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Posts Tagged ‘meditation’

Letter from a Retreat

September 29, 2014 | by

How not to meditate.

Himalaya_sud_avion

Photo: Michel Royon

Martin had a long pair of navy-blue socks that he wore when it was cold. He wore them in the morning before sunrise, and usually took them off before noon.

We were doing a silent, shamatha meditation retreat in the foothills of the Himalayas. The retreat was led by a stern Zen monk from Japan. We referred to him by his honorific, Venerable. Venerable was tall. It was hard to determine his age. He might have been fifty years old, at most. He wore aviator-style glasses. He had square front teeth. His eyes tilted a bit down at the outer corners, down toward his ears, giving him a sad, warm, sexual look. He was handsome and he was stern. He told us that if we learned to sit shamatha, we would no longer have nightmares, and all our anxieties would reveal themselves as mental disturbances and nothing more. He asked us to consider, when we were feeling anxiety, if that was really bliss. Really look at it, he said, really ask yourself. Actually, I don’t think he understood our practice, but I think he’d gotten some instruction, and I was a little offended and a little uneasy that he’d come and sit here and insult us—suggest vaguely that his style of Buddhism was superior. But maybe I was imagining it.

On the first night of the retreat, Venerable told us that ego is like a vampire. Martin, whom I was secretly dating, raised his hand and asked how, if he was to think of his ego as a sneaky vampire, he was expected to relax. The phrase “sneaky vampire” got stuck in my head. The question seemed like a comeback. It made Venerable seem, all at once, ridiculous. I was afraid, while Venerable answered, that I would start laughing, so I didn’t hear his answer. The next person asked a question. I was still thinking “sneaky vampire.” Then I broke. I started laughing. Each time I got my laughing under control, it would explode again, worse, when I thought, “sneaky vampire” while looking at Venerable’s handsome face, noticing his elegant comportment. Venerable was answering an Australian paraglider’s question about light. “Ah, light,” he said, “that is a big subject. For that, come and talk to me in private.” Read More »

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“An Egoless Practice”: Tantric Art

April 3, 2012 | by

Bikaner, 2002, 14

It could be a cult classic: the debut edition of Siglio Press’s Tantra Song—one of the only books to survey the elusive tradition of abstract Tantric painting from Rajasthan, India—sold out in a swift six weeks. Rendered by hand on found pieces of paper and used primarily for meditation, the works depict deities as geometric, vividly hued shapes and mark a clear departure from Tantric art’s better-known figurative styles. They also resonate uncannily with lineages of twentieth-century art—from the Bauhaus and Russian Constructivism to Minimalism—as well as with much painting today. Rarely have the ancient and the modern come together so fluidly.

For nearly three decades, the renowned French poet Franck André Jamme has collected these visual communiqués, and it hasn’t been easy: in 1985 he survived a fatal bus accident while traveling to visit Hindu tantrikas in Jaipur. In Tantra Song, Jamme assembles some of the most pulsating works he’s acquired, while unpacking his experiential knowledge of Tantra’s cosmology.

Western views of Tantra tend toward hyperbole. (The New York Times recently published an article, “Yoga and Sex Scandals: No Surprise Here,” noting, “Early in the twentieth century, the founders of modern yoga worked hard to remove the Tantric stain.”) Jamme’s book serves as a corrective to this slant and sheds significant light on the deep historical roots—and fruits—of the practice. Siglio will release a second edition of the book on April 19. Jamme and I recently discussed these anonymously made paintings, the altered states they induce, and their timeless aesthetics.

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