Saturday, June 23, 2007
Anniversary #16: Death, Deities & Dullards
Married on a blisteringly hot day, as it tends to get in June, duh, one week out of detached retina surgery, I got out of the dancing Layne had paid for us, that was forced upon us in the party, to practice at Pickwick. What do I remember? A giant plate of poached salmon. A cool, in multiple senses, house full of wood and Victorian glass. The crackheads across the street on Alvarado Terrace at the little park. My kippah and my mother's hissed "take it off." How proud Ana looked! A crowd of happy friends (if not all my family). The few minutes Layne and I had alone immediately after the ceremony-- a Jewish tradition that originally meant a quickie deflowering after all that pent-up energy, so as to be released and the couple could get back to the serious business of having fun with the caravansarai and slaughtering fatted calves. (She did wear white, but decorum prevents me from sharing more intimate details!)
Yesterday, I parked at the Pasadena library. There was some shindig on so only one spot was open. Two giant SUVs meant little room for my Volvo to duck between the spaces marked Compact, for which I qualified if not my supersized neighboring vehicles. I parked very carefully. I walked into the library, dropped off Leo's tapes, and thus fulfilled my obligation as a patron earning parking privileges. I exited the other side, past City Hall and the handsome Spanish-style 1925 civic center square, crossed Colorado, and attended graduation at the auditorium.
Back at the library later, I browsed the new books. I could not check any out, however, as I will be in Ireland still when they turn due. A new translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead beckoned. Perusing it, I read the Dalai Lama's assurance that our present life would be exchanged for a new one at death, and no less worrisome this trade than replacing a worn set of clothes with a fresh outfit. I envy his faith.
Later that night, at dinner, Niall did not want to discuss death with his eager mother, who insisted that the transience of our time here on the planet enriched what we do. A very Jewish perspective. Perhaps, however, my younger son inherits his paternal fatalism mixed with stubborn despondency. He did not want to pursue the topic, and shut off all further discussion.
But I contrarily, due to my fear of the afterlife or its lack, have always been engaged with its possibilities at least as we imagine it. Thus my dissertation. My daily thoughts. And those keeping me up at night. The illustrations in the TBD came in two color inserts. Wondering why the deities coupling vigorously were all angry, their tongues close but not intertwined as their bodies, the females (hard to tell they were such really) clad in leopard-skin loincloths over their writhing derrieres, the males all grimacing and glowering and gasping. Some otherworld to anticipate. Red, gold, fire, blue, glare, fists and gestures. But, that's the lama's secret.
That is, the great liberation from those bardo(s) depends on our recognition of their illusion. Those sneering copulators: they're only puppets and props. The other plates showed peaceful silks worn by the consorts, flowing soft patterns draping the female backsides. They clasped just as acrobatically but with more contentment their male mates. The colors were blues and greens, but soft landscape hues, not furnaces. But, I do not know: if all is maya, evanescent, than are the peaceful deities too only imaginary? I can see why the 72 houri with recurring virginity entice male Muslims.
The introduction I skimmed told how we need to take the energy that we put into our fear of death and use it to guide the passage of those who go before us into the procession of bardos. The Tibetans, as I stated early on in that dissertation (to the surprise of my advisor, who did not expect a thesis to begin on such a mystical note), were as Uma's dad Robert Thurman coins them, "psychonauts." Along with the Hindus, they seem to me to have penetrated the farthest into the Great Beyond. This book, full of allusions and difficult concepts, nonetheless tries to share what they found, and how to overcome our natural resistance to that we cannot fathom-- Hamlet's "undiscovered country" from which no traveller returns.
Typical of me to begin about my anniversary and end with death and literature. I end on an ironic note. From the window of my car when I returned, thinking about Great Liberation and ecstatic coupling and their symbolic unities, I extracted a printed card. I paraphrase, not bothering for verbatim accuracy considering the source. "Thanks asshole for not leaving any space next to me when you parked. You F[#$&*]ers should leave me a can opener so I can get in my door." The evident discrepancy that the red SUV that took up a compact spot was to blame-- not the Volvo that perfectly fit between the lines, and had me as its skinny driver who had no problem as to his egress-- escaped our invective-spewing presumably male "fierce deity," at least in his own mind. The fact that he carries around printed cards with this puerile message makes me wonder about his frame of mind, his ecological and consuming selfishness, and the odds that he lugs around his own lard-assed avoirdupois. I wonder where his quest will take him after his own departure from a world of gluttony and great ego.
Not to end on bad karma, however, on this day of happiness. So, here's an image credit, with a note below. (N.B.: this illustration favors black and white, subtler blue and gold. It lacks the vibrancy of the TBD pictures I saw, but offers a more contrasting monochrome tension, and a subtler background trim. She's nude, too. As Kenneth Clark distinguished, we all look in the mirror and are naked. The perfect bodies we admire, contrarily for all but probably 2,568 of the people on the planet, are to the rest of us "nude." Yet, if we seeking Unadorned Truth in sex or spirit and their mingling release ourselves from the limits of our touch and vision, perhaps we too can see each other as nude, not merely naked. The TBD depicts the consorts all partially clothed. Like lovers, the decision to bare the body as the soul, in that "knowing in the biblical sense," demands its own harsh but rewarding truth.)
The other diagram shows the Tibetan path to reincarnation. Taking that on-ramp, let's hope Mr. Wrathful Deity in his own ample driver's seat earns his own liberation from attachment to material goods inside his reptile brain and outside his own girth.
Better stop my own dependence on smug rhetoric while I'm at it. Layne and I, in our union, early on discovered a shared fascination with Tibet, and this too in its own esoteric manner brings us closer. But I cannot sit, let alone contemplate other activities, in the lotus position, unlike those Male Deities. They don't have a bad knee for yab/yum. To borrow a term from the other side of the Himalayas, Namaste!
Guru and yidam - Primordial Mother of all the Buddhas
Samantabhadri (Kuntuzangmo in Tibetan) is the consort and female counterpart of Samantabhadra/Kuntuzangpo, the primordial Buddha of the older schools of Tibetan Buddhism. They are usually shown in sexual union (yab/yum in Tibetan), the blue male figure and white female figure embracing each other in lotus position. Samantabhadri is sometimes shown alone, in which case she is seated in lotus posture with her hands in meditation posture in her lap. Samantabhadri is always shown naked (as is her consort) to demonstrate the unadorned nature of Absolute Truth, the emptiness of all phenomena.
Female Buddhist Scholars: