To Death and Back, Presented by Dr. Nigel Spivey

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To Death and Back, Presented by Dr. Nigel Spivey

Postby admin » Fri Aug 30, 2019 7:07 am

To Death and Back (Episode From "How Art Made the World") -- Illustrated Screenplay
presented by Dr. Nigel Spivey
produced and directed by Francis Whately, Ben McPherson, Martin Wilson and Nick Murphy
also directed by Robin Dashwood, and also produced by Kim Thomas
A BBC TV Production in association with KCET
© 2006 BBC Worldwide.
Program © British Broadcasting Corporation 2005

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Re: To Death and Back, Presented by Dr. Nigel Spivey

Postby admin » Fri Aug 30, 2019 7:20 am

Part 1 of 4

TO DEATH AND BACK (EPISODE FROM “HOW ART MADE THE WORLD”) – ILLUSTRATED SCREENPLAY
presented by Dr. Nigel Spivey
produced and directed by Francis Whately, Ben McPherson, Martin Wilson and Nick Murphy
also directed by Robin Dashwood, and also produced by Kim Thomas
A BBC TV Production in association with KCET
© 2006 BBC Worldwide.
Program © British Broadcasting Corporation 2005

[Dr. Nigel Spivey] Every day of our lives, we are bombarded by thousands of different images, images which affect us in countless different ways. But if all these there’s one particular kind of image whose power is uniquely mesmerizing, because while it terrifies us somehow it also comforts. But although it can manipulate us, it also reassures.

It’s the image of death. Even though these young people have probably never seen a dead body in their lives, they are captivated by these pictures. And they’re not alone because, whether we realize it or not, we are all drawn to images of death, whether we’re on our own or with others.

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We build graveyards and monuments to the dead, and their photographs fill our homes. But why? What makes us surround ourselves with constant reminders of death?

The answer lies not in the modern world but thousands of years ago when human beings first created images of death.

This is the story of how death captured the human mind,

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and how that drove us to create some of the most powerful images in the world.

HOW ART MADE THE WORLD

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TO DEATH AND BACK

Like most people, I’ve got images of my ancestors scattered around the family home. I’ve always loved this one of my Grandpa Fred.

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He was a self-made man from the East End of London, lived through two world wars and died about fifteen years ago.

Naturally, we want to surround ourselves with pictures of people who’ve died. Because we loved them, we want to preserve their memory. But I wonder if there’s something else going on with these pictures. What if they triggered a range of emotions that I wasn’t aware of, subconscious emotions, more to do with my death than Grandpa’s? Could my desire to surround myself with images like these be somehow helping to overcome my fear of death?

Well, to try and find an answer, what if we went back in time? What if we tried to discover what compelled people to surround themselves with images of death for the very first time?

Our journey starts at a place where people have been living continuously for longer than anywhere else on earth.

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This is the Jordan Valley in the Middle East. Here there’s a town called Jericho. Jericho is famous for the biblical story of how Joshua and his trumpets brought the walls tumbling down.

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The collapse of these walls is believed to have happened about 3,000 years ago.

But Jericho the city is much older than that. It’s something like 9,000 years old. And it was in order to investigate what was happening behind these walls, that a team of archaeologists arrived here from Cambridge in the mid 1950s.

[LIVELY MUSIC]

The archaeologists wanted to reach right back into Jericho’s past. They dug deep trenches into where the ancient town had stood to try to find evidence of how these earliest inhabitants had lived. As a young woman, Cecil Western was one of the Cambridge archaeologists.

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[Cecil Western, Archaeologist] It was a jolly good dig. There was an enormous lot to do, so we were working all the hours there were, because they were finding so much stuff.

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[Dr. Nigel Spivey] By the end of the expedition, the team had uncovered pots and tools. They’d even found the remains of some of Jericho’s ancient walls. But what they were about to uncover would make everything, including the legendary walls, pale into insignificance. It happened on the very last day of the dig.

[Cecil Western, Archaeologist] Everything had been packed up. We were all preparing to go the next day. That’s when it often happens, at the most inconvenient moment, that you find something that you’ve got to pay attentIon to.

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[Dr. Nigel Spivey] The team had noticed something sticking out from the side of the trench. This was in one of the oldest parts of the site, an area that was 9,000 years old.

[Cecil Western, Archaeologist] We didn’t want to leave it there, because we thought the children would get it out. And they would make a nasty hole in the section anyhow, so we might as well make it ourselves and see what we’d got.

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[Dr. Nigel Spivey] With great care, one of the team began to dig the object out. But they were completely unprepared for what they would find.

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[Cecil Western, Archaeologist] Everybody got very excited. When it’s something unusual that you think nobody’s ever seen the like before, it’s very exciting.

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[Dr. Nigel Spivey] And the cause of all this excitement was this, a human skull, but a skull quite unlike any other they’d so far found on the excavation, in fact a skull quite unlike any other known to archaeology, because its nose had been reconstructed in plaster …

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and where two vacant sockets should have met our gaze, a pair of eyes made out of shells.

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This wasn’t an ordinary skull taken from a skeleton. An ancient artist had separated it from its body and then decorated it. Using plaster, the artist had rebuilt the front of the skull to create a delicate face. Where the eyes had once been, he’d placed two highly precious objects, shells from the Red Sea, many days’ walk away. So, 9,000 years ago, the people living in Jericho had made artistic representations of the dead because, whether we realize it or not, we are all drawn to images of death, the earliest ever created.
But there wasn’t just one.

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As they dug further, the archaeologists at Jericho found another and then another. In all, the team discovered nine decorated skulls at the site. And they immediately began to ask the question, “What were they for?”

[Cecil Western, Archaeologist] They were obviously portraits. We speculated as to whether they were enemies, or whether they were ancestors, or what they were, or family portraits.But they were strange because, so far as we knew at that point, nobody had ever discovered this sort of portraiture on the actual skull. So they were quite unusual. None of us had ever seen such a thing before.

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[Dr. Nigel Spivey] But there was far more to it than that. By looking at the layers of earth ancient objects are buried in, archaeologists can tell what they were used for. In the past, when archaeologists had found buried bodies, the layers had always shown that they were in special burial grounds. But when they came to look at the layer where the skulls had been found, they discovered something that astounded them. The layers clearly showed that the skulls hadn’t been tucked away in some sort of cemetery, but lodged above the floor of someone’s home, someone’s living space.

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Nine thousand years ago, decorated skulls would have been kept in people’s houses. And just as the experts began to wonder what this meant, they noticed something else. Take a look at the underside of this skull. It’s smooth and flat. “So what?” you might think. Well, that’s the crucial key to unlocking the mystery of these skulls, because they weren’t intended just to lie flat. They were specially designed to stand upright, perhaps on the floor of someone’s house or, more likely, in some special alcove or niche. It was an astonishing revelation, because it meant that these skulls, the earliest images ever of dead people, had been made to be seen by the living.

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But archaeologists were to discover that Jericho wasn’t the only place where there were skulls like these.

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Over the decades that followed, as archaeologists excavated elsewhere in the Middle East, they discovered more decorated skulls at other sites.

And it wasn’t just the Middle East.

Thousands of years ago, ancient artists had also created decorated skulls in what’s now the Ukraine.

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And it wasn’t all in the past, either, because indigenous people in modern-day Southeast Asia were also decorating the skulls of their dead.

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Archaeologists realized that this seemed to be a sort of biological instinct, a human predisposition to decorate the skulls of those who’d already died.

Almost all other animals' behaviors are driven by instinct. Instinct here is defined as an innate behavior in response to stimuli that is essentially "pre-programmed" in the organism. So, a bird flies south for the winter, sea turtles move towards the beach to lay eggs, etc. etc. I will also lump certain forms of learned behavior into instinct as well. Yes, it is not innate, but it seems to be epigenetic in a way for some learned behavior in other animals, as they are "primed" to learn and cannot help but learn based on their programming. An example of this is a daughter chimp learns how to be a "good" mother from watching its mom. However, the daughter chimp does not have a choice to do anything but learn from her mother. It cannot say one day, "eh, I don't feel like being a mother". In a way, this is an instinct to learn specialized behaviors for survival. The animal cannot help but learn.

Humans, somewhere along the way from Australopithicus to Homo sapiens have developed a linguistic/conceptual based mind (with developments of the Broca's region, Wernicke's region, neocortex, amongst other brain regions and networks. This linguistic mind has changed the way human behavior functions from other animals. It gives humans the ability to create complex hierarchical thinking. We still have very basic instincts (e.g. eating to get rid of hunger, warmth, a drive towards pleasure, etc.) but most other behavior any more complex than these basic drives, is based on linguistic-cultural origin and not instinct.

My claim is that most of human behavior originates through linguistic-conceptual thought and not instinct. Even something as fundamental as child-rearing is not instinctual. If people want to have a child, it is a desire just like any other desire. That is to say, it originates with concepts (I, raise, baby, development, nurture, care for, etc.) and concepts are purely in the realm of linguistic-cultural. This contrasts with much of pop-psychology and "just so" stories that are used to explain behaviors. Beliefs like "we have an instinct to nurture and raise children" would be spurious in this view. Anyone can have a preference to not want to produce offspring, for example.

-- Instinct vs. Cultural Learning in Humans, by Schopenhauer1, The Philosophy Forum


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What had driven people so far apart in time and place to do this? What had compelled them, just like us, to decorate their homes with images of their dead ancestors?

Compared to all other creatures on earth there is something unique about human beings that may provide an answer. It’s to do with the way that our mind works.

All animals take action to avoid their own deaths. It’s something that we humans share with even the smallest creatures. But this is just the basic evolutionary instinct to survive, to try to avoid being killed. Human beings have got something else.

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We humans are the only creatures who understand the inevitability of our own death, the fact that we just can’t escape it. And unlike other animals, we’ve got a brain that’s powerful enough to imagine a world in which we’re no longer alive.

And there is a group of experts who believe that this helps explain why humans surround themselves with images of death. They aren’t archaeologists but psychologists, based in Arizona.

[Sheldon Solomon, Professor of Psychology, Skidmore College] I remember being eight or nine years old, and my grandmother dying …

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and my mom saying, “Oh, come say goodbye to Grandma, because you’ll never see her again.” When I thought about why that was so difficult to bear, it was because I realized by inference that that would be me at some point. Only human beings are explicitly aware of the fact that they some day die.

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[Jeff Greenberg, Professor of Psychology, University of Arizona] It’s a powerful problem that humans have to face, their knowledge of their own inevitable death, and how that violates so much of what we’re doing day to day. We’re trying to stay live, we’re trying to thrive and yet we know, inevitably, it’ll be thwarted.

[Dr. Nigel Spivey] It’s a terrifying thought, that the one certainty in life is that we’re all going to die, and there’s nothing we can do about it. But these psychologists believe there is a way of easing this fear, a way of trying to come to terms with our own death.

[Sheldon Solomon, Professor of Psychology, Skidmore College] The first uniquely human way of accomplishing this is art. What art does is to take the natural world and to give us some control over it.

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[Dr. Nigel Spivey] So, by creating images of our ancestors, we’re reassuring ourselves that death isn’t so bad after all.

[Sheldon Solomon, Professor of Psychology, Skidmore College] That is the psychological impetus for its creation: your father and your grandfather and your mom and your grandmother are still very much with you, even though they aren’t moving around as much as they did in the past.

[Dr. Nigel Spivey] It’s an interesting theory, but could it be true? Professors Solomon and Greenberg decided to run an experiment to try to discover what’s happening in our minds when we see images of death.

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They began by taking two groups of American students. The psychologists made one of these groups think about death, but without them knowing it. And they did it by showing them these words: rose, sneaker, fajita, flower.

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See anything else? Well, you wouldn’t, because it was too quick for television to pick up. Let’s slow it down.

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Between the words, the psychologists flashed the word “dead”. Each subliminal image lasted just a fraction of a second, but long enough to put the idea of death into the subconscious minds of the subjects. The psychologists then showed both groups of people a series of pictures. They were images of famous dead Americans, icons who would have emotional value for the subjects.

Like past presidents, George Washington and JFK. Or screen stars, [like Marilyn Monroe]. The subjects then chose how long they wanted to look at the pictures, time which was measured.

What the psychologists found was remarkable. The group who’d been made to think about death wanted to look at the pictures for significantly longer than the group who hadn’t.

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It seems to show that if we’re thinking about our own death, we gain reassurance by looking at images of those who’ve already died.

So how does this help to explain the decorated skulls? Well, 9,000 years ago, Jericho was a death-ridden place. Average life expectancy was just 24. Thoughts of death would have dominated the minds of the inhabitants, and would have terrified them. So, to try to reassure themselves, the Jerichoans created artistic representations of their dead.

[Jeff Greenberg, Professor of Psychology, University of Arizona] The skulls from Jericho are a striking example of the people at that time trying to keep their dead alive and to keep them present. And if they’re still present, then they still exist, and thus they exist after death.

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That’s what we’re all looking for. That would be the most, you know, comforting thing that would really assuage this potential terror.

Terror management theory (TMT) is both a social and evolutionary psychology theory originally proposed by Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon Solomon, and Tom Pyszczynski and codified in their book The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life (2015). It proposes that a basic psychological conflict results from having a self-preservation instinct while realizing that death is inevitable and to some extent unpredictable. This conflict produces terror, and the terror is then managed by embracing cultural beliefs, or symbolic systems that act to counter biological reality with more durable forms of meaning and value.

The most obvious examples of cultural values that assuage death anxiety are those that purport to offer literal immortality (e.g. belief in afterlife, religion). However, TMT also argues that other cultural values – including those that are seemingly unrelated to death – offer symbolic immortality. For example, values of national identity, posterity, cultural perspectives on sex, and human superiority over animals have been linked to death concerns. In many cases these values are thought to offer symbolic immortality either a) by providing the sense that one is part of something greater that will ultimately outlive the individual (e.g. country, lineage, species), or b) by making one's symbolic identity superior to biological nature (i.e. you are a personality, which makes you more than a glob of cells).

Because cultural values determine that which is meaningful, they are also the foundation for self-esteem. TMT describes self-esteem as being the personal, subjective measure of how well an individual is living up to their cultural values.

TMT is derived from anthropologist Ernest Becker's 1973 Pulitzer Prize-winning work of nonfiction The Denial of Death, in which Becker argues most human action is taken to ignore or avoid the inevitability of death. The terror of absolute annihilation creates such a profound – albeit subconscious – anxiety in people that they spend their lives attempting to make sense of it. On large scales, societies build symbols: laws, religious meaning systems, cultures, and belief systems to explain the significance of life, define what makes certain characteristics, skills, and talents extraordinary, reward others whom they find exemplify certain attributes, and punish or kill others who do not adhere to their cultural worldview. On an individual level, self-esteem provides a buffer against death-related anxiety.

-- Terror management theory, by Wikipedia


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[Dr. Nigel Spivey] What motivated the Jerichoans was a universal human instinct. The fear of our own death is so great, we surround ourselves with pictures of people who’ve already died in order to reassure ourselves.

But reassurance is only part of the story, because there are other images of death that are very different. These seem to have the very opposite effect.

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Far from reassuring us, they exploit our fear of death and seem to make it worse. Take a look at this.

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This unsettling painting from the 18th century depicts a leader of the French Revolution who’s been murdered …

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while this 19th century picture shows a massacre of Spanish civilians.

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This etching shows a hanging.

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And in the 20th century, Himmler’s SS chose to use as its regimental symbol a skull and crossbones.

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Images of death like these aren’t reassuring. They’re upsetting. Terrifying, even.

Why do human beings create images that are so deeply disturbing? What we need to find is a civilization that’s taken images like these and pushed them to the limit. If we can understand what motivated them, then we might understand what motivates us.
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Re: To Death and Back, Presented by Dr. Nigel Spivey

Postby admin » Fri Aug 30, 2019 7:57 am

Part 2 of 4

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This is the coast of northern Peru in South America.

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Between 100 and 700 AD, a powerful civilization dominated this area. It was called the Moche. Ten years ago, an archaeologist came here to study the Moche.

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His name is Steve Bourget.

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Bourget began his excavations at the foot of this building, the Temple of the Moon, or Huaca de la Luna. It was built almost 2,000 years ago.

Today, the images on its mud walls have faded and seem to have little significance.

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But this is what they would once have looked like.

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On these walls are some of the most grotesque images of death one can imagine.

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These, for instance, are spiders. But they are no ordinary spiders.

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Each one is carrying a knife. And on their backs, they have a human face with fangs.

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Here’s a row of lizard beasts, all carrying a decapitated human head.

And scattered around the site was Moche pottery showing other disturbing acts.

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[Dr. Steve Bourget, Archaeologist, University of Texas] These images look terrifying, for example people being literally eaten alive by birds. Having their face taken off. This crude facelift. Things like that.

[Dr. Nigel Spivey] But what kind of dark mythology produced these images? Were they simply the product of a lurid violent fantasy?

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[Dr. Steve Bourget, Archaeologist, University of Texas] We see what appears to be supernatural beings, people with fangs, so it looks unreal.

[Dr. Nigel Spivey] But there were no clues as to why the Moche had created such art. What had compelled them, Bourget wondered, to create such disturbing images of death?

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Then, one day, walking near the temple, he noticed something strange. It was a large rock formation.

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But what was so unusual was that it had an almost identical shape to the mountain behind it. Bourget began to wonder if that had given it a special significance.

[Dr. Steve Bourget, Archaeologist, University of Texas] I believe that there was a connection between this rock and the mountain behind it, but that this rock was in fact a sacred rock, a sacred outcrop, in fact a copy, a small copy of the mountain behind it.

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[Dr. Nigel Spivey] Bourget and his team began to excavate the area, and what they found astonished them.

[Dr. Steve Bourget, Archaeologist, University of Texas] At the beginning, all we had there was sand, clay, rubbles, bricks, nothing else. So we start digging there. And a metre, a metre and a half inside this rubble we located human remains.

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[Dr. Nigel Spivey] Not just one skeleton, but seventy. And these bodies hadn’t died naturally.

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[Dr. Steve Bourget, Archaeologist, University of Texas] As soon as we encounter the human remains, we found for example a cranium with a large opening in the back of the head. We found another man resting on his back with a gash, a wound just alongside the head, just right there, probably made with a copper knife.

[Dr. Nigel Spivey] There was something else about these skeletons. Many of them weren’t intact.

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[Dr. Steve Bourget, Archaeologist, University of Texas] What we have there is a human cranium. And you can see that this head is literally standing alone. The body [head] has been removed from the corpse itself. So it indicates that not only they killed people there, but also dismantled the corpses. Took them apart, so to speak.

[Dr. Nigel Spivey] Next to a prominent rock, people had been killed, and their bodies had been dismembered. For Bourget, it could mean only one thing.

[Dr. Steve Bourget, Archaeologist, University of Texas] This rocky outcrop was a sacred altar. In fact, a sacred mountain, a small microcosm of the big mountain behind it. And in front of this altar, this would have been the best place for performing human sacrifice.

[Dr. Nigel Spivey] Bourget had discovered that this was a site of ritual sacrifice. But that was just the start, because then he noticed something else. Dismembering, skeletons, severed heads, these sacrificial remains bore a remarkable resemblance to many of the artistic images created by the Moche.

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[Dr. Steve Bourget, Archaeologist, University of Texas] What we are looking at …

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these are illustrations of sacrifice at the same time that they are the real thing. They are the real McCoy, so to speak. Time and again, the Moche had performed horrific acts of sacrifice and then created images of it.

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This wasn’t art as fantasy, it was art as documentary.

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[Dr. Nigel Spivey] And the Moche weren’t alone. For thousands of years, Latin America had been dominated by a series of ancient civilizations, including the Inca, the Olmecs, and the Maya, and they had all created terrifying images of death:

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skulls …

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flayed bodies …


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and bound captives. Archaeologists had long wondered why this was. The Moche discovery finally confirmed their suspicions.

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In all these civilizations, sacrifice had been a way of life. And artists had celebrated these grotesque acts by creating images of them.

But there was one civilization that was doing all of this on a simply colossal scale.

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They were the people who ruled here in Mexico City 500 years ago. The Aztecs. And these are their descendants.

Today they’re here to see a modern-day blood ritual, a bullfight.

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Here in the stadium, the deaths of some half a dozen bulls will be watched by a huge crowd. Over the next few hours, 40,000 people will witness and enjoy this killing.

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[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

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[Bull falls down dead]
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Re: To Death and Back, Presented by Dr. Nigel Spivey

Postby admin » Fri Aug 30, 2019 7:57 am

Part 3 of 4

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[Dr. Nigel Spivey] But what if the situation were reversed? What if all of us here were lined up to be sacrificial victims over four days, one by one? Well, that’s what happened here about 500 years ago.

[CHEERING]

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It’s almost impossible for us to comprehend the scale of such bloodletting, but Aztec historians record that in 1487, at the great pyramid of Tenochtitlan, executioners sacrificed four lines of prisoners, each two miles long.

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Victims were forced to climb to their deaths up the pyramid’s 114 steep steps.

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And at the top, two killing rooms.

[EERIE WHISPERING]

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[Dr. Nigel Spivey] Here they were met by priests wearing masks made of human skulls, and wielding sacrificial knives.

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While still alive, the victims had their hearts hacked from their chests.

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Their heads were then removed and placed on this stone rack. It was killing on a truly industrial scale, at least forty thousand deaths over four days.

But that’s not all, because the Aztecs then meticulously documented this slaughter with their art.

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Images like the giant statue of Chalchiuhtlicue with her necklace of hands, hearts and skulls. And Michtlantecuhtle, the god of sacrifice, with his flayed body. And the walls of skulls itself.

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Here’s an entire society that wanted to record the horrific slaughter it was perpetrating. The question you keep coming back to with the Aztecs is “Why?” Why the killing on such a horrific scale? And more importantly for our story, why would you want to fill your world with images of this wholesale human butchery, as if you were proud of what you were doing?

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A clue to the answer lies on one of the Aztecs’ most sacred objects. Three and a half metres across, it’s the Stone of the Sun.

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To the Aztecs, the sun god was the giver of life, but this was a gift that didn’t come cheap. And the Sun Stone reveals why. At its centre is the sun god.

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And in his outstretched hands, he’s got two objects. They’re human hearts.

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And in his mouth he has a knife.

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This is one vast sacrificial altar.

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The sun god created the earth by sacrificing his own blood. This meant the people were forever in his debt, and now they must repay him with the most precious commodity that they had, their own lives. If the debt wasn’t repaid, then the sun would go out, the crops would fail and all life would perish. By constantly reminding people of the debt they owed, images like these instilled loyalty and obedience to the state. The Aztec leaders were using art to bolster the whole structure of their civilization.

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Aztec society was based on a rigid hierarchical structure, and sacrifice was carefully integrated into each tier.

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At the bottom were half a million law-abiding citizens. This was the audience for the ritual.

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Above them was the elite warrior class. These were the people who fought neighbouring states to capture victims for ritual sacrifice.

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Then came the priesthood, who turned killing into a form of gruesome theatre.

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And at the very top, the Aztec court and its king reigned supreme, safe in the knowledge that no one dared challenge them.

So the winners in this orgy of death imagery were the powerful elite who stood at the top of Aztec society, perhaps the most successful regime of terror the world had ever seen. Through this art, they gained a powerful grip over the hearts and minds of their people.

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And that wasn’t just because these images made people fearful of being killed. The psychologists believe they were having another even more powerful effect on the minds of the Aztec population, driving them towards the values of the state.

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[Jeff Greenberg, Professor of Psychology, University of Arizona] If you were an Aztec, you could say, “This is brutal. What the hell’s going on?” Maybe some did that. But most would be better psychologically served by identifying with the powers that are dispensing death, and feeling that, “Hey, we’re on the side that has control over death.”

[Dr. Nigel Spivey] Professors Solomon and Greenberg wondered if thinking about death would manipulate the minds of people in a similar way today. So they conducted an unusual experiment to find out.

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They started by dividing a group of American students according to their political allegiance. Half were strong Democrat Party supporters. The other half supported the Republicans.

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The students were asked to dole out a portion of foul-tasting hot spicy sauce for someone to eat. First they were told to do it for a supporter of their favoured political party, and then for a supporter of the party they opposed. The students served on average the same amount of spicy sauce, regardless of whether it was for political friends or adversaries. The psychologists then took another group of students, but they asked them to read a series of questions designed to make them think about their own death.

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[Woman] Please briefly describe the emotions that the thought of your death arouses in you. Jot down as specifically as you can what you think will happen to you as you physically die.

[Dr. Nigel Spivey] When these students measured out the sauce for their political allies, nothing changed. Once again, the portion averaged 12 grams. But when they doled out the sauce for their political opponents, something happened.

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This time they measured out an average of 27 grams of sauce, more than twice the previous amount. So reminding people of their own deaths seems to drive them towards supporting those who share their values and opposing those who don’t. And the experiment suggested this was a universal human instinct, as relevant to modern-day students as to 15th-century Aztecs.

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[Jeff Greenberg, Professor of Psychology, University of Arizona] These results suggest when people are reminded of their own mortality, they are going to lash out at those who have a different belief system than their own, the idea being that when we think about our own death, we become more invested in our own belief system, and someone with a different belief system becomes psychologically threatening. So we’re gonna lash out at them, oft-times with violence.

[Dr. Nigel Spivey] This psychological explanation would also account for unsettling images like these.

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This was painted to inspire loyalty to French revolutionary values.

Here a painting celebrates the sacrifices that were made for Spanish independence.

This etching was created to provoke revulsion towards slavery.

And in Nazi Germany, the skull and crossbones was used by the SS to instill obedience.

In each case, disturbing images of death were being used to bind people to a cause.

So we seem to surround ourselves with two very different types of images of death. Some reassure us, whereas others terrify. Each has a powerful hold over the human mind. But just imagine the power of an image that could do both. Because there seems to be another kind of image of death, strangely one that terrifies and reassures us both at the same time.

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In the Western world, this is one of the most familiar images that we ever see. It’s used to reassure people, and even if you’re not a Christian, there are plenty of people who take great comfort from it.

The other of the two pillars of Hegelianism is his so-called philosophy of identity. It is, in its turn, an application of dialectics. I do not intend to waste the reader's time by attempting to make sense of it, especially since I have tried to do so elsewhere; for in the main, the philosophy of identity is nothing but shameless equivocation, and, to use Hegel's own words, it consists of nothing but 'fancies, even imbecile fancies'. It is a maze in which are caught the shadows and echoes of past philosophies, of Heraclitus, Plato, and Aristotle, as well as of Rousseau and Kant, and in which they now celebrate a kind of witches' sabbath, madly trying to confuse and beguile the naive onlooker. The leading idea, and at the same time the link between Hegel's dialectics and his philosophy of identity, is Heraclitus' doctrine of the unity of opposites. 'The path that leads up and the path that leads down are identical', Heraclitus had said, and Hegel repeats this when he says: 'The way west and the way east are the same.' This Heraclitean doctrine of the identity of opposites is applied to a host of reminiscences from the old philosophies which are thereby 'reduced to components' of Hegel's own system. Essence and Idea, the one and the many, substance and accident, form and content, subject and object, being and becoming, everything and nothing, change and rest, actuality and potentiality, reality and appearance, matter and spirit, all these ghosts from the past seem to haunt the brain of the Great Dictator while he performs his dance with his balloon, with his puffed-up and fictitious problems of God and the World. But there is method in this madness, and even Prussian method. For behind the apparent confusion there lurk the interests of the absolute monarchy of Frederick William. The philosophy of identity serves to justify the existing order. Its main upshot is an ethical and juridical positivism, the doctrine that what is, is good, since there can be no standards but existing standards; it is the doctrine that might is right.

-- The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper


But, just for a moment, look at the cross simply as an image.

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It’s the figure of a man oozing blood, dying an agonizing death.

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It should terrify us. Is this really so far from the images of sacrifice created by the Aztecs?

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So why create an image that both terrifies and reassures us at the same time? What’s going on psychologically that makes this image such a comfort to countless millions of people?

In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. This discomfort is triggered by a situation in which a person's belief clashes with new evidence perceived by the person. When confronted with facts that contradict beliefs, ideals, and values, people will try to find a way to resolve the contradiction to reduce their discomfort.

In A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (1957), Leon Festinger proposed that human beings strive for internal psychological consistency to function mentally in the real world. A person who experiences internal inconsistency tends to become psychologically uncomfortable and is motivated to reduce the cognitive dissonance, by making changes to justify the stressful behavior, either by adding new parts to the cognition causing the psychological dissonance or by avoiding circumstances and contradictory information likely to increase the magnitude of the cognitive dissonance.

-- Cognitive dissonance, by Wikipedia


Well, now we may be able to find the answer, because we now know the moment at which human beings first brought together images of death which both reassure and terrify.

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It happened here in Italy. Two and a half thousand years ago, a great civilization ruled this land. It had cities, wealth and beautiful art. No, not the Romans.

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These people were the Etruscans.

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Who laid the foundations of Rome? Not the Romans. The Etruscans. You thought gladiators were Roman? You’re wrong, because they were Etruscan, too. Think straight roads were a Roman idea? No, they were Etruscan. Bridge building, irrigation systems, the Etruscans were superb engineers. They gave Rome the tools to build an empire. Despite this, for a long time it was believed that little remained of this once-great civilization. Then, in the 19th century, archaeologists began to prove otherwise with a series of discoveries that would give us the final chapter of our story.

They lay buried underground. Because down here are thousands upon thousands of Etruscan tombs.

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This is where the Etruscans buried their dead.

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And they’re some of the most reassuring visions of the afterlife ever created.
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Re: To Death and Back, Presented by Dr. Nigel Spivey

Postby admin » Fri Aug 30, 2019 7:58 am

Part 4 of 4

I’m in the tomb of the Matuna family, who lived in Cerveteri about two and a half thousand years ago. And although this was designed for them in their death, it’s got a very cosy feel about it. The Matunas were given tools for farming …

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livestock, cooking utensils, a flagon of wine, beds, and even little luxuries such as a pair of slippers for those cold winter mornings. With all this food, the only problem the Matunas may have faced in the afterlife is mice, but thoughtfully the artist has created a cat.

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Etruscan tombs were designed as houses for the dead …

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so they’ve got all the features that you’d expect from a house. We’ve got doorways leading into bedrooms, en suite of course, windows, and really sturdy roof beams.

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They made them to last. Thousands of years after the wooden houses of the living have disappeared, the stone cities of the dead still stand. For the Etruscans, death seemed to be simply a joyful continuation of life. If I were an Etruscan, I’d be looking forward to my death.

But it wasn’t the whole story. There was a dark side to the Etruscan view of the afterlife. And it was dramatically revealed to the world 20 years ago.

In 1985, Italian workers were digging a trench for a new pipeline to supply the town of Tarquinia with water. They came across yet another buried Etruscan tomb and called in the archaeologists.

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The archaeologists pushed a tiny camera through the earth to investigate.

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What they first saw was what they expected to see. Covering one wall of the tomb were the kind of enchanting images for which the Etruscans were famous. Anyone buried here would be surrounded by paintings of a reassuring afterlife. Then the archaeologists turned their camera around, and what they saw on the opposite wall shocked them. Here were paintings of disturbing and unsettling creatures, images intended not to reassure but to terrify.

This is the blue demon, the hook-nosed creature from the Etruscan underworld.

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The demon’s skin is the colour of rotting human flesh. He has a snake coiled around his arms.

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Beside him is a winged devil, ready to drag the dead off to an underworld of pain and suffering. An Etruscan artist devised this vision of a terrifying afterlife around 420 BC, making it perhaps our oldest surviving image of hell. It’s not intended to reassure. Quite the opposite.

When they dated this tomb, archaeologists realized it marked a watershed. For the previous 200 years, Etruscans had created tombs full of images promising only a happy afterlife. But then something had changed. By 400 BC, the Etruscans were combining in a single work of art, images of death that were both reassuring and terrifying, rather as we do today. So what had happened?
At this time, the Etruscans were being threatened by the rise of another Italian civilization, a greedy and aggressive people who would steal their land and destroy their culture.

Who else but the Romans?

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The Etruscans knew the Romans were coming, and they knew they needed to resist them at all costs. Their tombs became a resonant call to arms because they offered a stark choice.

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Would you be damned or saved?

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These images of hell reminded the Etruscans of the gruesome fate that awaited them if they failed in their duty and surrendered.

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But these images of a reassuring afterlife promised the Etruscans their reward if they stood up to the imminent threat.

For the first time in history, these conflicting images had been brought together. The Etruscans gave us the earliest images of hell, and in doing so they created the first ever images of what we today would call redemption.

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This is the place where the Etruscans built their capital. Today it’s the Italian city of Orvieto.

Around 1500 AD, almost 2,000 years after the Etruscans had disappeared, Christians built a cathedral here. On its walls are two huge frescos …

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one showing the damned suffering in hell, and here those who have been saved rising up to heaven.

[CHORAL SINGING]

Notice anything?

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Well, again, we’ve got a vision of the happy afterlife, contrasted with an intense depiction of suffering and pain in the other world meted out by blue-green demons.

These frescos offer the same mix of terror and reassurance as the Etruscans’ tombs 2,000 years earlier. This, if you like, was their legacy.

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The artist who painted these images knew only too well the powerful effect that combining them had over the human mind.

[Jeff Greenberg, Professor of Psychology, University of Arizona] The cleverness of the idea of redemption is that it can lead people to actually look forward to death, rather than dreading it.

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The idea of sacrifice for the greater good is widespread. The idea of falling on a grenade for one’s buddies.

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Then what we do is we memorialize such people. They’re remembered more than the rest of us.

So the idea of giving up one’s life for the greater good, and then getting something from that, getting redemption, and being in a better place, by dying in a heroic manner.

[Dr. Nigel Spivey] And that’s why the cross is unique.

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It’s the one single image that’s working on the human mind in two opposing ways.

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It’s a terrifying image, representing pain, loss and suffering, and yet at the same time it’s an image that reassures, one that holds out hope.

This combination has made the cross one of the most powerful symbols ever. And it explains why so often it’s been used to try to give meaning in the face of the incomprehensible loss of life.

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[CHORAL SINGING]

Presented by Dr. Nigel Spivey
_______________

Librarian Charles Carreon’s Comment:

We all want to think the best about a bloke as jovial and engaging as Neil Spivey, but something's off about this episode. We start with skulls pulled from ancient Middle Eastern ruins that turn out to be the equivalent of comfy snapshots of mum and dad, grandpa and grandmum, and proceed to the thesis, derived from Terror Management Theory (TMT), that all culture is an attempt to deal with the fear of death. The scientific evidence is then marshalled, but not too convincingly, that people gaze upon the images of dead stars and politicians for much longer after they've been "primed" by thoughts of death than they otherwise would, absent the priming. While I believe the behavioral observations are accurate, the fact is, images of JFK, Marilyn, and other famous people are more than just dead people. They're famous dead people, who provoke nostalgia, and one of the discoveries of TMT is that nostalgia diminishes the fear of death.

So to simply conclude that looking at "dead people" makes us feel better isn't the clear inference to be drawn from the experiment.

Moving on, we dig into the phenomenon of human sacrifice, and quickly head for Mesoamerica, where we are presented with grim images of dead from the Aztec temples at Tenochtitlan. They were some bad hombres, no doubt, but it’s hard to swallow the argument Spivey makes, that the Aztec populace were "comforted" by seeing their priests dispatch victims from neighboring tribes, because that put them "on the side of the killers," i.e., the people who were dominating the people with murder, and bribing the Sun God with heaps of human hearts. This is an unwarranted leap of fantasy that warms Spivey up for the main event, a humongous self-propelled vault over the high-bar of -- you guessed it -- the dread symbolism of the Crucifixion.

We know who practiced Crucifixion, right, class? "The Romans!" Yes, that is correct. And why did they do it? "To terrify people." Right again. But Spivey quickly switches meanings on us, in a tortured gambit to turn the Christian symbolism of crucifixion into a symbol that is "both terrifying and comforting." Somehow, he argues, through an unexplained magical pass accomplished by unknown means, Christianity turned the "The Cross" into a symbol that crushes the grapes of terror and yields the wine of Divine Comfort. Yes, according to Spivey, who sails over the obstacle of experience with a leap of pure assertion, smiling genially all the way, the Cross is indeed a magical achievement of symbolism, an icon of death that relieves the very terror it inspires.

Now I am surprised that no one that I've yet seen on the Internet seems to find this notion absurd. Jews, for example, are not comforted by the sight of crosses or crucifixes. (By the way, the difference between a cross and a crucifix is that Protestants venerate the first, and Catholics the second. For a Catholic, a cross without a dead Jesus hanging on it is just a watered-down symbol that takes them nowhere.)

Back to the Jews. Historically, they've been blamed three ways, using the Cross/Crucifix as a prop. First, they are Infidels. They fail to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Second, they are doubly at fault, for Jesus appeared to them specially, as their Messiah, and they rejected him. Third, they couldn't just ignore him, they had to hire the Romans to crucify him. Ever since, they've suffered for rejecting Jesus -- thousands werekilled in pogroms by Crusaders who decided to practice on them while journeying to kill Moslems in the Holy Land, thousands more were burned at the stake by the Inquisition, deprived of their property and land in Spain and Italy, and millions were herded into death camps by the Nazis. All their killers were Christians, all were justified, and all bore the Cross/Crucifix as their emblem of Holiness. Hence, as Chaim Potok explained it in his novel, The Chosen, it really freaked out his parents when he, a Jewish artist, painted a crucifixion scene. A lot of folks have painted crucifixions, but aside from Potok's fictional narrator, none of them were Jews.

As for the Moslems, we can hardly expect them to respond well to Crosses/Crucifixes. They banished all depictions of humans from their religion altogether. The idea of depicting God as a man, much worse one murdered by his fellow-men, is anathema to them. Then of course, they have also been persecuted by Christians, and when the Crusaders came to kill them, they bore the Cross as their emblem of murder and vengeance. The only satisfaction a Moslem could get from a cross back in those days would be by wresting it away from a Crusader and shoving it up his ass, which probably happened once or twice. And today, when the United States went off to murder Islamic people by the gross, what kind of cannon did they use -- the Crusader Self-Propelled 155 mm cannon. That's a shell 6 inches wide -- about the size of a 3 pound coffee can, and this mofo flings that kind of munition at the rate of 10 rounds per minute. Level a building very quickly. Crush people to hamburger most efficiently. The meaning of the word "Crusader?" One who carries a Cross.

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Finally, we come to the believers, the Catholics and Protestants who post these torture instruments atop their churches.

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According to Spivey, these images are really comforting to Christians, who can efface from their minds the awareness that crosses were things built especially to kill people with. Kind of like saying, post an AK 47 on the top of your building to make folks feel safe walking inside. Well, now that you mention it, when you google "Church and AR 15" you do get some of these freakos to gawk at.

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These folks, I guess, really have got the "old-time religion." They know what that cross is for, and if you give them any LGBTQ bullshit, they'll hang you up on it!

But what about normal Christians. People who believe in the Beatitudes, and want their Jesus to greet them and their relatives at the Pearly Gates with a big smile and a glass of lemonade? What about them? Do they find it comforting to see him hanging up there on the Cross, bleeding his life away? Does it comfort them to know that "God gave his only begotten Son that men should be freed from sin?" Do they think it's great that Jehovah, having become wroth with mankind, didn't resort to a world-destroying flood to cleanse the earth of sinful men, and instead took his Son up on an offer that must have gone like this, "Aw Dad, I know humans are a big disappointment. From Adam and Eve going for the Apple instead of the Garden, and Cain going vegetarian and killin' his brother the shepherd. I know that really bummed you out because you love meat and hate vegetables. And they always be fornicatin' and drinkin' and gettin' all confused about what's good and bad. But they're weak, you know, and I'm strong! Kill me, Dad! Kill me! I can take it! Just take all that anger out on me -- whip me -- aw let's say 40 lashes -- have some strong Roman badass do it. Then have a Roman Procurator wash his hands of my fate, and let my own people, my own flesh and blood, the Chosen People, cry out for me to die, yeah, let them favor a murderer, let's call him Barrabas -- that's a scary name -- let them release him from death. Then for a final ignominy, hang me up on a cross on a boilin' hot day, between two thieves. Let the soldiers throw dice below me, betting to see who can win my bloody clothes. When I ask for water, let 'em offer me piss. I can take it, Dad! Then I'll show em all how great you are by Rising from the Dead! Tell me that won't impress 'em, Dad. C'mon, it'll be fun!"

Yeah, that's a groovy myth, huh. Just totally comforting to think that God would accept that bargain. What red- blooded American dad wouldn't be proud of a son like that?

Spivey didn't think this through very well, you know? I don't know who wrote this script, but I think it was a bunch of preachers operating through the BBC. They wanted a nice fella like Spivey to wash the blood off their religion, make it clean as the driven snow, like sheets hanging out on the line on laundry day. You'd just have to be a fool to buy it, though.

Hate to tell you, Spivey, but among Catholics, prayer is penance. Prayer is punishment. Redemption happens in Purgatory. Jesus suffered because we sinned. We wielded the whip. We nailed him up. We threw dice for his clothes. We caused it all, and we are to feel guilt for that, not relief. Comfort in the Christian tradition comes at the end of a long train of repentance. It comes after acknowledging that Christ was crucified "Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault." And no BBC special can change that.

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Re: To Death and Back, Presented by Dr. Nigel Spivey

Postby admin » Thu Jan 09, 2020 2:06 am

Part 1 of 2

"The Tantric Female Sacrifice," Excerpt from The Shadow of the Dalai Lama: Sexuality, Magic and Politics in Tibetan Buddhism
by Victor and Victoria Trimondi

3. The Tantric Female Sacrifice

Until now we have only examined the tantric scheme very broadly and abstractly. But we now wish to show concretely how the “transformation of erotic love into power” is carried out. We thus return to the starting point, the love-play between yogi and yogini, god and goddess, and first examine the various feminine typologies which the tantric master uses in his rituals. Vajrayana distinguishes three types of woman in all:

The “real woman” (karma mudra). She is a real human partner. According to tantric doctrine she belongs to the “realm of desire”.

The “imaginary woman” or “spirit woman” (inana mudra). She is summonsed by the yogi’s meditative imagination and only exists there or in his fantasy. The inana mudra is placed in the “realm of forms”.

The “inner woman” (maha mudra). She is the woman internalized via the tantric praxis, with no existence independent of the yogi. She is not even credited with the reality of an imagined form, therefore she counts as a figure from the “formless realm”.

All three types of woman are termed mudra. This word originally meant ‘seal’, ‘stamp’, or ‘letter of the alphabet’. It further indicated certain magical hand gestures and body postures, with which the yogi conducted, controlled and “sealed” the divine energies. This semantic richness has led to all manner of speculation. For example, we read that the tantric master “stamps” the phenomena of the world with happiness, and that as his companion helps him do this, she is known as mudra (‘stamp’). More concretely, the Maha Siddha Naropa refers to the fact that a tantric partner, in contrast to a normal woman, assists the guru in blocking his ejaculation during the sexual act, and as it were “seals” this, which is of major importance for the performance of the ritual. For this reason she is known as mudra, ‘seal’ (Naropa, 1994, p. 81). But the actual meaning probably lies in the following: in Vajrayana the feminine itself is “sealed”, that is, spellbound via a magic act, so that it is available to the tantric master in its entirety.

The karma mudra: the real woman:

What then are the external criteria which a karma mudra, a real woman, needs to meet in order to serve a guru as wisdom consort? The Hevajra Tantra, for example, describes her in the following words: “She is neither too tall, nor too short, neither quite black nor quite white, but dark like a lotus leaf. Her breath is sweet, and her sweat has a pleasant smell like that of musk. Her pudenda gives forth a scent from moment to moment like different kinds of lotuses or like sweet aloe wood. She is calm and resolute, pleasant in speech and altogether delightful” (Snellgrove, 1959, p. 116). At another juncture the same tantra recommends that the guru “take a consort who has a beautiful face, is wide-eyed, is endowed with grace and youth, is dark, courageous, of good family and originates from the female and male fluids” (Farrow and Menon, 1992, p. 217). Gedün Chöpel, a famous tantric from the 20th century, draws a distinction between the various regions from which the women come. Girls from Kham province, for example, have soft flesh, lovers from Dzang are well-versed in the erotic techniques, “Kashmiri girls” are to be valued for their smile, and so on (Chöpel, 1992, p. 45).

Sometimes it is also required of the karma mudra that as well as being attractive she also possess specialized erotic skills. For example, the Kalachakra Tantra recommends training in the sophisticated Indian sexual techniques of the Kama Sutra. In this famous handbook on the intensification of sexual lust, the reader can inform him- or herself about the most daring positions, the use of aphrodisiacs, the anatomical advantages various women possess, the seduction of young girls, dealings with courtesans, and much more. The sole intention of the Kama Sutra, however, is to sexualize life as a whole. In contrast to the tantras there are no religious and power-political intentions to be found behind this work. It thus has no intrinsic value for the tantric yogi. The latter uses it purely as a source of inspiration, to stimulate his desires which he then brings under conscious control.

Youth is a further requirement which the mudra has to meet. The Maha Siddha Saraha distinguishes five different wisdom consorts on the basis of age: the eight-year-old virgin (kumari); the twelve-year-old salika; the sixteen-year-old siddha, who already bleeds monthly; the twenty-year-old balika, and the twenty-five-year-old bhadrakapalini, who he describes as the “burned fat of prajna” (Wayman, 1973, p. 196). The “modern” tantric already mentioned, Lama Gedün Chöpel, explicitly warns that children can become injured during the sexual act: “Forcingly doing it with a young girl produces severe pains and wounds her genitalia. ... If it is not the time and if copulating would be dangerous for her, churn about between her thighs, and it [the female seed] will come out” (Chöpel, 1992, p. 135). In addition he recommends feeding a twelve-year-old honey and sweets before ritual sexual intercourse (Chöpel, 1992, p. 177).

When the king and later Maha Siddha, Dombipa, one day noticed the beautiful daughter of a traveling singer before his palace, he selected her as his wisdom consort and bought her from her father for an enormous sum in gold. She was “an innocent virgin, untainted by the sordid world about her. She was utterly charming, with a fair complexion and classical features. She had all the qualities of a padmini, a lotus child, the rarest and most desirable of all girls” (Dowman, 1985, pp. 53–54). What became of the “lotus child” after the ritual is not recorded.

“In the rite of ‘virgin-worship’ (kumari-puja)”, writes Benjamin Walker, “a girl is selected and trained for initiation, and innocent of her impending fate is brought before the altar and worshipped in the nude, and then deflowered by a guru or chela” (Walker, 1982, p. 72). It was not just the Hindu tantrics who practiced rituals with a kumari, but also the Tibetans, in any case the Grand Abbot of the Sakyapa Sect, even though he was married.

On a numerological basis twelve- or sixteen-year-old girls are preferred. Only when none can be found does Tsongkhapa recommend the use of a twenty-year-old. There is also a table of correspondences between the various ages and the elements and senses: an 11-year-old represents the air, a 12-year-old fire, a 13-year-old water, a 14-year-old earth, a15-year-old sound, a 16-year-old the sense of touch, a 17-year-old taste, an 18-year-old shape or form, and a 20-year-old the sense of smell (Naropa, 1994, p. 189).

The rituals should not be performed with women older than this, as they absorb the “occult forces” of the guru. The dangers associated with older mudras are a topic discussed at length. A famous tantric commentator describes 21- to 30-year-olds as “goddesses of wrath” and gives them the following names: The Blackest, the Fattest, the Greedy, the Most Arrogant, the Stringent, the Flashing, the Grudging, the Iron Chain, and the Terrible Eye. 31- to 38-year-olds are considered to be manifestations of malignant spirits and 39- to 46-year-olds as “unlimited manifestations of the demons”. They are called Dog Snout, Sucking Gob, Jackal Face, Tiger Gullet, Garuda Mug, Owl Features, Vulture’s Beak, Pecking Crow (Naropa, 1994, p. 189). These women, according to the text, shriek and scold, menace and curse. In order to get the yogi completely off balance, one of these terrible figures calls out to him in the Kalachakra Tantra, “Human beast, you are to be crushed today”. Then she gnashes her teeth and hisses, “Today I must devour your flesh”, and with trembling tongue she continues, “From your body I will make the drink of blood” (Grünwedel, Kalacakra III, p. 191). That some radical tantras view it as especially productive to copulate with such female “monsters” is a topic to which we shall later return.

How does the yogi find a real, human mudra? Normally, she is delivered by his pupil. This is also true for the Kalachakra Tantra. “If one gives the enlightened teacher the prajna [mudra] as a gift,” proclaims Naropa, “the yoga is bliss” (Grünwedel, 1933, p. 117). If a 12- or 16-year-old girl cannot be found, a 20-year-old will suffice, advises another text, and continues, “One should offer his sister, daughter or wife to the ‘guru’”, then the more valuable the mudra is to the pupil, the more she serves as a gift for his master (Wayman, 1977, p. 320).

Further, magic spells are taught with which to summons a partner. The Hevajra Tantra recommends the following mantra: “Om Hri — may she come into my power — savaha!” (Snellgrove, 1959, p. 54). Once the yogi has repeated this saying ten thousand times the mudra will appear before him in flesh and blood and obey his wishes.

The Kalachakra Tantra urges the yogi to render the mudra pliant with intoxicating liquor: “Wine is essential for the wisdom consort [prajna]. ... Any mudra at all, even those who are still not willing, can be procured with drink” (Grünwedel, Kalacakra III, p. 147). It is only a small step from this to the use of direct force. There are also texts, which advise “that if a woman refuses sexual union she must be forced to do so” (Bhattacharyya, 1982, p. 125).

Whether or not a karma mudra needs special training before the ritual is something which receives varying answers in the texts and commentaries. In general, she should be familiar with the tantric doctrine. Tsongkhapa advises that she take and keep a vow of silence. He expressly warns against intercourse with unworthy partners: “If a woman lacks ... superlative qualities, that is an inferior lotus. Do not stay with that one, because she is full of negative qualities. Make an offering and show some respect, but don’t practice (with her)” (quoted in Shaw, 1994, p. 169). In the Hevajra Tantra a one-month preparation time is required, then “the girl [is] freed of all false ideas and received as though she were a boon” (Snellgrove, 1987, vol. 1, p. 261).

But what happens to the “boon” once the ritual is over? “The karma mudra ... has a purely pragmatic and instrumental significance and is superfluous at the finish” writes the Italian Tibetologist Raniero Gnoli in the introduction to a Kalachakra commentary (Naropa, 1994, p. 82). After the sexual act she is “of no more use to the tantrik than husk of a shelled peanut”, says Benjamin Walker (Walker, 1982, pp. 72–73). She has done her duty, transferred her feminine energy to the yogi, and now succumbs to the disdain which Buddhism holds for all “normal” women as symbols of the “supreme illusion” (maha maya). There is no mention of an initiation of the female partner in the codified Buddhist tantra texts.

The karma mudra and the West:

Since the general public demands that a Tibetan lama lead the life of a celibate monk, he must keep his sexual practices secret. For this reason, documents about and verbal accounts of clerical erotic love are extremely rare. It is true that the sexual magic rites are freely and openly discussed in the tantra texts, but who does what with whom and where are all “top secret”. Only the immediate followers are informed, the English author June Campbell reports.

And she has the authority to make such a claim. Campbell had been working for many years as translator and personal assistant for the highest ranking Kagyüpa guru, His Holiness Kalu Rinpoche (1905–1989), when the old man (he was then approaching his eighties) one day asked her to become his mudra. She was completely surprised by this request and could not begin to imagine such a thing, but then, she reluctantly submitted to the wishes of her master. As she eventually managed to escape the tantric magic circle, the previously uninformed public is indebted to her for a number of competent commentaries upon the sexual cabinet politics of modern Lamaism and the psychology of the karma mudra.

What then, according to Campbell, are the reasons which motivate Western women to enter into a tantric relationship, and then afterwards keep their experiences with the masters to themselves? First of all, their great respect and deep reverence for the lama, who as a “living Buddha” begins and ritually conducts the liaison. Then, the karma mudra, even when she is not publicly acknowledged, enjoys a high status within the small circle of the informed and, temporarily, the rank of a dakini, i.e., a tantric goddess. Her intimate relationship with a “holy man” further gives her the feeling that she is herself holy, or at least the opportunity to collect good karma for herself.

Of course, the mudra must swear a strict vow of absolute silence regarding her relations with the tantric master. Should she break it, then according to the tantric penal code she may expect major difficulties, insanity, death and on top of this millennia of hellish torments. In order to intimidate her, Kalu Rinpoche is alleged to have told his mudra, June Campbell, that in an earlier life he killed a woman with a mantra because she disobeyed him and gossiped about intimacies. “The imposition of secrecy ... in the Tibetan system”, Campbell writes, “when it occurred solely as a means to protect status , and where it was reinforced by threats, was a powerful weapon in keeping women from achieving any kind of integrity in themselves. ... So whilst the lineage system [the gurus’ chain of initiation] viewed these [sexual] activities as promoting the enlightenment state of the lineage holders, the fate of one of the two main protagonists, the female consort, remained unrecognized, unspoken and unnamed” (June Campbell, 1996, p. 103). June Campbell also first risked speaking openly about her experiences, which she found repressive and degrading, after Kalu Rinpoche had died.

In her book, this author laments not just the subsequent namelessness of and disregard for the karma mudra despite the guru praising her as a “goddess” for as long as the ritual lasted, but also discusses the traumatic state of “used up” women, who, once their master has “drunk” their gynergy, are traded in for a “fresh” mudra. She also makes reference to the naiveté of Western husbands, who send their spouses to a guru in good faith, so that they can complete their spiritual development. (June Campbell, 1996, p. 107). During her relationship with Kalu Rinpoche he was also practicing with another woman who was not yet twenty years old. The girl died suddenly, of a heart attack it was said. We will return to this death, which fits the logic of the tantric pattern, at a later stage. The fears which such events awakened in her, reports Campbell, completely cut her off from the outside world and left her totally delivered up to the domination of her guru.

This masculine arrogance becomes particularly obvious in a statement by the young lama, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, who announced the following in response to Campbell’s commotion stirring book: “If Western women begin sexual relationships with Tibetan lamas, then the consequence for a number of them is frustration, because their culturally conditioned expectations are not met. If they hope to find an agreeable and equal lover in a Rinpoche, they could not be making a bigger mistake. Certain Rinpoches, who are revered as great teachers, would literally make the worst partners of all — seen from the point of view of the ego. If one approaches such a great master expecting to be acknowledged, and wishing for a relationship in which one shares, satisfies one another, etc., then one is making a bad choice — not just from the ego’s point of view, but also in a completely normal, worldly sense. They probably won’t bring them flowers or invite them to candlelight dinners” (Esotera, 12/97, p. 45; retranslation). It speaks for such a quotation that it is honest, since it quite plainly acknowledges the spiritual inferiority of women (who represent the ego, desire and banality) when confronted with the superhuman spiritual authority of the male gurus. The tantric master Khyentse Rinpoche knows exactly what he is talking about, when he continues with the following sentence: “Whilst in the West one understands equality to mean that two aspects find a common denominator, in Vajrayana Buddhism equality lies completely outside of twoness or duality. Where duality is retained, there can be no equality” (Esotera, 12/97, p. 46; retranslation). That is, in other words: the woman as equal and autonomous partner must be eliminated and has to surrender her energies to the master’s completion (beyond duality).

The “sexual abuse” of Western women by Tibetan lamas has meanwhile become something of a constant topic in the Buddhist scene and has also triggered heated discussion on the Internet. There we can read the following from an author called Mary Finnigan: “In some instances a male teacher would be having sex with several women students over a period of time. Each would be sworn to secrecy and each would be led to believe that she was the only consort. Then inevitably the secret came out and the effect of this on the particular dharma group was devastating” (Finnigan, Newsgroup 5). Finnigan answers the question of how the Tibetans behaved in such cases as follows: “My understanding is that Tibetan women regarded it as an honor and a duty to sleep with a lama if requested. I do not think the concept of sexual abuse was known to them until they became refugees (Finnigan, Newsgroup 5).

Even the official office of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama has had to respond to the increasingly common allegations: “What some of these students have experienced is terrible and most unfortunate”, announced Tenzin Tethon, a secretary to His Holiness, and admitted that for a number of years there had already been reports of such incidents (Lattin, Newsgroup 2). Naturally, Tenzin Tethon made no mention of the fact that the sexual exploitation of women for spiritual purposes forms the heart of the tantric mystery.

But there are more and more examples where women are beginning to defend themselves. Thus, in 1992 the well-known bestseller author and commentator on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Sogyal Rinpoche, had to face the Supreme Court of Santa Cruz, alleged to have “used his position as an interpreter of Tibetan Buddhism to take sexual and other advantage of female students over a period of many years” (Tricycle 1996, vol. 5 no. 4, p. 87). The plaintiff was seeking 10 million dollars. It was claimed Sogyal Rinpoche had assured his numerous partners that it would be extremely salutary and spiritually rewarding to sleep with him. Another mudra, Victoria Barlow from New York City, described in an interview with Free Press how she, at the age of 21, was summoned into Sogyal Rinpoche’s room during a meditative retreats: “I went to an apartment to see a highly esteemed lama and discuss religion. He opened the door without a shirt on and with a beer in his hand”. When they were sitting on the sofa, the Tibetan “lunged at me with sloppy kisses and groping. I thought [then] I should take it as the deepest compliment that he was interested and basically surrender to him”. Today, Barlow says that she is “disgusted by the way the Tibetans have manipulated the reverence westerners have for the Buddhist path” (Lattin, Newsgroup 2). The case mentioned above was, however, settled out of court; the result, according to Sogyal’s followers, of their master’s deep meditation.

It would normally be correct to dismiss such “sex stories” as superfluous gossip and disregard them. In the occult logic of Vajrayana, however, they need to be seen as strategically placed ritual practices designed to bring the guru power and influence. Perhaps they additionally have something to do with the Buddhist conquest of the West, which is symbolized by various mudras. Such conjectures may sound rather bizarre, but in Tantrism we are confronted with a different logic to that to which we are accustomed. Here, sexual events are not uncommonly globalized and capable of influencing all of humankind. We shall return to this point.

But at least such examples show that Tibet’s “celibate” monks “practice” with real women — a fact about which the Tibetan clergy including the Fourteenth Dalai Lama have deceived the West until now. Because more and more “wisdom consorts” are breaking their oath to secrecy, it is only now that the conditions are being created for a public discussion of the tantric rituals as such. The criticism to date has not gone beyond a moral-feminist discourse and in no case known to us (with the exception of some of June Campbell’s statements) has it extended to the occult exploitative mechanism of Vajrayana.

On the other hand, the fact that the sexual needs of the lamas can no longer be covered up, has, in a type of advance strategy, led to a situation in which their “spiritual” work with karma mudras is presentable as something to be taken for granted, and which is not inherently shocking. “Many Rinpoches”, one Christopher Fynn has written on the Internet, “including Jattral Rinpoche, Dzongsar Khyentse, Dilgo Khyentse and Ongen Tulku have consorts — which everyone knew about” (Fynn, Newsgroup 4).

And the Dalai Lama, himself the Highest Master of the sexual magic rites, raises the moral finger: “In recent years, teachers from Asia and the West have been involved in scandals about sexual misbehavior towards male and female pupils, the abuse of alcohol and drugs, and the misuse of money and power. This behavior has caused great damage to the Buddhist community and individual people. Pupils of both sexes should be encouraged to confront teachers with unethical aspects of their behavior in an appropriate manner” (Esotera, 12/97, p. 45; retranslation). What should be made of such requests by His Holiness, which are also silent about the sexist mechanisms of Tantrism is a topic which we explore in detail in the second part of our study.

Following these up-to-date “revelations” about Western karma mudras, let us return to our presentation of the tantric scenario as described in the traditional texts.

The inana mudra: the woman of imagination

In contrast to the real karma mudra, the inana mudra is a purely spiritual figure, who appears as a goddess, the wisdom consort of various Buddhas, or as a “dakini”. She is the product of the imagination. But we must keep in mind that the inana mudra may never be a random fantasy of the guru, rather, her external appearance, the color of her hair, her clothing, her jewelry and the symbols which surround her, are all codified. Thus, in his imagination the tantric copies an image which is already recorded in the Buddhist pantheon. In this regard the cult of inana mudra worship has much in common with Christian mysticism surrounding Sophia and Mary and has therefore often been compared with, for example, the mater gloriosa at the end of Goethe’s Faust, where the reformed alchemist rapturously cries:

Highest mistress of the world!
Let me in the azure
Tent of Heaven, in light unfurled
Hear thy Mystery measure!
Justify sweet thoughts that move
Breast of man to meet thee!
And with holy bliss of love
Bear him up to greet thee!


(Faust II, 11997–12004)

Here, “the German poet Goethe … unsuspectingly expresses the Buddhist awareness of the Jñānamudrā [inana mudra]” notes Herbert Guenther, who has attempted in a number of writings to interpret the tantras from the viewpoint of a European philosopher (Guenther, 1976, p. 74).

It should however be noted that such Western sublimations of the feminine only correspond to a degree with the imaginings of Indian and Tibetan tantrics. There, it is not just noble and ethereal virgins who are conjured up in the yogis’ imaginations, but also sensuous “dakinis” trembling with lust, who not uncommonly appear as figures of horror, goddesses with bowls made of skulls and cleavers in their hands.

But whatever sort of a woman the adept imagines, in all events he will unite sexually with this spiritual being during the ritual. The white and refined “Sophias” from the realm of the imagination are not exempted from the ritual sexual act. “Among the last phases of the tantrik’s progress”, Benjamin Walker tells us, “is sexual union on the astral plane, when he invokes elemental spirits, fiendesses and the spirits of the dead, and has intercourse with them” (Walker, 1982, p. 74).

Since the yogi produces his wisdom companion through the imaginative power of his spirit, he can rightly consider himself her spiritual father. The inana mudra is composed of the substance of his own thoughts. She thus does not consist of matter, but — and this is very important — she nonetheless appears outside of her imagination-father and initially encounters him as an autonomous subject. He thus experiences her as a being who admittedly has him alone to thank for her being, but who nevertheless has a life of her own, like a child, separated from its mother once it is born.

In all, the tantras distinguish two “types of birth” for imagined female partners: firstly, the “women produced by spells”; secondly, the “field-born yoginis”. In both cases we are dealing with so-called “feminine energy fields” or feminine archetypes which the tantric master can through his imaginative powers render visible for him as “illusory bodies”. This usually takes place via a deep meditation in which the yogi visualizes the inana mudra with his “spiritual eye” (Wayman, 1973, pp. 193–195).

As a master of unbounded imagination, the yogi is seldom content with a single inana mudra, and instead creates several female beings from out of his spirit, either one after another or simultaneously. The Kalachakra Tantra describes how the imagined “goddesses” spring from various parts of his body, from out of his head, his forehead, his neck, his heart and his navel. He can conjure up the most diverse entities in the form of women, such as elements, planets, energies, forces and emotions — compassion for example: “as the incarnation of this arises in his heart a golden glowing woman wearing a white robe. ... Then this woman steps ... out of his heart, spreads herself out to the heaven of the gods like a cloud and lets down a rain of nourishment as an antidote for all bodily suffering” (Gäng, 1988, p. 44).

Karma mudra vs. inana mudra:

In the tantric literature we find an endless discussion about whether the magical sexual act with a karma mudra of flesh and blood must be valued more highly than that with an imagined inana mudra. For example, Herbert Guenther devotes a number of pages to this debate in his existentialist study of Vajrayana. Although he also reports in detail about the “pro-woman” intentions of the tantras, he comes to the surprising conclusion that we have in the karma mudra a woman “who yields pleasure containing the seed of frustration”, whilst the inana mudra is “a woman who yields a purer, though unstable, pleasure” (Guenther, 1976, p. 57).

As a product of the PURE SPIRIT, he classes the inana mudra above a living woman. She “is a creation of one’s own mind. She is of the nature of the Great Mother or other goddesses and comprises all that has been previously experienced” (Guenther, 1976, p. 72, quoting Naropa). But she too finally goes the way of all life and “therefore also, even love, Jñānamudrā [inana mudra], gives us merely a fleeting sense of bliss, although this feeling is of a higher, and hence more positive, order than the Karmamūdra [karma mudra] who makes us ‘sad’…” (Guenther, 1976, p. 75).

On the other hand there are very weighty arguments for the greater importance of a real woman (karma mudra) in the tantric rite of initiation. Then the purpose of the ritual with her is the final transcending of the real external world of appearance (maya) and the creation of a universe which functions solely according to the will and imagination of the tantric master. His first task is therefore to recognize the illusory character of reality as a whole. This is naturally represented more graphically, tangibly, and factually by a woman of flesh and blood than by a fictive construction of the own spirit, which the inana mudra is. She appears from the outset as the product of an illusion.

A karma mudra thus presents an exceptionally difficult challenge to the spiritual abilities of the adept, since the real human woman must also be recognized as an illusion (maya)! This means, in the final instance, nothing less than that the yogi no longer grants the entire physical world, which in Indian tradition concentrates itself in the form of a woman, an independent existence, and that as a consequence he recognizes matter as a conceit of his own consciousness. He thereby frees himself from all restrictions imposed by the laws of nature. Such a radical dissolution of reality is believed to accelerate several times the initiation process which otherwise takes numerous incarnations.

Especially if “enlightenment” and liberation from the constraints of reality is to be achieved in a single lifetime, it is necessary in the opinion of many tantra commentators to practice with a human mudra. In the Cakrasamvara Tantra we read for example, that “the secret path without a consort will not grant perfection to beings” (quoted by Shaw, 1994, p. 142). Tsongkhapa, founder of the Tibetan Gelugpa sect is of the same opinion: “A female companion is the basis of the accomplishment of liberation” (quoted by Shaw, 1994, p. 146). Imagined women are only recommendable for less qualified individuals, or may serve at the beginning of the ritual path as a preliminary exercise, reports Miranda Shaw, who makes reference to modern Gelugpa Masters like Lama Yeshe, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and Geshe Dhargyey (Shaw, 1994, pp. 146, 244, notes 26, 27, 29).

A further reason for the use of a karma mudra can be seen in the fact that for his magical transformations the yogi needs a secretion which the woman expresses during the sexual act and which is referred to as “female seed” in the texts. It is considered a bodily concentrate of gynergy. This coveted vaginal fluid will later be the subject of a detailed discussion.

The maha mudra: the inner woman:

During the tantric ritual the karma mudra must therefore be recognized by the yogi as an illusion. This is of course also true of the inana mudra, since the tantric master as an autonomous being has to transcend both forms of the feminine, the real and the imagined. We have already learned from Herbert Guenther that the “spirit woman” is also of fleeting character and prone to transitoriness. The yogi may not attribute her with an “inherent existence”. At the beginning of every tantric ritual both mudras still appear outside of him; the karma mudra before his “real” eyes, the inana mudra before his “spiritual” eyes.

But does this illusory character of the two types of woman mean that they are dissolved into nothing by the tantric master? As far as their external and autonomous existence is concerned, this is indeed the yogi’s conception. He does not accord even the real woman any further inherent existence. When, after the tantric ritual in which she is elevated to a goddess, she before all eyes returns home in visible, physical form, in the eyes of the guru she no longer exists as an independent being, but merely as the product of his imagination, as a conceptual image — even when a normal person perceives the girl as a being of flesh and blood.

But although her autonomous feminine existence has been dissolved, her feminine essence (gynergy) has not been lost. Via an act of sexual magic the yogi has appropriated this and with it achieved the power of an androgyne. He destroys, so to speak, the exterior feminine in order to internalize it and produce an “inner woman” as a part of himself. “He absorbs the Mother of the Universe into himself”, as it is described in the Kalachakra Tantra (Grünwedel, Kalacakra IV, p. 32). At a later stage we will describe in detail the subtle techniques with which he performs this absorption. Here we simply list some of the properties of the “inner woman”, the so-called maha mudra (“great” mudra). The boundary with the inana mudra is not fixed, after all the maha mudra is also a product of the imagination. Both types of woman thus have no physical body, and instead transcend “the atomic structure and consist of a purely spiritual substance” (Naropa, 1994, p. 82). But the inana mudra still exists outside of the tantric master, the “inner woman”, however, as her name indicates, can no longer be distinguished from him and has become a part of his self. In general, the maha mudra is said to reside in the region of the navel. There she dances and acts as an oracle as the Greek goddess Metis once did in the belly of Zeus. She is the “in-born” and produces the “in-born joy of the body, the in-born joy of language, the in-born joy of the spirit and the in-born joy of consciousness” (Naropa, 1994, p. 204).

The male tantric master now has the power to assume the female form of the goddess (who is of course an aspect of his own mystical body), that is, he can appear in the figure of a woman. Indeed, he even has the magical ability to divide himself into two gendered beings, a female and a male deity. He is further able to multiply himself into several maha mudras. In the Guhyasamaja Tantra, with the help of magical conjurations he fills an entire palace with female figures, themselves all particles of his subtle body.

Now one might think that for the enlightened yogi the book of sensual pleasures would be closed, since for him there are no more exterior women. But the contrary is the case. His lust is not transformed, but rather made eternal. Thus in his imagination, he is “united day and night [with the maha mudra]. The yogi often says, he would not live without her kiss and embrace” (Dasgupta, 1974, p. 102). He is even able to imaginatively stimulate the sexual organs of the inner woman in order to combine her erotic pleasure with his own (he simultaneously enjoys both), and thus immeasurably intensify it. (Farrow and Menon, 1992, pp. 271, 272, 291).

Despite this sexual turbulence he retains a strict awareness of the polarity of the primal cosmic forces, it is just that these are now realized within his own person. He is simultaneously masculine and feminine, and has both sexual energies under his absolute control. He incarnates the entire tantric theater. He is director, actor, audience, plot and stage in one individual.

Such agitated games are, however, just one side of the tantric philosophy, on the other is a concept of eternal standstill of being, linked to the image of the maha mudra. She appears as the “Highest Immobile”, who, like a clear, magical mirror, reflects a femininity turned to crystal. An obedient femininity with no will of her own, who complies with the looks, the orders, the desires and fantasies of her master. A female automaton, who wishes for nothing, and blesses the yogi with her divine knowledge and holy wisdom.

Whether mobile or unmoving, erotic or spiritualized — the maha mudra is universal. From a tantric viewpoint she incarnates the entire universe. Consequently, whoever has control over his “inner woman” becomes a lord of the universe, a pantocrat. She is a paradox, eternal and indestructible, but nevertheless, like the whole cosmos, without an independent existence. For this reason she is known as a “magical mirror” (Naropa, 1994, p. 81). In the final instance, she represents the “emptiness”.

In Western discussion about the maha mudra she is glorified by Lama Govinda (Ernst Lothar Hoffmann) as the “Eternal Feminine” which now counts as part of the yogi’s essential being. (Govinda, 1991, p. 111). According to Govinda she fulfills a role comparable to that of the muse, who up until the 19th century whispered inspiration into the ears of European artists. Muses could also become incarnated as real women, but in the same manner existed as “inner goddesses”, known then under the name of “inspiration”.

The Buddhist doctrine of the maha mudra has also been compared with Carl Gustav Jung’s concept of anima (Katz 1977). Jung proposed that the human soul of a man is double gendered, it has a masculine and a feminine part, the animus and the anima. In a woman the reverse is true. Her feminine anima corresponds to a masculine animus. With some qualifications, the depth psychologist was convinced that the other-gendered part of the soul could originally be found in the psyche of every person. Jung thus assumes the human soul possesses a primary androgyny, or gynandry, respectively. The goal of an integrated psychology is that the individual recognize his or her other-gendered half and bring the two parts of the soul into harmony.

Even if we attribute the same intentions to Tantrism, an essential difference remains. This is, as all the relevant texts claim, that the feminine side of the yogi is initially found outside himself — whether in the form of a real woman or the figure of an imaginary one — and must first be integrated through sacred sexual practices. If — as in Jung — the anima were to be found in the “mystic body” of the tantric master from the start, then he would surely be able to activate his feminine side without needing to use an external mudra. If he could, then all the higher and highest initiations into Vajrayana would be redundant, since they always describe the “inner woman” as the result of a process which begins with an “exterior woman”.

It is tempting to conclude that a causal relation exists between both female tantric “partners”, the internal and the external. The tantric master uses a human woman, or at least an inana mudra to create his androgynous body. He destroys her autonomous existence, steals her gynergy, integrates this in the form of an “inner woman” and thus becomes a powerful double-gendered super-being. We can, hypothetically, describe the process as follows: the sacrifice of the exterior woman is the precondition for the establishment of the inner maha mudra.

The “tantric female sacrifice”

But are we really justified in speaking of a “tantric female sacrifice”? We shall attempt to find an answer to this difficult question. Fundamentally, the Buddhist tantric distinguishes three types of sacrifice: the outer, the inner and the secret. The “outer sacrifice” consists of the offering to a divinity, the Buddhas, or the guru, of food, incense, butter lamps, perfume, and so on. For instance in the so-called “mandala sacrifice” the whole universe can be presented to the teacher, in the form of a miniature model, whilst the pupil says the following. “I sacrifice all the components of the universe in their totality to you, O noble, kind, and holy lama!” (Bleichsteiner, 1937, p. 192)

In the “inner sacrifice” the pupil (Sadhaka) gives his guru, usually in a symbolic act, his five senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch), his states of consciousness, and his feelings, or he offers himself as an individual up to be sacrificed. Whatever the master demands of him will be done — even if the sadhaka must cut the flesh from his own limbs, like the tantric adept Naropa.

Behind the “secret sacrifice” hides, finally, a particular ritual event which attracts our especial interest, since it is here that the location of the “tantric female sacrifice” is to be suspected. It concerns — as can be read in a modern commentary upon the Kalachakra Tantra — “the spiritual sacrifice of a dakini to the lama” (Henss, 1985, p. 56). Such symbolic sacrifices of goddesses are all but stereotypical of tantric ceremonies. “The exquisite bejeweled woman ... is offered to the Buddhas” (Gäng, 1988, p. 151), as the Guhyasamaja Tantra puts it. Often eight, sometimes sixteen, occasionally countless “wisdom girls” are offered up in “the holy most secret of offerings” (quoted by Beyer, 1978, p. 162)

The sacrifice of samsara:

A sacrifice of the feminine need not be first sought in Tantrism, however; rather it may be found in the logic of the entire Buddhist doctrine. Woman per se– as Buddha Shakyamuni repeatedly emphasized in many of his statements — functions as the first and greatest cause of illusion (maya), but likewise as the force which generates the phenomenal world (samsara). It is the fundamental goal of every Buddhist to overcome this deceptive samsara. This world of appearances experienced as feminine, presents him with his greatest challenge. “A woman”, Nancy Auer Falk writes, “was the veritable image of becoming and of all the forces of blind growth and productivity which Buddhism knew as Samsara. As such she too was the enemy — not only on a personal level, as an individual source of temptation, but also on a cosmic level” (Gross, 1993, p. 48). In this misogynist logic, it is only after the ritual destruction of the feminine that the illusory world (maya) can be surmounted and transcended.

Is it for this reason that maya (illusion), the mother of the historical Buddha, had to die directly after giving birth? In her early death we can recognize the original event which stands at the beginning of the fundamentally misogynist attitude of all Buddhist schools. Maya both conceived and gave birth to the Sublime One in a supernatural manner. It was not a sexual act but an elephant which, in a dream, occasioned the conception, and Buddha Shakyamuni did not leave his mother’s body through the birth canal, but rather through her hip. But these transfeminine birth myths were not enough for the tellers of legends. Maya as earthly mother had, on the path to enlightenment of a religion which seeks to free humanity from the endless chain of reincarnation, to be proclaimed an “illusion” (maya) and destroyed. She receives no higher accolade in the school of Buddha, since the woman — as mother and as lover — is the curse which fetters us to our illusory existence.

Already in Mahayana Buddhism, the naked corpse of a woman was considered as the most provocative and effective meditation object an initiand could use to free himself from the net of Samsara. Inscribed in the iconography of her body were all the vanities of this world. For this reason, he who sank bowed over a decaying female body could achieve enlightenment in his current life. To increase the intensity of the macabre observation, it was usual in several Indian monastic orders to dismember the corpse. Ears, nose, hands, feet, and breasts were chopped off and the disfigured trunk became the object of contemplation. “In Buddhist context, the spectacle of the mutilated woman serves to display the power of the Buddha, the king of the Truth (Dharma) over Mara, the lord of the Realm of Desire.”, writes Elizabeth Wilson in a discussion of such practices, “By erasing the sexual messages conveyed by the bodies of attractive women through the horrific spectacle of mutilation, the superior power of the king of Dharma is made manifest to the citizens of the realm of desire.” (Wilson, 1995, p. 80).

In Vajrayana, the Shunyata doctrine (among others) of the nonexistence of all being, is employed to conduct a symbolic sacrifice of the feminine principle. Only once this has evaporated into a “nothing” can the world and we humans be rescued from the curse of maya (illusion). This may also be a reason why the “emptiness” (shunyata), which actually by definition cannot possess any characteristics, is hypostasized as feminine in the tantras. This becomes especially clear in the Hevajra Tantra. In staging of the ritual we encounter at the outset a real yogini (karma mudra) or at least an imagined goddess (inana mudra), whom the yogi transforms in the course of events into a “nothing” using magic techniques. By the end the tantric master has completely robbed her of her independent existence, that is, to put it bluntly, she no longer exists. “She is the Yogini without a Self” (Farrow and Menon, 1992, pp. 218–219). Thus her name, Nairatmya, literally means ‘one who has no self, that is, non-substantial’ (Farrow and Menon, 1992, p. 219). The same concept is at work when, in another tantra, the “ultimate dakini” is visualized as a “zero-point” and experienced as “indivisible pleasure and emptiness” (Dowman, 1985, p. 74). Chögyam Trungpa sings of the highest “lady without being” in the following verses:

Always present, you do not exist ...
Without body, shapeless, divinity of the true.

(Trungpa, 1990, p. 40)


Only her bodilessness, her existential sacrifice and her dissolution into nothing allow the karma mudra to transmute into the maha mudra and gynergy to be distilled out of the yogini in order to construct the feminine ego of the adept with this “stuff”. “Relinquishing her form [as] a woman, she would assume that of her Lord” the Hevajra Tantra establishes at another point (Snellgrove, 1959, p. 91).

The maha mudra has, it is said, an “empty body” (Dalai Lama I, 1985, p. 170). What can be understood by this contradictory metaphor? In his commentary on the Kalachakra Tantra, Ngawang Dhargyey describes how the “empty body” can only be produced through the destruction of all the “material” elements of a physical, natural “body of appearance”. In contrast to such, “their bodies are composed simply of energy and consciousness” (Dhargyey, 1985, p. 131). The physical world, sensuality, matter and nature — considered feminine in not just Buddhism — thus become pure spirit in an irreconcilable opposition. But they are not completely destroyed in the process of their violent spiritualization, but rather “sublated” in the Hegelian sense, namely “negated” and “conserved” at the same time; they are — to make use of one of the favorite terms of the Buddhist evolutionary theorist, Ken Wilber — “integrated”. This guarantees that the creative feminine energies are not lost following the material “dissolution” of their bearers, and instead are available solely to the yogi as a precious elixir. A sacrifice of the feminine as an autonomous principle must therefore be regarded as the sine qua non for the universal power of the tantric master. These days this feminine sacrifice may only be performed entirely in the imagination. But this need not have always been the case.
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Re: To Death and Back, Presented by Dr. Nigel Spivey

Postby admin » Thu Jan 09, 2020 2:07 am

Part 2 OF 2

“Eating” the gynergy:

But Vajrayana is concerned with more than the performance of a cosmic drama in which the feminine and its qualities are destroyed for metaphysical reasons. The tantric recognizes a majority of the feminine properties as extremely powerful. He therefore has not the slightest intention of destroying them as such. In contrast, he wishes to make the feminine forces his own. What he wants to destroy is solely the physical and mental bearer of gynergy — the real woman. For this reason, the “tantric female sacrifice” is of a different character to the cosmogonic sacrifice of the feminine of early Buddhism. It is based upon the ancient paradigm in which the energies of a creature are transferred to its killer. The maker of the sacrifice wants to absorb the vital substance of the offering, in many cases by consuming it after it has been slaughtered. Through this he not only “integrates” the qualities of the killed, but also believes he may outwit death, by feeding upon the body and soul of the sacrificial victim.

In this connection the observation that world wide the sacred sacrifice is contextually linked with food and eating, is of some interest. It is necessary to kill plants and animals in order to nourish oneself. The things killed are subsequently consumed and thus appear as a necessary condition for the maintenance and propagation of life. Eating increases strength, therefore it was important to literally incorporate the enemy. In cannibalism, the eater integrates the energies of those he has slaughtered. Since ancient humans made no basic distinction between physical, mental or spiritual processes, the same logic applied to the “eating” of nonbodily forces. One also ate souls, or prana, or the élan vital.

The Tibetans may practically be considered as a kind of cannibals. I was struck with this notion while witnessing the burial ceremony. All the cloths used in the burial go as a matter of course to the grave-diggers, though they hardly deserve this name, as their duty consists not in digging the grave but in chopping the flesh of the corpse and pounding the bones. Even priests give them help, for the pounding business is necessarily tedious and tiresome. Meanwhile the pounders have to take refreshment, and tea is drunk almost incessantly, for Tibetans are great tea-drinkers. The grave-diggers, or priests, prepare tea, or help themselves to baked flour, with their hands splashed over with a mash of human flesh and bones, for they never wash their hands before they prepare tea or take food, the most they do being to clap their hands, so as to get rid of the coarser fragments. And thus they take a good deal of minced human flesh, bones or brain, mixed with their tea or flour. They do so with perfect nonchalance; in fact, they have no idea whatever how really abominable and horrible their practice is, for they are accustomed to it. When I suggested that they might wash their hands before taking refreshment, they looked at me with an air of surprise. They scoffed at my suggestion, and even observed that eating with unwashed hands really added relish to food; besides, the spirit of the dead man would be satisfied when he saw them take fragments of his mortal remains with their food without aversion. It has been stated that the Tibetans are descendants of the Rākshasa tribe—a tribe of fiendish cannibals who used to feed on human flesh; and what I witnessed at the burial convinced me that, even at the present day, they retained the horrible habit of their ancestors.

-- Three Years in Tibet, by Shramana Ekai Kawaguchi


The Lamas reserve to themselves the exclusive right to act in "the Mystery-Play," with its manifestations of the gods and demons, by awe-inspiring masks, etc., while they relegate to lay actors the sacred dramas, illustrating the former births of Buddha and other saints, the Jatakas.

"The Mystery-Play of Tibet," the name by which the acted pageant of the Lamas is known to many Europeans, has been seen by several travellers in Tibet and adjoining Lamaist lands; but the plot and motive of the play seem never to have been very definitely ascertained, owing, doubtless, to the cumbrous details which so thickly overlay it, and the difficulty of finding competent interpreters of the plot, as well as the conflicting accounts current amongst the Lamas themselves in regard to its origin and meaning.

As I have had opportunities for studying the various versions of the play with the aid of learned Lamas of several sects, I give here a brief sketch of what I have elicited regarding what appears to have been its original character and subsequent developments. Originally it appears to have been a devil-dancing cult for exorcising malignant demons and human enemies, and associated with human sacrifice and, probably, cannibalism.

Afterwards, during the Buddhist era, the devil-dance, like that of the Ceylonese, was given a Buddhist dress, which was not difficult, as somewhat analogous displays representing the temptation of Buddha, seem to be found in Indian Buddhism, as seen in the annexed figure of a frieze from Gandhara.3 And several leading indigenous names lent themselves readily to perversion into Buddhist names or titles, by a process already practised by the Brahmans in India, who Sanskritized aboriginal Indian names in order to bring them within the mythological pale of Hinduism.

The unsophisticated Tibetans still call the mystery-play the "Dance of the Red-Tiger Devil,"4 a deity of the Bon or pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet. The original motive of the dance appears to have been to expel the old year with its demons of ill-luck, and to propitiate with human sacrifice and probably cannibalism the war-god and the guardian spirits, most of whom are demonified kings and heroes, in order to secure good-luck and triumph over enemies in the incoming year.

Human sacrifice seems undoubtedly to have been regularly practised in Tibet up till the dawn there of Buddhism in the seventh century A.D. The glimpses which we get of early Tibet through the pages of contemporary Chinese history, show, as Dr. Bushell translates,5 that "at the new year they (the Tibetans) sacrifice men or offer monkeys," and so late as the seventh century the annual rites in connection with the defence of their country were triennially accompanied by human sacrifice.6

Actual cannibalism is, indeed, attributed to the early Tibetans,7 and the survival of certain customs lends strong colour to the probability of such a practice having been current up till about the middle ages. The Tibetans themselves claim descent from a man-eating ancestry, and they credit their wilder kinsmen and neighbours of the lower Tsang-po valley with anthrophagous habits even up to the present day.

Vestiges of cannibalism appear to be preserved in the mystery-play. And of similar character seems to be the common practice of eating a portion of the human skin covering the thigh-bone in preparing the bone trumpets, and also, probably, of like origin is the common Tibetan oath of affirmation, "By my father's and mother's flesh."8

The Lamas, however, as professing Buddhists, could not countenance the taking of life, especially human. So, in incorporating this ancient and highly popular festival within their system, they replaced the human victims by anthropomorphic effigies of dough, into which were inserted models of the larger organs, and also fluid red pigment to represent the blood. This substitution of dough images for the living sacrifices of the Bon rites is ascribed by tradition to St. Padma-sambhava in the second half of the eighth century A.D. And these sacrificial dough-images, of more or less elaborate kinds, now form an essential part of the Lamaist daily service of worship.

The Lamas also, as it seems to me, altered the motive of the play to hang upon it their own sacerdotal story for their own glorification and priestly gain. Retaining the festival with its Bacchanalian orgies for expelling the old year and ushering in good-luck for the new, they also retained the cutting-up of their enemies in effigy; but they made the plot represent the triumph of the Indian missionary monks (Acarya) under St. Padma-sambhava over the indigenous paganism with its hosts of malignant fiends and the black-hat devil-dancers, and also over the Chinese heretics.

The voracious man-eating devils of Tibet were mostly assimilated to the Sivaite type of fiend in mediaeval Indian Buddhism, with which they had so much in common. And the title was accordingly altered from tag-mar; "the (dance) of the red Tiger (devil)" to its homonym tag-mar (spelt drag-dmar), or "the red fierce ones." Thus Yama, the Death-king, and his minions form a most attractive feature of the play, for it is made to give the lay spectators a very realistic idea of the dreadful devils from whom the Lamas deliver them; and they are familiarized with the appearance of these demons who, according to the Lamas, beset the path along which the disembodied soul must hereafter pass to paradise.

As this tragedy is so intimately identified with Padma-sambhava, the founder of Lamaism, it is acted in its most gorgeous style on the birthday of that saint, namely, on the tenth day of the fifth Tibetan month.

But latterly both plot and date were again altered by the established church of Tibet, the Ge-lug-pa sect. This reformed sect, which dissociates itself as far as possible from St. Padmasambhava, who now is so intimately identified with the unreformed sects, transferred the festival from the end of the old Tibetan year, that is the eleventh month of the present style, to the end of its own year according to the new official year.

And it has also, in its version, altered the motive of the tragedy, so as to make it represent the assassination of the Julian of Lamaism (Lan-darma) by a Lama disguised as a Shamanist dancer, and this is followed by the restoration of the religion by the aid of Indian and Chinese monks, and the subsequent triumph of Lamaism, with its superior sorcery derived from Buddhist symbolism.

This version of the play calls the central episode "the strewing food of the sixty iron castles,"9 and it still further alters, as I take it, the title of the chief character to its further homonym of "Tag-mar"10 the red horse-headed Hayagriva, a name borrowed from Hindu mythology, but evidently, as it seems to me, suggested by the cognomen of their old familiar fiend, Tag-mar, the red Tiger-devil, of the pre-Lamaist Bon priests. Tiger-devils are also well-known to Chinese mythology,11 while Hayagriva, as a Buddhist creation, appears to be known only to the Lamaistic form of Buddhism, and his Tantrik book is admittedly of Tibetan composition.

But even as thus adapted by the established church, the purest of all the Lamaist sects, the play still retains, as will be presently shown, the devil-dancing Shamanist features, as well as vestiges of human sacrifice, if not of actual cannibalism.

Let us first look at the mystery-play or tragedy as acted by the Lamas of the old school, at Himis, in Ladak, in Sikhim, Bhotan, etc., and afterwards refer to the versions as acted by the reformed and established church.

This play is acted, as already mentioned, by all sects of Lamas, on the last day of the year when the community is en fete, by many of the unreformed sects on St. Padma-sambhava's day.

When acted at the end of the year it forms part of the ceremony called "The sacrificial body of the dead year,"12 and is held on the last two or three days of the old year, from the 28th to the 30th of the twelfth month. As the performance is conducted at the Himis monastery, in Ladak, in a much grander style than was witnessed by me in Sikhim, and more in the style seen in Tibet, and as it has been there witnessed and described by several travellers,"13 I shall take the Himis performance as the basis of my description, and amplify the descriptions of it where necessary.

As the day for the play draws near, the villagers flock in from the country-side; and on the morning of the day fixed for the performance, the people, decked in holiday attire, throng to the temple many hours before that fixed for the performance, to secure good points of view. Seats are provided and reserved only for the gentry and high officials and visitors. The king and other grandees have state boxes.

The performance is held al fresco in the courtyard of the temple (see the photograph on page 528). The orchestra is sometimes screened off from view, and the maskers assemble either in the temple or in yak-hair tents, and are treated to refreshments often, and soup between the acts.

A shrill bugle-call, from a trumpet made out of a human thigh-bone,14 notifies the commencement of the play.

The gongs and shawms strike up a wailing sort of air, which the musicians accompany by a low chant, and out come trooping a crowd of the pre-Lamaist black-mitred priests, clad in rich robes of China silk and brocade, and preceded by swingers of censers. They make the mystic sign of "The Three," and execute a stately dance to slow music.

Stretching out the right hand and left alternately, the leaders turn to the right, and the last in line to the left, both advancing and retiring towards each other several times, and, reforming the circle and making the sign of the Trident, they retire.

After these have gone out, then enter a troupe of the man-eating malignant demons,15 who, with their hordes, vex and harass humanity. They infest the air, the earth, the water, and are constantly seeking to destroy man, not unlike their better-known relative, who, "as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour."16 These hordes of demons are intended to illustrate the endless oppression of man by the powers of evil, against whom he can of himself do nothing, but occasionally the exorcisms or prayers of some good Lama or incarnator may come to his assistance and shield him, but even then only after a fierce and doubtful contest between the saints and the devils. And only for a time, too, can this relief from persecution endure, for all the exorcisms of all the saints are of little avail to keep back the advancing hordes. The shrieking demons must close in upon the soul again.17

These demons, now incorporated in Tibetan Buddhism, are regarded as forms of Durga (Devi), Siva (Natha), and the king of the Dead (Dharmaraja or Yama).19 "Flames and effigies of human skulls were worked on their breasts and other parts of their raiment. As their hoods fell back, hideous features of leering satyrs were disclosed."20

"In their right hand they hold a bell or fan, and in their left a bowl cut out of a human skull, and round the edge of which are attached narrow streamers of silk and some plaited ends of hair. This ghastly ladle is called Bundah. Some of the maskers hold in the right hand a short stick, with red and blue streamers of silk; these and the spoons majestically waved about as they go round in their solemn dance had the most curious effect I ever saw."21

To these monsters (now coerced by Buddhism) the Lamas offer a libation of beer, and some rice or mustard-seed, and to all the beings of the six classes, and especially including the demons, and the rice or seeds are thrown about freely;22 and each Lama present inwardly prays for the realization of his desire.

At a signal from the cymbals the large trumpets (eight or ten feet long) and the other instruments, pipes and drums, etc., and shrill whistling (with the fingers in the mouth), produce a deafening din to summon the noxious demons and the enemies. "The music became fast and furious, and troop after troop of different masks rushed on, some beating wooden tambourines, others swelling the din with rattles and bells. All of these masks were horrible, and the malice of infernal beings was well expressed on some of them. As they danced to the wild music with strange steps and gesticulations, they howled in savage chorus. . . . The solemn chanting ceased, and then rushed on the scene a crowd of wan shapes, almost naked, with but a few rags about them. . . . They wrung their hands despairingly, and rushed about in a confused way as if lost, starting from each other in terror when they met, sometimes feeling about them with their outstretched hands like blind men, and all the while whistling in long-drawn notes, which rose and fell like a strong wind on the hills, producing an indescribably dreary effect. These, I was told, represented the unfortunate souls of dead men which had been lost in space, and were vainly seeking their proper sphere through the darkness. . . . The variously masked figures of Spirits of Evil flocked in, troop after troop — oxen-headed and serpent-headed devils; three-eyed monsters with projecting fangs, their heads crowned with tiaras of human skulls; Lamas painted and masked to represent skeletons; dragon-faced fiends, naked save for tiger-skins about their loins, and many others. Sometimes they appeared to be taunting and terrifying the stray souls of men -- grim shapes who fled hither and thither among their tormentors, waving their arms and wailing miserably, souls who had not obtained Nirvana and yet who had no incarnation ...Then the demons were repelled again by holy men; but no sooner did these last exorcise one hideous band than other crowds came shrieking on. It was a hopeless conflict. . . . At one period of the ceremony a holy man . . . blessed a goblet of water by laying his hands on it and intoning some prayer or charm. Then he sprinkled the water in all directions, and the defeated demons stayed their shrieking, dancing, and infernal music, and gradually crept out of the arena, and no sound was heard for a time but the sweet singing of the holy choir. But the power of exorcism was evanescent, for the routed soon returned in howling shoals."23

The superior effect of Buddhism over the indigenous Shamanism is now shown by the arrival on the scene of the Indian monk, Padma-sambhava, and his assistants, or his eight forms; or sometimes these are represented as Buddha himself, or the group of the "Seven Buddhas."24

This scene is thus described: "The loud music suddenly ceased, and all the demons scampered off shrieking as if in fear, for a holy thing was approaching. To solemn chanting, low music and swinging of censers, a stately procession came through the porch of the temple and slowly descended the steps. Under a canopy, borne by attendants, walked a tall form in beautiful silk robes, wearing a large mask representing a benign and peaceful face. As he advanced, men and boys, dressed as abbots and acolytes of the church of Rome, prostrated themselves before him and addressed him with intoning and pleasing chanting. He was followed by six other masks, who were treated with similar respect. These seven deified beings drew themselves in a line on one side of the quadrangle and received the adoration of several processions of masked figures, some of abbots, and others beast-headed, or having the faces of devils."25

These last are the demon-kings who have been coerced by Buddhism into becoming guardians and defensores fidei of that religion. And amongst the worshippers are the Pa-wo or "heroes" with green masks, surmounted by triangular red flags, and girdles, and anklets of bells; and the solemnity is relieved by a few Acaryas, or jesters, who play practical jokes, and salute the holy personages with mock respect.

The enemy of Tibet and of Lamaism is now represented in effigy, but before cutting it to pieces, it is used to convey to the people a vivid conception of the manner in which devils attack a corpse, and the necessity for priestly services of a quasi-Buddhist sort to guard it and its soul.

Some days previous to the commencement of the play, an image26 of a young lad is made out of dough, in most elaborate fashion, and as life-like as possible. Organs representing the heart, lungs, liver, brain, stomach, intestines, etc., are inserted into it, and the heart and large blood-vessels and limbs are filled with a red-coloured fluid to represent blood. And occasionally, I am informed on good authority, actual flesh from the corpses of criminals27 is inserted into the image used in this ceremony28 at the established church of Potala.

This effigy of the enemy is brought forth by the four cemetery-ghouls,29 and laid in the centre of the square, and freely stabbed by the weapons, and by the gestures and spells of the circling hosts of demons, as in the illustration here given.

The necromantic power of the Lamas is here shown much in the same way as in the Burmese sacred play at Arakan.30 On three signals with the cymbals, two Indian monks (Acaryas) come out of the monastery, and blow their horns and go through a series of droll antics, and are followed by two or more Lamas who draw around the effigy on the pavement of the quadrangle a magic triangle and retire. Then rush in the ghosts, death-demons, "figures painted black and white to simulate skeletons, some in chains, others bearing sickles or swords, engaged in a frantic dance around the corpse. They were apparently attempting to snatch it away or inflict some injury on it, but were deterred by the magic effect of the surrounding triangle and by the chanting and censer-swinging of several holy men in mitred and purple copes. . . .

"A more potent and very ugly fiend, with great horns on his head and huge lolling tongue, ran in, hovered threateningly over the corpse, and with a great sword slashed furiously about it, just failing by little more than a hair's-breadth to touch it with each sweep of the blade. He seemed as if he were about to overcome the opposing enchantment when a saint of still greater power than he now came to the rescue. The saint approached the corpse and threw a handful of flour on it, making mystic signs and muttering incantations. This appeared from his mask to be one of the incarnations of Buddha. He had more control over the evil spirits than any other who had yet contended with them. The skeletons, and also he that bore the great sword, grovelled before him, and with inarticulate and beast-like cries implored mercy. He yielded to their supplications, gave each one a little of the flour he carried with him, which the fiends ate gratefully, kneeling before him; and he also gave them to drink out of a vessel of holy water."32

This usually concludes one day's performance.33 On the following day adoration is paid to the Jina, by whom unreformed Lamas seem to intend St. Padma-sambhava. And mustard-seed is blessed and thrown at the enemy with singing, dancing, and incantations. And then occurs the ceremony of stabbing the enemy by the phurbu or mystic dagger.

Four ghouls bring in an object wrapped in a black cloth, and placing it on the ground, dance round it with intricate steps, then raising the cloth disclose a prone image of a man, which has been made in the manner previously described.

Then enter the demon-generals and kings, including the demon Tam-din, and they dance around the image. They are followed by the fiendesses, including the twelve Tan-ma, under Devi. These are followed by the black-hat devil-dancers, and these are, in the established church version, held to represent the Lama who assumed this disguise to assassinate king Lan-darma. The four guards now hold the door to prevent entry of any enemies or evil spirits. The black-hats dance round thrice and are succeeded by the god of Wealth, fiendesses, and butchers, the five great "kings,"34 and their queens and ministers, also the state sorcerer of Na-ch'un, and his eight-fold attendants.35

Then enters a fearful fiend named "The holy king of Religion,"36 with the head of a bull, holding in his right hand a dagger with silk streamers, and in his left a human heart (in effigy) and a snare, attended by a retinue of fiends and fiendesses, bearing weapons and dressed in skins,37 human beings, tigers and leopards; and the last to enter are tiger-skin-clad warriors with bows and arrows. This part of the Demon-king can only be taken by a monk of the purest morals, and the costly dress which this actor wears at the play at Potala is one presented by the emperor of China.

The King-devil, surrounded by his fiendish hordes, dances and makes with dagger the gesture of "The Three"; he stabs the heart, arms and legs of the figure, and binds its feet by the snare. He then rings a bell, and seizing a sword, chops off the limbs and slits open the breast and extracts the bleeding heart, lungs and intestines.

A troupe of monsters, with the heads of deer and yaks, rush in and gore the remains and scatter the fragments with their horns and hands to the four directions.38

Underling fiends now collect the fragments into a huge silver basin shaped like a skull, which four of them carry to the Demon-king in a pompous procession, in which the black-hat devil-dancers join. The Demon-king then seizes the bleeding fragments, and, eating a morsel, throws them up in the air, when they are caught and fought for by the other demons, who throw the pieces about in a frantic manner, and ultimately throwing them amongst the crowd, which now takes part in the orgie, and a general melee results, each one scrambling for morsels of the fragments, which some eat and others treasure as talismans against wounds, diseases and misfortunes….

A burnt sacrifice is now made41 by the Demon-king. He pours oil into a cauldron, under which a fire is lit, and when the oil is boiling, he ties to the end of a stick which he holds an image of a man made of paper, and he puts into the boiling oil a skull filled with a mixture of arak (rum), poison, and blood, and into this he puts the image; and when the image bursts into flame, he declares that all the injuries have been consumed.

This rite is followed by a procession to abandon a large three-headed image of dough,42 to the top of which many threads and streamers are tied. This procession of monks is preceded by the maskers, numbering several hundreds in the larger monasteries,43 clanging noisy cymbals and blowing thigh-bone trumpets, etc. The laity follow in the rear, brandishing guns and other weapons, and shouting "Drag-ge-pun c'am." And when the image is abandoned the crowd tear it to pieces and eagerly fight for the fragments, which are treasured as charms. A gun is then fired amid general shouts of joy, and the Lamas return to the temple for a celebration of worship.

-- The Buddhism of Tibet, or Lamaism With Its Mystic Cults, Symbolism and Mythology, and in its Relation to Indian Buddhism, by Laurence Austine Waddell, M.B., F.L.S., F.R.G.S.


In the Vedas, this general “devouring logic” led to the conception that the gods nourished themselves from the life fluids of ritually slaughtered humans, just as mortals consume the bodies of animals for energy and nourishment. Thus, a critical-rational section of the Upanishads advises against such human sacrifices, since they do not advance individual enlightenment, but rather benefit only the blood-hungry supernatural beings.

Life and death imply one another in this logic, the one being a condition for the other. The whole circle of life was therefore a huge sacrificial feast, consisting of the mutual theft and absorption of energies, a great cosmic dog-eat-dog. Although early Buddhism gave vent to keen criticism of the Vedic rites, especially the slaughter of people and animals, the ancient sacrificial mindset resurfaces in tantric ritual life. The “devouring logic” of the Vedas also controls the Tantrayana. Incidentally, the word tantra is first found in the context of the Vedic sacrificial gnosis, where it means ‘sacrificial framework’ (Smith, 1989, p. 128).

Sacred cannibalism was always communion, holy union with the Spirit and the souls of the dead. It becomes Eucharistic communion when the sacrifice is a slaughtered god, whose followers eat of him at a supper. God and man are first one when the man or woman has eaten of the holy body and drunk the holy blood of his or her god. The same applies in the relation to the goddess. The tantric yogi unites with her not just in the sexual act, but above all through consuming her holy gynergy, the magical force of maya. Sometimes, as we shall see, he therefore drinks his partner’s menstrual blood. Only when the feminine blood also pulses in his own veins will he be complete, an androgyne, a lord of both sexes.

To gain the “gynergy” for himself, the yogi must “kill” the possessor of the vital feminine substances and then “incorporate” her. Such an act of violence does not necessarily imply the real murder of his mudra, it can also be performed symbolically. But a real ritual murder of a woman is by like measure not precluded, and it is not surprising that occasional references can be found in the Vajrayana texts which blatantly and unscrupulously demand the actual killing of a woman. In a commentary on the Hevajra Tantra, at a point where a lower-caste wisdom consort (dombi) is being addressed, states bluntly, “I kill you, O Dombi, I take your life!” (Snellgrove, 1987, vol. 1, p. 159).


Sati or the sacred inaugural sacrifice:

In any case, in all the rituals of the Highest Tantra initiations a symbolic female sacrifice is set in scene. From numerous case studies in cultural and religious history we are aware that an “archaic first event”, an “inaugural sacred murder” may be hiding behind such symbolic stagings. This “original event”, in which a real wisdom consort was ritually killed, need in no sense be consciously acknowledged by the following generations and cult participants who only perform the sacrifice in their imaginations or as holy theater. As the French anthropologist René Girard convincingly argues in his essay on Violence and the Sacred, the original murderous deed is normally no longer fully recalled during later symbolic performances. But it can also not become totally forgotten. It is important that the violent origin of their sacrificial rite be shrouded in mystery for the cult participant. “To maintain its structural force, the inaugural violence must not make an appearance”, claims Girard (Girard, 1987, p. 458). Only thus can the participants experience that particular emotionally laden and ambivalent mixture of crime and mercy, guilt and atonement, violence and satisfaction, shuddering and repression which first lends the numinous aura of holiness to the cult events.

It thus seems appropriate to examine Tantric Buddhism for signs of such an “inaugural sacrifice”. In this connection, we would like to draw attention to a Shiva myth, which has nonetheless had an influence on the history of the Buddhist tantras.

In the mythical past, Sati was the consort of the god Shiva. When her father Daksa was planning a great sacrificial feast, he failed to invite his daughter and son-in-law. Unbidden, Sati nonetheless attended the feast and was deeply insulted by Daksa. Filled with shame and anger she threw herself upon the burning sacrificial altar and died. (In another version of the story she alone was invited and cremated herself when she heard that her spouse was barred from the feast.) Shiva, informed of the death of his wife, hurried at once to the scene of the tragedy and decapitated Daksa. He then took the body of his beloved Sati, laid her across his shoulders and began a funeral procession across all India. The other gods wanted to free him from the corpse and set about dismembering it, piece by piece, without Shiva noticing what they were doing.

The places where the fragments fell were destined to become holy sites known as Shakta pithas. There where Sati’s vulva came to land the most sacred location was established. In some texts there is talk of 24, in others of 108 pithas, the latter being the holy number of Buddhism. At Sati’s numerous graves cemeteries were set up forthwith, at which the people cremated their dead. Around these locations developed a many-sided, and as we shall see, extremely macabre death culture, which was nurtured by Tantrics of all schools (including the Buddhist variety).

In yet another version of the Sati legend, the corpse of Shiva’s wife contained a “small cog — a symbol of manifest time -, [which] destroyed the body of the goddess from the inside out. ... [It] was then dismembered into 84 fragments which fell to earth at the various holy sites of India” (Hutin, 1971, p. 67). This is indeed a remarkable variant on the story, since the number of famous Maha Siddhas (Grand Sorcerers), who in both the Buddhist and Hindu tradition introduced Tantrism to India as a new religious practice, is 84. These first Tantrics chose the Shakta pithas as the central locations for their rituals. Some of them, the Nath Siddhas, claimed Sati had sacrificed herself for them and had given them her blood. For this reason they clothed themselves in red robes (White, 1996, p. 195). Likewise, one of the many Indian cemetery legends tells how five of the Maha Siddhas emerged from the cremated corpse of a goddess named Adinatha (White, 1996, p. 296). It can be assumed that this is also a further variation on the Sati legend.

It is not clear from the tale whether the goddess committed a sacrificial suicide or whether she was the victim of a cruel murder. Sati’s voluntary leap into the flames seems to indicate the former; her systematic dismemberment the latter. A “criminological” investigation of the case on the basis of the story alone, i.e., without reference to other considerations, is impossible, since the Sati legend must itself be regarded as an expression of the mystifying ambivalence which, according to René Girard, veils every inaugural sacrifice. All that is certain is that all of the originally Buddhist (!) Vajrayana’s significant cult locations were dedicated to the dismembered Hindu Sati.

Earlier, however, claims the Indologist D. C. Sircar, famous relics of the “great goddess” were said to be found at the Shakta pithas. At the heart of her cult stood the worship of her yoni (‘vagina’) (Sircar, 1973, p. 8). We can only concur with this opinion, yet we must also point out that the majority of the matriarchal cults of which we are aware also exhibited a phallic orientation. Here the phallus did not signalize a symbol of male dominance, but was instead a toy of the “great goddess”, with which she could sexual-magically manipulate men and herself obtain pleasure.

We also think it important to note that the practices of Indian gynocentric cults were in no way exempt from sacrificial obsession. In contrast, there is a comprehensive literature which reports the horrible rites performed at the Shakta pithas in honor of the goddess Kali. Her followers bowed down before her as the “consumer of raw meat”, who was constantly hungry for human sacrifices. The individuals dedicated to her were first fed up until they were sufficiently plump to satisfy the goddess’s palate. On particular feast days the victims were decapitated in her copper temple (Sircar, 1973, p. 16).

Naturally we can only speculate that the “dismemberment of the goddess” in the Sati myth might be a masculine reaction to the original fragmentation of the masculine god by the gynocentric Kali. But this murderous reciprocity must not be seen purely as an act of revenge. In both cases it is a matter of the increased life energy which is to be achieved by the sacrifice of the opposite sex. In so doing, the “revolutionary” androcentric yogis made use of a similar ritual praxis and symbolism to the aggressive female followers of the earlier matriarchy, but with reversed premises. For example, the number 108, so central to Buddhism, is a reminder of the 108 names under which the great goddess was worshipped (Sircar, 1973, p. 25).

The fire sacrifice of the dakini:

The special feature of Greek sacrificial rites lay in the combination of burning and eating, of blood rite and fire altar. In pre-Buddhist, Vedic India rituals involving fire were also the most common form of sacrifice. Humans, animals, and plants were offered up to the gods on the altar of flame. Since every sacrifice was supposed to simulate among other things the dismemberment of the first human, Prajapati, it always concerned a “symbolic human sacrifice”, even when animal or plant substitutes were used.

At first the early Buddhists adopted a highly critical attitude towards such Vedic practices and rejected them outright, in stark opposition to Vajrayana later, in which they were to regain central significance. Even today, fire pujas are among the most frequent rituals of Tantric Buddhism. The origin of these Buddhist “flame masses” from the Vedas becomes obvious when it is noted that the Vedic fire god Agni appears in the Buddhist tantras as the “Consumer of Offerings”. This is even true of the Tibetans. In this connection, Helmut von Glasenapp describes one of the final scenes from the large-scale Kalachakra ritual, which the Panchen Lama performed in Beijing 1932: A “woodpile was set alight and the fire god invited to take his place in the eight-leafed lotus which stood in the middle of the fireplace. Once he had been offered abundant sacrifices, Kalachakra was invited to come hither from his mandala and to become one with the fire god” (von Glasenapp, 1940, p. 142). Thus the time god and the fire unite.

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Burning Dakinis

The symbolic burning of “sacrificial goddesses” is found in nearly every tantra. It represents every possible characteristic, from the human senses to various states of consciousness. The elements (fire, water, etc.) and individual bodily features are also imagined in the form of “sacrificial goddesses”. With the pronouncement of a powerful magic formula they all perish in the fire. In what is known as the Vajrayogini ritual, the pupil sacrifices several inana mudras to a red fire god who rides a goat. The chief goddess, Vajrayogini, appears here with “a red-colored body which shines with a brilliance like that of the fire of the aeon” (Gyatso, 1991, p. 443). In the Guhyasamaya Tantra the goddesses even fuse together in a fiery ball of light in order to then serve as a sacrifice to the Supreme Buddha. Here the adept also renders malignant women harmless through fire: “One makes the burnt offerings within a triangle. ... If one has done this three days long, concentrating upon the target of the women, then one can thus ward them off, even for the infinity of three eons” (Gäng, 1988, p. 225). A “burning woman” by the name of Candali plays such a significant role in the Kalachakra initiations that we devote an entire chapter to later. In this context we also examine the “ignition of feminine energy”, a central event along the sexual magic initiation path of Tantrism.

In Buddhist iconography, the tantric initiation goddesses, the dakinis are represented dancing within a fiery circle of flame. These are supernatural female beings encountered by the yogi on his initiatory journey who assist him in his spiritual development, but with whom he can also fall into serious conflict. Translated, dakini means “sky-going one” or “woman who flies” or “sky dancer”. (Herrmann-Pfand, 1996, pp. 68, 38). In Buddhism the name appeared around 400 C.E.

The German Tibetologist Albert Grünwedel was his whole life obsessed with the idea that the “heaven/sky walkers” were once human “wisdom companions”, who, after they had been killed in a fire ritual, continued to function in the service of the tantric teachings as female spirit beings (genies). He saw in the dakinis the “souls of murdered mudras” banished by magic, and believed that after their sacrificial death they took to haunting as Buddhist ghosts (Grünwedel, 1933, p. 5). Why, he asked, do the dakinis always hold skull cups and cleavers in their hands in visual representations? Obviously, as can be read everywhere, to warn the initiands against the transient and deceptive world of samsara and to cut them off from it. But Grünwedel sees this in a completely different light: For him, just as the saints display the instruments of their martyrdom in Christian iconography, so too the tantric goddesses demonstrate their mortal passing with knives and skulls; like their European sisters, the witches, with whom they have so much in common, they are to be burnt at the stake (Grünwedel, Kalacakra III, p. 41) Grünwedel traces the origin of this female sacrifice back to the marked misogyny of the early phase of Buddhism: “The insults [thrown at] the woman sound dreadful. ... The body of the woman is a veritable cauldron of hell, the woman a magical form of the demons of destruction” (Grünwedel, 1924, vol. 2, p. 29).

One could well shrug at the speculations of this German Tibetologist and Asian researcher. As far as they are understood symbolically, they do not contradict tantric orthodoxy in the slightest, which even teaches the destruction of the “external” feminine as an article of faith. As we have seen, the sacrificial goddesses are burnt symbolically. Some tantras even explicitly confirm Grünwedel’s thesis that the dakinis were once “women of flesh and blood”, who were later transformed into “spirit beings” (Bhattacharyya, 1982, p. 121). Thus she was sacrificed as a karma mudra, a human woman in order to then be transformed into an inana mudra, an imaginary woman. But the process did not end here, then the inana mudra still had an existence external to the adept. She also needed to be “sacrificed” in order to create the “inner woman”, the maha mudra. A passage from the Candamaharosana Tantra thus plainly urges the adept: “Threaten, threaten, kill, kill, slay slay all Dakinis!” (quoted by George, 1974, p. 64)

But what is the intent behind a fiery dakini sacrifice? The same as that behind all the other tantric rituals, namely the absorption of gynergy upon which to found the yogi’s omnipotence. Here the longed-for feminine elixir has its own specific names. The adept calls it the “heart blood of the dakini”, the “essence of the dakini’s heart”, the “life-heart of the dakini” (Herrmann-Pfand, 1992, p. 342). “Via the ‘conversion’ the Dakinis become protectors of the religion, once they have surrendered their ‘life-heart’ to their conqueror”, a tantra text records (Herrmann-Pfand, 1992, p. 204).

This “surrender of the heart” can often be brutal. For example, a Tibetan story tells of how the yogini Magcig declares that she is willing for her breast to be slit open with a knife — whether in reality or just imagination remains unclear. Her heart was then taken out, “and whilst the red blood — drip, drip — flowed out”, laid in a skull bowl. Then the organ was consumed by five dakinis who were present. Following this dreadful heart operation Magcig had transformed herself into a dakini (Herrmann-Pfand, 1992, p. 164). As macabre as this story is, on the other hand it shows that the tantric female sacrifice need not necessarily be carried out against the will of woman to be sacrificed. In contrast, the yogini often surrenders her heart-blood voluntarily because she loves her master. Like Christ, she lets herself be crucified for love. But her guru may never let this love run free. He has a sacred duty to control the feelings of the heart, and the power to manipulate them.

In the dakini’s heart lies the secret of enlightenment and thus of universal power. She is the “Queen of Hearts”, who — like Diana, Princess of Wales — must undergo a violent “sacrificial death” in order to then shine as the pure ideal of the monarchy (the “autocratic rule” of the yogis). Lama Govinda also makes reference to a fiery sacrificial apotheosis of the dakini when he proclaims in a vision that all feminine forces are concentrated in the sky walkers, “until focused on a point as if through a lens they kindle to a supreme heat and become the holy flame of inspiration which leads to perfect enlightenment” (Govinda, 1991, p. 231). It need not be said that here the inspiration and enlightenment of the male tantra master alone is meant and not that of his female sacrifice.

Vajrayogini

The “tantric female sacrifice” has found a sublime and many-layered expression in what is known as the “Vajrayogini rite”, which we would like to examine briefly because of its broad distribution among the Tibetan lamas. Vajrayogini is the most important female divine figure in the highest yogic practices of Tibetan Buddhism. The goddess is worshipped as, among other things, “Mistress of the World”, the “Mother of all Buddhas”, “Queen of the Dakinis”, and a “Powerful Possessor of Knowledge”. Her reverential cult is so unique in androcentric Lamaism that a closer examination has much to recommend it. In so doing we draw upon a document on Vajrayogini praxis by the Tibetan lama Kelsang Gyatso.

This tantric ritual, centered upon a principal female figure, begins like all others, with the pupil’s adoration of the guru. Seated upon two cushions which represent the sun and moon, the master holds a vajra and a bell in his hands, thus emphasizing his androgyny and transsexual power.

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Vajra Yogini in the burning circle

External, internal, and secret sacrifices are made to him and his lineage. Above all this concerns many imagined “sacrificial goddesses” which emanate from the pupil’s breast and from there enter the teacher’s heart. Among these are the goddesses of beauty, music, flowers, and light. With the “secret sacrifices” the sadhaka pronounces the following: “And I offer most attractive illusory mudras, a host of messengers born from places, born from mantra, and spontaneously born, with tender bodies, skilled in the 64 arts of love” (Gyatso, 1991, p. 250).

In the Vajrayogini praxis a total of three types of symbolic female sacrifice are distinguished. Two of these consist in the offering of inana mudras, that is of “spirit women”, who are drawn from the pupil’s imagination. In the third sacrificial offering he presents his teacher with a real sexual partner (karma mudra) (Gyatso, 1991, p. 88).

Once all the women have been presented to the guru and he has absorbed their energies, the image of the Vajrayogini arises in his heart. Her body appears in red and glows like the “apocalyptic fire”. In her right hand she holds a knife with a vajra-shaped handle, in her left a skull bowl filled with blood. She carries a magic wand across her shoulders, the tip of which is adorned with three tiny human heads. She wears a crown formed out of five skulls. A further fifty severed heads are linked in a chain which swings around her neck. Beneath her feet the Hindu divinity Shiva and the red Kalarati crouch in pain.

Thereupon her image penetrates the pupil, and takes possession of him, transforming him into itself via an internalized iconographic dramaturgy. That the sadhaka now represents the female divinity is considered a great mystery. Thus the master now whispers into his ear, “Now you are entering into the lineage of all yoginis. You should not mention these holy secrets of all the yoginis to those who have not entered the mandala of all the yoginis or those who have no faith” (Gyatso, 1991, p. 355). With divine pride the pupil replies, “I am the Enjoyment Body of Vajrayogini!” (Gyatso, 1991, p. 57) or simply and directly says, “I am Vajrayogini!” (Gyatso, 1991, p. 57). Then, as a newly arisen goddess he comes to sit face-to-face with his guru. Whether the latter now enjoys sexual union with the sadhaka as Vajrayogini cannot be determined from the available texts.

At any rate we must regard this artificial goddess as a female mask, behind which hides the male sadhaka who has assumed her form. He can of course set this mask aside again. It is impressive just how vivid and unadorned the description of this reverse transformation of the “Vajrayogini pupil” into his original form is: “With the clarity of Vajrayogini”, he says in one ritual text, “I give up my breasts and develop a penis. In the perfect place in the center of my vagina the two walls transform into bell-like testicles and the stamen into the penis itself” (Gyatso, 1991, p. 293).

Other sex-change transfigurations are also known from Vajrayogini praxis. Thus, for example, the teacher can play the role of the goddess and let his pupil take on the male role . He can also divide himself into a dozen goddesses — yet it is always men (the guru or his pupils) who play the female roles.

Chinnamunda

The dreadful Chinnamunda (Chinnamastra) ritual also refers to a “tantric female sacrifice”. At the center of this ritual drama we find a goddess (Chinnamunda) who decapitates herself. Iconographically, she is depicted as follows: Chinnamunda stands upright with the cleaver with which she has just decapitated herself clenched in her right hand. On her left, raised palm she holds her own head. Three thick streams of blood spurt up from the stump of her neck. The middle one curves in an arc into the mouth of her severed head, the other two flow into the mouths of two further smaller goddesses who flank Chinnamunda. She usually tramples upon one or more pairs of lovers. This bloody cult is distributed in both Tantric Buddhism and Hinduism.

According to one pious tale of origin, Chinnamunda severs her own head because her two servants complain of a great hunger which she is unable to assuage. The decapitation was thus motivated by great compassion with two suffering beings. It nevertheless appears grotesque that an individual like Chinnamunda, in possession of such extraordinary magical powers, would be forced to feed her companions with her own blood, instead of conjuring up an opulent meal for them with a spell. According to another, metaphysical interpretation, the goddess wanted to draw attention to the unreality of all being with her self-destructive deed. Yet even this philosophical platitude can barely explain the horrible scenario, although one is accustomed to quite a deal from the tantras. Is it not therefore reasonable to see a merciless representation of a “tantric female sacrifice” in the Chinnamunda myth? Or are we here dealing with an ancient matriarchal cult in which the goddess gives a demonstration of her triune nature and her indestructibility via an in the end “ineffectual” act of self-destruction?

This gynocentric thesis is reminiscent of an analysis of the ritual by Elisabeth Anne Benard, in which she explains Chinnamunda and her two companions to be an emanation of the triune goddess (Benard, 1994, p. 75). [1]

Chinnamunda is in no sense the sole victim in this macabre horror story; rather, she also extracts her life energies from out of the erotic love between the two sexes, just like a Buddhist tantra master. Indeed, in her canonized iconographic form she dances about upon one or two pairs of lovers, who in some depictions are engaged in sexual congress. The Indologist David Kinsley thus sums up the events in a concise and revealing equation: “Chinnamasta [Chinnamunda] takes life and vigor from the copulating couple, then gives it away lavishly by cutting off her own head to feed her devotees” (Kinsley, 1986, p. 175). Thus, a “sacrificial couple” and the theft of their love energy are to be found at the outset of this so difficult to interpret blood rite.

Yet the mystery remains as to why this particular drama, with its three female protagonists, was adopted into Tantric Buddhist meditative practices. We can see only two possible explanations for this. Firstly, that it represents an attempt by Vajrayana to incorporate within its own system every sacrificial magic element, regardless how bizarre, and even if it originated among the followers of a matriarchal cult. By appropriating the absolutely foreign, the yogi all the more conspicuously demonstrates his omnipotence. Since he is convinced of his ability to — in the final instance — play all gender roles himself and since he also believes himself a lord over life and death, he thus also regards himself as the master of this Chinnamunda “female ritual”. The second possibility is that the self-sacrifice of the goddess functions as a veiled reference to the “tantric female sacrifice” performed by the yogi, which is nonetheless capable of being understood by the initiated. [2]

Summary

The broad distribution of human sacrifice in nearly all cultures of the world has for years occasioned a many-sided discussion among anthropologists and psychologist of the most varied persuasions as to the social function and meaning of the “sacrificium humanum”. In this, reference has repeatedly been made to the double-meaning of the sacrificial act, which simultaneously performs both a destructive and a regulative function in the social order. The classic example for this is the sacrifice of the so-called “scapegoat”. In this case, the members of a community make use of magical gestures and spells to transfer all of their faults and impurities onto one particular person who is then killed. Through the destruction of the victim the negative features of the society are also obliterated. The psychologist Otto Rank sees the motivation for such a transference magic in, finally, the individual’s fear of death. (quoted by Wilber, 1990, p. 176).

Another sacrificial gnosis, particularly predominant in matriarchal cults presupposes that fertility can be generated through subjecting a person to a violent death or bleeding them to death. Processes from the world of vegetative nature, in which plants die back every year in order to return in spring, are simulated. In this view, death and life stand in a necessary relation to one another; death brings forth life.

A relation between fertility and human sacrifice is also formed in the ancient Indian culture of the Vedas. The earth and the life it supports, the entire universe in fact, were formed, according to the Vedic myth of origin, by the independent self-dismemberment of the holy adamic figure Prajapati. His various limbs and organs formed the building blocks of our world. But these lay unlinked and randomly scattered until the priests (the Brahmans) came and wisely recombined them through the constant performance of sacrificial rites. Via the sacrifices, the Brahmans guaranteed that the cosmos remained stable, and that gave them enormous social power.

All these aspects may, at least in general, contribute to the “tantric female sacrifice”, but the central factors are the two elements already mentioned:

The destruction of the feminine as a symbol of the highest illusion (Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism)

The sacrifice of the woman in order to absorb her gynergy (Tantrayana).

Let us close this chapter by once again summing up why the female sacrifice is essential for the tantric rite: Everything which opposes a detachment from this world, which is characterized by suffering and death, all the obscuring of Maya, the entire deception of samsara is the shameful work of woman. Her liquidation as an autonomous entity brings to nothing this world of appearances of ours. In the tantric logic of inversion, only transcending the feminine can lead to enlightenment and liberation from the hell of rebirth. It alone promises eternal life. The yogi may thus call himself a “hero” (vira), because he had the courage and the high arts needed to absorb the most destructive and most base being in the universe within himself, in order not just to render it harmless but to also transform it into positive energy for the benefit of all beings.

This “superhuman” victory over the “female disaster” convinced the Tantrics that the seed for a radical inversion into the positive is also hidden in all other negative deeds, substances, and individuals. The impure, the evil, and the criminal are thus the raw material from which the Vajra master tries to distill the pure, the good, and the holy.

_______________

Notes:

[1] Elisabeth Anne Benard would like to clearly distinguish her interpretation from an androcentric reading of the ritual. She openly admits her feminist intentions and celebrates Chinnamunda as both a female “solar deity” and a “triune moon goddess”. She thus accords her gynandric control over the two heavenly bodies and both genders.

[2] The Tibetan texts which describe the rite of Chinnamunda, see in it a symbol for the three energy channels, with which the yogi experiments in his mystical body. (We will discuss this in detail later.) Hence, the famous scholar Taranatha writes, “when the [female] ruler severs her head from her own neck with the cleaver held in her right hand, the three veins Avadhuti, Ida and Pingala are severed, and through this the flow of greed, hate, and delusion is cut off, for herself and for all beings” (Herrmann-Pfand, 1992, pp. 263–264). This comparison is somewhat strained, however, since the inner energy channels are in fact sex-specific (Ida — masculine; Pingala — feminine; Avadhuti — androgyne) and for this reason could well present difficulties for a representation in the form of three women.
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Re: To Death and Back, Presented by Dr. Nigel Spivey

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Part 1 of 4

The Buddhism of Tibet, or Lamaism: with its mystic cults, symbolism and mythology, and in its relation to Indian Buddhism -- Excerpt
by Laurence Austine Waddell, 1854-1938
1895

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XX. MYSTIC PLAYS AND MASQUERADES.

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FANCY-DRESS balls and the masked carnivals of Europe find their counterpart in Tibet, where the Lamas are fond of masquerading in quaint attire; and the populace delight in these pageants, with their dramatic display and droll dances. The masked dances, however, are essentially religious in nature, as with the similar pageants still found among many primitive people, and probably once current even among the Greeks and Egyptians. 2

The Lamas reserve to themselves the exclusive right to act in "the Mystery-Play," with its manifestations of the gods and demons, by awe-inspiring masks, etc., while they relegate to lay actors the sacred dramas, illustrating the former births of Buddha and other saints, the Jatakas.

"The Mystery-Play of Tibet," the name by which the acted pageant of the Lamas is known to many Europeans, has been seen by several travellers in Tibet and adjoining Lamaist lands; but the plot and motive of the play seem never to have been very definitely ascertained, owing, doubtless, to the cumbrous details which so thickly overlay it, and the difficulty of finding competent interpreters of the plot, as well as the conflicting accounts current amongst the Lamas themselves in regard to its origin and meaning.

As I have had opportunities for studying the various versions of the play with the aid of learned Lamas of several sects, I give here a brief sketch of what I have elicited regarding what appears to have been its original character and subsequent developments. Originally it appears to have been a devil-dancing cult for exorcising malignant demons and human enemies, and associated with human sacrifice and, probably, cannibalism.

Afterwards, during the Buddhist era, the devil-dance, like that of the Ceylonese, was given a Buddhist dress, which was not difficult, as somewhat analogous displays representing the temptation of Buddha, seem to be found in Indian Buddhism, as seen in the annexed figure of a frieze from Gandhara.3 And several leading indigenous names lent themselves readily to perversion into Buddhist names or titles, by a process already practised by the Brahmans in India, who Sanskritized aboriginal Indian names in order to bring them within the mythological pale of Hinduism.

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Demons of Mara in Gandhara Sculptures. (Lahore Museum)

The unsophisticated Tibetans still call the mystery-play the "Dance of the Red-Tiger Devil,"4 a deity of the Bon or pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet. The original motive of the dance appears to have been to expel the old year with its demons of ill-luck, and to propitiate with human sacrifice and probably cannibalism the war-god and the guardian spirits, most of whom are demonified kings and heroes, in order to secure good-luck and triumph over enemies in the incoming year.

Human sacrifice seems undoubtedly to have been regularly practised in Tibet up till the dawn there of Buddhism in the seventh century A.D. The glimpses which we get of early Tibet through the pages of contemporary Chinese history, show, as Dr. Bushell translates,5 that "at the new year they (the Tibetans) sacrifice men or offer monkeys," and so late as the seventh century the annual rites in connection with the defence of their country were triennially accompanied by human sacrifice.6

Actual cannibalism is, indeed, attributed to the early Tibetans,7 and the survival of certain customs lends strong colour to the probability of such a practice having been current up till about the middle ages.
The Tibetans themselves claim descent from a man-eating ancestry, and they credit their wilder kinsmen and neighbours of the lower Tsang-po valley with anthrophagous habits even up to the present day.


History and Etymology for anthropophagous: Greek anthrōpophágos "(of humans) eating human flesh, cannibal" (from anthrōpo- ANTHROPO- + -phagos -PHAGOUS) + -OUS

-- Anthropophagous, by Merriam-Webster


Vestiges of cannibalism appear to be preserved in the mystery-play. And of similar character seems to be the common practice of eating a portion of the human skin covering the thigh-bone in preparing the bone trumpets, and also, probably, of like origin is the common Tibetan oath of affirmation, "By my father's and mother's flesh."8

The Lamas, however, as professing Buddhists, could not countenance the taking of life, especially human. So, in incorporating this ancient and highly popular festival within their system, they replaced the human victims by anthropomorphic effigies of dough, into which were inserted models of the larger organs, and also fluid red pigment to represent the blood. This substitution of dough images for the living sacrifices of the Bon rites is ascribed by tradition to St. Padma-sambhava in the second half of the eighth century A.D.
And these sacrificial dough-images, of more or less elaborate kinds, now form an essential part of the Lamaist daily service of worship.

The Bon-pos founded a number of monasteries in the Buddhist fashion for the residence of the monks "who lived according to rules of an order along the lines of the Buddhist Order, and went in for philosophy, mysticism and new fashioned magic, religious festivals and the carrying around the sacred objects in procession".1 [The Religions of Tibet, pp. 97, 98] The Bon-pos used the holy objects in the opposite direction, instead of clockwise direction, as in Buddhism. Their Swastika, the mystic cross called in Tibetan Gyung-drung "and did not turn dextrously as that of Lamaism do, but symmetrically, to left instead of right.' They used to chant the famous formula, 'Om Matri Muye Sale du' in place of the sacred Avalokitesvara formula of the Lamas 'Om Mani Padme hum.' Rockhill writes2 [The Life of Buddha, p. 206] that "the Buddhist influence is so manifest in it (Bon) that is impossible to consider it as giving us very correct ideas of what this religion was before it came to contact with Buddhism."

The bon-po religion has repeatedly been said to be the same as that of the Tao-sse and it is remarkable that these two religions have drawn so largely from Buddhist ideas that they have nearly identified themselves with it. "The Bon-pos had no literature of their own. They took over the Buddhist excerpts and symbols on a vast scale, thereby creating a literature and an iconography very similar to those of the Buddhists as to be almost indistinguishable to casual observers."

In the G-Zer-myig is given a broad survey of the world of gods, i.e., the pantheon of the Bon-pos. The pantheon of the bon-pos has been very much enlarged like that of Lamaism. Hoffman writes3 [The Religions of Tibet, p. 101] that" ... in addition to the pantheon of the later Bon religion created primarily in Zhang-zhung under Western Asiatic and Buddhist influence, the old, so to speak anonymous gods of the animist, shamanist era have remained alive in the minds of the common people. The highest principle of this religion and at the same time the transcendental Urguru from which all enlightened understanding comes, and which in type is similar to the 'Adibuddha of many of the Vajrayana system is called Kun0tu-bzang-po, in Sanskrit Samantabhadra, in other words, it bears the same name as the Adibuddha of Padmaism, to which, of course, the syncretic bon religion bears a close resemblance. Philosophically considered, this Samantabhadra represents the ultimate absolute, the Dharmakaya, called here the Bon substance (Bon-sku) a concept which despite many positive characteristics (conscious bliss) seems to be largely the same as the Mahayana 'Voidness.'"

In the Bon pantheon Bon-sku-kun-tu-bzang-po is the supreme deity and Bon-skyong (Dharmapala), a guardian deity, a nine headed enormity,1 [S.C. Das, J.B.T.S., 1, iii. appendix 1, 1881), p. 197] as his sister Srid-pai's rgyal-mo who has three eyes and six arms is taken to be Sri devi (Tara) of Lamaism. There are numerous dreadful gods with human or animal heads. There are further other gods with heads of various animals, such as, pigs, horses, bulls and tigers. Those apart, there is a special group of gods dwelling on the tops of the sacred mountain Kailasa.2 [Hoffmann, The Religions of Tibet, p. 104]

It is interesting to note in this connection that in the Bon-pantheon, goddesses take precedence over the gods and the female priests are regarded superior to the male priests in this religion.3 [J.B.T.S. 1, iii, appendix 1, and Journal of the Asiatic Society, 1881, 197n] Lastly, the Bon-pos have monasteries of their own in which there are many images of gods, saints and demons like those of Lamaism, but with different names thereof.

Sacrifices of animals and even human beings and such other practices were openly indulged in and they formed an important part in the religious observances of the Bon.4 [Cf. J.A.S.B. 1881, 198n] A fair idea about the original character of the Bon-po rituals can be had from the ancient manuscripts (9th or 10th cent. A.D.) where the Tibetan rites are described.5 [R.A. Stein, Tibetan Civilization, p. 25] "The officers are assembled once every year for the lesser oath of fealty. They sacrifice sheep, dogs, and monkeys, first breaking their legs and then killing them, afterwards exposing their intestines and cutting them into pieces. The sorcerers having been summoned, they call on the gods of heaven and earth, of the mountains and rivers, of the sun, moon, stars, and planets, saying: "should your hearts become changed, and your thoughts disloyal, the gods will see clearly and make you like these sheep and dogs." Every three years there is a grand ceremony during which all are assembled in the middle of the night on a raised altar, on which are spread savoury meat. The victims sacrificed as men, horses, oxen and asses, and prayers are offered in this form: "Do you all with one heart and united strength cherish our native country. The gods of heaven, and the spirit of the earth will both know your thoughts and if you break this oath they will cause your bodies to be cut into pieces like unto these victims."1 [The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1880, p. 441]

As already observed, the offering up of the animal sacrifices was the most important feature of the old Bon religion. When Buddhism became the state religion the Bon-pos were prohibited to indulge further in such practices. But this form of sacrifice could not be entirely eradicated because of the deep conviction of the people. Substitutes for living animals were sacrificed instead, representations of yaks and sheep, and wooden carving of deer heads.

We have further from the gZer-myig2 [Hoffmann, The Religions of tibet, p. 22, c/Albert Tafel, Meine Tibetreise, Vol. II, pp. 153, 198, Notes 2, 232, 236] the description of a human sacrifice for the recovery of a sick prince. It writes: 'the soothsayer seized the man by the feet whilst the Bon-po took his hands. The black Han-dha then cut open the life orifice and tore out the heart. The two, the soothsayer and the Bon-po, then scattered out the blood and flesh of the victim to the four corners of the heaven.' It should be mentioned that with the light of Indian civilization introduced by Buddhism the adherents of Bon were obliged to give up their human and animal sacrifices, and instead use little statue made of dough containing barley-flower butter and water. "Bonpos were now prohibited making human and other bloody sacrifice as was their wont; and hence is said to have arisen the practice of offering images of men and animals made of dough." Its mythology is exceedingly complicated. It enumerates an endless number of spirits or divinities, all hostile to man and it is necessary to propitiate them by continual sacrifices. Even down to the present day some Bon practices still exist in parts of Eastern and South-Eastern Tibet; the most populous part of the country. Dr. Hoffmann1 [The Religions of Tibet, p. 22] writes 'that followers of Bon religion are still using the blood of cocks to conjure peace.'....

Thus we know very little about the original nature of the Bon religion because of dearth of positive evidence. Our knowledge of its actual nature is rather vague and fragmentary. Hoffmann2 [The Religions of Tibet, p. 15] writes: "What the original Bon religion was like before it came into contact with Buddhism, but this is made difficult by the great dearth of authentic documentary evidence. In fact, actual documents from those early days are unknown, and they can hardly have existed in any case, because it was not until the first half of the seventh century that, under Buddhist influence, Tibet received a written language and a literature." "The Buddhist influence," observe Rockhill, "is so manifest in it [Bon] that it is impossible to consider it as giving us very correct ideas of what this religion was before it came in contact with Buddhism."3 [The Life of Buddha, p. 206] Furthermore, F.A. Stein4 [Tibetan Civilization, p. 229] says: "The history and characteristics of this religion [Bon] are still subject to considerable uncertainty at least as far as the early period is concerned."...

In fine, from the sense of the Tibetan word, it may be said that Bon was originally an aspect of Tantra cult. It was amalgamated into the Buddhist esoteric faith later on. Several other reformed Tibetan sects were further brought forth thereon.


-- Bon, The Primitive Religion of Tibet, by Prof. Anukul Chandra Banerjee, Gangtok


The Lamas also, as it seems to me, altered the motive of the play to hang upon it their own sacerdotal story for their own glorification and priestly gain. Retaining the festival with its Bacchanalian orgies for expelling the old year and ushering in good-luck for the new, they also retained the cutting-up of their enemies in effigy; but they made the plot represent the triumph of the Indian missionary monks (Acarya) under St. Padma-sambhava over the indigenous paganism with its hosts of malignant fiends and the black-hat devil-dancers, and also over the Chinese heretics.

The voracious man-eating devils of Tibet were mostly assimilated to the Sivaite type of fiend in mediaeval Indian Buddhism, with which they had so much in common. And the title was accordingly altered from tag-mar; "the (dance) of the red Tiger (devil)" to its homonym tag-mar (spelt drag-dmar), or "the red fierce ones." Thus Yama, the Death-king, and his minions form a most attractive feature of the play, for it is made to give the lay spectators a very realistic idea of the dreadful devils from whom the Lamas deliver them; and they are familiarized with the appearance of these demons who, according to the Lamas, beset the path along which the disembodied soul must hereafter pass to paradise.

As this tragedy is so intimately identified with Padma-sambhava, the founder of Lamaism, it is acted in its most gorgeous style on the birthday of that saint, namely, on the tenth day of the fifth Tibetan month.

But latterly both plot and date were again altered by the established church of Tibet, the Ge-lug-pa sect. This reformed sect, which dissociates itself as far as possible from St. Padmasambhava, who now is so intimately identified with the unreformed sects, transferred the festival from the end of the old Tibetan year, that is the eleventh month of the present style, to the end of its own year according to the new official year.

And it has also, in its version, altered the motive of the tragedy, so as to make it represent the assassination of the Julian of Lamaism (Lan-darma) by a Lama disguised as a Shamanist dancer, and this is followed by the restoration of the religion by the aid of Indian and Chinese monks, and the subsequent triumph of Lamaism, with its superior sorcery derived from Buddhist symbolism.

This version of the play calls the central episode "the strewing food of the sixty iron castles,"9 and it still further alters, as I take it, the title of the chief character to its further homonym of "Tag-mar"10 the red horse-headed Hayagriva, a name borrowed from Hindu mythology, but evidently, as it seems to me, suggested by the cognomen of their old familiar fiend, Tag-mar, the red Tiger-devil, of the pre-Lamaist Bon priests. Tiger-devils are also well-known to Chinese mythology,11 while Hayagriva, as a Buddhist creation, appears to be known only to the Lamaistic form of Buddhism, and his Tantrik book is admittedly of Tibetan composition.

Image
Red tiger-Devil of the Bon.

Image
Tiger-Devils (of the Chinese. The lower right-hand one is the Red-tiger; the central one is yellow).

But even as thus adapted by the established church, the purest of all the Lamaist sects, the play still retains, as will be presently shown, the devil-dancing Shamanist features, as well as vestiges of human sacrifice, if not of actual cannibalism.

Let us first look at the mystery-play or tragedy as acted by the Lamas of the old school, at Himis, in Ladak, in Sikhim, Bhotan, etc., and afterwards refer to the versions as acted by the reformed and established church.

This play is acted, as already mentioned, by all sects of Lamas, on the last day of the year when the community is en fete, by many of the unreformed sects on St. Padma-sambhava's day.

When acted at the end of the year it forms part of the ceremony called "The sacrificial body of the dead year,"12 and is held on the last two or three days of the old year, from the 28th to the 30th of the twelfth month. As the performance is conducted at the Himis monastery, in Ladak, in a much grander style than was witnessed by me in Sikhim, and more in the style seen in Tibet, and as it has been there witnessed and described by several travellers,"13 I shall take the Himis performance as the basis of my description, and amplify the descriptions of it where necessary.

As the day for the play draws near, the villagers flock in from the country-side; and on the morning of the day fixed for the performance, the people, decked in holiday attire, throng to the temple many hours before that fixed for the performance, to secure good points of view. Seats are provided and reserved only for the gentry and high officials and visitors. The king and other grandees have state boxes.

The performance is held al fresco in the courtyard of the temple (see the photograph on page 528). The orchestra is sometimes screened off from view, and the maskers assemble either in the temple or in yak-hair tents, and are treated to refreshments often, and soup between the acts.

A shrill bugle-call, from a trumpet made out of a human thigh-bone,14 notifies the commencement of the play.

The gongs and shawms strike up a wailing sort of air, which the musicians accompany by a low chant, and out come trooping a crowd of the pre-Lamaist black-mitred priests, clad in rich robes of China silk and brocade, and preceded by swingers of censers. They make the mystic sign of "The Three," and execute a stately dance to slow music.

Stretching out the right hand and left alternately, the leaders turn to the right, and the last in line to the left, both advancing and retiring towards each other several times, and, reforming the circle and making the sign of the Trident, they retire.

Image
Diagram of Royal Monastery at Teng-gye-ling, Lhasa (where mystic play is acted).

After these have gone out, then enter a troupe of the man-eating malignant demons,15 who, with their hordes, vex and harass humanity. They infest the air, the earth, the water, and are constantly seeking to destroy man, not unlike their better-known relative, who, "as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour."16 These hordes of demons are intended to illustrate the endless oppression of man by the powers of evil, against whom he can of himself do nothing, but occasionally the exorcisms or prayers of some good Lama or incarnator may come to his assistance and shield him, but even then only after a fierce and doubtful contest between the saints and the devils. And only for a time, too, can this relief from persecution endure, for all the exorcisms of all the saints are of little avail to keep back the advancing hordes. The shrieking demons must close in upon the soul again.17

Image
Demon-Maskers.18

These demons, now incorporated in Tibetan Buddhism, are regarded as forms of Durga (Devi), Siva (Natha), and the king of the Dead (Dharmaraja or Yama).19 "Flames and effigies of human skulls were worked on their breasts and other parts of their raiment. As their hoods fell back, hideous features of leering satyrs were disclosed."20

"In their right hand they hold a bell or fan, and in their left a bowl cut out of a human skull, and round the edge of which are attached narrow streamers of silk and some plaited ends of hair.
This ghastly ladle is called Bundah. Some of the maskers hold in the right hand a short stick, with red and blue streamers of silk; these and the spoons majestically waved about as they go round in their solemn dance had the most curious effect I ever saw."21

To these monsters (now coerced by Buddhism) the Lamas offer a libation of beer, and some rice or mustard-seed, and to all the beings of the six classes, and especially including the demons, and the rice or seeds are thrown about freely;22 and each Lama present inwardly prays for the realization of his desire.

At a signal from the cymbals the large trumpets (eight or ten feet long) and the other instruments, pipes and drums, etc., and shrill whistling (with the fingers in the mouth), produce a deafening din to summon the noxious demons and the enemies. "The music became fast and furious, and troop after troop of different masks rushed on, some beating wooden tambourines, others swelling the din with rattles and bells. All of these masks were horrible, and the malice of infernal beings was well expressed on some of them. As they danced to the wild music with strange steps and gesticulations, they howled in savage chorus. . . . The solemn chanting ceased, and then rushed on the scene a crowd of wan shapes, almost naked, with but a few rags about them. . . . They wrung their hands despairingly, and rushed about in a confused way as if lost, starting from each other in terror when they met, sometimes feeling about them with their outstretched hands like blind men, and all the while whistling in long-drawn notes, which rose and fell like a strong wind on the hills, producing an indescribably dreary effect. These, I was told, represented the unfortunate souls of dead men which had been lost in space, and were vainly seeking their proper sphere through the darkness. . . . The variously masked figures of Spirits of Evil flocked in, troop after troop — oxen-headed and serpent-headed devils; three-eyed monsters with projecting fangs, their heads crowned with tiaras of human skulls; Lamas painted and masked to represent skeletons; dragon-faced fiends, naked save for tiger-skins about their loins, and many others. Sometimes they appeared to be taunting and terrifying the stray souls of men -- grim shapes who fled hither and thither among their tormentors, waving their arms and wailing miserably, souls who had not obtained Nirvana and yet who had no incarnation ...Then the demons were repelled again by holy men; but no sooner did these last exorcise one hideous band than other crowds came shrieking on. It was a hopeless conflict. . . . At one period of the ceremony a holy man . . . blessed a goblet of water by laying his hands on it and intoning some prayer or charm. Then he sprinkled the water in all directions, and the defeated demons stayed their shrieking, dancing, and infernal music, and gradually crept out of the arena, and no sound was heard for a time but the sweet singing of the holy choir. But the power of exorcism was evanescent, for the routed soon returned in howling shoals."23

Image
Death-Skeleton Masker

The superior effect of Buddhism over the indigenous Shamanism is now shown by the arrival on the scene of the Indian monk, Padma-sambhava, and his assistants, or his eight forms; or sometimes these are represented as Buddha himself, or the group of the "Seven Buddhas."24

Image
Devils Fleeing from the Buddhist Saints.
 
This scene is thus described: "The loud music suddenly ceased, and all the demons scampered off shrieking as if in fear, for a holy thing was approaching. To solemn chanting, low music and swinging of censers, a stately procession came through the porch of the temple and slowly descended the steps. Under a canopy, borne by attendants, walked a tall form in beautiful silk robes, wearing a large mask representing a benign and peaceful face. As he advanced, men and boys, dressed as abbots and acolytes of the church of Rome, prostrated themselves before him and addressed him with intoning and pleasing chanting. He was followed by six other masks, who were treated with similar respect. These seven deified beings drew themselves in a line on one side of the quadrangle and received the adoration of several processions of masked figures, some of abbots, and others beast-headed, or having the faces of devils."25

These last are the demon-kings who have been coerced by Buddhism into becoming guardians and defensores fidei of that religion. And amongst the worshippers are the Pa-wo or "heroes" with green masks, surmounted by triangular red flags, and girdles, and anklets of bells; and the solemnity is relieved by a few Acaryas, or jesters, who play practical jokes, and salute the holy personages with mock respect.

The enemy of Tibet and of Lamaism is now represented in effigy, but before cutting it to pieces, it is used to convey to the people a vivid conception of the manner in which devils attack a corpse, and the necessity for priestly services of a quasi-Buddhist sort to guard it and its soul.

The similarity between Christianity and Buddhism grows stronger when we consider how Tibetan Buddhists actually practice their religion. Tibetan Buddhists like to say their practices are all about purifying the mind through meditation, but this is not quite true. Tibetan Buddhists fill their temples with sacred images because they are obsessed with earning merit by making an endless stream of offerings. Further, while they believe that making offerings to a statue is good, the best way to improve their chances of a positive rebirth is by making offerings to the lamas, imagined to be incarnated Buddhas.

Because Tibetan Buddhists place primary emphasis on “accumulating merit,” the religion has developed what we might call a “merit economy,” in which merit is gained by giving gifts to the lamas, reciting mantras, prostrating before images, and walking in circles around a sacred building or statue, called “circumambulation.” Like medieval Christians, they also believe that you can pay other people to perform pious acts on your behalf, and get the same benefit! Thus, American students are currently paying Tibetans to perform recitations on their behalf, after hiring a diviner to determine how many recitations of what deity need to be performed to remove obstacles. This procedure would have been familiar to a medieval Catholic, who could reduce their stay in purgatory, or that of their relatives, by donating to the clergy, that imagined “a vast community of mutual help … uniting the living and the dead” in sacred exertions. People with more money than piety could earn indulgences through “commutation, through which any services, obligations, or goods could be converted into a corresponding monetary payment.” In 1343 Pope Clement VI decreed himself the manager of the “Treasury of Merit,” and officially took charge of the business, becoming God’s counting house.[105]

Like medieval Christians, Tibetan Buddhists believe that the fates of their eternal souls, and those of their loved ones, are determined by their “stock of merit,” whether accumulated by their own efforts, or by the efforts of persons employed to accumulate merit on their behalf. Although it seems blatantly venal, the entire religion is based on the belief that the greatest merit is accumulated by making donations to the priests who run the religion.

-- Against Hell: A Refutation of the Buddhist Hell Realms, Based on Their Historic Origins, Political Purpose, Psychological Destructiveness, Irrationality, and Demonstrable Inconsistency With the Original Buddhist Teachings, Framed as A Searching Review of Sam Bercholz’s After-Death Memoir, "A Guided Tour of Hell", by Charles Carreon


Some days previous to the commencement of the play, an image26 of a young lad is made out of dough, in most elaborate fashion, and as life-like as possible. Organs representing the heart, lungs, liver, brain, stomach, intestines, etc., are inserted into it, and the heart and large blood-vessels and limbs are filled with a red-coloured fluid to represent blood. And occasionally, I am informed on good authority, actual flesh from the corpses of criminals27 is inserted into the image used in this ceremony28 at the established church of Potala.

This effigy of the enemy is brought forth by the four cemetery-ghouls,29 and laid in the centre of the square, and freely stabbed by the weapons, and by the gestures and spells of the circling hosts of demons, as in the illustration here given.

The necromantic power of the Lamas is here shown much in the same way as in the Burmese sacred play at Arakan.30 On three signals with the cymbals, two Indian monks (Acaryas) come out of the monastery, and blow their horns and go through a series of droll antics, and are followed by two or more Lamas who draw around the effigy on the pavement of the quadrangle a magic triangle and retire. Then rush in the ghosts, death-demons, "figures painted black and white to simulate skeletons, some in chains, others bearing sickles or swords, engaged in a frantic dance around the corpse. They were apparently attempting to snatch it away or inflict some injury on it, but were deterred by the magic effect of the surrounding triangle and by the chanting and censer-swinging of several holy men in mitred and purple copes. . . .  

Image
Dance of the Death-Demons in Hemis Monastery.31

"A more potent and very ugly fiend, with great horns on his head and huge lolling tongue, ran in, hovered threateningly over the corpse, and with a great sword slashed furiously about it, just failing by little more than a hair's-breadth to touch it with each sweep of the blade. He seemed as if he were about to overcome the opposing enchantment when a saint of still greater power than he now came to the rescue. The saint approached the corpse and threw a handful of flour on it, making mystic signs and muttering incantations. This appeared from his mask to be one of the incarnations of Buddha. He had more control over the evil spirits than any other who had yet contended with them. The skeletons, and also he that bore the great sword, grovelled before him, and with inarticulate and beast-like cries implored mercy. He yielded to their supplications, gave each one a little of the flour he carried with him, which the fiends ate gratefully, kneeling before him; and he also gave them to drink out of a vessel of holy water."32

This usually concludes one day's performance.33 On the following day adoration is paid to the Jina, by whom unreformed Lamas seem to intend St. Padma-sambhava. And mustard-seed is blessed and thrown at the enemy with singing, dancing, and incantations. And then occurs the ceremony of stabbing the enemy by the phurbu or mystic dagger.

A Short Description of the Phur-Pa, or the “Enchanted Dagger”
by Sri Sarat Chandra Das

In the Sanskrit language, the Phur-pa is called Kila, [x]. In Tibetan Buddhism, it is described as of two kinds: metaphysical and ordinary. All intellectual accomplishments are compared with the Phur-pa. Knowledge dissipates Avidya, (ignorance), so it is said figuratively that the Phur-pa of knowledge destroys ignorance, which is typified as the arch-enemy of humanity. Avidya, is the prime cause of sin and sin is the cause of suffering. In the same manner the Phur-pa of love stabs at anger. The Phur-pa of impermance strikes at attachment and passionate desires. The Phur-pa, of wise discrimination i.e., the power of distinguishing the right from wrong, good from bad, &c., liberates one from misery.

The ordinary Phur-pa is of four kinds. They are used for the acquirement of the four kinds of worldly objects Viz: (1) peace [x], (2) abundance [x], (3) power [x] and (4) fearfulness [x].

1. The phur-pa that typifies peace is generally made of silver or white sandal wood, and is about 4 inches long. The top of its handle is a saint’s head and its lower part is dressed as a knob of twisted noose. The point of the dagger is blunt and rounded to show that its effect is mild and cannot pain any body. When it is consecrated, it acquires the power of driving out evil spirits and diseases from one’s body. It is not intended for mischief to any body. It is considered to be a mystic healer.

2. The Phur-pa that symbolizes copiousness is generally made of gold or of the fragrant juniper. Its handle is similar to that of No. 1, only, that in the place of the saint’s head, there is the head of the goddess of plenty looking down with a smile, expressive of contentment and prosperity. The dagger point terminates on a square. On the top of the dagger handle i.e., on the crown of the god’s head, there is a gem generally a coral or a ruby, placed as an ornament. If this Phur-pa is consecrated, it becomes possessed of wonderful powers. Its touch gives longevity, fame, prosperity, wealth, &c., to the devotee. Its dagger is generally made 8 inches long.

3. The Phur-pa typifying power is made of copper or red sandal wood. Its handle is made of the shape of a knob, surmounted with four fearful heads with wide-opened and gasping mouths, possessing the expression of unquenchable thirst. The dagger point of the Phur-pa terminates in a sharp semi-circular curve. It is generally made 12 inches long. The top of the Phur-pa is made of the size and shape of a small lotus bud. When consecrated, it acquires wonderful efficacy. By means of it, one’s enemies are brought under one’s power without fighting or without the use of weapons. It is invaluable to lovers as a sure instrument to overpower the object of his or her love. It is also supposed to have the power of bringing learning and luck to one who receives its touch with faith.

4. The last is the Tag-poi Phurpa, in Sanskrit, called the Rudra-Kila. It is made of steel, bronze or meteoric stone. The handle of the dagger, made of brass, is a crocodile’s head, surmounted by a cross, formed of two thunderbolts called the Na-tshog-dorje. On the top point of this cross, is fixed three terrific crowned heads, typifying the looks of the Lord of Death in three ages: past, present and the future. He is determined to kill those who transgress against the Dharma i.e., the Law. The cross of thunderbolts is intended to fix down the enemy so that he may not get up again. The three blades of the dagger corresponding to the three faces are intended to stab the enemy instantaneously by its touch. The crocodile’s yawning mouth drinks the blood and eats the flesh of the slain devil. The thunderbolt which projects from the centre of the crown of the three terrific heads is intended to draw out the life-breath of the enemy. When consecrated, this dagger becomes enchanted. In the hands of the necromancer, it throbs, bounds up, burns and flashes. Sometimes, a kind of ringing sound comes out of it, indicating its wonderful powers. By its touch, even rocks break asunder. It is generally kept concealed, being covered with a black or dark-blue silk scarf.

The Phur-pa that has just been exhibited by Mr. Greer is of this last kind, and according to the belief of the Lamas, will become enchanted, when it has been properly consecrated.

-- Journal of the Buddhist Text Society of India, Volume 4, edited by Sarat Chandra Das, C.I.E.


Four ghouls bring in an object wrapped in a black cloth, and placing it on the ground, dance round it with intricate steps, then raising the cloth disclose a prone image of a man, which has been made in the manner previously described.

Then enter the demon-generals and kings, including the demon Tam-din, and they dance around the image. They are followed by the fiendesses, including the twelve Tan-ma, under Devi. These are followed by the black-hat devil-dancers, and these are, in the established church version, held to represent the Lama who assumed this disguise to assassinate king Lan-darma. The four guards now hold the door to prevent entry of any enemies or evil spirits. The black-hats dance round thrice and are succeeded by the god of Wealth, fiendesses, and butchers, the five great "kings,"34 and their queens and ministers, also the state sorcerer of Na-ch'un, and his eight-fold attendants.35

Then enters a fearful fiend named "The holy king of Religion,"36 with the head of a bull, holding in his right hand a dagger with silk streamers, and in his left a human heart (in effigy) and a snare, attended by a retinue of fiends and fiendesses, bearing weapons and dressed in skins,37 human beings, tigers and leopards; and the last to enter are tiger-skin-clad warriors with bows and arrows. This part of the Demon-king can only be taken by a monk of the purest morals, and the costly dress which this actor wears at the play at Potala is one presented by the emperor of China.

Image
The Religious King-Devil

The King-devil, surrounded by his fiendish hordes, dances and makes with dagger the gesture of "The Three"; he stabs the heart, arms and legs of the figure, and binds its feet by the snare. He then rings a bell, and seizing a sword, chops off the limbs and slits open the breast and extracts the bleeding heart, lungs and intestines.

A troupe of monsters, with the heads of deer and yaks, rush in and gore the remains and scatter the fragments with their horns and hands to the four directions.38

Underling fiends now collect the fragments into a huge silver basin shaped like a skull, which four of them carry to the Demon-king in a pompous procession, in which the black-hat devil-dancers join.
The Demon-king then seizes the bleeding fragments, and, eating a morsel, throws them up in the air, when they are caught and fought for by the other demons, who throw the pieces about in a frantic manner, and ultimately throwing them amongst the crowd, which now takes part in the orgie, and a general melee results, each one scrambling for morsels of the fragments, which some eat and others treasure as talismans against wounds, diseases and misfortunes.


The Tibetans may practically be considered as a kind of cannibals. I was struck with this notion while witnessing the burial ceremony. All the cloths used in the burial go as a matter of course to the grave-diggers, though they hardly deserve this name, as their duty consists not in digging the grave but in chopping the flesh of the corpse and pounding the bones. Even priests give them help, for the pounding business is necessarily tedious and tiresome. Meanwhile the pounders have to take refreshment, and tea is drunk almost incessantly, for Tibetans are great tea-drinkers. The grave-diggers, or priests, prepare tea, or help themselves to baked flour, with their hands splashed over with a mash of human flesh and bones, for they never wash their hands before they prepare tea or take food, the most they do being to clap their hands, so as to get rid of the coarser fragments. And thus they take a good deal of minced human flesh, bones or brain, mixed with their tea or flour. They do so with perfect nonchalance; in fact, they have no idea whatever how really abominable and horrible their practice is, for they are accustomed to it. When I suggested that they might wash their hands before taking refreshment, they looked at me with an air of surprise. They scoffed at my suggestion, and even observed that eating with unwashed hands really added relish to food; besides, the spirit of the dead man would be satisfied when he saw them take fragments of his mortal remains with their food without aversion. It has been stated that the Tibetans[393] are descendants of the Rākshasa tribe—a tribe of fiendish cannibals who used to feed on human flesh; and what I witnessed at the burial convinced me that, even at the present day, they retained the horrible habit of their ancestors.

-- Three Years in Tibet, by Shramana Ekai Kawaguchi


The service, which is done by the priest who represents the saint Padma-sambhava, is here summarized. It is called "The Expelling Oblation of the hidden Fierce Ones."39

"Salutation to Padma-sambhava! I here arrange to upset the hosts of demons, by the aid of the hidden Fierce Ones. In bygone ages you guarded the Buddha's doctrines and upset all the harmful spirits. Now the charge has come to me, O! St. Padma! Instruct me as you did prince Pearl and your fairy wife — the Victorious Ocean of Foreknowledge. You wrote the rite and hid it away in the cave. Samaya! rgya! The sealed secret!"

Then arrange as a square magic mandala the cemetery, as the abode of the eight classes of demons. And set down poison, blood, and four lotus leaves with a red trident in the centre. And draw fire-flames, doors, etc., according to rule. Above it place a small table and on it a vessel filled with black grains, and a three-headed cake. Cover it up with an umbrella and put inside this house a linka (image of wheaten flour), which represents the injuring demon. Then arrange everything complete with the various sorts of offerings, and then do the necessary rites.

First of all invoke one's own tutelary thus: —

"Hum! O! Chief of fiercest thunderbolts, immovable and vast as the sky, the overruling angry one! I invoke you who are possessed of supreme strength, and able to subjugate all three empty worlds to do my desires. I invoke you to rise from the burning sky. I, the spell-holder, invoke you with great reverence and faith. You must ripen all the fruits of my desires, otherwise you shall suffer, O! tutelary!40 Arise from the sky and come forth with all your retinue, and quickly route the demons."

Then here offer a libation of wine.

Now the mantra-holder must mentally conceive that the house is full of clouds and that he is sitting in the presence of his tutelary; while the fire of anger burns outside, the mist of poison floats inside; the Las-byed-gs'ed-ma is killing the animals, and the evil spirits are wandering about. The devil now must assume a sorrowful state owing to his separation from his patron and protector.

Then recite the following: —

"Namo! The commands of the Lama are true, the commands of the Three Holy Ones true; and so are those of the fierce Thunderbolt Lama, etc., etc. Through the power of the great truths, Buddha's doctrines, the image of the noble Lama, the riches of wealthy people and all the lucky times, let the hosts of demons of the three regions come forth and enter this linka image. Vajra-Agushaja!"

Then chant the following for keeping the demons at bay: —

Hum! Through the blessing of the blood-drinking Fierce One, let the injuring demons and evil spirits be kept at bay. I pierce their hearts with this hook; I bind their hands with this snare of rope; I bind their body with this powerful chain; I keep them down with this tinkling bell. Now, O! blood-drinking Angry One, take your sublime seat upon them. Vajor-Agu-cha-dsa! vajora-pasha-hum! vajora-spo-da- va! vajora-ghan-dhi-ho!"

Then chant the following for destroying the evil spirits: —

"Salutation to Heruka, the owner of the noble Fierce Ones! The evil spirits have tricked you and have tried to injure Buddha's doctrine, so extinguish them .... Tear out the hearts of the injuring evil spirits and utterly exterminate them."

Then the supposed corpse of the linka should be dipped in Rakta (blood), and the following should be chanted: —

"Hum! O! ye hosts of gods of the magic-circle! Open your mouths as wide as the earth and sky, clench your fangs like rocky mountains, and prepare to eat up the entire bones, blood, and the entrails of all the injuring evil spirits. Ma-ha mam-sa-la kha hi! Ma-ha tsitta-kha hi! maha-rakta kha-hi! maha-go ro-tsa-na-kha-hi! Maha-bah su-ta kha hi! Maha-keng-ni ri ti kha hi!"

Then chant the following for upsetting the evil spirits: —

"Hum! Bhyo! The black grains and a three-headed cake are duly set on the Buddha's plate: the weapons flash; the poisonous vapour flows; the Fierce Ones thunder their mantras; the smell of the plague is issuing; but this three-headed cake can cure all these disasters, and can repress the injuring demon spirits.

"Bhyo! Bhyo! On the angry enemies! On the injuring demon spirits! On the voracious demons! turn them all to ashes!

"Mah-ra-ya-rbad bhyo! Upset them all! Upset! Upset!


"'Let glory Come' and Virtue! Sadhu!"


A burnt sacrifice is now made41 by the Demon-king. He pours oil into a cauldron, under which a fire is lit, and when the oil is boiling, he ties to the end of a stick which he holds an image of a man made of paper, and he puts into the boiling oil a skull filled with a mixture of arak (rum), poison, and blood, and into this he puts the image; and when the image bursts into flame, he declares that all the injuries have been consumed.

This rite is followed by a procession to abandon a large three-headed image of dough,42 to the top of which many threads and streamers are tied. This procession of monks is preceded by the maskers, numbering several hundreds in the larger monasteries,43 clanging noisy cymbals and blowing thigh-bone trumpets, etc. The laity follow in the rear, brandishing guns and other weapons, and shouting "Drag-ge-pun c'am." And when the image is abandoned the crowd tear it to pieces and eagerly fight for the fragments, which are treasured as charms. A gun is then fired amid general shouts of joy, and the Lamas return to the temple for a celebration of worship.

The play is now practically over. The black-cap devil-dancers again appear with drums, and execute their manoeuvres, and the performance concludes with the appearance of the Chinese priest, entitled Hwashang, who was expelled from Tibet by St. Padma. This Chinese priest is represented with a fatuous grinning large-mouthed mask (see fig. 3, page 536), and attended by two boys like himself. They go through a form of worship of the images, but being unorthodox, it is ridiculed by the spectators.

This mystic play is conducted at all monasteries of the established church, at government expense. The greatest of these performances are held at Potala, Muru Tasang,44 and Tashi-lhunpo at the end of the old year, and at the priest-king's palace of Teng-gye-ling on the twenty-ninth day of the eighth month.

At Potala it is held in the courtyard of the Grand Lama's chapel royal, the Nam-gyal temple-monastery. The dough-images and cakes begin to be prepared from the second day of the twelfth month, and from the third to the ninth the whole convent is engaged in the worship of the terrible guardian-demons45 of the country, and of Ye-she-Gon-po or Mahakala.

The rest of the month till the eventful day is occupied in rehearsals and other preparations. Before dawn on the twenty-ninth, the play-manager, after worshipping the demons, arranges the banners, instruments, and carpets.46 At the first blast of the great conch-shell trumpet, the populace assemble. On the second blast the state officials enter and take their seats, the Shab-pe or state ministers, Dun-k'or, and Tse-dun. And on the third blast, the Tibetan king-regent enters with all his attendants, and he invites the attendance of his Defending Majesty,47 the Dalai Lama, who enters a small state-box48 named "The world's transparency."

The orchestra, which is screened off in a tent, begins by blowing a thigh-bone trumpet thrice, followed by the great cymbals49 and drums; then out troop the black-hatted Shamanist dancers, and the play proceeds as above detailed. In the concluding ceremony the large cake, surmounted by a human head, is burned, and is considered to typify the burning of the present enemies of Lamaism.

But the grandest display takes place at the king-regent's own monastery of Teng-gye-ling, of which I have given a sketch-plan of the buildings, etc., from information supplied to me by a monk who has taken part frequently in the play there. The Lama who acts as regent is the de facto ruler of Tibet, and is generally known as "the King"50 and also called "The country's Majesty."51 The superior guests and nobility who have received invitations are permitted to pitch their tents upon the roof of the monks' quarters, and the populace are kept outside the arena by a rope barrier.

An account of the play at Tashi-lhunpo has been given by Mr. Bogle.52 It took place in a large court under the palace, and the surrounding galleries were crowded with spectators. Another short account53 describes the court as surrounded by pillared balconies, four storeys high. The Grand Lama's seat was on the second storey. The other seats in the lower balcony were occupied by the families of chiefs and nobles. In the upper were pilgrims and merchants. The stage manager held a dorje and bell-like Dorje-ch'an, but had an abbot's hat. After a prayer there entered a figure representing "the celebrated Dharmatala who invited the sixteen Sthaviras to China for the diffusion of Buddhism." His mask was dark with yawning mouth to mean ecstasy. Numerous scarves were thrown to him by the spectators, which were picked up by his two wives, with painted yellow complexions. Then came the four kings of the quarters, dressed in barbaric splendour. Following these came the sons of the gods, about sixty in number, dressed with silk robes, and glittering with ornaments of gold, precious stones, and pearls. Following these were Indian acharyas, whose black-bearded faces and Indian dress excited loud laughter among spectators. Then followed the four warders of the cemeteries in skeleton dress. Afterwards "the body of the devil in effigy was burnt, a pile of dry sedge being set on fire upon it." Incense was burnt on the hill-tops in the neighbourhood.

The masks used in this play deserve some notice. In Tibet the great masks54 are made of mashed paper and cloth, and occasionally of gilt copper.55 In Sikhim and Bhotan, etc., where wood is abundant, and the damp climate is destructive to papier-mache, they are carved out of durable wood.56 In all cases they are fantastically painted, and usually provided with a wig of yak-tail of different colours.

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Some Masks.
1. Ghoul. 2. Bull-headed K'ang.
3. Hwashang.
4. A fiendess.
5. A locality genius.
6. A "Teacher."
7. Hwashang's son.
 

The masks may be broadly classed into the following five groups57; though the so-called reformed Lamas have modified some of these, as already noted.

I. -- King of the Ogres (sKu)

1. Drag-mar,58 or "The Terrible Red One." Sometimes called Guru Drag-s'ed, or Yes'e-Gon-po, and "Religious Protector,"59 and regarded as the god of Death, Mahakala, and also as a form of St. Padma-sambhava. His mask is of hideous anthropomorphic appearance and huge size, with great projecting tusks and three eyes; the vertical eye on the centre of the forehead is the eye of fore-knowledge. And it bears a chaplet of five skulls, with pendants of human bones.

The Ten Awful Ogres, and the Ten Ogresses. These are generally like the above. The females only differ in having no beards nor horns. The chief are:

II. -- The Angry Ogres (To-wo).

2. Lha-mo dMag-zor-ma, identified with Kali, the consort of Mahakala, and of a blue colour: measly lips. As Ran-'byun-ma she is green, and her mouth is shut and not gaping as in the former.

3. Ts'e-ma-ra.60 Red like number one.

4. The Bull-headed (Lan). Black in colour with three eyes and bearing a banner61 on its forehead. It is also called "ma-c'an."62

5. The Tiger-headed (sTag), brown and yellow-striped.

6. The Lion (Sen-ge). White.

7. The Roc, or Garuda (Kyun). Coloured green.

8 The Monkey (spre-ul). Ruddy-brown.

9. The Stag (S'a-ba).63 Fawn-coloured.

10. The Yak. Coloured black.

III. -- The Ghouls.

11. Tur, or grave-yard ghouls, with skull masks and clothes representing skeletons.

IV. -- The Earth-Master-Demons.

12. Sa-bdag Genii. These have large hideous masks but only one pair of eyes, as representing their subordinate position. Their chief is called "The great guardian King,"64 and he is attended by red demons (Tsan) and black ones (Dud), etc.

13. Acaryas. These have small cloth masks of ordinary size, and of a white, or clay, or black colour; and their wives are red- or yellow-complexioned. The hair of these "Teachers" is blue in colour, and done up into a chignon on the crown as with Indian Yogis. Although they represent the early Indian priests who brought Buddhism to Tibet, they are, as in ancient India, the buffoons and jesters of the play.

14. Hva-shang. This is a huge, fatuous, round mask of a red colour, to represent a historical Chinese Buddhist monk of the eighth century. And he is attended by several of his sons65 with similar masks.

The dresses of the King-demon and Ogre maskers are of the most costly silk and brocade, and usually with capes, which show Chinese influence.66 Those of the others are usually woollen or cotton. And the robes of those actors who represent the demons, who get severely cudgelled by their superiors, are thickly padded to resist the blows which fall on them.

Where there are a number of one class going in processions or dancing, those dressed alike go in pairs. The weapons carried by the maskers have already been referred to. Most are made of wood carved with thunderbolts. The staves of the skeleton maskers are topped by a death's-head. The sword made by stringing together Chinese brass coins ("Cash") is called the Silingtun, from the province of Siling in western China, whence these coins come to Tibet.

Another religious pantomime, performed, however, by lay actors, is the Lion-Dance. It is not enacted at the new year, but at other seasons, when the people are en fete.

Image
Lion-Dance  

The plot is based upon the mythical lion of the Himalayan snows, which is believed to confer fortune on the country where it resides. One of these lions was enticed to China by a wizard, and, somewhat like La Mascotte, the crops and cattle prospered as long as it lived, and when it died the Chinese stripped off its skin, with which they conduct this dance. The lion is represented as about the size of an ox. Its head and shoulders are formed by a framework, which one man manipulates from the interior, while another man occupies its hind quarters. A harlequin mummer with a variety of rough-and-tumble antics introduces the beast, which enters with leaps and bounds and goes through a variety of manoeuvres, including mounting on a table, and the performance is diversified by the capers of clowns and acrobats.
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Re: To Death and Back, Presented by Dr. Nigel Spivey

Postby admin » Wed Jan 15, 2020 4:13 am

Part 2 of 4

The Sacred Dramas.

The sacred dramas, which are based upon the Jatakas or former births of Buddha, are very popular. They are performed by professional lay actors and actresses, generally known as "A-lche-lha-mo," though this title "goddess-sister'' is strictly applicable only to the actresses who take the part of the goddesses or their incarnations. Strolling parties of these actors travel about Tibet, especially during the winter months, and they frequently act in the presence of the Grand Lama himself.

Image
Acts of the Visvantara-Play

The play is usually performed al fresco, without a stage frame to the picture, but to obtain the due sense of illusion it is usually done at night by lantern-light. The plot is presented in the form of a chanted narrative, comparable to the chorus of the Greek plays, in the course of which the several leading characters, dressed in suitable costume, come forth and speak for themselves. It is thus somewhat like the narration of a novel with the conversational parts acted. Some buffoonery is given as a prelude and to also fill up the intervals between the acts. These buffoons usually are the so-called hunters67; but sometimes, as in the old Hindu dramas, the buffoons are Brahmans.

The most popular of all the dramas which they play are the Visvantara (Vessantara) Jataka, or the last great Birth of Buddha, and the indigenous drama of Nan-sa, or The Brilliant Light. But they also at times play amongst other pieces the Sudhana Jataka,68 the marriage of king Sron Tsan Gampo,69 the Indian king (?) Amoghasiddha,70 and the fiendess Do-ba-zan-mo.71  

VISVANTARA. THE GREATEST OF BUDDHA'S FORMER BIRTHS.

Throughout the Buddhist world the story of prince Visvantara is the most favourite of all the tales of Buddha's former births.72 It represents the climax of the virtuous practice (the paramita) of charity, in which the princely Bodhisat, in order to attain Buddhahood, cuts himself loose from all worldly ties by giving away not only all his wealth, but also his children and even his beloved wife.

It is one of the most touching of the legendary tales of its class, and still exercises a powerful fascination for orientals, moving many to tears. Even the rough Indo-Scythian tribes, who invaded India about the beginning of the Christian era, could not refrain from tears when they saw the picture of the sufferings of this prince.73 It is sculptured on the Sanchi Topes at Bhilsa, and it is also the most favourite of all the sacred plays with the southern Buddhists74; though, as Mr. Ralston observes, "such acts of renunciation as the princely Bodhisat accomplished do not commend themselves to the western mind. An oriental story-teller can describe a self-sacrificing monarch as cutting slices of flesh out of his own arms and plunging them in the fire in honour of a deity, and yet not be afraid of exciting anything but a religious thrill among his audience. To European minds such a deed would probably appear grotesque."75

Image

Image
The Great Former Birth of Buddha as the Charitable Prince Visvantara

Key to Picture of Visvantara Jataka
1. The sonless king and queen bewailing their lot.
2. A son is obtained after worshipping the Buddhas.
3. A princess sought for his wife.
4. His suit urged by princess's father.
5. Bride leaving her father's palace.
6. Visvantara meeting his bride.
7. Their family.
8. Giving charity.
9. Brahman sent for the Wishing Gem.
9a. Brahman begging the gem.
10. Prince hesitating to give it.
11. Leads Brahman to his treasury.
12. Brahman refusing other jewels.
13. Prince giving up gem.
14. Placing it on white elephant.
15. Arrival of Brahman with jewel.
16. Its deposit in the enemy's palace.
17. Prince upbraided by his family.
18. Minister urging king to kill prince.
19. Prince saved from lynching.
20. His banishment.
21. Citizens bidding him farewell.
22. Brahmans beg his elephants.
23. Brahmans beg his chariots.
24. he and family proceed on foot.
25. Miraculous crossing of river.
26. Traveling to forest of banishment.
27. In forest.
28. Brahman begging for the children.
29. Children leave-taking.
30. Brahman beating the children.
31. Takes them to his home.
32. Engaged as drudges.
33. Forest hut.
34. Princess gathering food.
35 Birds assisting her.
36. She is begged by Indra (Jupiter).
37. And is given and taken off.
38. Prince visited by 1,000 Buddhas.
39. Worship by animals, Nagas, etc.
40. His departure from forest with restored wife.
41. Gives his eyes to blind beggar.
42. The restored blind man's gratitude.
43. The blind prince led onwards.
44. The Buddhas restored his sight.
45. The wicked king begs forgiveness.
46. The Brahman returns the jewel.
47. Prince's joyous reception.
48. The prince and family at home again.
49. The prince's re-birth as St. Padma, the founder of Lamaism.  

The text of the story, as found in the Tibetan canon,76 agrees generally with the Pali77 and Burmese78 accounts. I give here an abstract of the version79 which is currently acted in western Tibet. It differs in several details from the canonical narrative and in the introduction of some incidents, such as the bestowal of his eyes, which are usually regarded as pertaining to other Jatakas, and it also is given a local Tibetan application, and the founder of Lamaism, St. Padma, is made to appear as a reincarnation of the prince Visvantara. To illustrate the text, I give its pictorial representation as a reduced tracing from a Tibetan painting.

The Omnipotent Pure One,80 or The Prince of Charity.

Salutation to the Sublime Lord of the World!81

Long long ago, in the city of Baidha,82 in India, there reigned a king named Gridhip,83 who, after propitiating the gods and dragons, had a son born unto him by his favourite queen, "The Pure Young Goddess,"84 and the prince was named by the Brahmans the "Omnipotent Pure Lord of the World" [but we shall call him by the better known name of Visvantara]. This prince grew luxuriantly, "like a lotus in a pool," and soon acquired all accomplishments. He was "addicted to magnanimity, bestowing presents freely and quite dispassionately and assiduous in giving away." When men heard of his excessive generosity, numberless crowds flocked to beg of him from all directions, and he sent none of them away without having fully realized their expectations, so that after a few years of this wholesale almsgiving, no poor people were left in the country — all had become rich.

Now, this country owed its prosperity to an enchanted wish-granting gem,85 which was kept in the custody of the king, and by virtue of which the stores in his treasury, notwithstanding the enormous amounts which were daily given away by his son, never grew less. The traditional enemy of this country, the greedy king86 of a barren land,87 hearing of the prince's vow to bestow any part of his property on anyone who asked for it, secretly instructed one of his Brahmans to go and beg from the prince the enchanted gem.

So the Brahman having arrived at the gate of the palace, threw himself before the prince, exclaiming, with outstretched hands: "Victory to thee, O prince! our land is famished for want of rain, therefore give unto me the enchanted Jewel!"

Now, prince Visvantara was deeply distressed at hearing such a request, and he hesitated to give away this precious gem, through fear of offending his father, the king, and the people; but finding that the Brahman would accept nothing less than this gem, and reflecting that if he refused to give away any of his property which had been asked from him, his charitable merit would cease, he besought the blessing of the gem by placing it on his head, and then gave it away without regret, saying, "May I, by this incomparable gift, become a Buddha." And the Brahman carried off the gem on a white elephant to the foreign king, their enemy, who by virtue of the gem waxed rich and threatened to invade the country, which now became afflicted by famine and other disasters.

The prince's father and the people, hearing of the loss of the enchanted gem, were furious with vexation, and the enraged minister, Tara-mdses, seized the prince and handed him over to the scavengers88 for lynching, and he was only rescued by the entreaties of the good minister Candrakirti and of his wife and children — for he had, when of age, married the beautiful princess, "The Enlightening Moon-Sun,"89 better known as "Madri," by whom he had two90 children, a son and daughter. The ministers decided that the person who informed the prince of the arrival of the Brahman should lose his tongue; he who brought the Jewel from its casket-box should lose his hands; he who showed the path to the Brahman should lose his eyes; and he who gave away the Jewel should lose his head. To this the king could not consent, as it meant the death of his beloved son, so he ordered the prince to be banished for a period of twenty-five years to "the black hill of the demons resounding with ravens."91

The ruin thus brought about by the Babu's visit extended also to the unfortunate Lama's relatives, the governor of Gyantsé (the Phal Dahpön) and his wife (Lha-cham), whom he had persuaded to befriend Sarat C. Das. These two were cast into prison for life, and their estates confiscated, and several of their servants were barbarously mutilated, their hands and feet were cut off and their eyes gouged out, and they were then left to die a lingering death in agony, so bitterly cruel was the resentment of the Lamas against all who assisted the Babu in this attempt to spy into their sacred city.

-- Lhasa and Its Mysteries: With a Record of the Expedition of 1903-1904, by Laurence Austine Waddell


Then the prince prayed his father's forgiveness, and the king, filled with sorrow at parting, besought his son, saying, "O, son, give up making presents and remain here." But the prince replied, "The earth and its mountains may perhaps be overthrown, but I, O! king, cannot turn aside from the virtue of giving."

And the good prince implored his father's permission to devote seven more days to almsgiving, to which the king consented.

Prince Visvantara, addressing the princess, besought her to cherish their darling children, and to accept the hand of a protecting consort worthy of her incomparable virtue and beauty. But the princess, feeling hurt even at the suggestion of her separation, refused to part from him, and inspired by a desire to comfort the prince, paints in glowing colours the amenities of life in the forest of banishment, though the prince protested that it was a wilderness of thorns, beset by tigers, lions, venomous snakes, and scorpions and demons, excessively hot during the day, and rigorously cold at night, where there are no houses or even caves for shelter, and no couch but grass, and no food but jungle fruits.

The princess, however, replies, "Be the dangers what they may, I would be no true wife were I to desert you now," and thus refuses to part from him; so they set out accompanied by their children,92 riding in a three-horse chariot and on one elephant.

"When the prince, together with his wife and children, had reached the margin of the forest, all the people who formed his retinue raised a loud cry of lament. But so soon as it was heard, the Bodhisat addressed the retinue which had come forth from the good city, and ordered it to turn back, saying, —

"'However long anything may be loved and held dear, yet separation from it is undoubtedly imminent. Friends and relatives must undoubtedly be severed from what is dearest to them, as from the trees of the hermitage wherein they have rested from the fatigues of the journey. Therefore when ye recollect that all over the world men are powerless against separation from their friends, ye must for the sake of peace strengthen your unsteady minds by unfailing exertion.'

"When the Bodhisat had journeyed three hundred yojanas, a Brahman came to him, and said. 'O Kshatriya prince, I have come three hundred yojanas because I have heard of your virtue. It is meet that you should give me the splendid chariot as a recompense for my fatigue.'

"Madri could not bear this, and she addressed the begging Brahman in angry speech: 'Alas! this Brahman, who even in the forest entreats the king's son for a gift, has a merciless heart. Does no pity arise within him when he sees the prince fallen from his royal splendour?' The Bodhisat said, 'Find no fault with the Brahman.' 'Why not?' 'Madri, if there were no people of that kind who long after riches, there would also be no giving, and in that case how could we, inhabitants of the earth, become possessed of insight. As giving and the other Paramitas (or virtues essential to a Buddhaship) rightly comprise the highest virtue, the Bodhisats constantly attain to the highest insight.'

"Thereupon the Bodhisat bestowed the chariot and horses on that Brahman with exceeding great joy, and said. 'O Brahman, by means of this gift of the chariot, a present free from the blemish of grudging, may I be enabled to direct the car of the sinless Law directed by the most excellent Rishi!'

"When Visvantara had with exceeding great joy bestowed on the Brahman the splendid chariot, he took prince Krishna on his shoulder, and Madri took princess Jalini.93 They went forth into the forest, proceeding on foot, when five Brahmans appeared and begged for their clothes, which were at once taken off and given to them. The prince and his family then clothed themselves with leaves, and trudged along painfully for about a hundred miles, until a mighty river barred their progress. The prince then prayed, 'O! Great river, make way for us!' Then the torrent divided, leaving a lane of dry land, across which they passed. On reaching the other side, the prince, addressing the river, said, 'O! river, resume your course, otherwise innumerable animal beings lower down your course will suffer misery from drought!' On which the river straightway resumed its course.

"Then, journeying onwards, they reached the forest of penance among snowy-white mountains and forest-clad94 hills; and by the aid of two mendicants of the Mahayana creed whom they accidentally met, they fixed on a hillock for their abode. And the prince dwelt there in a separate cell like a celibate monk, and took the vow which pleased his heart, and it was not altogether an unpleasant life. The water welled out of the ground conveniently near, and flowers and most luscious fruits appeared in abundance, and the parrots assisted the princess and children in gathering fruit by nipping the stem of the best fruits on the highest trees. And the carnivorous animals left off preying on animals and took to eating grass. The most pleasing songsters amongst the birds settled near by, and the wild animals treated the young prince and princess as playmates, and rendered them useful aid. Thus the young prince riding on a deer, fell off and bruised his arm, when a monkey at once carried him to a lake and bathed and soothed the wound with healing herbs.

"One day, when Madri had gone to collect roots and fruits in the penance-forest, a Brahman95 came to Visvantara, and said, 'O prince of Kshatriya race, may you be victorious! As I have no slave, and wander about alone with my staff, therefore is it meet that you should give me your two children.' As the Bodhisat, Visvantara, after hearing these words, hesitated a little about giving his beloved children, the Brahman said to the Bodhisat, —

"'O prince of Kshatriya race, as I have heard that you are the giver of all things, therefore do I ask why you still ponder over this request of mine. You are renowned all over the earth as the possessor of a compassion which gives away all things: you are bound to act constantly in conformity with this renown.'

"After hearing these words the Bodhisat said to the Brahman, 'O great Brahman, if I had to give away my own life I should not hesitate for a single moment. How, then, should I think differently if I had to give away my own children? O great Brahman, under these circumstances I have bethought me as to how the children, when given by me, if I do give away these two children who have grown up in the forest, will live full of sorrow on account of their separation from their mother. And inasmuch as many will blame me, in that with excessive mercilessness I have given away the children and not myself, therefore is it better that you, O Brahman, should take me.'

"The Brahman presses his petition and says, 'It is not right that I, after having come to you, should remain without a present, and all my cherished hopes be brought to nought.' On hearing this the prince, though torn by paternal emotion, gave the children, saying, 'May I, by virtue of this gift, become a Buddha.'

"Meanwhile, Madri had set off for the hermitage, carrying roots and fruits, and when the earth shook, she hurried on all the faster towards the hermitage. A certain deity who perceived that she might hinder the surrender which the Bodhisat proposed to make for the salvation of the world, assumed the form of a lioness and barred her way. Then Madri said to this wife of this king of the beasts, 'O wife of the king of the beasts, full of wantonness, wherefore do you bar my way? In order that I may remain truly irreproachable, make way for me that I may pass swiftly on. Moreover, you are the wife of the king of the beasts, and I am the spouse of the Lion of Princes, so that we are of similar rank. Therefore, O queen of the beasts, leave the road clear for me.'

"When Madri had thus spoken, the deity who had assumed the form of a lioness turned aside from the way. Madri reflected for a moment, recognizing inauspicious omens, for the air resounded with wailing notes, and the beings inhabiting the forest gave forth sorrowful sounds, and she came to the conclusion that some disaster had certainly taken place in the hermitage, and said, 'As my eye twitches, as the birds utter cries, as fear comes upon me, both my children have certainly been given away: as the earth quakes, as my heart trembles, as my body grows weak, my two children have certainly been given away.'

"With a hundred thousand similar thoughts of woe she hastened towards the hermitage. Entering therein she looked mournfully around, and, not seeing the children, she sadly, with trembling heart, followed the traces left on the ground of the hermitage. 'Here the boy Krishna and his sister were wont to play with the young gazelles; here is the house which they twain made out of earth; these are the playthings of the two children. As they are not to be seen, it is possible that they may have gone unseen by me into the hut of foliage and may be sleeping there.' Thus thinking and hoping to see the children, she laid aside the roots and fruits, and with tearful eyes embraced her husband's feet, asking, 'O lord, whither are the boy and girl gone?' Visvantara replied, 'A Brahman came to me full of hope. To whom have I given the two children. Thereat rejoice.' When he had spoken these words, Madri fell to the ground like a gazelle pierced by a poisoned arrow, and struggled like a fish taken out of the water. Like a crane robbed of her young ones she uttered sad cries. Like a cow, whose calf has died, she gave forth many a sound of wailing. Then she said. 'Shaped like young lotuses with hands whose flesh is as tender as a young lotus leaf.96 My two children are suffering, are undergoing pain, wherever they have gone. Slender as young gazelles, gazelle-eyed, delighting in the lairs of the gazelles, what sufferings are my children now undergoing in the power of strangers? With tearful eyes and sad sobbing, enduring cruel sufferings, now that they are no longer seen by me, they live downtrodden among needy men. They who were nourished at my breast, who used to eat roots, flowers, and fruits, they who, experiencing indulgence, were never wont to enjoy themselves to the full, those two children of mine now undergo great sufferings. Severed from their mother and their family, deserted by the cruelty of their relatives, thrown together with sinful men, my two children are now undergoing great suffering. Constantly tormented by hunger and thirst, made slaves by those into whose power they have fallen, they will doubtless experience the pangs of despair. Surely I have committed some terrible sin in a previous existence, in severing hundreds of beings from their dearest ones.'

"After gratifying the Bodhisat with these words, the king of the gods, Sakra, said to himself: 'As this man, when alone and without support, might be driven into a corner, I will ask him for Madri.' So he took the form of a Brahman, came to the Bodhisat, and said to him: 'Give me as a slave this lovely sister, fair in all her limbs, unblamed by her husband, prized by her race.'
Then in anger spake Madri to the Brahman: 'O shameless and full of craving, do you long after her who is not lustful like you, refuse of Brahmans, but takes her delight according to the upright law?' Then the Bodhisat, Visvantara, began to look upon her with compassionate heart, and Madri said to him: 'I have no anxiety on my own account, I have no care for myself; my only anxiety is as to how you are to exist when remaining alone.' Then said the Bodhisat to Madri: 'As I seek after the height which surmounts endless anguish, no complaint must be uttered by me, O Madri, upon this earth. Do you, therefore, follow after this Brahman without complaining. I will remain in the hermitage, living after the manner of the gazelles.'

"When he had uttered these words, he said to himself with joyous and exceedingly contented mind: 'This gift here in this forest is my best gift. After I have here absolutely given away Madri too, she shall by no means be recalled.' Then he took Madri by the hand and said to that Brahman: 'Receive, most excellent Brahman, this is my dear wife, loving of heart, obedient to orders, charming in speech, demeaning herself as one of lofty race.'

"When in order to attain to supreme insight, he had given away his beautiful wife, the earth quaked six times to its extremities like a boat on the water. And when Madri had passed into the power of the Brahman, overcome by pain at being severed from her husband, her son, and her daughter, with faltering breath and in a voice which huskiness detained within her throat, she spoke thus: 'What crimes have I committed in my previous existence, that now, like a cow whose calf is dead, I am lamenting in an uninhabited forest?' Then the king of the gods, Sakra, laid aside his Brahman's form, assumed his proper shape and said to Madri: 'O fortunate one, I am not a Brahman, nor am I a man at all. I am the king of the gods, Sakra, the subduer of the Asuras. As I am pleased that you have manifested the most excellent morality, say what desire you would now wish to have satisfied by me.'

"Rendered happy by these words, Madri prostrated herself before Sakra, and said: 'O thou of the thousand eyes, may the lord of the three and thirty set my children free from thraldom, and let them find their way to their great grandfather.' After these words had been spoken the prince of the gods entered the hermitage and addressed the Bodhisat. Taking Madri by the left hand, he thus spoke to the Bodhisat: 'I give you Madri for your service. You must not give her to anyone. If you give away what has been entrusted to you fault will be found with you.'97

"The king of the gods, in accordance with his promise, caused angels every night to unloose and nurse the unfortunate children of the illustrious recluse when the wicked Brahman fell asleep, and only re-tied them just before he awakened. Afterwards he deluded the Brahman who had carried off the boy and girl, so that under the impression that it was another city, he entered the self-same city from which they had departed, and there set to work to sell the children. When the ministers saw this they told the king, saying: 'O king, your grandchildren, Krishna and Jalini, have been brought into this good city in order to be sold, by an extremely worthless Brahman.' When the king heard these words, he said indignantly, 'Bring the children here, forthwith.'"

When this command had been attended to by the ministers, and the townspeople had hastened to appear before the king, one of the ministers brought the children before him. When the king saw his grand-children brought before him destitute of clothing and with foul bodies he fell from his throne to the ground, and the assembly of ministers, and women, and all who were present, began to weep. Then the king said to the ministers: "Let the bright-eyed one, who, even when dwelling in the forest, delights in giving, be summoned hither at once, together with his wife."

Then the king sent messengers to recall his son; but the latter would not return until the full period of his banishment was over.

On his way back he meets a blind man, who asks him for his eyes, which he immediately plucks out and bestows on the applicant, who thus receives his sight.98 The prince, now blind, is led onwards by his wife, and on the way meets "The Buddhas of the Three Periods," -- the Past, Present, and Future, namely, Dipamkara, Sakya,99 and Maitreya, who restore the prince's sight.

Journeying onwards he is met by the hostile king who had been the cause of all his trouble, but who now returns him the gem, and with it much money and jewels, and he implored the prince's forgiveness for having caused his banishment and sufferings, and he prayed that when the prince became a Buddha he might be born as one of his attendants. The prince readily forgave him, and accorded him his other requests, and they became friends.

On the approach of the prince to the capital, the old king, his father, caused the roads to be swept and strewn with flowers, and sprinkled with sweet perfume, and met him with flags and joyous music. And he gave again into his son's charge all the treasure and jewels.

The prince, thus restored to his former position, resumed his wholesale bestowal of charity as before, and everyone was happy.
The young princess, Utpalmani, married the son of the Brahman chief, named Ksheman. And the young prince married the beautiful princess Mandhara, daughter of king Lja-wai-tok; and succeeding to the throne, he left his father free to indulge in his pious pursuit, Charity.


The play concludes by the chief actor, who takes the part of the charitable prince, giving the piece a local Tibetan application.

He states: I, "The Lord of the world," am afterwards king Srong-Tsan Gampo (the introducer of Buddhism into Tibet), and my two wives are afterwards his Chinese and Newari princess-consorts. The two Bhikshus, who assisted me, are afterwards Thonmi Sambhota (the minister of king Sron-Tsan, who introduced writing to Tibet), and Manjusri (the introducer of astrology and metaphysics); the demon who obstructed the two queens is Sri Vajrapani. And five generations later, I, Sron-Tsan Gampo, appeared as Padma-sambhava, the founder of Lamaism. The prince, 'Od-zer-tok is Norbu 'Dsin-pa, the princess Utpalmani is Lhamo dbyan Chan-ma (Saraswati devi). That Brahman is the black devil Tharba, and his wife is gNod sbyin-ma, or "the injuring Yakshini." That uninhabited wilderness of the demons, resounding with the croaking of ravens, is the snowy region of Tibet. The dwelling place there of the king is Yar-luns gyalwai-k'ra-'buk; and that great river is teh Yar-chab Tsan-po (The "Tsanpu" or Brahmaputra). Thus history repeats itself! Mangalam! [and here the people all shout "Mangalam -- All Happiness"]


Another popular play is the Sudhana Jataka, which is mentioned by FaHian,100 and is also met with in southern Buddhism.101 The Tibetan version is here given.102

The Sudhana Jataka.

Its chief dramatis personae are the following:—

Nor-zan ch'os-skyon, The Prince Sudhana, without a mask.

Mende-zan-mo, the beautiful fairy Kinnara and two other goddesses.

A black-hat sorcerer.

Non-ba, a hunter in a blue mask holding a jewel.

Macho Ya-ma gen-te, the chief wife of the prince. Wears mask having right side white (= divine colour) and left side black (= satanic), to represent her composite disposition.

Luk-zi ch'un-me tak-gye, in sheep-skin coat, flour-smeared face, carrying reel of wool thread, and a sling.

The seven S'em-pa brothers, armed with swords, etc., two-eyed, ferocious, with mouth agape.

The Hermit Lama Ton-son ch'en bo, with a yellow mask, and carrying a rosary.


The plot is as follows: A serpent-charmer endeavours by incantations to capture the Naga which confers prosperity on his enemy's country. The Naga, alarmed at the potency of the sorcerer's spells, appeals to a hunter, who kills the sorcerer, and is presented with a magic noose as a reward for his services. This noose he bequeaths to his son, Utpala or Phalaka, who one day in the forest near Valkalayana's hermitage at Hastinapura, hearing a celestial song sung by a marvellously beautiful Kinnari fairy, he captured the fairy with his magic noose. The Kinnari to regain her liberty offered him her jewelled crown, which conferred the power of traversing the universe. Meanwhile a young prince of Hastinapura named Sudhana, or Manibhadra,103 engaged on a hunting expedition, appears upon the scene. He gets the jewel, marries the Kinnari, and gives her his entire affection. His other wives, mad with jealousy, endeavour to kill her during his absence, but she escapes to her celestial country, leaving, however, with the hermit a charmed ring for the prince should he seek to follow her to her supernatural home. The prince pursues her, overcoming innumerable obstacles, and finally gains her, and also obtains her father's consent to their marriage, and to their return to the earth, where they live happy ever after.

This story, which is translated in detail by Mr. Ralston, presents many parallels to western folk-tales. Mr. Ralston remarks in this regard that "One of these is the capture by the hunter Palaka of the celestial maiden, the Kinnari Manohara, who becomes Sudhana's bride. This is effected by means of a 'fast binding chain' which the hunter throws around her when she is bathing in a lake. Her companions fly away heavenwards, leaving her a captive on earth. This incident will at once remind the reader of the capture of 'swan-maidens' and other supernatural nymphs, which so frequently occur in popular romances. . . . Manohara is captured by means of a magic chain. But her power of flying through the air depends upon her possession of a jewel. Sudhana's visit to the palace of his supernatural wife's father, and the task set him of recognizing her amid her ladies, bear a strong resemblance to the adventure which befall the heroes of many tales current in Europe. A mortal youth often obtains, and then for a time loses, a supernatural wife, generally represented in the daughter of a malignant demon. He makes his way, like Sudhana, to the demon's abode. There tasks are set him which he accomplishes by means of his wife's help, and the Russian story of 'The Water King,' Grimm's 'Two Kings' Children,' the Norse 'Mastermaid,' and the Scottish Highland 'Battle of the Birds,' are shown to be European variants or parallels to this tale."104
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Re: To Death and Back, Presented by Dr. Nigel Spivey

Postby admin » Wed Jan 15, 2020 4:13 am

Part 3 of 4

Of indigenous Tibetan plays the chief is:—

NAN-SA; OR, "The Brilliant Light."

This drama, now translated from the Tibetan105 for the first time, is one of the most popular plays in Tibet, and its popularity is doubtless owing, not a little, to its local colour being mainly Tibetan, though, like most of the other plays, it is moulded on the model of the Buddhist Jatakas.

Its chief scene is laid at Rinang, a few miles to the south-east of Gyan-tse,106 the well-known fortified town between Tashi-lhunpo and Lhasa, where the several sites of the story are still pointed out, and an annual fair held in honour of Nan-sa's memory. It also well illustrates the current mode of marriage in Tibet, by planting an arrow107 on the girl's back, so clearly a survival of the primitive form of marriage by capture.

Dramatis Personae.

Nan-sa ("The Brilliant Light ").

Kun-zan de-ch'en ("The Nobly Virtuous")— Nan-sa's father (wears a red mask).

Myan-sa-sal-don ("The Lamp of Bliss")— Nan-sa's mother.

Dag-ch'en duk dag-pa ("The Roaring Dragon")—Lord of Rinang.

So-nam pal-Kye— his minister

Lha-pu-dar-po ("The Gentle Divinity") -- Nan-sa's son.

Ani Nemo — Lord Rinang's sister.

Lama Shakyai gyal-ts'an -- Monk in beggar's guise.

Shin-je Ch'o-wa -- The King of the Dead.

Servants, Soldiers, etc.


Act I. The Re-births of the Deer— A Story of Nan-sa's former Births.
Scene — India. Time — Immemorial.

Om! Salutation to the Revered and Sublime Tara!108

In bygone times, far beyond conception, there lived in the revered country of India an old couple of the Brahman caste who during their youth had no children, but when they waxed old and feeble, a daughter was born unto them.

This child was secluded till her fifteenth year, when, peeping outside one day, she for the first time saw the landscape of the outer world. And as she observed the different classes of people cultivating their plots, whilst her own family-plot lay neglected, she ran to her mother and said: "Mother, dear! the giver of my body! Listen to me, your own daughter! All the different classes of people are busy tilling their fields while our family-land lies neglected. Now as the time for cultivation has come, permit me, mother, to cultivate our fields with our servants!"

The mother, having granted her request, the daughter proceeded to work with the servants, and they laboured on till breakfast-time, but no one brought them food. This neglect caused the girl uneasiness, not so much on her own account as on that of the servants; but in the belief that food would be sent, she laboured on till sunset, when she and her companions returned home starving.

As they neared the house the girl met her mother bringing some refreshment for them; and she asked her why she had so long delayed, as the servants were quite famished. The mother explained that in entertaining some visitors who had called during the day, she had quite forgotten the food for her daughter and servants.


Then the daughter petulantly exclaimed, "Mother! you are inconsiderate like a grass-eating beast!" On this the mother cried out: "O! ungrateful one! I your mother! who have reared you, and clad and fed you with the best, you now in return call me a beast! May you in your next re-birth be born as an ownerless grass-eating beast!"

So after a time the girl died and was re-born as a deer, according to the curse of her mother.

In course of time her deer-parents died, and the young doe was left alone in strict accordance with her mother's curse.

While in such a plight, a handsome young hart, with a mouth like a conch-shell came up to her and said: "O, ownerless orphan doe! hear me, the hart Dar-gyas, 'The Vast Banner!' Where is your mate in grazing during the three months of spring? Where is your companion to tend you down to the river? Where is the partner who will remain with you through life?"

The young doe, timidly raising her head, said: "O, master hart! pray be off! I graze during spring without a partner! I go down to the river without a comrade. Gambolling on the hills and dales, I place my faith on The Three Holy Ones alone!"

The hart then replied: "O, noble and virtuous doe! pray hear me! I am the ornament of all the herds! won't you become my mate? I will be your companion when you eat grass. I will be your comrade when you go to the river; and I will support you in all your difficulties. So from this time forth let us be bound in wedlock inseparably, for doubtless we have been brought together here through the deeds and fate of our former lives."

Then the doe consenting, these two became partners and lied together most happily; and not long afterwards the doe gave birth to a fawn who was named sKar-ma-p'un-ts'ogs, or "The accomplished Star."

One night the doe dreamt a most inauspicious dream; and at midnight she awoke the hart, saying: "Hearken! deer, Dar-gyas! I dreamt as I slept a dreadful dream! This Yal-wa mountain-ridge was overspread by a terrible thundering noise, and I saw several hunters appear. I saw the dogs and hunters pursuing you -- the hart -- towards the left ridge of the hill, and I, with our child, the fawn, fled by the right ridge of the hill. I dreamt again that the decapitated head of a deer was arranged as a sacrifice, and the skin was stretched out to dry on the meadow, and oh, the blood! it flowed down and formed an awful pool like many oceans! O, deer! Sleep no longer! but arise and let us fast escape to the highest hills."

But the hart refused to listen to the advice of his mate; and saying that "the words of females are like unto the dust, he fell asleep.

Not long afterwards, a ring-tailed red hunting dog seemed to be approaching from the distant barks which now were to be heard distinctly by all the awakened deer.

Too late, the hart then realized that the vision of his doe must have indeed been true; therefore he hurriedly gave the following advice to the doe and the fawn, feeling great pity for them: "O! poor doe and fawn! flee by the left ridge and make good your escape! and if we do not meet again in this life, let us meet in our next life in the pure kingdom of righteousness!" On so saying the hart fled; and the mother and the fawn made their escape by the left ridge.

Meanwhile, the hart, hotly pursued by the hunting-dog, was chased into a narrow gorge where he could not escape; and at that critical moment a man with his hair bound up, bearded and fearfully fierce-looking, with pointed eyebrows, and carrying a noose and a bow and arrow, descended from the top of the cliff, and catching the hart in the noose he killed it with one shot from his bow.


Thus everything happened exactly according to the doe's dream.

The deceased hart was afterwards re-born in a respectable family of Ri-nan-dpan-k'a, and named Grag-pa-bsam-grub, or "The famous Heart"; while the doe after death was reborn in lJan-p'al-k'un-nan-pa, and was named sNan-sa-'Od-'bum, or "brilliant above a hundred thousand lights." The fawn after death was re-born as their son, and assumed the name of Lha-bu-dar-po, or "the gentle divinity."

[Here endeth the first act dealing with "The Re-births of the Deer."]

Act II. The Life, Marriage, and Death of Nan-sa.

Scene — Rinang. Time — Latter end of eleventh century A.D.

Om! Ma-ni pad-me Hum! Om! the Jewel in the Lotus! Hum!

Long ago, there lived a father named Kun-bzah-bde-ch'en and a mother named Myan-sa-gsal-sgron in lJan-ph'an-k'un-Nan-pa, on the right of Myan-stod-s'el-dkar-rgyal-rtse (Gan-tse).

The mother once had a strange vision, regarding which she thus addressed her husband: "O, great father! Listen! Whilst asleep, I dreamt a most auspicious dream! I dreamt that a lotus-flower blossomed forth from my body, to which many fairies made offerings and paid homage. And a ray of light in the form of the letter Tam, of the revered goddess Tara's spell, entered my head!" On hearing this the father was overjoyed, and exclaimed, "O! Myan-sa-gsal-sgron-ma! Mark my words; by God's blessing, through our making offerings unto Him, and as the fruit of our charity to the poor, an incarnate Bodhisat is about to come unto us! We must again offer thanks unto God and do the several ceremonies."

In course of time a divine-looking daughter was born unto them. She was peerlessly beautiful, and so was named Nan-sa, ''the brilliant above a hundred thousand lights," and a grand festival was given at her birth.

By her fifteenth year Nan-sa was fully educated, and matchlessly beautiful; and though she was most pious, practising fully all the religious rites, she was most modest, and forgot not her filial love and duty.

In the fourth month of that year, during the summer season, a grand tournament was given by the king, to which everyone was invited, and the whole population of the neighbouring countries, young and old, flocked to rGyal-rtse-sger-tsa to see the sports.109 The games were held by order of the great king of Myan-stod-ni-nan-pa for the selection of a bride fit for his son. The king himself was of a fiery temper, long like a river, round like a pea, and slender like a stick.

Nan-sa also, having taken leave of her parents, set out for the sports. Her moon-like face was white as milk, and her neatly-dressed hair looked like a bouquet of flowers. Thus went she, "the princess," as she was called, to see the grand spectacle, accompanied by her servants, carrying the needful presents.

As she neared the market, where the great gathering was held, the king and prince were looking down from the balcony of their palace, and the prince at once caught sight of her, and his eyes remained rivetted on the princess. Whilst the multitude gazed at the players, the prince followed only the movements of the princess.

The prince being fascinated by the beauty of the princess, soon despatched to her his chief minister, named bSod-nam-dpal-skyed, who, in compliance with his master's order, brought the princess before the prince, just as the eagle Khra carries off a chicken.


And the prince, drawing the princess by her shawl with his left hand and offering her wine with his right, addressed her, saying, —

"O! pretty one! sweet and pleasing-mouthed! possessed of the five sensuous qualities! Tell me truly, whose daughter are you? Are you the daughter of a god or a Naga, or are you an angelic Gandharva? Pray hide nothing from me. What is your father's name? What is your birth-giver's name? Who are your neighbours? I am the overruling lord of Mzang-stod-ri-nang! and called 'The famous Roaring Dragon!' or Da-c'hens-"brug-grag-pa.110 My family is the Grag-pa-bsam-'grub! I am the jewel of these sheltering walls! My age is six times three (18). Will you consent to be my bride?"


Nan-sa now thinking escape impossible, though she had desired to devote herself to a religious life, answered the lord Da-ch'en: "Om! Tara, have mercy on a poor girl void of religion! O! lord Da-ch'en, I am called 'The Brilliant above a Hundred Thousand Lights,' and am of a respectable family. But a poisonous flower, though pretty, is not a fit decoration for an altar vase; the blue Dole, though famous, cannot match the turquoise; the bird lchog-mo, though swift, is no match for the sky-soaring T'an-dkar-eagle, and Nan-sa, though not bad-looking, is no match for the powerful lord of men."

On hearing this reply of Nan-sa, the minister took up the turquoise sparkling in rainbow tints, and, tying it to the end of the arrow of the five-coloured silks, handed it to the prince, saying, "As the proverb runs, 'Discontented youths are eager to war, while discontented maidens are eager to wed.' Thus, while this maid feigns disqualifying plainness, she is really anxious to comply with your wishes; her pretended refusal is doubtless owing to modesty and the publicity of such a crowd. Do thou, then, O powerful king! plant the arrow with the five-coloured streamers on her back, and thus fix the marriage tie."

The prince, thinking that the advice was good, addressed Nan-sa, saying, "O! angelic princess! on whom one's eyes are never tired of gazing, pray hear me. O! pretty one, brilliant amongst a thousand lights! I, the greal lord sGra-ch'en, am far-famed like the dragon! I am the most powerful king on earth! And whether you choose to obey my commands or not, I cannot let you go! We have been drawn here by the bonds of former deeds, so you must become my mate for ever. Though the bow and bow-string be not of equal length and materials, still they go together; so you must be my mate for ever, as we have certainly been brought together here through fate and former deeds. The great ocean fish consort with the affluent river fish, so must you live with me. Though I and you differ much in position, you must come with me. And from this day forth the maiden Nan-sa is mine."

So saying, he planted the arrow with its five rainbow-coloured streamers on her back, and set the turquoise diadem on her forehead. And she, being duly betrothed in this public fashion, returned to her own home with her servants.

Nan-sa endeavoured to evade the betrothal and enter a convent instead, but her parents pressed the match upon her and forced her to accept the prince, and the nuptials were duly celebrated with great feasting.


Seven years later. Nan-sa bore a son, whose beauty excelled the gods, hence he was named Lha-bu-Dar-pu, ''The god's son," and a grand festival was held in honour of his birth. And Nan-sa, so clever in all the arts, so pretty and befitting her position, and so universally kind, that all the subjects loved her, now became endeared to everyone even more than before. And the three, the prince-father, the princeling, and Nan-sa, were never separated even tor a moment. Bui Nan-sa was the jewel of them all, and she was given the keys of the treasury which had formerly been held by the prince's elder sister, Ani- Nemo Ne-tso.

Now this old Ani-Nemo, on being deprived of her keys, became madly jealous of Nan-sa, and began contriving means to injure her reputation in the eyes of the prince, her husband.

Ani Nemo helped herself to the best food and clothes, leaving the very worst to Nan-sa, who was too mild and good to resent such treatment. Ultimately Nan-sa began to feel very sad, and though engaged in worldly affairs, she felt keenly the desire to devote herself wholly to religion, but she was afraid to reveal her thoughts to her husband and son.


One day while sad at heart, she went to the garden carrying the young prince, and they all sat down together, the lord resting his head on Nan-sa'a lap. It was autumn, and the summer flowers had ceased blossoming, and the gold and turquoise-coloured bees had gone. Then Nan-sa wept on thinking that she could not realize her religious desires, and that she was separated from her parents, and subject to the torture of Ani's jealousy. But her Lord comforted her, saying, "O! beloved Nan-sa, you shall have a chance of seeing your parents soon, so do not feel sorry. Have patience to remain till the harvest is gathered. Let us now go to bZ'un-z'in-rin-ma with our servants and collect the harvest, as the time is now far advanced." Then they went there with their servants and Ani.

Now, there arrived at that place the devotee, Dor-grags-Ras-pa,111 and his servant, and the devotee addressed Nan-sa thus, —

"Om! Salutation to our spiritual father, the Lama!

"O! Nan-sa! You are like the rainbow on the eastern mead, the rainbow beautiful and pleasing to see, but quickly vanishing. Now the time for devoting yourself to religion has arrived.

"O! Nan-sa! you are like the warbling bird of the southern forest, whose voice, though pleasing and cheery, is ephemeral. Now the time for devoting yourself to religion has come.

"O! Nan-sa! you are like the Naga-dragon of the western ocean; the Naga possessing vast wealth, but without real substance. Now the time for your devotion to religion, which is the only true reality, has arrived. On death nothing can save you but the real refuge of religion. The bravest hero and the wisest man cannot escape. Now as there is no alternative, you should avail yourself of this great chance, for once lost it may never be refound."


On hearing this speech Nan-sa was overpowered with grief. And as she had nothing to offer the holy man as alms, for everything was in charge of Ani, she, with faltering voice, said: "Though I am anxious to offer you whatever alms you need, yet am I possessed of nothing, but pray go to that house over there, where you will find Ani with a sleek face, and seek alms from her."

The devotee and his servant accordingly went and requested Ani-Nemo to give them some alms, but she replied: "O! you beggars! why have you come begging of me! you plundering crew! you steal at every chance! You neither devote yourself to religious purposes in the hills, nor do you work in the valleys. If you want alms go to that person over there with the peacock-like prettiness, and the bird-like warbling voice, and the rainbow-like lofty mind, and with a mountain of wealth, for I am only a poor servant and cannot give you anything."

The two devotees, therefore, returned to Nan-sa, and told her what Ani had said. So Nan-sa gave alms to the devotees in spite of her fear of displeasing Ani. The holy man replied, "It will be an auspicious meeting an event to look forward to, when Nan-sa and we two meet again." On this Nan-sa became more cheerful, and giving more alms to the devotees, bowed down before them and requested their blessings.

Now these proceedings did not escape the wary eye of Ani-Nemo, who, waxing wroth, came out with a cane in her hand, and thus abused Nan-sa:


"You look lovely, but your heart is black and venomous! Listen to me, peacock-like she-devil Nan-sa! In those high mountains the holy Buddha and the great Indian sages sat, but whence came and go devotees like these Ras-pas? It you give alms to all of them according to their requests I would cut you even though you were my own mother! In the S'on-z'in-rin-mo of this country the chief products are barley and peas. Now you have given away as alms all these men asked for, more than your own portion; and thus as you, too, are a beggar, go and accompany these others," and so saying, she began to beat Nan-sa.


Nan-sa, imploring mercy, said; "What else could I do! I gave them alms to avoid scandal according to the saying, which runs, 'beggars carry bad news to the valleys, crows flesh to the peaks.' The giving of alms to the poor and blind and offerings to the holy ones is a must important duty of every rich family; for wealth collected by avarice, like the honey collected by house-bees, is of no use to oneself. Do not, therefore, call these venerable Ras-pas 'beggars,' but respect and honour them; and call not a girl a devil for being piously inclined, or hereafter you may repent it." But Ani only beat her more mercilessly, and tore her hair, which was like delicate Sete-lJang-pa grass. And Nan-sa, left alone, wept bitterly, thinking of her misfortunes.

Meanwhile Ani-Nemo went to the lord, her brother, and said, "Hear, O! lord! Our mistress Nan-sa without doing any of those things she ought to, does the opposite. This morning a devotee, beautiful and of pleasing voice, came up to this place accompanied by his servant, and Nan-sa, fascinated by his beauty, fell madly in love with him and behaved too immodestly for me even to describe it to you. As I was unable to tolerate such conduct I ran down to stop this intercourse, but was beaten and driven off. Therefore, O! lord! have I informed you so that you can take such steps as you think fit."

The lord rather discredited this story, but remembering the proverb "women and sons must be well brought up when young, otherwise they will go wrong," he went to seek Nan-sa, and found her shedding torrents of tears in solitude. On seeing her he said, "Ah! Lah-se! Listen to me!, you naughty Nan-sa! Lah-se, why have you exceeded all the bounds of propriety! Lah-se! Why did you beat my young sister! who gave you authority to do that? Lah-se! Like a dog tied on the house-top, barking at and trying to bite the stars of heaven! What has the fiendess Nan-sa to say in her defence?"

Nan-sa meekly replied, "My lord! were I to relate all that happened it would only make matters worse, and our subjects shall be shown such strife as was unknown before. Therefore I refrain from grieving you, O! my lord, with any details.''

But the lord interpreting the reticence of Nan-sa as sufficient proof of her guilt, he seized her by the remaining hair, and beat her so unmercifully that no one but Nan-sa could have endured it. And he dragged her along the ground and inflicted the deepest pain by pricking reeds.
Just then the male-servant bSod-nam-dpab-skyed and the female servant 'Dsom-pa-skyid-po came to Nan-sa's aid and besought their master saying, —  

"O! Great and powerful Lord! Listen to us, your slaves! What can have maddened your majesty to have inflicted such chastisement on your life-partner? The lovely face of our lady Nan-sa, which shone like the moon of the fifteenth day, is now bruised and bleeding by your hands. O! Lord of Myan-stod-Ri-nang! Pray stay your wrath, and you, O! lady, cease to weep!"


Then the lord and his lady allowed themselves to be led away, each to their own room.

At that time, Lama-S'akyahi-rgyal-mts'an, versed in the doctrine of "The Great Perfection," lived in the monastery of sKyid-po-se-rag-ya- lun in the neighbourhood. And perceiving that, according to the prophecy of the great reverend Mila-ras, the princess Nan-sa was really a good fairy, he thought fit to advise her to pursue her holy aims. So dressing himself in the guise of a poor beggar, though his appearance rather belied him, and taking a young monkey which knew many tricks, he went to the window of Nan-sa's chamber and sang this song, —

"O! lady! surpassing the goddesses in beauty, pray sit by the window, and cast your eyes hither, so that you may be amused at the tricks of this young monkey, and lend me your ear to hear clearly the songs of a poor travelling-beggar, who now stands in your presence.

"In the green forests of the eastern Kong-bu country dwell the monkeys with their young, the wisest of whom climb the high trees, but the foolish ones roam recklessly on the ground, tasting the fruits according to their whims, and one of these unlucky young ones fell into the clutches of a passing beggar, who tied him by the neck as it deserved (through its Karma), and subjected it to various tortures in teaching it his tricks.

"In the forests of the southern craggy Mon country the birds rear their young, of whom the wisest and the strongest soar into the sky, while the foolish ones perch on the lower trees. Thus the speech-knowing parrot comes within the grasp of the king who imprisons it and chains it by the feet, as it deserved; and it is tortured and troubled when being taught to speak.

"In the western country of Nepal, the country of rice, the bees breed their young, of whom the fortunate ones sip the juice of the rice-flowers, while the foolish ones, smelling the rice-beer, come, as they deserved, within the grasp of the cruel boys, who tear them in their hands for the sake of their honey.

"In the northern country of Tsa-kha, the sheep bring forth lambs, of whom the fortunate ones graze on the green meadow, frolicking and skipping in their wild joy, while the unlucky ones come within the grasp of the butchers, who kill them without mercy.

"In the middle country of Myan-stod-gser-gz'on-rin-mo, the mothers have children, of whom the wisest spend their lives in the country; while the unlucky ones stay with their parents, but the most unlucky of all the pretty girls is married to a lord, and Ani-Nemo treats her as she thinks she deserves. Now if this girl fails to remember the inconstancy of life, then her body, though pretty, is only like that of the peacock of the plains. If she does not steadfastly devote herself to religion, her voice, though pleasing, is like the vain cry of the 'Jolmo bird in the wilderness."


Here the man paused, while the monkey began to play many wonderful tricks, which amused the young prince; while Nan-sa, deeply agitated by the song, ordered the beggar to enter her chamber, and addressing him said, "O! traveller in the guise of a beggar! Listen to me! My earnest wish indeed is to devote my life to religion; I have no earthly desires whatever; I was forced to become the manager of a worldly house only through filial obedience to the dictates of my parents. Now pray tell me, which is the most suitable convent for me to enter, and who is the most learned Lama as a spiritual father?"

The beggar gave her the information she desired. And Nan-sa, in her gratitude, bestowed upon him all her silver and golden ornaments.

Now, it so happened that just at this time, the lord arrived, and hearing the voice of a man in his wife's chamber he peeped in and, to his great surprise, saw Nan-sa giving a beggar all her jewels, while the young prince was playing with the beggar's monkey.

Furious at the sight, he entered the chamber, just as the beggar and his monkey left; and thinking that Ani's story must indeed be true, and that his wife had bestowed his property on the devotees, and had scandalously brought beggars even inside her private chamber, he seized Nan-sa by the hair and began to beat her most unmercifully, and Nemo also came and assisted in beating her. They tore the young prince away from her, and the lord and Ani-Nemo continued beating Nan-sa until she died.


ACT III. Nan-sa's return from the Dead.

Om ma-ni-pad-me Hum! The young prince, unable to bear separation from his mother, stole to her room after the tragedy and found her lying dead. Rushing to his father with the dreadful news, his father, in alarm, ran to her prostrate figure, but thinking that Nan-sa was merely shamming, he exclaimed, "O! fair Nan-sa, arise! The starry heaven betimes is obscured by clouds; the lovely flowers die at winter's approach; you have been harshly treated, but your time has not yet come; so, pray arise!" But the corpse lay still, for its spirit long had fled.

Then the lord repented him bitterly, but being powerless to revive her, he had to consent to the customary funeral offerings being made to The Three Holy Ones, and he gave alms to the poor and blind, and feasts to the priests. And the death-astrologer was called and he ordered that the body should be kept for seven days exposed on the eastern hill, and care taken that no animal should destroy it, and that after the eighth day it should be cremated or thrown into a river or lake. Nan-sa's body was therefore wrapped in a white blanket and bound on a four-footed bed, and taken to the eastern grassy hill, where it was deposited in solitude.

Now Nan-sa's spirit on her death had winged its way, light as a feather, to the ghostly region of the intermediate purgatory, Bardo, where the minions of the Death-king seized it and led it before the dreaded judge-king of the dead.

At that tribunal Nan-sa's spirit was terrified at seeing many wicked souls condemned and sent down for torture to the hells, in cauldrons of molten metal, or frozen amongst the ice; while she was pleased to see the souls of several pious people sent to heaven.

But in her fear she threw herself before the great judge of the Dead and with joined hands prayed to him: "Have mercy upon me! O! holy mother Tara! And help and bless me, ye host of fairy she-devils! O! Judge of the Dead! who separates the white virtuous from the black sinful ones, hear me, O! great king! I longed to benefit the animals, but could do little during my short stay in the world. When I learned that the birth must end in death, I cared not for my beauty; and when I saw that wealth collected by avarice was useless to oneself I gave it away to the poor and blind. Have mercy upon me!"

Then the judge of the Dead ordered her two guardian angels — the good and the bad — to pour out their white and black deed-counters. On this being done, it was found that the white virtuous deeds far exceeded the black sinful ones, which latter were indeed only two in number; and the judge having consulted his magical mirror and found this record to be correct, and knowing that Nan-sa was of intensely religious disposition, and capable of doing much good if allowed to live longer in the human world, he reprieved her and sent her back to life
, saying:—

"O! Nan-sa, brilliant above a hundred thousand lights! Listen! Lah-se! Listen to king Yama, the master of Death! I separate the white deeds from the black, and send the persons in whom the white virtue preponderates to the heavens; in this capacity I am named Arya Avalokitesvara (p'ags-pa- spyan-ras -gzigs-dban). But when I send the sinful persons to hell, I am named Mrityupati Yama-raja ('ch'i-bdag-s'in-rjehi-rgyal-po)! Lah-se! I am the inexorable fierce king who always punishes the wicked! I never save an oppressive king, no matter how powerful; nor will I let any sinful Lama escape. No one can ever escape visiting this my bar of Justice. But you, O Nan-sa! are not a sinful person: you are a good fairy's incarnation, and when a person sacrifices her body for a religious purpose, she obtains paradise, and if she is profoundly pious, she shall obtain the rank of Buddhaship, though the former state is much to be preferred. So stay no longer here, but return to the human world, and recover your old body! Lah-se! Be a 'death-returned person,'112 and benefit the animal beings!"


Nan-sa, now overjoyed, bowed down before his Plutonic majesty, and besought his blessing, and after receiving it, she departed by the white heavenly path, and then descending to this world, resumed her former body lying in its white blanket-shroud, and folding her hands in the devotional attitude, she lay with her feet flexed, like a holy thunderbolt. And flowers rained down from heaven upon her, and a rainbow shed its halo round her. And she prayed to the fairies and she-devils: —

"I prostrate myself before the triad assembly of the Lamas, the tutelaries, and the Dakkini— she-devils and fairies — to whom I pray for deliverance from the circle of re-births. O! eastern fairy of the Vajra class, white as the conch-shell, sounding the golden drum (damaru) in your right hand, 'to-lo-lo,' and ringing the silver bell in your left, 'si-li-li,' surrounded by hundreds of mild and white-robed attendants, pray forgive all my shortcomings! O! southern fairy of the Jewel race, golden-yellow, sounding," etc., etc.


Now the men who had come to remove the corpse, being terrified at hearing the dead body speak, dared not approach. The more frightened amongst them fled, while the braver ones prepared to defend themselves by throwing stones, in the belief that the ghost of Nan-sa was agitating her dead body. Then Nan-sa cried out, saying "I am not a ghost, but a 'death-returned person';" and the men being astonished, drew near and bowed down before her, and paid profound reverence to the resuscitated one.

The good news of Nan-sa's return from the dead soon reached the lord and the prince, who hurried to the spot, and throwing themselves before her, implored her forgiveness, and conducted her back to their home; not, however, without protests from Nan-sa, who had decided to become a nun. She only consented to resume domestic life on the ardent entreaties of her son.

But soon her excessive piety again subjected her to the ill-treatment of her husband as before, and forced her to flee to her parents' home, where, however, she met with no better reception, but was beaten and expelled. And now driven forth from home, a wanderer for religion's sake, she seeks admission into a convent, where, throwing herself at the Lama's feet, she prays him, saying, —


"Om! Salutation to our spiritual father, the Lama, and the host of Fairy-mothers! I have come in deep distress in order to devote myself to religion; and I appeal to you, good Lama, for help and permission to stay here (at gSer-rag-gya- lun), Lama! I beg you to catch me, insignificant fish as I am, on your hook of mercy; for otherwise the pious resolves of this pour girl will perish, and the injury you thereby will inflict shall be my utter ruin, and make me wretched like a jackal haunting a cave. O! Lama of the red Lotus-cap, if you fail to help me now, then I am indeed undone! I adore The Holy Religion with all my heart, and I crave your blessing!" and so saying she took off her rich robes and jewels. and offered them to him. And the Lama, pitying her, blessed her, and gave her the vow of a novice.


The news of Nan-sa's entry to the convent soon reached the ears of the lord of Rinang, who waxed wroth and went to war against the monastery. Arriving there with his men he cried unto the Lama, saying: "Lah-se! You fellow, why have you made a nun of Nan-sa? Unless you give full satisfaction, I will crush you and all your convent like butter!" And so saying he seized the Lama and pointed his sword to his heart.

Now Nan-sa, driven to despair on seeing that the life of her Lama was thus threatened for her sake, she, in the dress of a novice, ascended the roof of the convent, and in the sight of all, sailed away, Buddha-like, through the sky, vanishing into space like the rainbow.

Then the lord of Rinang with all his retinue, dismayed at the sight of Nan-sa's miraculous flight, fell to the ground. And stung by remorse at their sacrilege, they offered up all their arms and armour to the Lama; and promising never again to molest him, they returned home gloomy and sad; and Nan-sa was seen no more.

May glory come! Tashi-s'o! May virtue increase! Ge-leg-'p'el!!

And here all the people forming the audience joyfully shout: "Mangalam!!! All happiness!!!" And the play is over. The people, old and young, now discuss amongst themselves the theme of the play and its moral lessons. They are profoundly impressed by the self-sacrifice of Nan-sa and the other pious persons, and by the vivid pictures drawn of the way in which evil-doers must inexorably pay the penalty of their misdeeds. Thus even these crude Tibetan plays point, in their own clumsy way, very much the same moral lessons as are taught by the Western Stage.

It came to pass then thereafter that I ascended to the veils of the thirteenth æon.... I entered into the thirteenth æon and found Pistis Sophia below the thirteenth æon all alone and no one of them with her. And she sat in that region grieving and mourning, because she had not been admitted into the thirteenth æon, her higher region. And she was moreover grieving because of the torments which Self-willed, who is one of the three triple-powers, had inflicted on her....

Formerly she was in the region of the height, in the thirteenth æon.... It came to pass, when Pistis Sophia was in the thirteenth æon, in the region of all her brethren the invisibles, that is the four-and-twenty emanations of the great Invisible, -- it came to pass then by command of the First Mystery that Pistis Sophia gazed into the height. She saw the light of the veil of the Treasury of the Light, and she longed to reach to that region, and she could not reach to that region. But she ceased to perform the mystery of the thirteenth æon, and sang praises to the light of the height, which she had seen in the light of the veil of the Treasury of the Light.

It came to pass then, when she sang praises to the region of the height, that all the rulers in the twelve æons, who are below, hated her, because she had ceased from their mysteries, and because she had desired to go into the height and be above them all. For this cause then they were enraged against her and hated her, [as did] the great triple-powered Self-willed, that is the third triple-power, who is in the thirteenth æon, he who had become disobedient, in as much as he had not emanated the whole purification of his power in him, and had not given the purification of his light at the time when the rulers gave their purification, in that he desired to rule over the whole thirteenth æon and those who are below it.... [the great triple-powered Self-willed] emanated out of himself a great lion-faced power, and out of his matter in him he emanated a host of other very violent material emanations, and sent them into the regions below, to the parts of the chaos, in order that they might there lie in wait for Pistis Sophia and take away her power out of her....

All the material emanations of Self-willed surrounded her, and the great lion-faced light-power devoured all the light-powers in Sophia and cleaned out her light and devoured it, and her matter was thrust into the chaos; it became a lion-faced ruler in the chaos, of which one half is fire and the other darkness.... When then this befell, Sophia became very greatly exhausted, and that lion-faced light-power set to work to take away from Sophia all her light-powers, and all the material powers of Self-willed surrounded Sophia at the same time and pressed her sore. And Pistis Sophia cried out most exceedingly.....

Pistis Sophia again continued and still sang praises in a second repentance....

She continued again and uttered the third repentance....

Pistis Sophia again continued in the fourth repentance, reciting it before she was oppressed a second time....

The emanations of Self-willed again oppressed Pistis Sophia in the chaos and desired to take from her her whole light.... It came to pass then, when all the material emanations of Self-willed oppressed her, that she cried out and uttered the fifth repentance....

She uttered the sixth repentance....

She turned again to the height, to see if her sins were forgiven her, and to see whether they would lead her up out of the chaos. But by commandment of the First Mystery not yet was she hearkened to, so that her sin should be forgiven and she should be led up out of the chaos. When then she had turned to the height to see whether her repentance were accepted from her, she saw all the rulers of the twelve æons mocking at her and rejoicing over her because her repentance was not accepted from her. When then she saw that they mocked at her, she grieved exceedingly and lifted up her voice to the height in her seventh repentance....

When Pistis Sophia had uttered the seventh repentance in the chaos, the commandment through the First Mystery had not come to me to save her and lead her up out of the chaos. Nevertheless of myself out of compassion without commandment I led her into a somewhat spacious region in the chaos.... When the emanations of Self-willed had noticed that Pistis Sophia had not been led up out the chaos, they turned about again all together, oppressing her vehemently. Because of this then she uttered the eighth repentance....

It came to pass then thereafter, when the emanations of Self-willed oppressed Pistis Sophia in the chaos, that she uttered the ninth repentance....

It came to pass then, when Pistis Sophia had proclaimed the ninth repentance, that the lion-faced power oppressed her again, desiring to take away all powers from her. She cried out again....And in that hour her repentance was accepted from her. The First Mystery hearkened unto her, and I was sent off at his command. I came to help her, and led her up out of the chaos, because she had repented, and also because she had had faith in the Light and had endured these great pains and these great perils....Pistis Sophia then took courage and uttered the tenth repentance....

It came to pass then, when this lion-faced power saw me, how I drew nigh unto Pistis Sophia, shining very exceedingly, that it grew still more furious and emanated from itself a multitude of exceedingly violent emanations. When this then befell, Pistis Sophia uttered the eleventh repentance.....

It came to pass then thereafter, that I drew near unto the chaos, shining very exceedingly, to take away the light from that lion-faced power. As I shone exceedingly, it was in fear and cried out to its self-willed god, that he should help it. And forthwith the self-willed god looked out of the thirteenth æon, and looked down into the chaos, exceedingly wrathful and desiring to help his lion-faced power. And forthwith the lion-faced power, it and all its emanations, surrounded Pistis Sophia, desiring to take away the whole light in Sophia. It came to pass then, when they oppressed Sophia, that she cried to the height, crying unto me that I should help her. It came to pass then, when she looked to the height, that she saw Self-willed exceedingly wrathful, and she was in fear, and uttered the twelfth repentance....

She continued again in the thirteenth repentance....

It came to pass when Pistis Sophia had uttered the thirteenth repentance, -- in that hour was fulfilled the commandment of all the tribulations which were decreed for Pistis Sophia for the fulfilment of the First Mystery, which was from the beginning, and the time had come to save her out of the chaos and lead her out from all the darknesses. For her repentance was accepted from her through the First Mystery; and that mystery sent me a great light-power out of the height, that I might help Pistis Sophia and lead her up out of the chaos....

It came to pass then, before I had led forth Pistis Sophia out of the chaos, because it was not yet commanded me through my Father, the First Mystery which looketh within, -- at that time then, after the emanations of Self-willed had perceived that my light-stream had taken from them the light-powers which they had taken from Pistis Sophia, and had poured them into Pistis Sophia, and when they again had seen Pistis Sophia, that she shone as she had done from the beginning, that they were enraged against Pistis Sophia and cried out again to their Self-willed, that he should come and help them, so that they might take away the powers in Pistis Sophia anew.

And Self-willed sent out of the height, out of the thirteenth æon, and sent another great light-power. It came down into the chaos as a flying arrow, that he might help his emanations, so that they might take away the lights from Pistis Sophia anew. And when that light-power had come down, the emanations of Self-willed which were in the chaos and oppressed Pistis Sophia, took great courage and again pursued Pistis Sophia with great terror and great alarm. And some of the emanations of Self-willed oppressed her. One of them changed itself into the form of a great serpent; another again changed itself also into the form of a seven-headed basilisk; another again changed itself into the form of a dragon. And moreover the first power of Self-willed, the lion-faced, and all his other very numerous emanations, they came together and oppressed Pistis Sophia and led her again into the lower regions of the chaos and alarmed her again exceedingly.

It came to pass then that there looked down out of the twelve æons, Adamas, the Tyrant, who also was wroth with Pistis Sophia, because she desired to go to the Light of lights, which was above them all; therefore was he wroth with her. It came to pass then, when Adamas, the Tyrant, had looked down out of the twelve æons, that he saw the emanations of Self-willed oppressing Pistis Sophia, until they should take from her all her lights. It came to pass then, when the power of Adamas had come down into the chaos unto all the emanations of Self-willed, -- it came to pass then, when that demon came down into the chaos, that it dashed down Pistis Sophia. And the lion-faced power and the serpent-form and the basilisk-form and the dragon-form and all the other very numerous emanations of Self-willed surrounded Pistis Sophia all together, desiring to take from her anew her powers in her, and they oppressed Pistis Sophia exceedingly and threatened her. It came to pass then, when they oppressed her and alarmed her exceedingly, that she cried again to the Light and sang praises....

I took Pistis Sophia and led her up to a region which is below the thirteenth æon, and gave unto her a new mystery of the Light which is not that of her æon, the region of the invisibles. And moreover I gave her a song of the Light, so that from now on the rulers of the æons could not [prevail] against her. And I removed her to that region until I should come after her and bring her to her higher region. It came to pass then, when I had led her to the region which is below the thirteenth æon, and was about to go unto the Light and depart from her, that she said unto me:

O Light of lights, thou wilt go to the Light and depart from me. And Tyrant Adamas will know that thou hast departed from me and will know that my saviour is not at hand. And he will come again to this region, he and all his rulers who hate me, and Self-willed also will bestow power unto his lion-faced emanation, so that they all will come and constrain me all together and take my whole light from me, in order that I may become powerless and again without light. Now, therefore, O Light and my Light, take from them the power of their light, so that they may not be able to constrain me from now on.'

It came to pass then, when I heard these words which Pistis Sophia had spoken unto me, that I answered her, saying: 'My Father, who hath emanated me, hath not yet given me commandment to take their light from them; but I will seal the regions of Self-willed and of all his rulers who hate thee because thou hast had faith in the Light. And I will also seal the regions of Adamas and of his rulers, so that none of them may be able to fight with thee, until their time is completed and the season cometh that my Father give me commandment to take their light from them.'

And thereafter I said again unto her: 'Hearken that I may speak with thee about their time, when this which I have said unto thee, will come to pass. It will come to pass when [the] three times are completed.'

Pistis Sophia answered and said unto me: 'O Light, by what shall I know when the three times will take place, so that I may be glad and rejoice that the time is near for thee to bring me to my region, and moreover rejoice therein that the time is come when thou wilt take the light-power from all them which hate me, because I have had faith in thy light?'

And I answered and said unto her: 'If thou seest the gate of the Treasury of the Great Light which is opened after the thirteenth æon, and that is the left [one], -- when that gate is opened, then are the three times completed.'

Pistis Sophia again answered and said: 'O Light, by what shall I know, -- for I am in this region, -- that that gate is opened?'

"And I answered and said unto her: 'When that gate is opened, they who are in all the æons will know because of the Great Light which will obtain in all their regions....Moreover, if then the three times are completed, Self-willed and all his rulers will again constrain thee, to take thy light from thee, being enraged against thee and thinking that thou hast imprisoned his power in the chaos, and thinking that thou hast taken its light from it. He will then be embittered against thee, to take from thee thy light, in order that he may send it down into the chaos and it may get down to that emanation of his, so that it may be able to come up out of the chaos and go to his region. Adamas will attempt this. But I will take all thy powers from him and give them unto thee, and I will come to take them. Now, therefore, if they constrain thee at that time, then sing praises to the Light, and I will not delay to help thee. And I will quickly come unto thee to the regions which are below thee. And I will come down to their regions to take their light from them. And I will come to this region whither I have removed thee, and which is below the thirteenth æon, until I bring thee to thy region whence thou art come'....

It came to pass then, when that time came on, -- and I was in the world of men, sitting with you in this region, which is the Mount of Olives, -- that Adamas looked down out of the twelve æons and looked down at the regions of the chaos and saw his demon power which is in the chaos, that no light at all was in it, because I had taken its light from it; and he saw it, that it was dark and could not go to his region, that is to the twelve moons. Thereon Adamas again remembered Pistis Sophia and became most exceedingly wroth against her, thinking that it was she who had imprisoned his power in the chaos, and thinking that it was she who had taken its light from it. And he was exceedingly embittered; he piled wrath on wrath and emanated out of himself a dark emanation and another, chaotic and evil, the violent [one], so as through them to harass Pistis Sophia. And he made a dark region in his region, so as to constrain Sophia therein. And he took many of his rulers; they pursued after Sophia, in order that the two dark emanations which Adamas had emanated, might lead her into the dark chaos which he had made, and constrain her in that region and harass her, until they should take her whole light from her, and Adamas should take the light from Pistis Sophia and give it to the two dark violent emanations, and they should carry it to the great chaos which is below and dark, and cast it into his dark power which is chaotic, if perchance it might be able to come to his region, because it had become exceedingly dark, for I had taken its light-power from it.

-- Pistis Sophia: A Gnostic Miscellany, Translated by G.R.S. Mead


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Some Actors of the Play of Nan-sa.  
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