Tag Archives: Religion

Vanitas Vanitatum Omnia Vanitas

15 May

Salvador Dali (1904-1989)
Biblia Sacra
gouache, oil and watercolor on paper
19 5/8 x 13¼ in. (50 x 33.7 cm)
Painted in 1964

This gouache is the original maquette for the offset lithographic illustration to Ecclesiastes I, 2 facing p. 208, in Dalí’s Biblia Sacra, published by Rizzoli, Milan in 1967. It pertains to the famous lines “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of the vanities, all is vanity.” A complete Dalí Biblia Sacra, containing 105 offset lithographs, will be sold in Chrsitie’s, New York sale of 19th and 20th Century Prints on 5 November 2002, as lot 137.


Midpoint – Dante’s Inferno

6 Mar

So let’s start at the beginning. The beginning. Now where is that? There is always a before and always an after to the beginning. Every beginning starts in the middle of something – in medias res. For Dante, in medias res meant in the middle of a forest:

In the middle of our lives’ way,
I found myself in a Dark Wood
Where the straight way was lost

What kind of middle of the way is this where forward motion hits a dead end? Where life’s vital energies come to a terrifying standstill? Where every step you take could be your last step?

This is the midpoint.

The midpoint is a strange and uncanny place. It’s not the half-way mark on a straight, finite line. It’s not equidistant from the beginning and the end. No, it’s a sentiero interrupto, a path without issue. It’s a place where all footing is lost and where, if there is to be any resumption of motion, it will have to be on a different footing altogether. That’s what it means to begin in the middle of the way: to find a new footing and, in so doing, to undergo a turn, a swerve, rather than continue on the same rectilinear course.

The midpoint marks a turning point. Look! There is the mountain. There is the path that leads upwards to the light. But the way is blocked by those three Beasts. If you don’t turn yourself around at the midpoint, if you don’t turnaround the midpoint, you’ll stand there, petrified.

The midpoint crisis can happen anywhere along the way. It can occur any age in the life of an individual. Or at any stage in the history of a nation. The Civil War was one such midpoint in American History. Perhaps we are at another one now.

Most of us will not be lucky enough to avoid losing our way on a path without issue, at least once, either in our personal lives or as a citizen of a state. When it happened to Dante, when he found himself in a state of spiritual paralysis, he realized that he was not going to overcome his debilitation on his own, and that he was in need of help.

This was the turning point: His recognition that there was nothing he could do to help himself; that he depended on an act of grace – some intervention from the outside – to save him from his cardiac arrest and to put things back into motion again.

No experience reveals what it means to be human more decisively than being in need of help. “Desperately in need of some stranger’s hand.” And in Dante’s universe, only those who know how to appeal for help have a chance of receiving it. Dante’s conversion at the midpoint of the journey begins with a turn for help.

In Dante’s case, rescue came in the guise of a ghost: the shade of the Roman poet Virgil who had been dead for over thirteen hundred years. Appearing to him at the base of a mountain in Inferno I, Virgil tells Dante that if he wants to reach the summit of that mountain, the Mountain of Salvation, he will have to go down to the very bottom of the earth, the center of all gravity, and begins his climb from there. The only way up is down. You must convert your perspective such that what appears before to you as up, now appears as down and vice versa. Indeed, it is only by turning the whole world upside down or inside up that you can “break on through to the other side” and that “things will appear as they are: infinite.”

“Buddism is Not What You Think” by Steve Hagen

14 Jan

Shunryu Suzuki wrote in his first book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind:

I have discovered that it is necessary, absolutely necessary, to believe in nothing. That is, we have to believe in something which has no form and no color – something which exists before all forms and colors appear. This is a very important point.

Huang Po:

The foolish reject what they see, not what they think; the wise reject what they think, not what they see.

Put trust in immediate, direct experience, not concepts, models, beliefs, explanations, justifications. Before all these things take forms.

You don’t get it from a teacher, from an institution, from a book, or from a belief system of any sort.

In fact, you don’t need to get it from anything. You already have it. You are inseperable from it. You only need to just see.

Do not desire “enlightenment” or desire to reject enlightenment.
Do you really think that there is something you can put in your mind, or take out of it, that’s going to satisfy the deep ache of the heart? “I want to be awake… I want enlightenment… I want understanding… I want freedom and peace of mind… I want… I want… I want…” It’s like an itch in your mind, yet you’re left with no hand to scratch it with.

Do you really think that there’s something “out there” – enlightenement, Nirvana, some special insight – that’s ever going to satisfy? Momentarily you may be satisfied, but as long as you hold yourself apart, there’s always something you have to get or get away from – we make enlightenment into just another urge, another itch we try to scratch.

What you are truly after neither has form nor is without form.

It cannot be grasped or attained or obtained or conceptualized or even described.

We can realize that our life can’t be seprated from Reality – from the life of the world as a Whole, from the lives of others. In other words, there’s nothing to get.

In practical terms, it means we can notice – and root out by simply noticing – the grasping of our own minds as we live from day to day. We can realize, right up front, that this very restless, itching mind that asks, “What am I getting out of this?” and “What’s best for me?” is already the pain and the confusion we wish to free ourselves from.

The Buddha said:

Be a light unto yourself; betake yourselves to no external refuge.

Why? Because there is no such refuge. Nor is any needed. The thing you want to reach for to sustain you and help you is merely a construct of your own imagination. Ultimately, it will only hinder you, perpetuating your feeling of vulnerability.

It’s better to instead to just look at the situation you’re in and see immediately and directly what’s going on. If you do this honestly and earnestly, you’ll see that you’re already sustained, complete, and whole and that everything you’ll ever truly need is at hand.

Why not live as though you realize that this is true – as though you realize that there is no seperation, no distinction, between you and Reality?

If you do, there will no longer be any mystery to existence. Mystery only comes about when we wall ourselves off, divide the world into this and that, distinguish ourselves from everything else.

Reality is not a thought. Reality is not what you think. Reality is not what you can think. Reality is what is immediately experienced.

The Buddha said, “What I call liberation, the world calls resignation,” some people view Buddism as giving in to or giving up something – as if these teachings recommend that we lie down like a doormat rather than stand up and face Reality. People suffering from this form of delusion may say, “All those forces are out there are immense. Stop trying to fight them. Just surrender yourself totally; then you’ll experience enlightenment or freedom.”

But this is not at all what the Buddha spoke of as liberation. In fact, this very thinking is bondage itself. It’s still our ordinary, self-oriented state of mind.

The reason the Buddha’s message sounds like resignation to us is because we still presume a self “here” and something else “out there.” But the Buddha pointed out that there isn’t any world “out there” apart from you. That is, true separation between you and other things simply cannot be found.

This is liberation. It’s the very opposite of resignation; it’s the dissolution of the desire to get everything you want or to do whatever you please.

What the awakened see is Reality – Truth – before anything is made of it. What they have to say regarding this seeing is called Dharma – with a capital D.

Dharma can’t be solidified or conceptualized. It can’t be captured in a particular phrase or word; it can’t be laid out in a theory, a diagram, or a book.

Any teaching that points to Truth must ultimately erase itself. And in erasing itself, such teaching – Dharma – is ncessarily self-referential. Like someone writing ona chalkboard with the right hand while the left hand follows, erasing what has been written. As a result, it may appear paradoxical or contradictory. Yet it is not.

Unlike ordinary teaching, which presents itself as enduring and useful, Dharma teachings are offered with the understanding that they will pass away – that they have only provisional, temporary use. The Buddha, for example, likened his teaching to a raft used to cross a river. Once it has served its purpose – once the river has been crossed – it’s best to leave the raft behind or it will become an unnecessary burden.

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