Here on Buddhistdoor Global.
An ”icon . . . is beyond art. It is a real presence that we venerate. A still, almost silent presence looking tenderly at us, helping us to pray and lifting our minds and hearts above this Earth . . . to heaven, our true homeland”*
According to recent neuroimaging research, the veneration of spiritual imagery triggers hyperactivity in a part of the brain called the caudate nucleus, a key structure in the neural pleasure/bliss zone. As I have discussed in earlier essays on imagery and the brain, symbols and color can essentially rewire our neural biology and have profound effects on our well-being. They can also direct our thinking, due in part to the feelings of awe and rapture that the veneration of sacred art can induce. But if meditation on sacred imagery can affect the individual so profoundly, what are the implications at the societal level?
I am increasingly intrigued by the use of religious and spiritual iconography throughout human history. Perhaps more controversially, I am also curious about the unarguable patriarchal paradigm in which much of this sacred art was created and our continued attachment to it today. Moreover, what does the contemporary upsurge in subjective sacred feminine artwork mean for tomorrow?
Depiction of White Tara by Tilly Campbell-Allen
Of course, given the non-dual nature of ultimate reality, gender shouldn’t really be part of the conversation. But in this phenomenal existence, gender attribution and apparent hierarchy profoundly affect our relationships and social climate. This is a vast and ongoing conversation that I can only skim the surface of here, so in this essay I will only touch upon some of the early influences on and of figurative iconography as a prelude to a broader dialogue.
Art is an extraordinarily effective propaganda tool that has been used for centuries to create what anthropologist Clifford Geertz called cultural “moods.” That is to say, so much of how we view and feel about our culture, good and bad, has been reflected, shaped, even directed visually. It is fascinating to question how much of our “mood” has been determined by imagery at the behest of determining factors other than the artist’s personal intuition. Intuition is neurologically attributed to right-brained activity rather than the analytical left, and is typically associated with the feminine more than the masculine. Yet while women have long been the subject of much religious art, they have simultaneously been blocked from active participation in its creation.
Beyond our immediate earthly surroundings, one of the first significant influences of divinity that humans looked to was the sky, and the Sun was regarded as most fundamental to life on Earth. Before the ancient Egyptian sun god Ra, the earliest known solar deities in Egypt were seven sun goddesses—Wadjet, Sekhmet, Hathor, Nut, Bast, Bat, and Menhit. Meanwhile, the Moon, Khons, was depicted as masculine.
Many other cultures have correspondingly depicted the Sun as feminine and the moon as masculine. As noted in translated texts by Tuvan shamans, we can even see this in very early spiritual art.
“The Sun resembles the ovum, the Moon resembles the sperm. Modern observations support assigning the Sun to the feminine and the Moon to the masculine. Under the microscope the non-mobile ovum (propelled through the fallopian tubes but not by its own motion) looks like a sun with its many rays of living protoplasm emanating from its spherical surface. The motile sperm reflects the swift motion of the Moon as it propels itself in successive crescent-shaped waves. Also, under the microscope, the ovum appears more red and the sperm more white, confirming the old traditions of tantric Hinduism as these are the two colors of the solar Kali and the lunar Shiva. They are also the colors of their pair of yogic channels pingala and ida, not to mention the pair of red and white tinctures in the central doctrine of the transformation of the soul in alchemy.”**
Alchemy, too, has its roots in ancient Egypt. While societies around the world each realized gender roles in their own way, typically the women’s primary drive was as the mother and caregiver, with men providing from outside the home. This played out in ways that either supported women or rendered them subordinate to the influence of testosterone. The practice of “Kemeticism,” conversely, (Kemet being the name of ancient Egypt and their spiritual practice) seemed to celebrate gender equality. In fact, one ancient symbol still familiar to us today was so venerated that evidence of its usage was found in Mesopotamia and Persia, and among the Minoans. The ankh, one of the most ancient ideographs, seems to have represented “eternal life” through the perfect unification of male and female.*** A strong argument for subsequent Christian iconography and its societal implications was that the Christians of ancient Alexandria, known as the Copts, adopted the ankh in their practice but soon excised the feminine aspect (the upper loop) completely. Once the emperor Constantine had replaced it with the Roman sword, the Crucifix as we recognize it today was born. By now a new iconography was setting the cultural “mood:” the sun was deemed masculine and the feminine aspect was downgraded.
The attribution of gender to celestial bodies is significant and there is clear evidence that many societies experienced a similar cultural switch from the life-giving solar goddess to an omnipotent male sun god. The moon became identified as the reflective, emotional feminine, most notable in astrology, which had a marked influence around the world as a rigorous study of the heavens was underway in Alexandria. It is said that the destruction of the great library of Alexandria set progress and learning back more than 1,000 years. However, some of the knowledge and thought produced there had already made its way to Greece, heavily influencing Grecian philosophy and Hermetic alchemy, now with this strong patriarchal bias.
The ensuing Hellenistic influence on Buddhist art in India became evident, and non-figurative symbols representing enlightenment were replaced by large images of Siddhartha Gautama as the Buddha and heavily influenced figurative imagery. The yang of Oriental balance was the fiery Sun and the yin the watery Moon. It is interesting to reflect on how women were/are expected to play out this energy as the traditional yin to the masculine yang, and this is systematically expressed in religious art. Yet it might also be argued that pushing out new life is the most yang thing that can be done, and women are often considered “fiery” when fully expressing their power. We do see some of this yang power in Buddhist deities such as Vajrayogini and the raw creative/destructive energy of Kali, both of whom can appear somewhat terrifying. But deities and archetypes generally adhered to certain cultural “moods,” with a patriarchal bias. And when the art is venerated as sacred, the imagery activates the caudate nucleus, giving us profound feelings of rapture and union with the divine that becomes heralded as “truth.”****
A vast proportion of iconographic religious art was created within masculine paradigms. Accordingly, being born masculine was considered a privileged step closer to enlightenment, with women typically viewed as unworthy of creating religious imagery. However, might it also be possible that in the realm of sacred art, women are less likely to conform to dogmatic “rules” in preference to following their intuition? Regardless, in a patriarchal paradigm, the almighty creator was male. In the West, male artists expressed some of the most spectacular venerations of the religious experience at the behest of the 15th century banking dynasty, the House of Medici. Artworks that came to speak to generations as reflections of the Christian Divine were arguably less a subjective experience and more what the financial backers deemed acceptable.
In the East, even the Great Goddess of Hinduism, Mahadevi, is overshadowed by male counterparts such as Brahman. In Buddhist art, with so much training in precise proportions and symbolic postures, who were the artists laying down these insights and rules? Even in Vajrayana artwork, for example, (probably the most gender-equal Buddhist culture we can look to) the ultimate inseparability of compassion and wisdom, or form and emptiness, is typically represented in such a way that the central fully faced figure is usually male with his smaller contorted female consort often positioned with her back towards us and a look of veneration toward her larger partner. Subtle as it seems, there appears nonetheless, a visual gender hierarchy.
The artists within a given paradigm are hugely influential in reflecting and setting the “mood” of a society. From the late 1960s, we started to see a surge in a new type of art inspired by subjective spiritual experience—visionary, shamanic art representing the divine feminine in all her multifaceted glory, ignoring formalism, yet profoundly respectful of the spirituality. I find this very interesting, not least as it is one of the most spontaneous subjects in my own artwork. I also feel it is extremely important with—I hope—significant implications for the cultural “mood” of tomorrow.
While the rules of sacred geometry and specific proportions may continue to be embedded in the faces and postures of deities in Buddhist art, what if it is time to recall a primal wisdom, to be open to evolving some of those masculine “rules” by creating new intuited feminine “moods” that are more appropriate to these unbalanced, turbulent times? Rules and moods that are no longer determined by a single gender and inevitably represent stereotypes within an established hierarchy, but instead elevate both the feminine and masculine side by side; no one bigger or smaller, and no contortion. We can leave celestial energies untainted by gender hierarchies and bear witness to the return of the loop to the cross, the return of the ankh.
Sacred women painted by women.
According to Alain de Botton, Marcel Proust saw “art as a mechanism that can restore beauty and interest to things that have been unfairly neglected.”*****
Proust observed: “The great quality of true art is that it rediscovers, grasps, and reveals to us that reality far from where we live, from which we get farther and farther away as the conventional knowledge we substitute for it becomes thicker and more impermeable.”
I think he had a point . . .
* English composer Sir John Tavener (1944–2013), as quoted in lecturer Emma Clark’s talk at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts “What is Sacred Art and Why is it Important Today?”
** Why the Sun is Feminine and the Moon Masculine (Lionpath)
*** According to both followers of Kemeticism and as brought to the West by British surgeon and researcher into myth and symbols Thomas Inman (1820–76) in the paper Ancient Pagan and Modern Christian Symbolism, first published in 1869 and again in 1875.
**** Typically, the veneration of sacred imagery activates the caudate nucleus, often leaving the onlooker with a deep feeling of unity with the divine. Although even with all the technology today, we don’t know if this activation remains within the brain or connects with something higher. Neuroscience has only recently discovered that the brain creates neural structures in up to 11 dimensions, so what is activated physically could be communicating beyond our window of perception. As I have previously written, art is a realization of something from the mind, the ether, or beyond. Even in the realm of quantum mechanics, a strong argument can be made that art embodies power that can be is transmitted to (receptive) onlookers.***** Alain de Botton, Art as Therapy.
Footnote on other forms of sacred art: Traditional works in many other cultures however (Celtic, Scandinavian, Aboriginal, Native American, etc.) focused less on a masculine paradigm and more on reflections of their reality, dreamtime, totems, magic, decoration, etc. Often these were profoundly spiritual. These traditions seemed to express a very different relationship between genders. Of course, beyond gender reference is the art of sacred geometry found throughout the world. Be it intricately woven to form the complex visual feast of Islamic art and architecture; profound meditation yantras in tantric Hinduism, embedded into Buddhist thangkas, through to carvings like the flower of life embedded in the stonework of ancient Egypt.
New things happening... Being a busy bee and away from social media for a bit.. Evolving projects, subjects and techniques... I'm Very excited. Atop of my eco-dyed ahimsa silks, painted and now bonded over gold leafed stretched canvas, which shimmers through the silk in such a magical way, I am also detailing with 24 carat gold.
#silkalchemy . #tillycampbellallen #gold #thangka #hermetic #magic#symbolism #alchemy #Buddhism #talisman #consciousart #healingart#yoga #meditation #reiki #circumpunct #crabjabstudio #dakiniasart #dakini#visionaryart #chakra #saraswati #prajnaparamita #freelanceartist
42cm x 56 cm approx
#Prajnaparamita with #Metatron's cube. Yes - introducing some #sacredgeomatry, the #symbolism is appropriate of course. Original silk painting of the personification of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra the sanskrit mantra associated is - "Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha"
“Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone utterly beyond, Enlightenment hail!”
She is ultimate wisdom, the essence of emptiness manifest. One could say, she is the nature of reality, at the quantum level. She holds the masculine principle - the "diamond" dorje - between her fingers at her heart. The Lotus sutra texts float above the blue lotus at her shoulder. She is gold in colour, the gold of enlightened Buddhas that sometimes make up her body.
Metatron's Cube contains within, all the Platonic solids. Each perfectly symmetrical shape also represents an element, including ether (represented by the dodecahedron) and the void (represented by the sphere). In other words, Metatron's cube represents the building blocks of our known reality, born of the "emptiness" of Prajnaparamita.
Dorje Dakini 02/2015 44"x22.5" (112cm x 57cm)
So..this was my very first painting on ahimsa silk, early February 2015, experimentation with technique and all .. but then, isn't that so often the best way we learn - jump straight in an learn on the hoof? Naturally, I've had a few years painting on silks, silks of differing qualities, but this silk is very different, with a somewhat 'relaxed' weft and warp weave, with occasional wide stripes of tighter weave. The look and feel of the silk, especially once I have worked my magic, is aged. Arcane is my goal. However, the second I took my brush to it, I knew it was love and that we would make beautiful music together.
I took artistic reference from the beautiful wall paintings of SIGIRIYA - LION ROCK (SRI LANKA).
This essentially naked dakini stands with the radiating dorje at her heart and a varada mudra, similar to the standing position of the Buddha when holding his altruistic posture, though a little more stylized. In my mind, this denotes her naked, pure, honest - nothing hidden - compassionate offering of diamond heart mind. She wears the jeweled skull crown of Vajrayogini a gold version of Vajrayogini's bone skirt and a green khata (scarf), similar to Green Tara. Through the khata and her black hair, we see that there is movement - active energy.
Semi obscured by the aging crackles in this piece, is Vajrayogini's Three OM mantra in Sanskrit.
An article I wrote back in mid 2015
In 2015, I had tentatively started a collection of "Maithuna" paintings inspired, in part, from secret arcane sexually graphic Tantric imagery from the East. These original Asiatic paintings were festoon in graphic symbolism, most of which quite shocking, not least to the uninitiated pious patriarchal Abrahamic denominations which ensued and even more than the statues at Lakshmana temple must have traumatized the Victorians. These ancient paintings were more 'shocking' because they depicted the unfettered Dakini with her consort or consorts in all her creative, terrifying power, the feminine energy that has access to higher realms. And unlike those Indian temples may have implied to those egos, the sacred union of Maithuna is for more than the sexual union with a short term partner. If it was purely the act of sex, according to those ancient status, bestiality would also be factored into new age interpretations, and everyone having sex would become enlightened. The ancient paintings were typically brightly coloured, focusing on the central female with men, snakes, phallus and vagina often with splatters of white and red over the finished piece. The red and white either represented or actually was menstrual blood and semen. This was highly symbolic as well as physical in some of the most secret alchemical Tantra practices.
The feminine has been both maligned and worshiped in ancient scripture, most significantly due to the power held in creation, resulting in both the obsession and threat to masculine mojo when the unfettered woman is fully in her own power. (witch hunts are a prime example of a masculine fear of woman)
What also needs to be remembered is that many ancient teachings were being transmitted in a heavily caste system and that by this time, the power hungry left brain, brilliantly strategic world domination-'Napoleonic inferiority' complex, pigeon-chested yet fragile ego with it's need for self affirmation, patriarchy had already taken it's grip globally, impacting many aspects of doctrine.
But I do wonder if we have got all the male/female understandings and teachings upside down... a thought I will touch on here towards the end, but will undoubtedly come back to in more detail at a later date.
In the unification of polarities, of sun and moon, of male and female, I do want to preface that it is meant in neurological hemispheric terms, energetic terms of each individual as well literal gender terms. Within each of us we contain masculine and feminine energy and often one energy prevails, irrelevant of our physical bodies and let's face it, if we do reincarnate, then these gender arguments should not even be a conversation, yet the are - notably by those in history whose spirituality is based purely on the precept of rebirth! However, the most fundamental factor in Maituna is the sanctity of the love commitment between the two individuals.
So on one hand the 'Goddess worship' and unification of opposites, is purely symbolic. It is the process of using the internal feminine energy to access beyond the mundane reality. For most lay people, the 'right-hand' path of celibate meditations would be the safest, purest route. However, the more dangerous 'left handed' approach to transcendental alchemy through Tantra did involve highly ritualized, non emotionally attached sexual intercourse as a form of meditation and self transformation. Typically for the spiritual attainment of the man, he would find or be partnered with a suitable female and before any intercourse, there would be days of preparatory ritual. But much has been lost and replaced with a bite sized profiterole, fluffy, rainbows and unicorns, angels and bright light version, nick named in the West "Californian Tantra".
Sex is actually a very small aspect of Tantra. Though sex can be used to awaken the feminine Shakti energy, the sleeping serpent coiled at the base of your spine, the kundalini rising as a result of orgasmic surrender, the 'little death' ( as the French call it) the moment were our ego dies in the ecstatic rapture of cosmic, timeless bliss. (This in part, ties in with Ophiolatry, touched upon here, but something else I will come back to in more detail separately).
There is much biological, neurological, and historical literature on the benefits of sex at many levels. But there is a heck of a lot of blown up new age self inflated woo-woo rubbish out there too.
Underneath the surface of later male-dominant cults, there is a worldwide wealth of evidence of a much older and puissant Sun Goddess, as well as of a Moon God....The excerpts below were related respectively by Kertek Okaan and Mongush Senden in 1990 and recorded by Kenin-Lopsan:
My Mother the Sun
This story is from ancient times. The Sun is my Mother, one says. If there is no sun, then there will be nothing on earth [and] if there is no mother, there will be no children. As the sun and mother have the same duties, they began calling the Sun "My Mother".
There is reason why Tuvans of ancient times used to call the moon Father. The sun is called Mother because as soon as dawn breaks the sun rises in the east, and likewise a Tuvan mother is always the mistress of her yurt for she takes care of the children. The moon is called Father because a father is always away and does not stay long in the yurt. Likewise, the moon does not appear in the sky every day too: it either appears or disappears.
The Sun resembles the Ovum, the Moon resembles the Sperm. Modern observations support assigning the Sun to the feminine and the Moon to the masculine. Under the microscope the non-mobile ovum (propelled through the fallopian tubes but not by its own motion) looks like a sun with its many rays of living protoplasm emanating from its spherical surface. The motile sperm reflects the swift motion of the Moon as it propels itself in successive crescent-shaped waves. Also, under the micro-scope, the ovum appears more red and the sperm more white, confirming the old tradi-tions of tantric Hinduism as these are the two colours of the solar Kali and the lunar Shiva. They are also the colours of their pair of yogic channels pingala and ida, not to mention the pair of red and white tinctures in the central doctrine of the transformation of the soul in alchemy.
Affirming the assignation of the Moon to the male, it is the impregnation cycle in the human female which is controlled by the Moon, the directing of impregnation being a male function. That not obvious but straightforward relation of the male lunar power with the female menstrual cycle often led to the understandable error of taking the Moon to be female. That error is further pointed up by the fact that in cultures like those of the Buriats of Western Mongolia, the Greenlanders, Maori and Nigerians, it is believed that the Moon could impregnate women. Thus women of the Greenlanders had the custom that they would not sleep outside under the moonlight unless they had rubbed spittle on their bellies beforehand to prevent the Moon's impregnation. The Maori held that the Moon was the true and permanent husband of all women, more important than the mortal spouse.
The Moon is the initiating or fertilizing power of impregnation. It thus directs the tides of women's menstrual or monthly (the latin mens means "month") cycle because the lunar force determines the peaks of fertility - the crests of most likely impregnation and the troughs of its least likelihood. Thus the lunar power of impregnation orbits around the solar egg. These ancient truths reappeared in the age of chivalry, when the entire adventurous journeying of a knight revolved around his fealty to his lady. " (Lionpath)
I love men. Just to clear that up. I have a son, daughters, all young adults now. 1 gay ex husband - like brother to me. I am heterosexual and rather enjoy sex. Sex has been lovely and sometimes less lovely over the years. It has been snuggly, hot, monotonous, icky-shudder-worthy and kinky at times, just like most peoples' will have been, but the best sex I've ever had, at all levels, without question, is with my lover with who's heart I melted. So I am not a ranting man hating feminist, nor overly delusional in the romance department, but I am more curious as to how and why men and women relate together the way we do and how this is reflected in sex and relationships, both today and in deep history and how sexual union factors in our spiritual path, and how the ancient teachings have been interpreted over the years.
Each is on their own journey with their own lessons and progressing in their own perfect way. This conversation is not aimed at dismissing or deprecating personal choice - when causing no harm to others.
They say pleasure - Bliss - is the ultimate state of being, leading many to adopt the instant gratification, superficial, even irreverent hedonistic version of this concept, or surrounding themselves with as many relationships - getting as much 'ascension' as possible. Like a kid ina candystore gets it's sugar high when gorging on sweets as often as it can .. or even like trying to satisfy your 'thirst' with salt water (instead of fresh water) it leaves you thirsty for more,ut will never quench your thirst and slowly kills you from the inside through dehydration...the more you drink, the faster you dry up.
As humans, as social creatures, many of us, some more than others, require and thrive on the feedback we receive from our social interactions. We buzz when we have had a great time and flitted like bees collecting pollen from one flower to the next. For some, the drug-like addiction to keeping it so fresh, is that long term commitment feels like a life sentence bound to usurp our vitality. Also it is a factor that we are multifaceted creatures and different people invoke different aspects of our personality and it can feel impossible to select one version of our self over another. Nor should we have to. Any Google search these days will expounciate on the importance of "self love"," loving all". "We are all one". Let alone the virtues of frequent sex! And that first and foremost the healthiest relationship we must have is with our holistic selves. Having long term committed relationship with more than one partner that fit and reflect differing aspects of our personality is one of the foundational precepts of polyamory, maybe with just reasoning.
Herein are overlapping subjects,essentially that of transcending through sexual union and the relationship with the feminine.
We are ALL polyamorous. However poly-coity and intention behind our interactions are factors in newage thinking.
Mine is not to judge as we all require different experiences to fit our different stages in life. At the risk of sounding somewhat sententious however, I am going to soap-box momentarily, on the subject of Secret Tantra, Neo Tantra,poly-coity, monogamy and polyamory.
Over the last 100 years or so, Eastern spirituality started migrating into the mind stream of Western consciousness. Then the 'New-age' precepts took on a life of it's own, and though probably perfect for it's time, was more of a dangling carrot, or an antidote for the rigidity of the preceding years, a crack in the opening door to peak through but born of desperate need to liberate themselves from a constricted cultural history, en mass people grasped and attached their egos to the Eastern spiritual philosophies filtering into their lives during the 60's. Crazy wisdom teachers like Chögyam Trungpa, and erudite loquacious gurus wooed the west, opening our eyes to a transcendental vision of being, with a focus on making love not war, The Bhagavad-Gita siting the " Love revolution where we can channel our energy towards the service of all beings" was being taken pretty literally by many, especially in America as it was recovering from war.
The late George Feuerstein, one of a more humble scholars and genuine practitioners of real yoga and heart maithuna, who was more interested in finding the truths from source to the Eastern teachings, than something more easily digested by the Western mind, as a result, never became as popular as the more 'sexy' Osho (who, indecently,contradicted himself on more than one occasion) approach, especially when Feuerstein (as well as people like C.Jung) suggested that many westerners role-played the mystic teachings, with no profound integration of knowledge and understanding and that without the deep assimilation of the aforementioned - lead to inauthentic lives. Going through the motions of a practice, reciting mantras, regurgitating sadhanas, recycling teachings, for too many, just means you've got a good memory. One could say, some people wore a costume and faked the role with no real understanding of the part, potentially making this very dangerous on their own psyche and others' especially when assuming 'guru status'.
One can see some very depleted souls out there today, let alone damaged students who bought into the self deluded 'guru'. Even with earnest intentions, too many are now stuck in a bitter sweet psychedelic or pop culture version of spirituality, let alone a new generation of very bubble gum bubbled cotton candy 'light workers' hugging everyone in sight or the half dressed space cadets of the yoga rooms or the vapid sandal wearers and not to mention the self aggrandized, often highly hypocritical money maker or emotional lower ego feeding vampires out there.... And whilst it's not the worst thing in the world, it's something of a misconception of the 'fake it till you make it' aspect of the visualizations of Vajrayana Buddhism.
And over the last few decades, many Eastern spiritual masters, concerned, publicly disaffiliated themselves from promulgators of these secret teachings, arguably fearing that the Western mind simply was not properly prepared, that our grasping and hedonistic ways would misconstrue the profound implications of esoteric wisdoms, taking the 'anything goes' path of Tantric liberation during these dark and depraved Kail-yuga times resulting in amongst many things, not too few spiritual seekers eagerly siting - "We went to this sacred sex retreat last weekend... and now OMG! me and her are doing such amazing Tantra!!"... etc... etc .... hmmmm
To a degree, they were justified in their concerns. The typical modern western person had no deep rooted legacy of spiritual mind or existence. We bottle-necked many years ago into a left-brained, alphabetized, consumption mindset, with a hunger for acquisition in the physical world. Aside from a few Gnostic alchemists, what magic resided in western Europe was from the Shamans of the Druid and Celtic mysticism and as beautiful as some of their practices are, many were more pagan than esoteric. And the Americas had it's native Indian spirituality beaten down into a sideshow by the influx of founding fathers. Genuine spiritual seekers in the west at this time were often eclipsed by the sexy version or marginalized by religion and control and today, maybe even worse, there appears to be an epidemic of well meaning seekers who are so bent on 'positivity' and their 'regular communes with angels' etc and living in such blindingly' bright light' that they can't even see the shadow it's creating then wonder why their 'nebulous' ways don't prevent the emotional relational roller-coasters in their lives. It is naive and in it's worst way-vulnerable.
Tantra is profoundly spiritual and unabashedly pragmatic. It requires very clear mind, an understanding that life and work is also your guru and that through visualizations, you can transcend the mundane perception of reality. And of course, these days, there is a new wave of speakers teaching the merits and implications of visualization.
Today, neo tantra advocates (in amongst other things) the worship of the divine feminine and her energy. Many practitioners are genuine and live heart based lives with beautiful intentions for humanity, the earth and our place in the cosmos and this is naturally a 'safer' environment for women, but one could argue, in some male cases, and dating back to ancient Hindu scriptures, is still wrapped up in the same bubble of objectification as 'misogyny' (though without the hatred), in that the female is often not seen as a person in her own right, but a 'tool' for self transformation. At worse, feeding the egoic male requirement again, not that far in concept than having a harem, though this time often wooed with spiritual flattery that leaves the now receptive woman ripe and open for abuse (often emotionally draining abuse as well as sexual). In their worship of the feminine, the proponents of neo-tantric versions of polyamory/poly-coity, undoubtedly male 'gurus' with their silky words of apparent enlightened wisdom, tragically (though sometimes unwittingly due to their blind self absorption) abuse so many women for their own satisfaction or emotional needs, something that happens both in the West as well as in many Eastern ashrams, the latter being a subject very rarely discussed. The men 'love' women so much, they have to have as many as they can get, arguably the same attitude as a salacious lad's lad on a night out.
And of course, there are more women today adopting the poly-coity lifestyle and advocating the sexual liberation as spiritual and the way of the future. Here in the West, women stand on the shoulders of those who fought valiantly for female liberation from the social imprisonment of the patriarchal centuries preceding, and it is a basic human right to live with freedom of choice. Today however sexual liberation is often under the umbrella of buzz words like 'sacred sex', 'conscious love making' and 'higher love', terms that sound very spiritually evolved but in truth often maintain a detachment from the real yoga. And as far as I am aware, In no root texts did true tantra propose multiple partnering in the way that new agers have advocated it. Maybe as some would argue, the arcane doctrines should stay in the past and allow for the teachings to evolve with the times. There is validity to this of course but like a good cook book, the best ones tend to be the unfrilly recipes from grandmother's kitchen.
Continuing the food metaphor, sex, like food, should be nourishing, tasty and make your mind body and soul feel vibrant and not morbidly obese. But we've become addicted to the highs derived from fast food and attempting to convince a carb junkie that a bowl of raw veg. will benefit him more than he could possibly imagine is not far off trying to tell a meth addict that he's not looking so good these days. Like a good healthy diet is great for the body so is good healthy sex ( not least thanks to hormones and neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, endorphine, oxytocin, prolactin, norepinephrine and many others , released during long love making as well as hormones that will boost your immune system and even delay aging!) Remember - It is a metaphor. there are many very beautiful, nubile healthy eating, yoga practicing 'gods and goddesses ' out there, who sound great ... on paper...but spiritually? time will tell.
One of the alchemical ingredients released during sex is amrita (Sanskrit) 'Divine nectar of immortality', often derived from female ejaculation, the treasure of female orgasm and it's gift of vitality used in Tantric practices and maybe subsequently subconsciously part of what has lead to a man's desire for many women and to keep his woman/women close.
In cultures that have adopted a 'wife ownership' for societal reasons, religious dogma or effected by anything akin to Hollywood story telling, the condemnation of falling in love or even lust to anyone outside of the marital home has led to so much misery and half lives lived. The ensuing drama that occurs in an average 'normal' family unit is arguably avoided in polyamorous pods.
Except, the reality is that we are hot-wired to merge at deeper levels than multiple partnering can typically allow. Extended households, close friends, large families etc. these things are healthy and natural, I would argue that poly-coity households suggesting it was anything other than personal choice, is misleading. True Tantric union can really surely only be engaged within a long term partnering. Merging, melting and ascending into the 'God state' with your lover is not with one partner at a time during the magic of sexual alchemy - this takes us back to practices more akin to Paganism, a worst - glorified masturbation, wearing an enlightenment disguise and whilst there is nothing wrong in that I guess, if it's true significant transcendental growth yoga you are wanting to experience with another, It is only found in the marriage of intimacy at all levels, in long term relationship. Difficult but not impossible in poly-coity pods of course, but very close heart listening would need to be done, as it's there that the real magic happens. Not in delusional romantic thinking, but in the mundane world it's in the messy, honest, vulnerable, beautiful, mutual, respectful honoring, courageous, patient, flexible, intelligent and nurturing embrace of commitment. One of the scariest emotional thresholds to cross for many people. We are in relationship with everyone we interact with of course. Tantra includes sex to heal and enlighten. The path of higher love is not however found in many lovers. Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama love many, have compassion and higher love but as far as I'm aware they were not getting their Tantra flirt on and calling it "healing sacred sex".
Many lovers will likely act as junk food, giving you a quick-fix high and the illusion of feel good but no real satisfaction and actually depleting and slowly exhausting the body, the emotional body. more importantly, the spiritual body. Without a doubt, Neo-tantra has made spirituality sexy and contains within many truths and brought many people a more beautiful outlook on life with a much more conscious, bigger picture attitude than that of 'pious nihilism' or the enslavement of religious dogma. The transcendental, almost mythical states 'sacred sex' will take us to however, is pretty impossible with out monogamous commitment where the letting go and total trust is most apparent. Ancient concepts like non attachment seem to have become yet another, misunderstood buzz word for the practitioners of Neo-tantra, being interpreted as justification for poly-coitous relationships. In fact, taking from Hindu tantra practices, Osho stated that sex should only be had with many women he was not involved with emotionally.
I am not speaking of the culturally dictated marriage that confines us, the conditioning of a given society which renders it almost impossible to know what is our own truth and desire and that which has indoctrinated us. Not the marriage that stagnates us, the marriage that's more of the loveless institution that becomes second place to societal gain and turns on our autopilot. Not all relationships are meant to last the duration of a life time either. Through mutual and self awareness, in a more emotionally evolved humanity, we would know if it was time to move on, but we are not there .. yet. We still need to be careful of the engagement in unhealthy relationships where the only course of healthy action is to leave. Nor should marriage make us lazy. We cannot expect a significant other to do the work for us.
But, without falling into magical Mills and Boon romantic fantasy, or 'soul mate' or 'twin flame' jargon I am talking of the enlightenment through total egoic melt that can only be found in complete trust in the adventure of the union with your opposite.
The Native Americans speak of the arrangement of male and female in this plane. The Males' job is to protect the female as she does her job of helping him attain wisdom.
New-agers say that the problems with jealousy and insecurities etc are issues to be transcended through the poly-coity pods. Time and again, most will likely ultimately fail as individuals typically will force themselves to fit other people's expectations, whilst others will 'enjoy' the detachment from the 'yoga of monogamy'.
Compassion and Wisdom. The two ingredients in Buddhist teachings.
'co' meaning together and 'passion' meaning a strong feeling married with the wisdom of the nature of reality.
Today's physics has proved that nothing is solid. That in actual fact, nothing is even in this reality for more than fleeting moments at the sub atomic level.(more about that here) It is the illusion of being solid, much as a spinning blade will act as a solid upon impact if it is spinning fast enough. What lies beyond this 'spinning blade', this veil of reality is possibly the creative force that the feminine (right brain?) has access to and that is what has been such a threat to the male (left) brain, that knows it can dominate this realm but has lost access to beyond. This 'physical' realm of ours counts for only 4 % of the known universe. Not even the giant stellar systems that resemble atoms are solid within them selves. An energetic Fractal 4 % at an incomprehensible level. Can we all truly have access to that vast remaining percentage through our harmonized hemispheres via an awakened feminine serpent energy residing at the base of our spine?
In ancient stories, as the male 'mated' with an appropriate female for his own enlightenment purposes, (maintaining his upper rung on the ladder of social importance), latterly learned the truth that it was in fact he, the student, the consort to a benevolent highly realized Heroine who, through her actions beyond mere sexual union, taught him love at the deepest, highest level through the yogas of rightful living, helping him awaken to his own Hero and together they transcend time and space. (Think of this in both actual and metaphorical terms of interpersonal and neurological.)
You see, we are as arrogant and delusional as the hermit who finds apparent enlightenment in the sanctity of his cave, realizing the nature of reality and the love of all sentient beings. But the moment he allows himself liberation from his isolation and descends back into the throngs of every day town life, finds his annoyance at the obstacles he is faced with. At that moment, he is awakened enough to know he has learned very little. For it is easy to feel ascended when we are detached, but this is an egoic illusion. we are in bodies for a reason. Part of this world for a reason. duel for a reason and fall in love for a reason. Ego is part of our tool kit and this is part of the path of Tantra. Not to negate ourselves and this reality, but to be in it, fully embody it, though full yogic embodiment is not just about being able to contort yourself into crazy positions or to slip into 'Tantric' hedonism, it is a pure attitude. It is the way in which we dance through life. It is the grace with which we conduct ourselves and exchange with the world around us. It is every day life, as the very non neo tantric teacher Erkhart Tolle says - it's all in 'the power of now' with it's warts and all and the commitment to sticking it out with the people we love and helping each other be the Hero and Heroine, the God and Goddess that we are, with the understanding of physical impermanence. This is yoga, this is Tantra. The complex rituals of Tantra are the micro practice in our complex macro lives. To integrate and merge the two seamlessly into one practice called life would seem to be the way, the path of a true Tantric student.
Here to see on the article on Levekunst
Ahimsa musings -The Power of the Purr
People seem to be doing a great deal of ROARING these days I’ve noticed. I often see it from people finding and announcing their inner voice, their inner power. Today there seems to be a lot of focus upon manifesting our own reality and self empowerment. Generally considered a good thing. And I totally get it! That rise of primordial energy feeling, like it could almost explode out of you. Out of every molecule in your body. Reminds me of this clip of Kundalini rising set to the artwork of Alex Grey. Gets you pumped up and feeling enormous! Like a Great Lion on top of a mountain booming like thunder from the bottom of your guts over the vast expanse beneath you.
However, isn’t a ROAR designed to impress or intimidate others really? I mean, look at a pride of lions? It also seems, well, rather wrapped up in the “me, myself and I” and less of the compassionate service to others? (unless it’s fiercely defending someone). But it leads me to wonder if there is so much intent on finding that ROAR these days that we are forgetting how to purr?
My introduction to the spiritual path started very early in my life and ok, maybe not exactly with a purr, more of a joyful Snow Lion. I’m not saying I’ve been the greatest student of course, but when i’m off balance, I come back to these early year influences. My teacher, the now highly venerated Geshe Namgyal Wangchen was young, new to Europe and fresh from his enforced escape from his home in Tibet. Like so many others, he had to flee, enduring months traversing the Himalayas where many of his colleagues perished. Finally crossing the borders where he discovered the comparative luxuries of India before being introduced to the wonders of the West. He was immediately an advocate of the profoundly significant marriage between Eastern spirituality and Western materialism. Like so many of his peers who had endured tremendous hardship, he greeted the world with a compassionate purr. With a warm smile, playful nature and light touch. But don’t mistake that light touch for lightweight.
He, as with many other enlightened teachers, saw how the new scientific discoveries in the West were underscoring what the ancients didn’t have words for. In fact the Tibetans had had to create words especially. They say that much information was kept secret until the world was ready. In the meanwhile however, more simple yet some fundamentally important lessons were taught. ”Do no harm. Treat others as you would wish them to treat you and to tread lightly upon our Mother Earth”. Is this congruent with a ROAR?
In our desire to ROAR, do we not run the risk of forgetting gentleness and underestimating the power of the purr? Does the ROAR not somehow feel slightly volatile? How do you feel after this clip? Same animation, different music. Same situation, different reaction. To me, it now feels like a gentle expansive serine excitement. But that’s just me.
It does get me thinking though. If we are truly wanting to walk a spiritual path, is it correct that we should be ROARING so much? Craving to shine bright like the sun when even the Dalai Lama refers to himself as “only a reflection of the moon”? And is it correct that in those moments of such self assertion, that that ROAR energy is how we want to interact with and treat others? Imagine ROARING in the face of a young child. Imagine you were the young child. Is there a possibility that we may become deafened by our own noise, that we can’t hear their suffering?
Hinduism has a beautiful term. It is “Ahimsa” It is the way of no harm. In my mind, it is the way of the purr. However, don’t misconstrue a purr with passivity. In everyday lives, a cat’s purr has been found to bring much healing to patients. It is not passive, it is pervasive.
Naturally, I am aware of my own hypocrisies in this life. Many are far more light-footed on our planet than I am. I drive, use electricity, consume imported foods. It is a part of living in our modern world, where the most practical thing most of us can do, is what we can; with as much compassion and integrity as possible.
I am an artist and the substrate I fell in love with was silk. In fact I am quite passionate about it. It is my way of communicating things I have no words for. But I knew I could only continue if my art was not causing suffering and the death to thousands of little lives. It takes approximately 5500 cocoons, 5500 little creatures typically boiled alive, to produce 1kg (2.2lb) of raw silk. I searched and found a supplier of Ahimsa silk in India. A stunningly unusual silk that suits me down to the ground. Not only because it’s so beautiful, not only because now I know the moths fly free after they hatch, but the entire process also helps sustain a community*. Isn’t it possible to marry integrity with our material world? Do we really feel the need to consume at all costs when there is a way in which many can benefit?
Ever since the dawn of humanity, art has tied us together as a species. There is also an ancient Oriental proverb that states that we are connected by an invisible and unbreakable thread with the people we are destined to meet and silk is one of, if not the, strongest and most enduring protein fibers found in the natural world. It is organically produced to protect the caterpillar whilst it undergoes its extraordinary transformation and evolution into it's flying ascended form. It is diaphanous yet tough. Flexible yet strong. Understated by nature yet exquisite and most highly prized.
Couldn’t this somehow be a metaphor? something so delicate and underestimated as the fine, almost invisible thread with its purpose to protect and connect? ‘Gifted’ silk thread from the moth that can also be created into something beautiful. Something as beautiful and subtle as the reflection of the moon?
The world needs the Ahimsa way maybe more now than ever. Maybe after the initial ROAR, that first ‘call to power’, that sometimes awkward shift in our energy, that we discover something so innately calm it’s almost primordially pervasive. A deep cosmic purr if you will. Last clip. Same situation, different response. How do you feel after sinking into this one?
We are all in a state of evolution, doing what we do, given many factors in our lives. But maybe we should just remind ourselves that whilst the ROAR maybe needed and it’s good to know we have that raw power if we need to call upon it. And as much as a ROAR may feel good at the time and it may even impress others for a moment, the subtlety of the purr should never be underestimated.
Anyway, it’s just a thought I thought I’d share.
Guru in Lotus 11.5" x 15.5" (39cm x 29.5cm) 9/03/2015
This piece, painted early March 2015 was one of those paintings that manifested as I went along .. no preconceived ideas, just whatever came through. I,for one rather like this painting, as have many others as it transpires.
Naga Kanya, though strictly speaking she is a Nagi or Nagini whereas the male is a naga. Found in Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Skihism. (more via Wiki).
Here she offers magic, protection, blessings, prosperity and aligned relationships all In all forms, in all planes of existence. She is the immortal, ultimate treasure bringing Goddess.
With her aquila wings, she carries the thunderbolts of Zeus/Jupiter (the beneficent Guru planet) and in my painting, She is penetrated by the dorje - the powerful
'male' thunderbolt in Tibetan Buddhism; the diamond like compassionate masculine energy of skillful means and enlightenment seeing both the relative and absolute forms of reality.
Notice her shape? Typically very similar to that of Caduceus, Isis (and her high magical powers, cleverly gained from a snake bite to Ra) the misunderstood and much maligned Lilith. But most notably, the uterus - the seat of creation. Our first home. There is a train of thought that it is in fact the uterus that is implied symbolically in many of these images, more so than the double helix and kundalini rising.
The Naga is the Sanskrit term of deity in the form of a serpent, essentially a water snake.
Ahh snakes! Ophiolatry is to be found ubiquitously throughout mankind's history in one form or another. One can even surmise that its fervent demonetization has been a form of worship and it is my contention that such zeal for condemnation comes from a deep seated place of fear. And a great fear is that of truth. And it is upon this 'truth' that I will elucidate some. Though I would always encourage anyone interested, to delve in deeper for themselves as there is a plethora of information out there.
So to dive in to the symbolism of the snake.The salvation from it's toxin lies within it's self. It sheds it's outworn skin revealing it's fresh new one in the world. It is the interminable cyclic nature of Ouroboros It is the Torus.
It is the energy rising, the awakening kundalini.
The naga is associated with water and typically would be found from small ponds to oceans. Water represents our emotional body.
The naga is an aquatic serpent into human form with eagle wings. Water, earth, air. But where is the fire to complete this foursome? In fact, She is her own fire.
The unfettered Dakini. She is kundalini energy.
Awakened, She is what connects us to higher consciousness.
In my painting the dorje is within Vajrayogini's phenomenal source double tetrahedron, (the source of what manifests as mundane reality) The alchemical symbols for water and fire, Shiva and Shakti - male and female. The union of opposites, locked in sacred embrace.
The colouring in this painting is muted, however there still lay hints of the mixing of red and white, another factor in ophiolatry as well as secret Tantra. Whether it is in the resulting psychoactive merging of blood and venom or the sacred marriage of (menstrual) blood and semen, a state of bliss is achieved.
The conch. In Hinduism and Buddhism and Bon, the conch has been used as both water (emotional body) container and trumpet, for announcing, calling and awakening to Buddhadharma and is Lord Vishnu's attribute (where his wealth giving Goddess consort Lakshmi resides.)
The conch is an ocean creature, living in the warm shallow waters, and though possibly unrelated in this historical context, I think of the nautilus and how it feeds in shallow waters of the night but descends to depths of nearly 2000 feet during the sunlight hours. It makes me think of the dark, hidden places - even in the 'mid day sun' - to assimilate the nourishment it has consumed.
Naga Kanya offers us this conch, this treasure of emotional nourishment, offered from
her heart of the womb, .
This painting is strewn with sacred union imagery. The endless knot, the red/white yin yang, marriage of the sun and moon, the Sri yantra with Vajrayogini's seed syllable BAM surrounded by her (3 OM ) mantra. Ningishzida in red and white, a Mesopotamian deity of the underworld and the earliest known symbol of snakes twining around an axial rod. It predates the Caduceus of Hermes, the Rod of Asclepius and the staff of Moses by more than a millennium. The transcended caterpillar, seed of life, the lotus flowering from it's dark depths and most significantly, the pomegranate. Festoon with fertility, love, resurrection and immortality symbolism. In fact I have painted the lotus springing from a held jewel like pomegranate.