[ by Charles Cameron — observing a certain universality across traditions ]
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche is a teacher in the Bon tradition,
the native religion of Tibet
Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, a high lama of the Tibetan Buddhist Karma Kagyu lineage, has this to say:
The nature of all ritual is that symbolic devices are used to create a certain mental attitude. When we offer our body, speech, and mind, we do this though a system of gestures that create that particular meaning. But if the ritual is not based on an understanding of emptiness, then it lacks meaning, and the symbolic gestures could cause confusion.
In Tibetan Buddhism, body, speech, and mind are known as the three vajras — variously translated as diamonds or lightning bolts. Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, another Karma Kagyu teacher, explained:
Buddha-Nature is present just as the shining sun is present in the sky. It is indivisible from the Three Vajras [i.e. the Buddha’s Body, Speech and Mind] of the awakened state, which do not perish or change.
The hand touches the chest, then the lips, then the centre of the forehead. The action ends with a forward flourish of the hand and is often accompanied by a bow of the head. [ .. ] This is the full version of the salaam, including all three elements. Its message is ‘I give you my heart, my soul and my head.
In the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, we are told to make a triple sign of the cross at Mass:
At Mass when the reading of the Gospel begins, we place the sign of the Cross on our foreheads, lips, and hearts and pray, “May the Lord be in our minds, on our lips, and in our hearts.” Lips, minds, and hearts—these symbolize three kinds of prayer: vocal, meditative, and contemplative. These modes of prayer include formal and informal paths, personal and communal expressions, popular piety, and the liturgical prayer of the Church.
[ by Charles Cameron — religions taking other religions apart, stone by stone, image by image, song by song ]
Some recently converted Jehovah’s Witnesses appear to have destroyed the altars of indigenous Otomi people in Mexico, an anthopologist has stated:
Assailants have damaged an ancient Otomi Indian religious site in Mexico, toppling stone structures used as altars, breaking carved stones and scattering offerings of flowers, fruit and paintings at the remote mountain shrine known as Mayonihka or Mexico Chiquito. [ .. ]
“I don’t know what religion they belong to, but they destroyed several images that were there,” said Daniel Garcia, the municipal secretary of the nearby township of San Bartolo Tutotepec. “The thing is, there are some religions that don’t believe in using idols.”
Luis Perez Lugo, a professor at the University of Chapingo, visited the site in May and talked to residents of a nearby hamlet, El Pinal, whose residents said they had carried out the attack.
“I was there, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses said they had done it,” Perez Lugo said, noting some were recent converts to the religion who used to go to the site for Otomi ceremonies.
See upper panel, below:
In the lower panel, above, we see a detail from a National Geographic listing of sites attacked by the Islamic State. Three quick notes:
the JWs, if they were JWs, were recent converts; converts often have a zeal all their own
the IS, like the Taliban at Bamiyan, destroys ancient religious sites even if no longer in use
You already know this, but for the record — because Scripture:
In the upper panel, Jewish and Christian scriptures — from the Jewish Ten Commandments in Exodus, and St Paul‘s address to the Athenians, as recounted in the Acts of the Apostles.
In the lower panel — a hard-line contemporary Islamic commentary, citing two ahadith.
So it’s Jehovah’s Witnesses and hard-line Muslim literalists who approve of the destruction of monuments to false gods, is that what this means?
They are not alone. In the upper panel, below, recent news of the Chinese — avowed atheists — continuing their attacks on Tibetan Buddhism, this time by mandating the dismantling of Buddhism’s largest monastic university at Larung Gar:
In the lower panel, above, we see some of what remains of the great Abbey of Glastonbury, torn down during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under King Henry VIII.
Glastonbury has strong associations with Arthurian and Christian traditions:
William Blake’s dramatic poem ‘Jerusalem’ familiar nowadays as an inspirational hymn, draws on the myth that Christ himself may have visited Glastonbury with Joseph of Arimathea and ‘walked on England’s mountains green’.
The Gospels record that Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy follower of Christ who buried Christ’s body in his own tomb after the Crucifixion.
In the Middle Ages Joseph became connected with the Arthurian romances of Britain. He first features in Robert de Boron’s Joseph d’Arimathie, written in the twelfth century, as the Keeper of the Holy Grail. He receives the Grail (the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper) from an apparition of Jesus and sends it with his followers to Britain.
Later Arthurian legends elaborated this story and introduced the idea that Joseph himself travelled to Britain, bringing the Holy Grail with him and then burying it in a secret place, said to have been just below the Tor at the entrance to the underworld. The spring at what is known as Chalice Well is believed to flow from there. In their quests King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table searched for the Grail.
Glastonbury retains its place in English hearts to this day, albeit in contemporary guise — it is the Yasgur’s Farm of England’s ongoing Woodstock — mud, sex, drugs, rock and all — the yearly Glastonbury Festival —
It is also — in the form of Blake‘s hymn “And did those feet in ancient time” — a part of such ceremonial events as the Last Night of the Proms — and Royal Weddings:
But more on Blake’s poem — known as Jerusalem, and taken from his preface to Milton a Poem — in an upcoming post, Creek willing.
Finally, what an exceptionally lovely early DoubleQUote is this, returning us to the topic of sacred places and images and their destruction:
What we have here is a page from the Chludov Psalter — ask Wikipedia for that what means, I only just ran across it in the course of writing this piece — but it’s a 9th century Byzantine prayer book, illuminated with illustrations attacking the iconoclasts — those Christians who wanted to destroy icons and other Christian images for reasons not dissimilar ton those of the Taliban.
In the illustration to the right, the miniaturist illustrated the line “They gave me gall to eat; and when I was thirsty they gave me vinegar to drink” with a picture of a soldier offering Christ vinegar on a sponge attached to a pole. Below is a picture of the last Iconoclast Patriarch of Constantinople, John the Grammarian rubbing out a painting of Christ with a similar sponge attached to a pole.
Let’s take a closer look:
Both verbally and visually, then, we have a direct comparison of the Roman soldier mocking the dying Christ, and the icon-hating Patriarch erasing Christ’s image from a wall.. And they call him the Grammarian!
But let’s proceed:
John is caricatured, here as on other pages, with untidy straight hair sticking out in all directions, which was considered ridiculous by the elegant Byzantines.
No punks, apparently, these Byzantines!
And the coup de grâce? House the sacred book in a state museum..
Nikodim Kondakov hypothesized that the psalter was created in the famous monastery of St John the Studite in Constantinople. Other scholars believe that the liturgical responses it contains were only used in Hagia Sophia, and that it was therefore a product of the Imperial workshops in Constantinople, soon after the return of the Iconophiles to power in 843.
It was kept at Mount Athos until 1847, when a Russian scholar brought it to Moscow. The psalter was then acquired by Aleksey Khludov, whose name it bears today. It passed as part of the Khludov bequest to the Nikolsky Old Believer Monastery and then to the State Historical Museum.
[ by Charles Cameron — a little light-hearted lévi-straussian mythologic ]
Here’s an irresistible example of what I call DoubleQuotes-style thinking:
The details are very well thought out, too — the flowers in Midas‘ hand are still gold, since he’s touched them, but they’re not turned to stone by Medusa‘s gaze since they’re of the vegetable kingdom — whereas the bird in her cage, being of the animal kingdom, looks distinctly gray as though it has been turned to stone.
I’m not sure that the boxed comment “a very brief affair” is right, though — as my son Emlyn‘s commented, It’s a love at first sight that lasts for ever!
The other mythological DoubleQuote or conceptual symmetry I very much admire is the one whereby Narcissus, the epitome of visual reflection, is paired with Echo, avatar of reflection’s aural equivalent.
I’m very pleased to announce the publication of Blood Sacrifices, edited by Robert J. Bunker, to which Charles Cameron and I have both contributed chapters. Dr. Bunker has done a herculean job of shepherding this controversial book, where thirteen authors explore the dreadful and totemic cultural forces operating just beneath the surface of irregular warfare and religiously motivated extreme violence.
We are proud to have been included in such a select group of authors and I’m confident that many readers of ZP will find the book to their liking . If you study criminal insurgency, terrorism, hybrid warfare, 4GW, apocalyptic sects, irregular conflict or religious extremism, then the 334 pages of Blood Sacrifices has much in store for you.
I often review good books. Sometimes I review great ones. The Rule of the Clan: What an Ancient Form of Social Organization Reveals about the Future of Individual Freedom by Mark S. Weiner gets the highest compliment of all: it is an academic book that is clearly and engagingly written so as to be broadly useful.
Weiner is Professor of Law and Sidney I. Reitman Scholar at Rutgers University whose research interests gravitate to societal evolution of constitutional orders and legal anthropology. Weiner has put his talents to use in examining the constitutional nature of a global phenomena that has plagued IR scholars, COIN theorists, diplomats, counterterrorism experts, unconventional warfare officers, strategists, politicians and judges. The problem they wrestle with goes by many names that capture some aspect of its nature – black globalization, failed states, rogue states, 4GW, hybrid war, non-state actors, criminal insurgency, terrorism and many other terms. What Weiner does in The Rule of the Clan is lay out a historical hypothesis of tension between the models of Societies of Contract – that is Western, liberal democratic, states based upon the rule of law – and the ancient Societies of Status based upon kinship networks from which the modern world emerged and now in places has begun to regress.
Weiner deftly weaves the practical problems of intervention in Libya or counterterrorism against al Qaida with political philosophy, intellectual and legal history, anthropology, sociology and economics. In smooth prose, Weiner illustrates the commonalities and endurance of the values of clan and kinship network lineage systems in societies as diverse as Iceland, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, India and the Scottish highlands, even as the modern state arose around them. The problem of personal security and the dynamic of the feud/vendetta as a social regulator of conduct is examined along with the political difficulties of shifting from systems of socially sanctioned collective vengeance to individual rights based justice systems. Weiner implores liberals (broadly, Westerners) not to underestimate (and ultimately undermine) the degree of delicacy and strategic patience required for non-western states transitioning between Societies of Status to Societies of Contract. The relationship between the state and individualism is complicated because it is inherently paradoxical, argues Weiner: only a state with strong, if limited, powers creates the security and legal structure for individualism and contract to flourish free of the threat of organized private violence and the tyranny of collectivistic identities.
Weiner’s argument is elegant, well supported and concise (258 pages inc. endnotes and index) and he bends over backwards in The Rule of the Clan to stress the universal nature of clannism in the evolution of human societies, however distant that memory may be for a Frenchman, American or Norwegian. If the mores of clan life are still very real and present for a Palestinian supporter (or enemy) of HAMAS in Gaza, they were once equally real to Saxons, Scots and Franks. This posture can also take the rough edges off the crueler aspects of, say, life for a widow and her children in a Pushtun village by glossing over the negative cultural behaviors that Westerners find antagonizing and so difficult to ignore on humanitarian grounds. This is not to argue that Weiner is wrong, I think he is largely correct, but this approach minimizes the friction involved in the domestic politics of foreign policy-making in Western societies which contain elite constituencies for the spread of liberal values by the force of arms.
Zenpundit is a blog dedicated to exploring the intersections of foreign policy, history, military theory, national security,strategic thinking, futurism, cognition and a number of other esoteric pursuits.