“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Trouble with Tara Thangkas

This is me with my Tibetan Buddhist hat on. I've been working with Green Tara since 1997, blimey, that's about eighteen years! Anyway, it's very difficult to find a good painting of her. It's strange, because you can easily find very beautiful White Tara paintings. And really fierce female yidams such as Vajrayogini are also often awesomely done.

But there's something about Green Tara. I think, hypothesis here, it has to do with the still patriarchal structure of Tibetan monasticism, in which the paintings are done. The painters are male. I think maybe it's easy to paint a really peaceful female Buddha--White Tara is all about healing. And maybe it's easy to paint an obviously really wrathful one such as Vajrayogini.

But a powerful deity who is all about fearlessness and also bestows the siddhis--psychic and all kinds of other types of paranormal power--hmmm....also the fact that Green Tara is weirdly liminal, like she's a little bit outside official Buddhism, some teachers won't give you the transmission for her, and so on. There is this underground Green Tara network, for sure...

It all adds up to a bit of a threat to (axial age, agricultural religion) patriarchy, doesn't it? I'm not casting aspersions on the deities or even on the monks. But it seems intuitive that it would be easy either to paint -- oh dear this is going to come out wrong if you are a Tibetan Buddhist, apologies in advance -- a virgin or a whore, those patriarchal constructs, than to paint a strong female with powers that transcend your institution. Yes?

Sorry, this could sound just awful. I don't mean it to be. I just found the best best best Tara painting, and I've been looking for them for almost 20 years. I have a good one on my wall, the best I could find, from Kathmandu. But this one, wow. I'm talking to the artist and I'll let you know if and when I get a copy.

And...it's a really, really ecological one!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hi Tim, I am writing a PhD in Theatre practice using ooo, and your book on Realist Magic among other things to find a vocabulary on how to relate to documentary stories in theatre and performance. I have been into Buddhism and meditation practice myself for many years, and I am curious of your references to Buddhism. It is clear from your writing that you have an insight into this, and I am actually curious to which tradition you have been working with and if you practice meditation daily? I have come to ooo myself because I recognise things in it from my own practice. Simply curious because I was happy to find someone in Western philosophy who dares to combine it with Buddhist thinking.