Thursday, November 1, 2007

Angkor


Sorry… due to internet issues at our last hotel, I have not been posting as frequently as usual. There's going to be some catch-up.

For the past four days we’ve been immersed in the magnificent but fragmentary remnants of an ancient culture.

What is left, mostly, is the stone temples. And what is left of them reveals a record of many things.

First of all, a rich and complex Hindu mythology, often containing complex symbolic representations of work with higher energy in the body. We may discuss more of that in future blogs. The symbolism of nagas, the churning of the waters to obtain the elixir of immortality, the headdresses on the angels—many of them point to hidden understandings, which relate directly to the opening of the inner flowers.

Second of all, an enormously powerful tradition of Buddhism, which supplanted Hinduism during successive regimes, only to be overthrown again and yet again. This turnover in religions wasn’t peaceful—and it left Buddhist iconography repeatedly subject to vandalism, so that what we see here is countless niches where there should have been Buddhas—but there aren’t. There are a lot of blank spaces where there ought to be Buddhas. …I suppose this is oddly appropriate, in a way.

And third, a record of unparalleled criminal violence, celebrated in one bas relief after another—often in the service of religion which preaches non-violence—well, at least the Buddhists certainly do.

The Angkor region temples are for the most part on a massive, near-unimaginable scale. At the height of the middle ages in Europe, this culture was vaster and more powerful than anything the egocentric European regimes could have dreamed of. All of it, (much like regimes in Europe at the time) saw itself primarily in the service of religion. There was little or no separation between the powers of Church and state, and everything that was done was (supposedly) done to the greater glory of God.

This greater glory invariably involved a lot of killing people to make sure they worshipped God in just the right way. …It always does, doesn’t it?

Apparently—as today—no one seemed to see the contradiction.

It was what was perceived that dominated the cultural exchange.

Not what is inherent.

As it happens, I wrote notes to myself about this particular distinction over a week ago, planning to write about it, and it is just now that it finally crops up.

Yesterday, our guide, Han, mentioned the five precepts of Buddhism, which include most of the usual proscriptions: one should not lie, kill, steal, and so on. While we were paddling around in the hotel pool at lunchtime between ruins, I mentioned to Neal that the difficulty with all of these rules that religions make up is that they are resident in the mind.

They become lists that people memorize, that is, theories that they very very very earnestly subscribe to. Their practice—the way they actually live--comes from what is perceived, that is, what the society at large around the individual feeds them.

Practice, if it is real, needs to be in inherent, not perceived. That is to say, the motivation, the impulse, that leads a person to not lie, kill, cheat, steal, or so on has to spring directly from the heart of the individual. It has to spring directly from their organic experience of their life and how they are living within it. Not from a perceived set of rules that is implanted in them from outside.

I have a hard time keeping all these lists of rules straight. They are a waste of time.

Our practice of compassion and right life needs to spring directly from the immediate sense of our being, not from lists we memorize. If we act from within the moment, and we are honest and compassionate about that in an organic sense -- that is to say, from a connection between the parts and a sense of the body -- then we cannot lie, kill, cheat, or steal. We may think about it, but we are too smart to let what we think run our lives.

And what we are is smart in a new kind of way that springs from the organism’s wholeness, not from lists that we read to ourselves from the libraries of our psychology.

Tomorrow, if I write a blog -- it's going to be a long day, maybe I will, maybe not -- it will be about nagas, or serpents, and their symbolism.

At least very one good friend who intermittently reads this blog is something of an expert on yoga teachings and Hindu symbolism, and he may have some very cool auxiliary things to tell us about that, should he be willing to leave a comment. Let's hope he does. In the meantime, I am going to offer you my own take on the Naga as it is symbolized in Cambodian art.

It's going to be fun. Be there or be square.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

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