Category Archives: Hindu

Loosening the Literal

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Third Eye_NEW

 

This year the work for me is to try and dislodge the firm hold of the literal.

lit•er•al (lĭt′ər-əl) adj.:
1. a. according with the letter of the scriptures
b. adhering to fact or to the ordinary construction or primary meaning of a term or expression
c. free from exaggeration or embellishment
d. characterized by a concern mainly with facts
2. of, relating to, or expressed in letters
3. reproduced word for word: exact, verbatim

At one time I prided myself on not being a person who took things literally, but honesty eventually compelled me to admit I am bound as tightly as any to adhering to facts.  The problem is that the more we know about the factual the more we discover that there ain’t no such thing.  Of course, that’s actually a double negative and so does not “really” mean what it purports to mean. Catch my drift?

 
Which brings us to the third eye or as Hindu’s call it “Shiva’s eye. Eastern thought places the third eye in the middle of the forehead, slightly above brow level.  Western Theosophists associate it with the pineal gland at the back of the head.  In either case this eye is said to open upon a different reality or possibly more of reality than we perceive with normal vision.  It is the eye of non-duality, the place of perception from which we recognize the unity of all things. It allows us to see visions and pierce the veil of time.   New Age thought associates the third eye with enlightenment; a word which could meant ‘to bring light to’ but, I like to think of it as ‘to make lighter’  as in less heavy, as in feather-light on the scales of Ma’at.

 
I really love symbols, love the idea that a (literal) object can provide entrance to a whole field of dynamic tangible and intangible associations and meanings, but when it comes to depicting such abstractions artistically I find it incredibly difficult to jump the tracks and toot around in Rumi’s field.

 
I think it may be related to the extreme near-sightedness that afflicted my eyes most of my life (till laser surgery in my fifties).  Nobody noticed until I was six years old and started school.  I still remember the amazing clarity of that first pair of glasses and how quickly I became frightened of losing them.  I think that fear has made me hold tight to the “facts “of what I see.  Now, I want to loosen that grip a bit.  I once had a mentor who told me “we teach what we need to learn.”  My husband and I teach each other many things.  I taught him to “soften his gaze.”  It took a while for me to explain it clearly and him to understand what I meant.  Now, he has incorporated it so thoroughly he uses it as a teaching tool professionally.  Meanwhile, I am still struggling to learn  the difference between discernment and judgement, to soften the gaze of my inner critic while pulling the veil from in front of that lidless third eye.

 
So here is my depiction of it – the third eye set in an energetic field of non-being.  I don’t really like it.  It doesn’t fit my aesthetic and feels raw and unfinished to me.  I’m uncomfortable with it.  But isn’t that the point?

 

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – 13th century

 

The Language of the Birds

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Lakshi Listened

The language of the birds has a venerable history dating back to the ancient Greek world.  Aesop was supposed to have understood it, as did Tiresias.  The figurehead of Jason’s ship, the Argo, carved of wood from a sacred grove of trees at the oracle site of Dodona, could speak with birds.  The priestesses of Dodona received their prophecies from the rustling leaves of the oak.  Herodotus reported that:

“… two black doves had come flying from Thebes in Egypt, one to Libya and one to Dodona; the latter settled on an oak tree, and there uttered human speech, declaring that a place of divination from Zeus must be made there; the people of Dodona understood that the message was divine, and therefore established the oracular shrine …”  

Sacred trees and birds naturally share a long association, one I am sure will reveal itself in artwork to come.  Meanwhile, we can’t leave Greece without mentioning Aristophanes and his satirical play The Birds, in which two men conspire with a hoopoe bird to try and overthrow Olympus.

The hoopoehoopoe was valued for his virtue by Persians, but seen as a harbinger of death in Scandinavia.  He introduced King Solomon to Sheba.  In Egypt they painted his sacred image into the walls of their tombs.  Jumping ahead two thousand years to the work of the Sufi mystic poet, Farid al-Din Attar, we find the hoopoe leading a Conference of Birds on a quest for enlightenment.  About the same time, on the other side of Europe, troubadours were thought to write poetry and sing in the language of birds, while alchemists claimed that same avian lexicon as an arcane mystical language holding the secrets of the universe.  Others considered the language of the birds another name for angel-speak.

As you can see, it’s a fascinating topic.  There are even some fairy tales written about it, giving me enough material to inspire several weeks of work.  This week I started out as usual to create a collage, beginning by digging out my bird file and cutting images for a couple of hours.  However, I couldn’t make them coalesce into anything interesting.  Instead, I wrote a poem, Lakshmi* Listens, and illustrated it with a power point slide.  I then saved the image as a jpeg and posted it here.  I am still not as “outside the box” as I would like to be, but already the chains feel a bit looser…

* Lakshmi – the Hindu goddess of spiritual and material prosperity, wealth, purity, generosity, and the embodiment of beauty, grace and charm.

MADRE LAKSHMI

  Lakshmi Listens

Living alone

she learns to listen

distinguishing tweet from chirp

 chitter from squawk, constricting

 tongue and throat, rasping 0ut

syllables harsh enough to splinter ice;

whistling refrains so sweetly pitched

Lakshmi stoops to overhear, dripping

nectar tears

into the dimpled lake.

©2014 Christine Irving

The Dark Lord

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I’ll be on vacation next week without my studio, so Michelle will have to twitch the first prompt of our next tale herself.  I really loved working with this Hindu myth.  As always, I learned and was nourished from the deep interaction with story our process  provides.  Krishna inspires me; for that I am deeply grateful and leave you with this poem in his honor.  ~   Christine

His couch lies ready

linen strewn with marigolds

bedposts hung with silk

Where is the Dark Lord?

 

In the wet grass – footprints;

forgotten bracelets,

Where is the Dark Lord?

 

Laughter light as spider silk

spun to snare a blue-skinned god

floats fragrant on the dusky air

slides like an errant wisp

of perfumed hair across his lips

burns like whip-lash, bends

the sacred mouth and strings

it with desire.

 

Echoes fade.

Cows low

nightingale sings.

The Dark Lord lifts his pipe.

 

Notes fan out like soft-nosed ferrets

quartering the grazing ground, dodging

clumsy hooves to nose past crimson saris;

ride streams of spurting foaming cream,

flash cobalt sparks round a brass-rimmed milking bowl.

Cream spills white across the black-churned earth.

 

Gopis desert their lowing cattle, beating

up-turned jars like drums.

 

Constellations shift and shimmer

Universes disappear.

 

Krishna blows sweet longing down his flute

 

Worlds reorder.

Brass-bound jars set up a timpani

each milkmaid drops her gold embroidered hem

into a sister’s calloused palm and spins.

 

Red silk settles in circles.

The naked god comes forth.

©2013 Christine Irving

Krishna’s Flute

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Krishna'sflutewk#3,4

Krishna’s Flute
Little Krishna & the Fruit
Week# 3, 4

The flute of Krishna means the flute of revelation. Krishna lived like a human and he was a prophet. His story is told in the Epic Mahabharata. Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute, is based on Krishna’s life.
The Bansuri is a transverse flute made from a single hollow shaft of bamboo with six or seven finger holes. It is an ancient instrument associated with cowherds and pastoral life in India. Krishna was a master at his flute, enchanting every living creature to dance to his tune. In the tale of the Women of Braj, who became spell bound and danced their love and devotion while listening to Krishna play. (see Christine’s essay.)
Krishna’s flute teaches love. “Ah! How alluring is the melody of your music! It seems you are not a flute, but a magic wand.” When the Gopi women asked the flute about its magic the flute replied, “I am but a lowly reed, hollow inside. I know neither magic nor any arts of attraction. I am simply a forest reed, all hollow within and bereft of any beauty. Krishna, my lord, lover and bearer, calls this attitude of mine the greatest virtue and is extremely pleased with it. He over and over whispers into my ear-hole this excellent teaching: ‘Empty your self and I will fill you.’ I have realized its truth, and I obey it to the very letter. This is magic, if magic you will call it. This is my strength. It is he who sings through me and enchants you all. My dear friends, if you too empty yourselves … he will fill every nerve and atom of your body with his love and life. Does the pervading air not fill a jar when it is emptied of other stuff? He will not leave you even for a moment, and will sing through you the sweet melodies of harmony and peace to the whole world.”
In paintings of Krishna he is often shown playing his flute. I show in my collage the young Krishna playing his flute, standing at the portal of his temple which is the universe. He is surrounded by other children. He is also attracting cow herds and sheep. He revels in the affection and love of his mother.
“Stop it! Stop!” all of them shouted from the top of the tree. All the little heads popped out from among the branches … in my collage, I have the heads of his brothers around the right side of his temple’s doorway. They symbolize the brothers outraged by Krishna eating the fruit. As children often do, they run to the mother to tattle on their sibling. Much to their disappointment the mother does not punish Krishna. In fact, she hugs and kisses him.
In this collage I include the heavens because Krishna is the avatar of Vishnu the maintainer of the universe. This is shown in the story when Little Krishna is asked to open his mouth. His two brothers are by his side. Even the little girl on the pillar of his temple is hoping to catch stars to put into her basket. When Krishna plays his flute all is right with the world. Some say that Krishna’s Flute is the “Voice of eternity crying to the dwellers in time.”

Arousal

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“This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet.” 
― Rumi

Krishna grows from a child into a young man still craving forbidden fruit.  One evening, enchanted by the nubile grace of the village milkmaids as they go about their work currying and milking the sacred cows, he picks up his flute and walks through the gloaming, pouring his yearning into the notes he plays.  The music floats on the evening breeze, slides over garden walls, slips between shutters, drifts down the chimneys.  His tender air piggybacks on the breath of every woman, permeating her lung’s alveoli, seeping into the corpuscles of her blood until each cell yearns toward his call. The chaste women of Braj leave their tasks unfinished.  Buckets splash back into the well, brooms clatter to the ground; soft puffs of dust rise from beneath their pattering feet.  Night falls, the moon rises, still his flute plays on.  Women dance, circling round the god. Tightly wound saris unravel, floating on the breeze.  Krishna multiplies himself sixteen thousand times, temporarily gratifying each woman’s desires.  When dawn breaks, he disappears leaving them longing for the god.

I think these stories say something about desire being the beginning of awakening (another word for arousal) Krishna stirs – he stirs up his mother, he stirs the dirt, he steals butter which comes from stirring milk, he stirs the milkmaids, he stirs the air, his own body stirs. He mixes things up, turns them on their head, confuses and enchants.  Out of this great stirring comes desire.

Desire heightens every sense – smell, touch, taste, sight, hearing all go into overdrive, become sensitive to nuance and swoon from a surfeit of delight.  Consummation – the fulfillment of desire – consuming, having, obtaining, owning –  is a completely different thing.  Blissful as it may be, attaining is not as delight-full as wanting because in getting the one thing we want, we shut down all the other potentialities.

This is why Rumi and the other mystics of every religion stress the importance of longing as an attribute of devotion and prayer.  Stay in the place of desire and everything you see belongs to you.  Pluck the peach, consume it and your hunger is gone.  Plums, apricots, pears and pomegranates, all so enticing moments ago, all so alive and delicious to the imagination, lose their appeal.  That’s not to say we shouldn’t eat or make love – just, when we are blessed with ineffable yearning, we should take the time to revel in it and linger awhile in that place of infinite possibility.

The longing Krishna evokes is inchoate – it has no actual object because as soon as we make the god into an object he disappears.  There are no instructions, no directions, just a longing which we can barely voice and then only in metaphor. The gift lies in the disappearance, the nothingness, the void he leaves behind.  Our questions: What is the gift in nothingness? From whence comes our awakening?

“We come spinning out of nothingness, scattering stars like dust.”
― Rumi

And a Child Shall Lead Them

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And A Child Shall Lead Them_NEW

Besides motherhood, this story seems (to me) to be about doorways and the insouciance of children.   There’s something about it that keeps me making these very simple compositions with only one or two images.  I keep trying to make it more complex and layered, but when I do it all looks like a muddle to me and again I’m reduced to the child and the universe.

Doorways to me are about choice. Do we pass through them or pass them by? Do we slam them shut or fling them open?  Where do they lead?

Krishna’s mouth offers  infinite possibility.

In fairy tales doorways generally lead one into a different reality, another kingdom, an alternative universe.  Portals challenge us to change – our minds, our attitudes, our perceptions and assumptions.  Change is at the heart of all fairy tales.  And change is the core of the life force.  Someone once told me,”Change or die!”  I took her advice, and the new growth deriving from the changes I made continues to thrive and grow to this day. I think my collage says- “Don’t be afraid.  Look at me.  I’m a child, yet I step out without fear.

I think the name of this piece is, And a Child Shall Lead Them.

Motherly Love

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Krishnawk#2aMotherly Love

Krishna and the Fruit  Week #2 The Positive Aspects

 The deep connection between a mother and her child is illustrated in this story. An example from the story, “Krishna! 0 Krishna!” she whispered, snatching up her boy in her arms. … Who are You?” she said softly, nuzzling His baby curls with her lips.This isan act of a devoted, loving mother. I agree with what Christine has written in her essay, “… I say motherhood lies in the quality of the love she brings to bear on the world.”

 I have two children and one of the things that struck me about motherhood is how each of my children came to me “factory wired.”

That is, each had their uniqueness built-in. They didn’t come as blank slate waiting for me, the parent to write upon. I wasn’t there to create or  mold them as I saw fit. In fact, they entered the world like the Prophet’s poem describes. “as sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”  Instead of thinking you are molding the child, you need to ask, “Who has come to live with me. Who are you?” For in time you will discover this other being who learns, and grows, but arrived here with their spark, their spirit already whole. They have come, like each of us, to have a human experience.

 I was listening to a TED Talk by Antonia Damasio, a Neuroscientist. The title of the talk,  The Quest to understand consciousness. He believes that the brain stem holds the conscious self. That part of us that is the observer of self,  is the aware one that is thinking, learning and experiencing. It is in the brainstem that we are connected from the body to the mind and from the mind to the body.

 This bit of knowledge suggests to me that this part of our self that is innate to our individuality is built-in. It is what makes each of us so very unique. In our story of Krishna there is the passage that reads … “and the lord who had become a human child out of sport, without any loss of his divine powers …”  I suspect that that is how we all come into this world.

We are all like Krishna. We arrive here whole and equipped to have the experiences that best serves our higher self.  Giving love and getting love are wonderful gifts.  Having a loving Mother is surely one of the greatest gifts of all.

The Positive Mother

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Yashoda and Shiva 2_

 

As you probably guessed from my last post, the most interesting part of this story is the mother.  My heart goes out to her.  To me, she represents the feminine Divine, The Mother of All, She-Who –Hears the Cries of the World.  She is Wisdom, present at the dawn of creation waiting with that same half-smile to see if her god will choose to create light. She is the Great Mother, oldest of the old, the beginning of all things.  She is Eve, genetic mother of humankind.  The stories simply don’t work without her.  Krishna, Buddha, Christ, Dionysus all had mothers integral to their stories.

The mother in this collage is fruitful, you can tell by the dates she carries.  She loves the Earth.  She is the Earth.  Whatever else may happen in the cosmos, Gaia is home to us.

If you read the history of Mary in the Catholic Church you will find she wasn’t wanted by the establishment, but there was no way to keep her out.  The Church may have wanted to excise the feminine, but the people would and could not do without it.  They knew in their bones and muscles and guts; in the primal material of their bodies that there is no life, no spirituality, no joy without the inclusion of both masculine and feminine energies.  Both inspire awe; both nurture the psyche and sustain the spirit. Without both, we wither and cannot be fruitful.

One might say a mother is defined by the children she bears, but I say motherhood lies in the quality of the love she brings to bear on the world. After all, it is the nature of children to grow up and away, to separate from their mothers.  The mother, enhanced, enriched, empowered by the experience goes on to pour out her wisdom to those whose path she crosses.  She is the mother bear who walks away one day while the yearlings play, the mother cow who turns her back on the weaned calf.

The separation works both ways.  During pregnancy the gravid mother has months to turn inward, to contemplate, and reflect. Settle and come to terms with a new way of life.  When her children leave, she goes through the same process, never forgetting them or ceasing to love, but returning to her own concerns.

Krishna may be a god, may carry the universe inside him and weaken her knees with love, devotion and adoration.  Nevertheless, he is not hers, not her and in the end he may fly through space, doing his god thing while she ponders what she ponders and dreams what she dreams.

Purple Fruit

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The Universe in Krishna

Young Krishna and the Purple Fruit

 I read and re-read the story.  I asked myself, “What is this story really about?”  My immediate answer … I don’t know.  Perhaps, it will come to me as I work on my Collage.

As I looked through my images, I have boxes and boxes of cut images that I’ve collected over the 15 years that I have been doing collage art, I realize there are no images of Krishna as a child. In fact, there are only a few Hindu images period.  Hindu Mythology is a subject with which I am only casually acquainted.

I know a little bit about a few of the Hindu deities. I know Ganesha, the elephant headed god that removes obstacles, Hanuman, the Monkey headed God that helped recover a stolen Goddess, Kali, the Goddess who slays the demons, and Shiva, the lord of the dance. Otherwise, the many myths and epic stories that make up the religion of Hinduism are foreign to me.

Finally, I found a picture of a child playing the flute. I decided I would make it into a Young Krishna. Therefore, my collage will start with that image.

I looked up Krishna on the internet and read about Him on the Wikipedia website. I have many images of the Universe so I will include a few. I discover Krishna is a simple herdsman using his flute to bring the animals together. When I finish the collage and complete the Wikipedia article, I feel like I know a little more about Krishna

The Universe is Krishna, and Krishna maintains the Universe. Each of us are the Universe, we are it and we are Krishna. The divine spark is in each of us. What about the Purple Fruit. Krishna gobbles the purple fruit. I decided the purple fruits are plums.
However, after I re-read the story again, I change my mind and decide the fruits are cherries.

I grew up in San Leandro, CA, which at the time had hundreds, perhaps thousands of Cherry trees. There were cherry orchards and cherry trees lined the streets. In the spring, the entire town glowed with Cherry blossoms. We could hardly wait for the cherries. From time to time we would climb up in the trees and test a cherry or two to see if they were ripe yet. Finally, the cherries would turn a deep purple red. My brother and I would climb up into the trees and pick cherries popping them into our mouths as fast as we could pick them. I know from experience that there is no way you can eat all the cherries off a cherry tree.

In our Tale of the Purple Fruit, the older boys are upset because Krishna is gobbling up all the fruit. They are afraid that he will eat all the fruit and they will get none. He is not doing what they told him to do. Krishna knows that there is plenty of fruit and so he doesn’t worry about what he is doing. Besides, he is still very young and is driven by the taste of the Cherries. They are ripe, juicy and delicious. At some point He will be full.

Krishna, just like my brother and me who had been told Do NOT eat the fruit, we did not follow instructions. We just thought … ripe Cherries ready for the picking … gobble, gobble …Yum!

 

Yashoda and Krishna

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Yashoda and Krishna 1

I’ve loved this story ever since the first time I heard it – maybe because giving birth seemed like such a cosmic event to me.  For me this story is about motherhood.  I’ve always felt so entrusted with my children-not in any way proprietary, but rather as if some awesome power had delivered them into my care – mine to love, but never own.  Khalil Gibran, the Lebanese poet/philosopher said it more eloquently than I ever could:

“Your children are not your children.
They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the make upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness.
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He also loves the bow that is stable.”

(Sweet Honey in the Rock sings The Prophet’s lyrics)

There’s another story in the Krishna cannon in which Yashoda becomes completely frustrated with her son and tries to catch him and tie him up – to no avail.  In this story too she must come to terms the fact that though her child looks like a little boy, he is in truth a divine being over which she has no power. Reading these stories again, I am struck by the similarity to the stories about Mary as a young mother found in the Apocrypha.  Mary, too, has problems raising her baby god, who insisted on going his own way to the point of actually killing other children who harmed him.

Power may well be the operative word here.  We’ve all heard the saying “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  The child parent relationship can be viewed as a power struggle from day one.  The danger of corruption inherent in this situation between large functioning adult and tiny helpless infant is obvious.  The danger is equally obvious when we see large functioning adults emotionally in thrall to a tiny scrap of humanity.  Happily for us in many families these two situations balance out  into a fairly equitable balance of power.  Still this doesn’t solve the problem of corruption.  That can only be dealt with by a different  kind of power – power that comes from within and is connected to the universe of all -that-is.

These stories seem to question the usefulness of punishment as a teaching tool; especially in the face of that inner power.  We can of course get many human children to shut-up by punishing them, we can even get them to stop acting in certain ways, but are their minds changed, have they actually learned anything?  Or have we really taught cunning, resentment, stealth and prevarication? These stories seem to be saying that the only effective energy one can bring to relationship is love.

They also teach that the sacred is all around us – the Kingdom of Heaven i.e. the cosmos, exists within every speck of dirt and inside every child.