Thursday, March 13, 2008

There Are Hundreds Of Paths Up The Mountain

There are hundreds of paths up the mountain,
all leading in the same direction,
so it doesn't matter which path you take.
The only one wasting time is the one
who runs around and around the mountain,
telling everyone that his or her path is wrong.

Hindu teaching. Diolch yn fawr to Alan Jones on his wise blog (click at right from my list) "Independence Cymru" for this timely insight. He also links to a video:
Treasury of Compassion: Avalokiteshvara

In a week where, as my dear wife has expressed well today at her blog (and in the comment there I blather more-- see link below), the hypocrisy of our blinkered attitudes about claiming to be shocked, shocked (as if we're all chaste Desdemona rather than jaded Emilia in finding out that, yes, some men cheat on their wives, and vice versa) at the downfall of another publicly shamed husband (and silently glowering spouse dragged out into the camera's eye, loyal as she stands in front of the flag) caught with his pants down and his pecker up.

It's also a week when, to less coverage, we read of a quarter of all American girls 15-19 infected with STDs (and half of all African American teens), certainly our prudish, voyeuristic, shamed and smirking combination of a war on drugs and just say___? has failed. Are we better off in our hedonistic celebration of the body? Leo tells me Planned Parenthood's coming to his school perhaps in light of an outbreak of pregnancies. Inspired, he smirked, by the success of the wildly popular teen flick "Juno." I also found out that the JAMA surveyed-- some fieldwork-- lads and lasses "partying on spring break" to find an average alcohol consumption per diem of 10 per gal and 18 per guy. Speaking as somebody's whose limit's about one-fifth of even this determinedly dizzy distaff set (let alone the testosteroned cadre) I find these figures daunting. I guess today's youth build up tolerance.

So, thus flourish fauna in my native habitat. I still forget how stupid many people can be, despite a quarter-century in the classroom. My patience, however, increases for professional reasons and the need to keep a job, so I do forget how the other half lives outside of textbooks and term papers. I do find myself embarassed to be born and stuck where I am. But, my European counterparts tell me it's the same for them, although they tend to teach an elite level compared to L.A's huddled polyglot and harried commuting- texting- chattering masses. Don't know how much the professional atheist literati can take credit for blaming us for our own national stupidity this time around. Or how much the collapse of a stricter society that I can recall vividly having shaped my own youth that terrified me and all my (Catholic, as I knew practically none other) friends regarding the pleasures of the body and the fate of the soul can be mourned, but I place my confusion before you.

And, apropos of Hindu and Buddhists who appear to have spared their peoples the militant missionizing and tyranny of monotheism, I wonder about Western civ and we as victims of iconoclasm. The idols shattered, the chapels on their ruins. Even the Parthenon-- to the "virgin" Athena-- was christened Our Lady of Athens in the fifth century. I think of the jungle carvings in Khajuraho with splendidly erotic, happily serpentine copulations. Those Indian figures radiate carnal joy, and in their embraces, seek the transcendent. These sexy stones (out of many more once extant) only survived the Moghul invasions and Muslim Taliban-like destruction by their remoteness and their coverage in vines. Similar to a few sheila-na-gigs, perhaps?

I read of their erotic endurance in the pages of a discarded Sunday supplement to an English paper brought in by one of my housemates at Irish school one rainy summer night last July in Glencolmcille. There, within a few minutes' walk, other rocks mildewed. One I forgot to hike to had a tiny circle in the middle, albeit higher than the waist, deemed 'the meeting' or once the 'courting' stone. Others phallic, remnants of erect pillars and now silent rites we will never know. Such rituals nearly vanished, at least from the clerical chronicles, once austere evangelists like Colmcille spread from that valley, his birthplace. He meant well, perhaps. Wanted to save my ancestors' pagan souls and stop the clans from rutting with, and like, sheep. Certainly the intensity of the mystic, of the soul yearning for release from our messy guts drove many in the Church towards beauty and wisdom. Yet, for many others, it warped them, and we who had no choice, having never been given any other option on the small island and the narrow path but to submit or be damned.

The familiar hatred of sex and exaltation of the celibate urged Colmcille and 1500 years of Irish Catholics into inendurable renunciation of our nature. His bed, still seen today just beyond the window of my room where I learned more about Khajajuro, was also of stone, but unyielding granite rather than pliant sandstone. Trying to overcome their libido, priests forced us to reject bodily comfort. My paperback "Sex & Marriage in Ancient Ireland" by Patrick C. Power's a thin one. Much thicker tomes stand on my shelves: "Medieval Handbooks of Penance," "Sex, Dissidence, and Damnation: Minority Groups in the Middle Ages," and the enormous, and admittedly fascinating to me (there's still my papist love of arcana, well before my Jesuit university's B.A. which I thank proudly if perversely, for it is there so many of us not that many years ago quailed at the strictures that kept us from one another's fully carnal knowledge) "Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe."

As James A. Brundage in the latter volume demonstrates so well, these medieval patterns of thinking did not fade; they influenced directly the laws we have today on many state books regarding the illegality of same-sex relationships, sodomy by its multifarious and contradictory examples that fail to explain, and our unease at sex itself. By my young adulthood, to be fair, we'd all internalized the sinfulness of our desires. And, there were far too few Jesuits around our campus to enforce pre-Conciliar chastity. The Jebbies probably did not believe much in such "occasions of sin" anymore, but we did, credulous children of devoted immigrants, the stern working class, and what the President of LMU rumor had it once labelled as our student body "the average Catholic high school graduate."

Historians now aver, following Emmet Larkin's devotional revolution thesis, that often earlier Irish displayed less piety, more "laissez-faire" let it play as it lays sort of attitude towards sex until the Famine combined with Jansenism to punish whatever hangover remained from the previous millennium and a half of a detente between priestcraft and paganism. The monks in the Glen and their successors at Jesuit colleges, enamored with an ideal human form which had ascended from the bonds of appetite rather than the atavistic urges into which we descend, made us fear our own pulse, and that reverberating in those closest to us.

I shared with Layne one night an entry in my Irish dictionary where I stumbled across "cousin." This means "col ceathar," or prohibition/ impediment to the fourth degree. It's a strong word, related meanings denoting aversion, repugnance, distaste, broken vows, and forbidden degrees of relationship. The cognate "ciorrú coil" defines incest; "An cholainn choil"= "the sinful flesh." She replied how sad it was that what could be a relationship of love turned into one of fear. You saw cousin Aidan or Aoife and all you'd think about was "warning: keep off the ass"?

By so many stages, such a shift of mentality alienated the Irish from each other. The tenuous ties back to Indo-European and indeed Indic structures of sex and family and culture eroded. The Church, dragging us away from kisses and grappling into fasts and grumbling, helped eradicate a brutal, yet frank and direct and fleshly celebration of the spiritual within the coupling and the lust and the passion that unites us all in our secret moments. Not just, as Eliot Spitzer and his wife Silda and their three nameless teenaged children and "Kristen" aka Emperor Club $1,000 a rendezvous (so Eliot paid; he's rumored to have spent $80k total) escort all testify, our sordid exposure in purportedly Christian times. Makes you long for a Buddhist counter-Reformation, or a Hindu revival. Not to mention a truly Celtic reconstruction of the fables.

Image: "To Ease the Passage of the Soul into Paradise" Ink on silk, China, 10c CE. Read more at: Avalokiteshvara as Guide of Souls

My Wife's Blog Entry Today

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