A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

A Vision of Long Ago and My Religious Friends

There was once a very enlightened Buddhist yogi who had an extraordinary vision. He is a tulku, one of the yogis who comes back regularly to help us, like the Dalai Lama. You can read about his latest manifestation here. But I want to tell you about a vision he had around 1740, while still a small child, and the 13th rebirth of his line.

There appeared to him a beautiful young boy, dressed in white silk and carrying a crystal plate covered with flowers. When the child yogi asked him, "Who are you?" the young boy transformed into a terrifying form, a huge and wrathful being with the proportions of a pituitary dwarf.

It's skin was a deep dark midnight blue, one-third of it's body was head and one half of its head was a wide gaping red mouth with long fangs, it had three eyes (one in the center of the forehead), and it's yellow mustache, eyebrows and hair rose straight up as if in an overwhelming wind. In its right hand the fearsome figure held a curved flaying knife and in its left hand it cradled a bowl filled with blood and made from a human skull. It was covered in a flowing black silk cloak, wearing live snakes as ornaments, and enhaloed in a gigantic mass of flames. It looked, in fact, like this.

This terrifying being replied to the child yogi's question, "I am the glorious roaring Vajra Black Cloak. I arise in the space of transcendent wisdom. This is the 'ultimate view'!" Then it vanished with an echoing roar. In this way, the vision indicated to the young child yogi that all things and all appearances arise from mind, that there is nothing separate from mind, and that no matter what appears, there is no ultimate reason to fear it or to hate it, because there is no real boundary separating you from what you perceive. Your fear and hatred itself is what makes the illusion of a boundary. You can read a little more about Vajra Black Cloak here, here and here.

My teachers tell me that visions of this sort are not just incidents in the lives of enlightened beings. They occur, in fact, and in a milder form, to all of us routinely, though we fail to understand them, or interpret them properly. We confront things which terrify us or anger us all the time, and when we do so we are essentially looking at our own face in the mirror of our own confusion.

In consequence, if we are religious, one of the dangers of being so is a one-sided interpretation of things which my teachers call "spiritual materialism". This is feeling that spiritual goodness is equivalent to our own comfort in the world and our own satisfaction with ourselves. Anything beyond our comfort zone is thus automatically fearful, angering, evil, sinful, or defiled.

Psychology is also familiar with this phenomenon. There it is called projection, where all the uncomfortable qualities in ourselves are attributed to other things and other people. The classic cautionary tale of projection in our literature is the Robert Louis Stevenson story of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Carl Jung, I believe, called it our "shadow" , and, on a deeper level, our anima or animus, it being, he believed, on those deep levels, the converse gender from our conscious persona.

Buddhism, and, particularly, the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism which I practice, can largely be viewed as allowing Dr. Jekyl to come to terms with Mr. Hyde, breaking the cycle of spiritual materialism, of seeking for magic potions to help us run away from who and what we are. It is not easy. In fact, it is somewhat like trying to lick honey off of an old fashioned straight razor. But it is effective. I'm not so sure my Christian friends have anything precisely equivalent.

But I think it would be in their best interest to cultivate it on their own. I am quite familiar, actually, with Vajra Black Cloak, and this is both a help to me while living, and will be a great help to me not long after my death. And if Ezekiel and St. John the Divine are any indication, the terrific vision my "root guru", the Gyalwa Karmapa, had in 1740 is not confined to Buddhists alone.

Ezekiel saw a Cherubim and it certainly was well beyond his comfort zone. Cherubim live in Heaven, I'm told. If one came to invite you there, and to escort you there after your death, would you be game to go with it? If God came to speak to you out of the whirlwind, as He did to Job, could you stand "perfect and upright" as Job did? If Christ chose to manifest to you as He did to St. John rather than as He did to St. Thomas, would you be ready for it?

The Muslims, I have read, sometimes speak of angels so large as to blot out the stars, and of a careful interrogation by them at the foot of one's grave. And a wise rabbi once remarked that were one to see the Merkevah, the Chambers of the Divine Throne, and then return to the living, one would be better off dead.

I think, particularly, when I consider this vision of my root guru, of the four Christians blogging on the Internet whom I like best: the Anchoress, Rev. Donald Sensing, La Shawn Barber, and Chuck Pelto. I like them not only for their conscious component of Dr. Jekyl, but also for their dose of Mr. Hyde. They all write so clearly out of their feelings for the world, both spiritual and temporal, that both halves are on vivid display in their blogs, the former in how they present themselves, the latter in how they present the people and things of which they disapprove.

As do I present both halves of myself.

For I am as equally compelled by my feelings for things both "sacred" and "profane" as my good friends are. I like to think of myself as jolly old Joe Claus--my Dr. Jekyl. But I know perfectly well that my mind and my prose are a deadly weapon that I have occasionally not scrupled to wound with, and wound severely, while in the grip of my Mr. Hyde.

Vajra Black Cloak, when you're formally introduced to him, sops Mr. Hyde right up and remains with you always, looking over your shoulder, minding your business, reminding you that every slip of your deadly weapon wounds only yourself in the end. It's good to get to know him for that reason alone.

This is the new moon day as I write this, the day in the Buddhist monasteries of my tradition when rituals involving Vajra Black Cloak are the most fruitful and effective, and are sometimes done all day. One month from now will be the Tibetan New Year, Losar. For three days prior to the last, darkest, and coldest new moon of the year the rituals of Vajra Black Cloak will be used frequently in the Gyalwa Karmapa's monasteries as the new broom that sweeps the old of out the door quite forcefully. And, of course, they are done routinely every day at sunset.

The rituals are loud and colorful, with two brazen horns eight feet long or more, which can be heard halfway down the mountain at my monastery in Woodstock, New York. There are also rolling hand cymbals of two kinds, a loud thumping drum, short reed horns, and the rough and deep voiced Tibetan monody of the monastic chants. It's pretty impressive to listen to.

Among a few of my fellow Dharma brothers and sisters who have gotten to know a little bit about Vajra Black Cloak, we have a nickname for him, since he is really (yes, really!) such a warm-hearted, compassionate guy.

We call him "cuddles".


Blogger The Anchoress said...

Another great and thoughtful post. When I get home I'll link to it along with a little gem of Christian reading that I think you will like.

9:58 AM  
Blogger The Anchoress said...

Btw, Joe, if you have a chunk of time, you might want to read the link I posted on the monastic experience of a few (cyber retreat). I think you'll enjoy it, particularly. And no, I'm not trying to convert you. As if I could! :-)

10:58 AM  

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