Monday, November 22, 2010

False Modesty

I have now attended four yoga classes in a row and now know everything there is to know about yoga. I thought it prudent to write some of this knowledge down before I attended another class and the situation changed.

I am comfortable with change (even change in my status of understanding) as long as it does not involve anything too different from what I am used to. Despite this I am constantly caught off guard by changes I have witnessed many (perhaps too many?) times. The change of seasons presents itself to me, not as a progression of old friends, but as a regular series of increasingly similar yet surprising weather events. Of these surprises the first real snowfall is iconic. I do not mean the first snowfall, which as often as not occurs before Halloween, and simply bites the still green leaves off of some of the bushes (called “trees” by the locals). I mean the fist snowfall that turns the world white and threatens to remain till spring. This snowfall usually occurs around Thanksgiving, and surprises me in an increasingly predictable way.

This past Saturday marked the surprising first snowfall. The world turned white. There was not a sky in the cloud. Snowfall obscured even near distances. Eighteen inches of snow erased all color, and most contour, from everything that could be seen. When I ventured out into the snow the entire universe was violently still.

The snowfall, as predictable as its yearly arrival is, does not come unannounced. Just before the first snow the outside temps rise until it is actually warm outside. Then the winds start. The winds in this part of the country are amazing. This year's fist snow was preceded by two days of sustained winds in the 35 MPH range, and gusts in excess of 50 MPH. Then the winds stopped, it got cold, and snow began pouring from the falling sky.

On Friday, in the middle of the windy announcement of the coming snow, I took a good friend out to lunch for her birthday. I took her to a Salt Lake restaurant called “The Himalayan Kitchen”. The decor of the HK included many exquisitely carved bas reliefs depicting deities in various contorted stances. My knowledge of yoga was rapidly approaching its perfection (it would take one more hour-long yoga class at the local gym to complete it), so I was either able to identify all the poses, or accurately invent names for them.

There is something delightfully distracting about sitting in a warm restaurant, with warm Dahl stinging my pallet, with a warm companion filling every available pause with heated observation, while outside the wind flings garbage into the air. Distraction is strengthened in consort with delusion just as love and lust work in synergy to change the world's flavor. Drinking coffee with an attractive woman, and simply talking about tinfoil hats or radiant deities, plays panflute to my mind's wandering. I could believe at that most amphibian core of my brain that love oozed like a viscous glowing magic liquid from every surface, and my rational mind would not be willing or able to stop me. In the HK gilded images of curvaceous deities helped play me for a fool.

Near the door was a large (½ life-sized) mostly golden statue of a seated woman.

“Their Buddha is quite busty” I said to my companion.

She turned to notice the statue and informed me that the Buddha was in fact “Tara” the female Buddha.

“She had quite a large following in Tibet” she informed me.

My companion had been studying Himalayan Buddhism for long enough to know much less about it than I did Yoga, so I listened intently to her explanation.

The statue was of the “White Tara” and was gilded gold except for a strangely out-of-place purple spandex yoga outfit she was wearing. The yoga outfit was form-fitting and revealed both her midriff and a sizable amount of cleavage. Although my amazingly encyclopedic knowledge of yoga allowed me to immediately recognize the modern clothing she was wearing I was at a loss as to how Tara would be able to contort into some of the more demanding yoga poses without “spilling forth”. I tried to imagine my companion dressed like Buddha attempting an advanced yoga pose, and I succeed.

It is no wonder that I become distracted enough to miss the obvious clues of weather change. Even the full whistle blow of the first snow freight-train rumbling across the basin and range of Nevada can be lost on me.

It is the prioritizing of inputs to the thought process that comprises the lion's share of what is sometimes called wisdom. The brain is awkwardly arraigned, however, and some inputs circumvent the machinery needed for reasoned prioritization. What processes allow for unreasoned prioritization? All people are not as foolish about love as I am; how can they accomplish this?

The personification of the effective patterns in the universe is one of the more popular seeds from which deities are grown. Once sprouted the more interesting deities are shaped into recognizable forms by man. In this case I do not mean a gender neutral “man” as most of the artists who capture the divine in visually accessible form are indeed male. This accounts for the extremely large breasts and voluptuous thighs sported by Tara.

Some modern exceptions to the male driven imaging in the cycle of deity formation are the fabric Thankas of Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo. Schooled in the multi-century male-dominated Tibetan tradition of “divine quilting” she has created many images of Buddhas including Tara. The Richen-Wongmo Tara I have seen is draped in jewelry and strips of cloth that provocatively hide the fullness of her Tara's chest. I would be disappointed if she blindly re-created the comic-book-heroine barbie-doll breasts seen on many Tara's.

Men do not always create images of their divine women by imagining Wonder Woman with a few extra eyeballs. On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City Michaelangelo crafted an image of the Abrahamic god in the act of creating Adam. Jehovah's left arm is draped around a diminutive flat-chested not-too-pleased woman whose auburn hair is tied back in a severe knot; this woman is widely identified as the goddess Sophia. Sophia is the Greek goddess of wisdom awkwardly adopted by the Abrahamic traditions. Michaelangelo's Sophia is hardly the Ennola whose form would launch a thousand ships.

There are a couple of things about the creation panel of the Sisteine chapel that have intrigued me:

  1. Why does Adam have a belly button?
  2. Why is god wearing a dress?
  3. Did you notice how the outline of heaven forms a reasonable approximation of the outline of the human brain?
  4. Why is god lying on a bed of naked pre-pubescent boys?

I would think item four would be quite awkward in light of the sex scandals that have been leaking out of the Roman Catholic church for the past decade or so. I picture a distraught cardinal distractedly walking into the chapel after a disturbing counseling session with some bishop who had been caught moving molester priests from one parish to another. The cardinal looks up towards the heavens to seek guidance from the holy father, and there is god wearing a dress on a bed of naked pre-pubescent boys. Talk about unfortunate imagery!

And what's with the look on Sophia's face? I picture her staring at Adam and thinking “What's with the belly-buton anyway? If you wanted a belly button why not have me make him? I've got the right machinery to make belly buttons.”

There is something sublime about Adam being pictured as the product of finger-pointing rather than the fruit of wisdom's loins.

Of all the classic imagery of Tara I find myself most drawn to those of the Green Tara; especially the standing icons. The impossible curves of womanhood are accentuated by a slight tilt of the hips. She is all woman and then some. The “and then some” is often several extra sets of arms and a few extra eyeballs, but the framework is unmistakable.

The Green Tara knows how to accesorize well also. She is often pictured with a necklace of human skulls, and sometimes the skulls have faces with finely crafted expressions still on them. All of the Tara are usually pictured with necklaces. I think the White Tara's necklace is a flowered lei.

When leaving the restaurant I took a longer look at the golden Tara statue. On closer inspection it was obvious that the skin-tight yoga costume had been painted on as an after-market addition. The traditional flowered necklace had become the severely plunging neckline of the skin-tight top. I guess the image of a tiny naked golden woman was a bit much so close to temple square. The Fredrick's of Hollywood yoga outfit was a bit of enforced modesty for the ancient goddess. I wonder why they chose purple?

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