Wednesday, February 15, 2012

the face of glory

to enjoy the world requires something more
than mere good health and good spirits;
for this world, as we all now surely know, is horrendous.
"all life, " said the Buddha, "is sorrowful";
and so, indeed, it is.
life consuming life: that is the essence of its being,
which is forever a becoming.
"the world," said the Buddha, "is an ever burning fire."
and so it is.
that is what one has to affirm, with a yea! a dance!
a knowing, solemn, stately dance of the mystic bliss
beyond pain that is at the heart of every mythic rite.

let me recount a marvelous Hindu legend
from the infinitely rich mythology of the god Shiva
and his glorious world-goddess Parvati.
the occasion was of a time when
there came before this great divinity
an audacious demon who had just overthrown
the ruling gods of the world
and now came to confront the highest of all
with a non-negotiable demand, namely,
that the god should hand over his goddess to the demon.
well, what Shiva did in reply was simply
to open that mystic third eye in the middle of his forehead,
and paff! a lightning bolt hit the earth ~
there was suddenly a second demon, even larger than the first.
he was a great lean thing with a lion like head,
hair waving to the quarters of the world,
and his nature was sheer hunger.
he had been brought into being to eat up the first,
and was clearly fit to do so.
the first thought: "so what do i do now?"
and with a very fortunate decision
threw himself upon Shiva's mercy.

it is a well-known theological rule
that when you throw yourself on a god's mercy
the god cannot refuse to protect you;
so Shiva now had to guard and protect
the first demon from the second.
which left the second, however,
without meat to quell his hunger and in anguish he asked Shiva,
"whom, then, do i eat?" to which the god replied,
"well, let's see: why not eat yourself?"

with that, no sooner said, did he begin..
commencing with his feet, teeth chopping away,
that grim phenomenon came right on up the line,
through his own belly, on up through his chest and neck,
until all that remained was a face.
and the god, thereupon, was enchanted.
for here at last was a perfect image
of the monstrous thing that is life, which lives on itself.
to that sunlike mask, which was now all that was left
of that lion like vision of hunger, Shiva said, exulting:
"i shall call you 'Face of Glory', Kirtimukha,
and you shall shine above the doors of all my temples.
any one who refuses to honor and worship you
will never come to know me."

the obvious lesson of all of this
is that the first step to the knowledge
of the highest divine symbol of the wonder and mystery of life
is the recognition of the monstrous nature of life
and its glory in that character:
the realization that this is just how it is;
that it cannot and will not be changed.
those who think -- and their name is legion --
that they know how the universe could have been better than it is,
how it would have been had they created it,
without pain, without sorrow, without time, without life,
are unfit for illumination.
or those who think -- as do many --
"let me first correct society, then get around to myself"
are barred from even the outer gate of the mansion of God's peace.

all societies are evil, sorrowful, inequitable;
and so they will always be.
if you really want to help this world,
what you will have to teach is how to live in it.
that no one can do who has not himself learned
how to live in it - in the joyful sorrow and the sorrowful joy -
the knowledge of life as it is.
that is the meaning of the monstrous Kirtimukha, 'Face of Glory',
over the entrances of the sanctuaries to the god of yoga,
whose bride is the goddess of life.
no one can know this god and goddess who will not bow
to the mask in reverence and pass humbly through.
~joseph campbell

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