Kundalini Splendor

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Sunday, April 03, 2005

Sacred Experience vs. Aesthetic Response 

In a recent newspaper review of an exhibit of Buddhist art, the reviewer closed with the following observation:

"Like every exhibition of its kind, (this one) confronts most visitors with a peculiar feature of our own cultural situation. In place of these artifacts' intended use for restitution of belief, we have mere aesthetic reception and perhaps academic study.

An exhibition such as this encourages reflection on how limited a mode of engagement even the most informed aesthetic response is likely to be."

I was especially pleased to read this observation, since I have often entertained a similar reflection. Items which were once powerful receptacles of spiritual energy somehow become mere objects of observation in the museum setting. Too often the emphasis is on style and historical significance in the developing art forms of the culture, rather on the vivid, intense role these items played in the lives of their creators and those who honored them as holy objects. A Buddha who all but speaks a blessing is not the same as a displayed "artifact" of a vanished culture. And much of contemporary reaction offers just such a restricted perception of original intent.

Part of the problem, I believe, is that in our effort to remain "unbiased" (uninvolved), we lose active engagement. We trade the response of the heart for a more distanced reaction of the mind. We no longer trust feeling, but rely instead on thought alone. Thus the academicians and the critics lose touch with the inner reality and inherent sacred substance of that which they behold.

We have in our city a new museum dedicated to Asian art, much of it spiritual in origin. I for one admire the impressive displays and orderly arrangement, but find it difficult to "connect" with the objects themselves. It is as though, removed from their original context, these have lost much of their intended sacred flavor, and the visit becomes one of objective observation rather than subjective participation.

Likewise, when literature is dissected as if it were a corpse laid out to illustrate the significant features of human anatomy, something important is lost. I think many contemporary lovers of Rumi and Kabir and Hafiz, though innocent of theory, are better suited to enter into the true spirit of these creators and their creations than those who draw a blank when asked about something other than technique or historical data.

Aesthetic response is important, but when it is void of feeling, it becomes sterile and incomplete.(Likewise, feeling without some modicum of thought can dwindle into sentimentality and chiche.

Kundalini allows (under the right conditions) a "whole body response" to music and art and poetry. Subjective reaction is carried to a new level. It is then that one literally "hears with new ears, sees with new eyes." It is then that one connects with that mysterious realm called "the sacred."

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