From the shelf

The Demonic Divine

Jul 07, 2017 |

The Demonic Divine

Just as Dante journeyed through hell and purgatory before reaching paradise, followers of the sacred traditions of the Himalayas find the path to enlightenment through transforming the dark side of the mind and gaining inner freedom from destructive emotions. These violent paintings are meant to aid us in our journey to understand the nature of the heart, and beyond that to the hard work of change. As such, they are metaphors for compassion—a compassion neither passive nor gentle— but an affirmative, active, and courageous force.

What is it about sacred art that makes it sacred? It is not just that it draws its images and ideas from one or another of the world’s religions. Truly sacred art awakens in the mind a direct experience deeper than our ordinary selves and the material world. The sun may at times be hidden from us behind the clouds, but that makes no difference to the sun itself. Its own brilliance can never be obscured. Likewise, primordial wisdom and compassion are always present within every sentient being, even when hidden by clouds of hatred, obsession, pride, jealousy, and, first and foremost, ignorance.

Although it might at first seem a nihilistic view of the world, this is far from being the case. Emptiness does not imply nothingness. Rather, it refers to the infinite potential for phenomena to appear in a vast network of interdependent processes—which would be impossible if everything consisted of inert, immutable, self-contained entities. In such a context, how can we understand the so-called wrathful deities, the focus of so many contemplative practices in Tibetan Buddhism? In essence, their awesome appearance expresses the invincible power of compassion.

This becomes clear when we examine some examples of the symbolism associated with wrathful deities. Their hair bristles upward in a blazing mane out of overwhelming compassion for the intense suffering of beings caught up in delusion. If they have only one head, it symbolizes the absolute truth, while if they have three heads, these represent the three dimensions of Buddhahood (trikaya), as well as the transformation of the three main mental poisons—desire, anger, and ignorance.

These deities are not seen as having material, tangible bodies of flesh, blood, and bone, but bodies of light, vivid and translucent like a rainbow, and totally immaterial, like the reflection of the moon in water. They are not just lifeless images, but full of wisdom and love and the power to help beings. Many meditational deities have both peaceful and wrathful forms. The process of transition from peaceful to wrathful is called “peacefulness transfigured into wrathfulness”.

Ordinary beauty is certainly a source of joy, but spiritual beauty has a unique value, because it inspires in us the conviction that enlightenment both exists and can be attained. It is this beauty that sacred art seeks to express, be it Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, or Islamic, and whether its mode of expression is music, dance, painting, or simple contemplation. Sacred art is not just a representation of symbols and ideas. It is a direct experience of inner peace, free from attachment to the illusory solidity of the ego and the phenomenal world.

This is not a Book Review; this is just an effort to conveying information to the readers on rare and valuable books on art and architecture. This column aims to give a helicopter view on such books and thus presents the excerpts and illustrations either from the preface, introduction, jacket or main contents of the book from the shelf. This book was kindly provided by Mandala Book Point, Kantipath, Kathmandu (Tel. 4227711).

Related Articles

Spaces Highlight July 2014
Vol 10 No. 07

Wet n Wild Bardia

Risk Reduction and Preparedness in Nepal

are heard History is seen