Apr 24, 2012

The Story of Yamantaka: Death by Infinite Reduplication

jacques marchias museum tibetan mongolian chinese buddhist artwork statues mandalas yama yamantaka protector death fear religion buddhism world religion
After driving down to New Jersey the day before -- to present a paper on St. Anselm's moral theory at the 6th Felician Ethics conference and then to say a few words, again about Anselm, at the 40th anniversary of St. Anselm's parish -- we made a slight detour to Staten Island, where we visited the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art, a small, but very interesting collection not only of Tibetan, but also Chinese, Japanese, and Mongolian Buddhist statuary, mandalas, tapestries, and artifacts.  Jacques Marchais was actually an actress (given a boy's name since her mother had wanted a son), working in the early 20th century, devoted to study of the world's religious traditions, but particularly attracted to Buddhism, and to Tibetan Buddhism specifically.

The museum -- originally a center established by Marchais in the 1940s -- is set out on grounds replicating the topography of a Tibetan monastery, ascending high up a hill, with as many stairways as plots of level ground.  As you'll see in some of the pictures below, rains had driven petals from the flowering trees like wet, soft confetti all across the slate stone grounds and outdoor furniture of the museum complex.  We were able to walk some of the grounds -- not down so far as the meditation cells -- but the main attraction for us was the collection.  And, for me, who years back had been afforded the chance to introduce prison students semester after semester in World Religions to a few of the distinctive practices and beliefs, and even to selected portions of the intricate, startling, expressive artwork of Tibetan Buddhism  -- the culmination of several weeks devoted to Buddhism -- the most gratifying parts of the entire collection was being afforded to examine, from  multiple angles, several different statues of one of the great protective beings of Tibetan Buddhism, Yamantaka, the protector who faced down, and literally scared to death, Death himself.

Apr 14, 2012

Stoicism and Personal Relationships (part 2 of 2)

stoicism-personal-relationships-stoic-affection-love-roles-family-friends-father-son-brother-enchirdion-discourses-will-choice-freedom-emotions-ataraxia-stockdale--nancy sherman-hegel-moral
Two weeks back, I wrote a post discussing a seemingly harsh passage from Epictetus' little handbook, The EnchiridionIf you kiss your child, or your wife, say that you only kiss things which are human, and thus you will not be disturbed if either of them dies.  I brought up a few other passages from Epictetus' Discourses, which paint a fuller and significantly more even picture of a Stoic perspective on personal relationships, one which acknowledges natural affection as, well. . . . natural.

The central goal, the ideal that Epictetus returns to over and over again, is a state in which the core of one's person, one's "moral purpose" (prohairesis) has been brought into harmony with nature -- nature understood as what a human being ought to be, becomes when fully developed.  So, for all the emphasis on self-control, on relentless discipline, reflection, practice, and self-scrutiny -- aimed at gradually pruning desires, affections, emotions, even opinions away until all of one's affective commitments remain within the confines of what one has control over, thereby freeing the Stoic -- there remains some scope for familial affection, for building and enjoying personal relationships.  This even seems to form part of a genuinely full Stoic life.  It becomes even more apparent when we are not simply looking at what rationality is, in the concrete that domesticity always sets it, but at another absolutely key element of Stoic moral theory:  fulfillment of one's role or roles.