Kundalini Splendor

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Sunday, July 03, 2005

A Visit to Tibet 

The San Francisco Asian Art Museum is currently showing an exhibit of Tibetan sacred art. I attended this exhibit yesterday, and was quite taken by the display. Among the many impressive items was a statue of an emaciated Milarepa. This early poet/saint practiced severe austerities--in fact, he was said to have turned green from eating only nettles.

There were also tankas, mandalas, statues of gods and goddesses, and ancient richly ornamented sacred robes and crowns.

Two monks had come from India to prepare a sacred sand mandala, and we witnessed the opening ceremony of blessing. We learned that the mandala exists first in heaven, then is translated to its material earth form, at which point the deity enters it to endow it with sacred power.

These experiences are so moving that I am never sure if I am witnessing an ancient practice from the vantage of the present, or if somehow I am literally in another time zone, experiencing a rite familiar from daily practice in a former (monastic) life. It wakens a deep yearning for robe and community, though one knows full well that such life is no longer available to the self in this particular incarnation.

Some local Tibetans were outside handing out leaflets protesting the fact the the exhibit did not include any explanation of the true source of the objects (stolen by the Chinese when they occupied Lhasa and took over the Potola Palace, home of the Dalai Lama.) They felt (quite understandably) that this omission was a serious error on the part of those who had arranged the display. Of course, the Chinese would never have agreed to release these objects, had the exhibit included such political background material. The Chinese do not want people to know the details of their ruthless takeover of this tiny country, nor of the millions of deaths which have subsequently occurred there. (Ironically, our own government seems little concerned with such blatant violation of human and national rights, seeing in China a promising trading partner we do not care to offend.)

I felt the Tibetans had good cause to complain, and hope that more people will take up the cause of Tibet as their plight gathers more and more attention. At the same time, I felt gratitude for this brief glimpse into a culture which I (like many today) hold in such personal esteem.

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