Saturday, October 23, 2010

Transcending Suffering

Today I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While there were several interesting special exhibits one deserves special mention. In the hard to reach third floor gallery accessed through a stairway under an intricate Jain temple lattice carved canopy there is a temporary exhibit until March 27, 2011 of sacred Tibetan ritual objects, particularly prayer rugs.
This one caught my eye.The explanation on the museum's web site explains that these are the arteries and bones laid out like the children's Operation Game. It also gives the hopeful impression that this is all symbolic, hopefully like the sacrifice of Isaac that was transferred to the Ram, or for Christians the wine transubstantiated into blood during the Eucharist.
This large carpet is designed to serve as a preparatory place for ritual sacrifice. It shows a flayed man (Tibetan: g.yang gzhi) with "artery patterns" surrounded by his butchered bones, carefully arranged. His skull has been placed between his legs. At the four corners are serving dishes that display the surrogate sacrifice, a prepared dough-paste (Tibetan: gtor ma) that is used widely in tantric ritual, including to make lifesize human effigies. Two borders enclose the composition: a frieze of freshly severed heads and a continuous square-fret pattern with perspective rendering, a design traceable within subcontinental India to the murals at Ajanta and the stupas at Sarnath.
Personally I can read a map and understand demographics and the realities of mass firepower in the hands of a regime unconstrained by western morality. Still looking at that rug it does make sense that the British have relied on the Tibetan's cousins in Nepal to supply their feared Gurkha shock troops. Are the Chinese sure that they want to tangle with these people?

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