I have mostly avoided discussion about Vajrayana for the past 4 years or so, but today I cannot resist the avalanche of inspiration. This was because I received an article about the practice of reciting the mani mantra. (Om Mani Padme Hum) this morning. But this is not an authorized interpretation of Vajrayana, just my personal interpretation on my personal blog. I guess and hope that will be what makes this fun!
In Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, we visualize various Buddhist deities during our meditation. It is like tapping on our imagination to think about beautiful celestial sights and experiences. For some readers, you might recognize the potential danger of superimposing reality with fantasy. Much like the adult desperately trying to convince their kid that there is no monster in the closet? On the other hand, we, as adults lost a very important skill when “grow up”. We forgot how to appreciate the “magical” world in our minds. The clouds are just good for forecasting whether rain is to be expected. We no longer see a happy smiling dog in the clouds. Thus, life can become a bit dry?
Chenrezig is another iconography for the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. He embodies Buddha’s compassion. In Vajrayana, we envision ourselves to be similar to the deities. For the uninitiated, the danger is in interpreting the iconography literally without proper explanation. Fortunately, I have not come across anyone crazy enough to cosplay Chenrezig by slinging a deer hide over his left shoulder as part of his wardrobe style.
More interesting is what crossed my mind this morning. “How is that dead deer over the shoulder compatible with compassion?” “Animal rights group will be picketing outside the temple for animal abuse.”
The first thought “How is that dead deer compatible with compassion?”
As my mind calmed down a bit and I recall that Chenrezig embodies compassion, I realized that “Surely Chenrezig was not responsible for killing that deer?” But that is how our minds work. We are quick to judge others based on what we see. And we tend to jump to the worst possible conclusion about other people. “How can you advocate compassion if you are not vegetarian?” That is a fatal flaw in my thinking process. But I will not bore you with how my mind was programmed to be critical about everything. That’s the 1st lesson this morning when that image appears on my phone.
Then it occurred to me, why do I assume that deer to be dead? Perhaps the deer was just injured and Chenrezig was shouldering it to care for it? Much like how compassionate Lama “shoulder” our problems and continue to guide us patiently. Surely, carrying that deer around must be tiring too? (note: the traditional interpretation states that the deer is a deer hide. So it is a very dead deer)
Then it occurred to me that whether the deer is dead or alive, I am simply too fixated on the imagery of death. I cannot accept death and the fate of death. I was desperately trying to pin the blame for the deer’s death on someone. And since Chenrezig was carrying the deer hide, my wrath is more or less directed at that artwork. Why do you Tibetan draw a compassionate Bodhisattva carrying an animal hide? That is the problem with that judgemental mind, isn’t it? We lash out externally without any consideration or willingness to listen.
The Buddha actually allowed his disciples to eat an animal carcass if they did not cause the animal’s death directly or indirectly or witness its death. After all, food is food. In this case, the deer hide is also a meditation mat. It reminds us to never forget meditation. Thus, one will carry their meditation mat around. A mat is just a mat after all. Not saying we should all wear mink. (because mink farming is cruel?)
Last but not least, if we remind ourselves about compassion, I think about roadkill too. How many of us is compassionate enough to bother removing a road kill off the road? Not because we are worried about the dead animal but more about road safety for fellow road users? (But do be careful of traffic yah?)
So you see? Vajrayana artwork can skilfully pull out all those “hidden” ugly thoughts and emotions in me. Not sure about you but that is how I interact with Tantric artwork. And because of that, I find Tantric art very “powerful”
May all be well and happy.