• Tag Archives Yamantaka
  • The Value of Increasing Darkness

    Samhain                                         Waxing Thanksgiving Moon

    The daylight is gone, twilight has fallen and night is on its way.  Now that we have entered the season of Samhain, the leaves have vanished from the trees and the clouds, like tonight, often hang gray in the sky.  Samhain means the end of summer and in the old Celtic calendar was the half of the year when the fields went fallow while the temperature turned cool, then cold, hope returning around the first of February, Imbolc, when the ewes would freshen and milk would once again be part of the diet as new life promised spring.

    In between Imbolc and Samhain lies the Winter Solstice.  The early darkness presages the long twilight; it lasts from now until late December as we move into the increasing night until daylight becomes only a third of the day.  This has been, for many years, my favorite time of year.  I like the brave festivals when lights show up on homes and music whirs up, making us all hope we can dance away our fear.

    The Yamatanka mandala at the Minnesota Institute of Art gives a meditator in the Tantric disciplines of Tibetan Buddhism a cosmic map, brightly displaying the way to Yamatanka’s palace grounds.  In the middle of the palace grounds, represented here by a blue field with a vajra (sacred thunderbolt) Yamantaka awaits our presence.

    In the Great Wheel as I have come to know it, we visit Yamantaka on the night of the Winter Solstice, that extended darkness that gives us a foretaste of death.  Our death.  On that night we can sit with ourselves, calm and quiet, imagining our body laid out on a bed, eyes closed, mouth quiet, a peaceful expression on our lifeless face.

    We can do that, not in suicidal fantasy, but in recognition of our mortality, our finite time upon the wheel of life, awaiting our turn as the wheel turns under the heavens carrying us away from this veil of samsara.  If we can do that, we can then open ourselves to the thin sliver of light that becomes more and more, as the solstice marks the turning back of the darkness and brings us once again to life.

    When we can visit Yamantaka’s palace, sup with him in this throne room and see death as he, the conqueror of death sees it, we are finally free.

  • Death

    Lughnasa                                         Waxing Back to School Moon

    The thing about death is, it is forever, unlike life.  Once entered there is no return.  It is that one way disappearance that creates the chaos of grief, the sense, the realization that something has been done that cannot be undone.  There is no longer any action to take, no remedy to try, no act of contrition that will change things.  There is here, the living, and there, the dead.

    Death comes to humans, dogs, mice, birds, lizards, fish, death comes.  We living things are alike in facing the cessation of our agency, the end of all the striving.

    Life has death as its forever dance partner, the danse macabre.  It is a dance like those marathons from the 30’s where the dancers slump along near the end, barely holding each other up as the sun rises and the music slows.  The dance hall begins to take on its daytime character, the cracks in the ceiling come out, the floor has not been mopped, the romance of the contest and the hall slip away and we are left with the one partner who will never let us go.

    Death is not life, whatever else it may be.

    Tibetan Buddhist thought has a wonderful, I would even say exemplary, way of approaching death.  The photograph here, a partial of a Yamantaka statue, illustrates it iconographically. “Yamāntaka is a Sanskrit name that can be broken down into two primary elements: Yama, the name of the god of death; and antaka, or “terminator”. Thus, Yamāntaka’s name literally means “the terminator of death”.”  This statue shows Yama in cosmic embrace with his consort, thus wisdom and compassion become one.

    Meditating on Yamantaka, so I was told by a Tibetan Buddhist, involves imagining your own death in as real a fashion as possible.  The intent of the meditation is to eliminate the fear of death, either in the body or in what Buddhists call the subtle body.  When we achieve an acceptance of our own death, we become free.  This is, if I understand the Buddhist thought correctly, also a path to enlightenment.

    Of course, a Buddhist would see this in the context of Buddhist doctrine, with which I am not familiar, but I have embraced this image and this understanding as an important part of my own spiritual journey.