge: lama, yidam, dakini.
Heading up from the root, look at the leaves under, supporting/surrounding the lotus flower. We have 4 distinct groups, each with 3 leaves. These are the 4 Immeasurables. See the 7 large flowers around WT? These are the 7 Elements of Enlightenment around the bumpa. Remember when we counted the mountains? The 8 mountains you can actually see? These represent the 8-fold path. The 13 leaf groups around the upper part of rainbow ring? There are the 13 bhumis you’d find on the triangular spire.
So now you see all it, right? And now, it’s understandable to you that this is an enlightenment stupa. And now you know why Tibetan Buddhists have so many epiphanies looking at or asking this WT for help. Also, I hope you also notice that this artist really is beating you over the head with the message that this WT practice will lead you to enlightenment. And again, I do not know what “this” WT practice is/was. Maybe it’s in the Longchen Nyingthig? That’s Nyingma. Maybe it’s something to do with the Chakrasamvara Tantra? That’s Sarma. I don’t know. Me, as a small potatoes practitioner? I do small potatoes WT practice, with this WT support, and hope for the best.
Okay, something else you should know about stupas or chortens. They always have something in the center (in the bumpa) that makes them powerful. You can think of a chorten like an altar if you’re Catholic or a mezuzah if you’re Jewish. There’s something inside that gives off power. Typically the object is completely encased, shielded, hidden from view. In the Catholic world, we use a relic. Maybe it’s a saint’s tooth or bones. Buddhists use body parts also. Sometimes though, as with the Jewish example, a manuscript or sutra text is in the bumpa. So you can use a 3D object of power or a 2D object of power.
Obviously you can’t put a 3D object in a 2D painting. And there’s another problem. If you put the entire 2D object in a 2D painting, you’ve fully exposed the object of power. That’s a no, no. Powerful things are powerful. There’s a reason nuclear power plant’s have shielded cores. So, what to do, what to do? Well, you could do what the artist here did, that is, put in a very powerful, but very well-concealed (maybe 3% visible) symbol. And leave it to the viewer to recognize the tiny tip of the symbol for the whole iceberg.
Can you guess which is the visible part of the symbol on WT?
Remember that necklace I obsessed over and told you about? That upper necklace, that triangle with a dot? If you take that triangle with a dot, and you use it as the center triangle….. You can work the symbol out from there using other pictorial markers the artist gives you. I’ll spare you the agony. You end up with a Sri Yantra, in which WT sits. Sri Yantra is the visual representation of the Indian Goddess Sri Lalita or Tripura Sundari, the beauty of the 3 worlds. Interesting, right?
Ok, now you’re probably thinking, “Sure, I see the WT thangka is maybe less a thangka and more a powerful enlightement stupa. But what does Buddhism have to do with this Indian Goddess? Or yantra? Can you prove this further?” Really? I tell you all this and ….Sigh… okay, I’ll try. But remember, tiny scratch the surface knowledge here. Remember way back when I first counted all the green leaves and told you there were 64? I think this is for the 64 Dakinis. I’m not going into it here, but you can read the post.
People think of Tibetan Buddhism as Tibetan. Fair enough. It’s become Tibetan. But it’s roots are still Indian. Buddha was from India. Guru Padmasambhava was Indian. Princess Mandarava, Guru Padmasambhava’s first consort, was Indian. Mandy often gets written out of the stories, but Guru P. had two main consorts. First was Mandarava and second as Yeshe Tsogyal. In Tibet, it’s all about Yeshe Tsogyal. It makes people forget just how deep Tibetan Buddhism’s Indian roots run.
In the painting above, the artist clearly didn’t forget. Have a look at Devi (note the 3 eyes) on which is superimposed Yogini Chakra, a wheel of the 64 Yoginis. Devi is shown with weapons including a pistol as attributes of power. She is standing on a prostrate male figure. The painting portrays the Yoginis as aspects of Devi rather than as separate semi-divine beings. But remember, in India, a dakini, is a yogini, is a real woman. Real woman = real powerful aspect of the divine goddess.
In Buddhist Tibet the tradition of very powerful, very human, female adepts and Buddhist teachers that are fully equal to the men continues to be understood. But not as widely as it should be. Sadly many people hear “dakini” and think of little sparkly naked fairy ladies who help men become realised and that’s because of a lot of the thangka art that goes in that direction. I get the deeper meaning. I get that women practitioners were often marginalized and ended up in weird places (like charnel grounds) to be left in peace to practice. And I get that they were also objectified. Yeshe Tsogal was given to Guru P. Given, as property. Mandy at least chose the Dharma and Guru P.
Just saying, maybe it’s time artists revisit this visual trope?
Uh….where was I? The 64 leaves? Oh yeah, right. Since 64 is the number of dakinis there are said to be, maybe the hidden implication is we have a hidden retinue of 64 dakini with the hidden Sri Lalita? That’s a speculation. I find it really interesting there are so many layers of “objects of power” from so many sources hidden in one art work. It’s kind of wild. The only thing I can think of that might account for it is … If I am Jigme Lingpa, and my goal is to save a lot of old Buddhist teachings from a lot of different sources, but these teachings are currently considered outre or even heretical, I might need a thangka to both hide this knowledge from some but still transmit or reflect it to others in the present/future.
So, objects of power have power hidden within them. But what gets hidden within them is always the choice of the creator. So asking, “why were all these different objects put into one art work?” is a valid question. Also, it’s important to ask about purpose. One object is enough to give something power, for one purpose. Think, Staff of the Living Tribunal, maybe. If that helps you out. But needing multiple objects of power? Clearly this is to extend power beyond just the one, to the many. Sorry, coming to the edge of my brain’s abilities now. Perhaps, if your purpose is generating enough power to save a lot of different types of wisdom, not just one type, you need to draw down on a a lot of different objects of power?
I don’t think, but again I don’t know, that this is an attempt to “draw power from the dark side,” for all you Marvel U fans. I don’t think it’s an attempt to subjugate and use the power of other systems to support a single type of Buddhism. The sense I get from this art is it’s creating a continuum. Maybe it’s some kind of grand unification (for all you theoretical physicists out there)? I don’t think I can say more, because I just don’t know. Objects of power activate only under the right conditions. Think, the Cloak of Levitation, maybe. If that helps you out. Whatever is going on here, I don’t possess the right conditions.
Coming back to the yantra. Bon and Tibetan Buddhism both use yantra a lot. There are many types of yantra. They all serve different purposes. Usually they have accompanying rituals to attract good fortune or to avert obstacles and misfortune. Does the yantra hidden in WT have a ritual accompanying it? I dunno. Yantra diagrams are considered a ritual object, but they’re common. In fact, they’re often carved into blocks to make woodblock prints. There’s no reason to hide a yantra in Tibet. So why are we hiding the WT’s yantra? I dunno. What’s the yantra’s purpose? I suspect it invests the stupa/image with additional/universal power. Maybe its presence and what it invokes is akin to invoking all the Avengers in once place? But … I dunno.
If you’re thinking, “So does she know anything?” Remember, I started down this road looking to just buy a new WT thangka. And then I found this WT. And that made me think of my old, now dead, lama and my old, now broken, sangha. And so I started out to do a re-creation of this WT for an offering, as my “do something good, forward-thinking, positive energy, get through this period of covid” project. I wasn’t looking for answers. And I only ever asked one question. My question was “What’s important about this artwork?”
I wanted to know what the original artist or creator, and/or the person who commissioned it, was thinking. I wanted to be sure all the important elements they’d included were elements I correctly restored. I didn’t realise that one question would set off an avalanche of others. I expected multiple layers of meaning. That’s typical in Tibetan Buddhism. I didn’t expect this many layers. So, if you find any of my ponderings unclear or unsatisfying, I get it. But if you need solid answers, it’s up to you to ask better questions of informed Buddhists.
Coming back to the WT as a meditation support….. Again, starting at the bottom, you have the 3 Jewels (common refuge), the 3 Roots (uncommon refuge), and the 4 Immeasurables. When you do a practice, this is the order you do it in. I think you could read the 2 puff clouds as the 2 Truths (relative and ultimate). The 7 flowers (2 outer and 5 inner flowers) are possibly a reference to the 7 Limb/Branch Practice, which begins with prostrations and ends with dedication of merit (possibly the 2 outer flowers?). In between the 5 inner flowers (maybe a reminder of the 5 wisdoms?) there are 6 spaces in which there are leaves, so maybe the 6 Paramitas?
I dunno. I don’t know the exact sadhana here. I’m making a general stab at it based on general WT practices. I can’t tell you about the 36 lotus leaves. I know 36 x 3 = 108. Maybe there’s some meaning there. There are 3 longevity deities, WT, Amitayus Buddha, and Ushnishavijaya. Maybe that’s being impled? A common Nyingma WT practice includes Green Tara and Bhrikuti Tara as supporting cast, 3 Taras. Maybe that’s implied?
An important thing to consider is that unlike many other WT images, Amitayus isn’t an ornament on her crown. He has never been an ornament on this WT. She just has flowers on her crown. And that may mean something when combined with the fact that this WT is not like other WTs. She’s not hunched over. It could be, that she’s sitting erect because while outwardly she’s WT alone, maybe on the inner level she’s supposed to be the Yum, in a Yum-Yab? In this case, the Yab figure is invisible. You’re supposed to know it’s there by the clues the artist left. Again, hidden in plain sight.
I would think the Yab, the consort, would be Avalokiteshvara, but in his red form. And the other name for this form of Avalokiteshvara is Lord of the Dance. Which brings us back to the whole Shakti/Shiva conversation we had because Shiva’s name is …Lord of the Dance. So, again, there’s all sorts of levels happening here — none of which I’m privy to. Chime Phakme Nyingtik, is a practice I spoke about before, which has WT with a consort in Yum-Yab. Maybe the inner practice of this WT is/was something similar to that? Maybe a precursor?
It’s rare to see a yum-yab, a male figure in the lap of a female figure. But WT is one of the few female deities that’s known to be shown this way in a few practices. It’s rare to see WT depicted sitting erect. But this WT is sitting erect. You could easily imagine the yab in her lap. Is this what’s going on? I don’t know. I’m just saying, the shoes fit. There’s a case to made. This could be what’s going here. The artist here is really into encoding things into the picture. Maybe there’s a secret level beyond this as well? But I wouldn’t know enough to even speculate about that.
So I’ll move one to things that I can speculate about. About the other flowers on the WT… I wish I could tell you more, but I don’t know enough to do so. The half lotuses are 14 petals each. I don’t know of anything connected to 14. In Tibetan culture 13 is a very auspicious, lucky, even holy number. I’d understand if they each had 13 petals. But…I count 14. I can’t think of any Buddhist reference to 14, or put together 28. Not saying there isn’t one. Just that I don’t know.
The two champaka are 9 petals on the left and 11 on the right. In Tibet 9 has a meaning. It’s “all.” If you say 9 people, you mean all people. Everyone. It can also mean much. This is similar to the meaning 9 had to ancient Han Chinese. Han used it to mean endless, much or uncertain. I don’t know the association with 11. The Datura flowers are blurry but seem to be 9 flowers on the left and 7 on the right. Again, meaning? I dunno. I can’t tell how many petals are on the Ashoka. Maybe 12 large petals?
Like I said, I only know so much. I’m telling you, “I know this WT is a map, but you need Shelly Oberon to read it to you.” I only got this far because after I received the WT empowerment from Lama Samten, my mind opened up a bit. When I would meditate before the WT thangka, I started to realise there were things in the thangka that I saw, but I hadn’t really “seen” before. So, that’s what I mean about purposefully taking empowerments. I had a WT practice. I was already empowered to do it. I took the empowerment to deepen my connection with WT to find answers to my question. And….here we are.
Other things in the WT? The two boats, one with blue people and one with red clothed people. I think that’s supposed to represent two types of practitioners, lay and monastic. Nyingma sanghas have both as a feature. But they may be representative of the sutra and mantra teachings, sailing toward the empty teachings – the 3 small, decreasing in size, clouds that appear to be rolling in from the right, on the surface of the lake, just below the lotus.
In Nyingma tradition you have 3 main teachings (that each break into a further 3, making the total 9 yanas: the 3, outer/sutra, inner/tantra and secret/empty teachings. So maybe the clouds are 3 within the secret/empty teachings? The Mahayoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga (Dzogchen)? If one is sailing toward those 3 teachings, that would explain the decreasing cloud size as they head towards White Tara. The final tiny cloud being Atiyoga/ Dzogchen.
I think the clouds could have another meaning. But I’m not sure. Because the 3 clouds are rolling toward WT, and she as 3 silk ends blowing up into the air, it seems like the viewer is supposed to infer something from that. The clouds and the silks are both having to do with air movement. But I can’t say more than that. I think the 3 rising silk ends are supposed to be the Trikaya. The secret refuge (Dharamakaya, sambogkaya, and nirmanakaya). Maybe. If you “read up” into from the bottom of the picture, you have the 3 jewels, up to the 3 roots, up to the 3 kayas. And maybe that reminds the viewer practitioner of the 3 vajras/gates (doors)?
Like I said, I don’t know. I haven’t got the chops to fully decode this. This White Tara is complex. She’s clearly meant to be, intentionally. Come for the long life, stay for the enlightenment? I wish I could tell you more, but it’s beyond me. My guess is some higher-power lamas could tell you everything about it in New York minute. They wouldn’t, but they could. You gotta earn that knowledge. You have to prove you’re worthy of holding that knowledge. And it has to be clear this is the right knowledge for you. That it’s what you need for your life. Not all knowledge is good for all people. And all that is just as it should be.
Anyway, now I’ll tell you a few other fun things. Consider them part of the E-ticket ride. First off, the shape of the WT’s rainbow rings combined with the lotus and it’s stalk, looks a lot like a wenge wood hook and ring for a Zen monk’s kesa robes. Not to get all Chinese and Zen again, but… yeah. It’s interesting that within the Zen monk’s ring, hidden behind WT’s moon, is the 9th mountain where the Zen temple resides. That’s another reference, to another sort of power. It’s keeping within the theme of encompassing a lot of different views. That’s all I’m saying.
If you like Green Tara? Her blue lotus has been known in Egypt since Pharonic times as a means of getting high. Temples used it in their rites. After people got high on blue lotus and had visions? They were given wine, which combined with the blue lotus created a depressant and brought them down. So, stories of drunken orgies in temples? Possibly a misunderstanding of those devout people having religious visions and then coming down. Which is not to say drugs and an alcohol were never abused in Ancient Egypt (or elsewhere). And it tells you a little something about Green Tara that you definitely can’t say about White Tara.
I’ll also say this about GT. It’s my opinion that the Nepali princess was Bhrikuti Tara. I think Green Tara is probably a Uyghur Tara from the north. Uyghur people used to be Buddhists. They had a very powerful kingdom about the 7th-9th centuries, equal to the Tang. They left behind a lot of paintings that heavily feature green as a color. The area they controlled later came under Mongol control (also Buddhists) and the Uyghur became Muslim. Anyway…given Tibetan directional color, looking at the Taras this way makes more sense. Yellow in the south, Green in the north.
I think in the Great Fifth Dalai Lama’s WT long life practice, he was Nyingma, which features Green and Bhrikuti Taras as supporting figures to WT, we get a sense Uyghur (later Mongol) and Nepali Buddhism, supporting a more Chinese/Tibetan Buddhism. And, yes, because you’re already thinking it, if this White Tara had a more advanced form of practice, featuring a consort, who would be Red, you’d have E,W, N, S. And if one imagines, Samantabhadra (Kuntuzangpo, the blue, cosmic Buddha), overhead, you’re back to the 5 directions, and 5 elements, bound to the 5 wisdoms.
Ok, the Cintamani? Had a chat with a geologist friend over those. Apparently, these are what’s called Impactites. They’re bits of meteor that hit the earth. The black ones are tektites, found all over Indochina. The red ones are heavy in iron ore and as they rust get that reddish color. She said additional kinds were Libyan Glass, a kind of yellow green glass, made of superheated sand from when the burning meteor struck. And there’s something called a pallasite, which is really cool. Anyway, cintamani? Yes, they really did fall from the heavens. And they really did have “unearthly” qualities. But it’s all explainable by science. Which brings me back to science, proto, pseudo, and all points in between.
In some ways, what we see in old paintings that we don’t understand is often actually old science, at a time when science and religion were blended up in a very different way. It’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Only in our case, we’re King Arthur and the Tibetans are the Yankee. We look at Tibetan art and try to decrypt a language that’s explaining a reality we can’t really grasp. It doesn’t make sense to us. But it’s not because Tibetans were crazy or wrong. It’s an advanced representation of a reality we aren’t privy to (or able to) understand.
It reminds me of when my German teacher (easy A) was trying to teach her child to talk. She showed him an orange, and said “orange.” Then a basket ball, and said “orange.” Then she pointed to a pot vase, and said “orange.” Each time, the child dutifully said “orange” and nodded. (Typical German child.) Then they went out on errands, and he began pointing at things and saying “Orange!” But nothing he pointed at was orange. It was only then my teacher realised that we humans innately prioritize shape over color. Everything she’d told her boy was orange was also round.
If you have a look at the mural above, it probably looks really weird. But take a step back. What do you actually see? You see people experimenting with light, bounced off water, and shone through crystals (which throw up rainbows of prismatic light). The Tibetan text on the 18th c mural which explains the “experiment” is from the 15th c. So, 200 years before Sir Isaac Newton’s poking himself in the eye, light experiments. They are asking questions about the nature of reality, seeking understanding about the world, the cosmos, the origins of life, it’s meaning, and finding answers that become “religion.”
But Buddhism was never anything but a scientific look at the personal psychology of suffering, that grew into a philosophy, that took off into various (scientific) directions in a variety far flung places.
In Tibet, we have a culture using mandalas, flat 2D representations, to mentally play with abstract ideas of 3D (and beyond) worlds. That White Tara can be pulled out to 3D vertically, is impressive. That it can also be pulled out into 3D pulling horizontally and you get something completely different? Damn. That’s some serious math, geometry, special conceptualization, etc. There are Ds hidden within Ds. You can dismiss Tibetan lamas chanting in colorful robes if you like, but you can’t deny they have a special way of looking at the cosmos. So, yeah, I want to know more about how those people see the world(s) we share that I only understand in the smallest part.
I’m a science fan. But I’m also religion fan. You can be both. Both require an open mind, a spirit of inquiry, and a lot of humility — because being wrong a lot is par for both courses. I only noticed the hidden chorten in White Tara because, a) I took the empowerment, and b) as an artist I’m used to nonverbal communication, ideas conveyed in shape/color/space. As an artist, I understood I was looking at an image that was trying to say something. But it took an empowerment from someone more knowledgeable and more meditation for me to make the mental leap across space/time, to grasp the thankga/chorten’s language and a small bit of what it was trying to say.
Was it worth it? Hell, yeah. I’m not embarrassed to ask for help when I need it. To seek it out, even from sources others find odd. Science, religion, life, they are all collaborative efforts. If the pandemic has taught you nothing else, you should have learned that. That we’re all on this planet together. If we don’t pull together, the world as we know it can quickly fall apart. Anyway, that’s all I got. Off to my my nativity scene, and one last candle lit before Baby Jesus for the world. Maybe today, the world will have an epiphany. I hope so anyway.
We didn’t do presents at Christmas. I haven’t worked since last summer. We all agreed, Christmas presents could be given, but no money could be spent buying them. All in all, I think I got the best of the presents. Live entertainment! I’ve really missed that. In winter there’s the symphony, ballet, opera, theatre, caroling, concerts, comedy clubs….but not this year. So….
After dinner Christmas Eve at the condo, the Significant Other sat me down on the couch with the cats. La Mere sat down at her spinet piano and began to play carols by candlelight. The SO and Le Pape vanished behind the drawn curtains of the small sunroom. Eventually, a hand appeared from behind the curtain, and gave the thumbs up.
La Mere wrapped up her carol, switched on the CD player, then rushed to join me on the couch. Some singing of a decidedly non-Christmasy nature began to pour forth from the speakers. The sunroom curtains whipped opened dramatically, and ….. I suddenly understood. All those 5am Zoom calls to Europe the SO and Le Pape did? That for some reason had to be done at the empty downtown office, even though everyone was under orders by Public Health to be working from home? They were likely not legit.
Full costumes were worn — including down pillow stuffing and a stick-on mustache. They were brilliant. Live entertainment, at last! White goose down feathers kept escaping Ollie’s fat suit. Which sent the cats into a frenzy of swatting and pouncing around them. I laughed till I cried. The dance was followed by them actually singing the whole song, with La Mere accompanying them. It was wonderful. I can now say I’ve danced the tango jiggle, with a Texas Tommy wiggle, with both Laurel and Hardy. And that my Ollie, I will add for the record, is a surprisingly good yodeler.