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Re: All art is spiritual

Jan 25, 1998 06:23 PM
by Mark Kusek

> Keith wrote:
> Erotic art can be of high spirutality, as it is in the East in the
> temple of ANGOR WAT for example, wouldn't you say?

I tossed and turned last night trying to remember where that Indian
temple was. I was referring to Konarak or Khajuraho, not ANGOR WAT, and
I also found the quote:

>From "Wandering in Eden - Three Ways to the East Within Us." by Michael
 1973, 1976 Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Publisher. Pgs 14-16. [Reference is
for you, Dallas!]


On the east coast of India at Konarak stands a temple to the Sun as a
symbol for the One Principle behind all things, for God. A Victorian
critic called this temple "the abomination of India." "Frank
pornography." said another, sharing the belief of the Christian who
wrote that "an ocean of Carnality within us continually lashes against
the shores of our spiritual nature; and these mighty waves of Carnality
and Sensuality drown the voice of the Divine within us. The deliverance
of the soul from the error of the senses - the lust of the flesh - is

To stand before Konarak or the temples of Khajuraho with such a mind is
to be horrified. These are temples avowedly raised to the glory of God
and their walls are carved with blatantly erotic figures, men and women
in all imaginable ways of coupling, and some unimaginable ones. That a
house of God should so unashamedly celebrate the lust of the flesh, the
delight of the eyes, and the pride of life is shocking to western
moralists. These stone libertines are not shown here as the gargoyles
and grimacing monsters of our cathedrals; they are not outsiders or only
decorative additions; they are the very walls of the temples. The wish
to celebrate shaped these figures; they acclaim the part of the body in
the play of things. There is no shame here. It may be the lack of shame
that shames us.

So many western critics have halted at the lower half of these figures,
have concentrated on genitalia; they have not been able to see the whole
figures, certainly they have not seen the faces, blissful, smiling,
calm. The figures are sexually active, but they are not obsessed; thay
are at ease; they are in the world but not of it; they play.

This appearance of lively activity about a hub of calm is characteristic
of Indian images; the "still point" is shown together with the "turning
world." It is also the character of Indian architecture. The erotic
carvings crowd the outer walls. As one walks into the temple itself, the
images are found to be sensual still and full of grace, as befits the
dancers and celestial musicians they represent, but the more obvious
eroticism is absent. The figures stand alone. As one moves deeper into
the heart of the temple, the figures grow fewer. In some temples they
vanish, to be replaced by a tracery of vines and flower motifs,
sometimes abstracted wholly. Increasingly in this way, the pilgrim was
led to leave the world of living forms behind and to approach the spirit
of those forms, the mystery of love and life itself. He enters a further
chamber where all noise of the world is shut off; very little light
penetrates. Here, gone beyond all gods and other men, he pauses to ready
himself for the final step. Then, still and as nothing; that is to say,
when he is himself in the image of God, he strides into the center of
the temple and the heart of himself. It is dark. The four walls are
bare. The cell shows nothing. Nothing. All imagery and representation is
not only impossible now, but even misleading; it is Maya. Here is
Nothingness. Here is what the Hindus call Immensity; what the Buddhists
call the Void, what the Christian mystic Eckhart intended when he spoke
of God as The Absolute Nothing, and was excommunicated for it.

>From the blatant images of sexual union on the temple sides to the
silent inner core there is a progression of sorts: from sensuous form to
the ultimate abstraction which the image-making mind can only call
Nothingness; beyond all concepts to the experience of a Reality that
cannot be conceived, cannot be formulated, shaped, or spoken. But
"progress" in the West implies improvement, a movement to something
nobler; a scale of values is implied. Progress in the East is a matter
of growth, from crude representation to abstraction, from gross to
subtle forms of manifestation. But it is the same principle that is
manifest. The walls of these temples were carved with the sculptor's
care and delight in forms, but the temples as a whole were conceived,
planned, and constructed under the direction of priests who, celibate
and austere themselves, saw it only fit that a building to celebrate the
Creative Principle should include all aspects of creation. Everything
has its part to play, its time and its place. So in the sunlight that
bathes the outer walls there is sex unashamed; at the center there is
silence, darkness, stillness, Nothingness.

The Way of Indian art is not one of blind sensuality, as its detractors
insist, nor only of "spirituality," as its defenders say. It is a whole
way; neither obsession with the world, nor withdrawl from it. It is
being in the world, lightly, with a little smile. In that smile lies the
secret of this art, as of love and of life itself. Understandably we are
haunted by that smile wherever we meet it, in archaic images of Egypt
and Chaldea, of China and Japan, in the angels of Rheims -- Angels, it
is said, are able to fly because they take themselves so lightly.


Too cool.

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