Friday, April 10, 2009

Buddhist Goddesses of India

Miranda Shaw's Buddhist Goddesses of India is one of my most cherished books. The Introduction itself is something that I think every Buddhist should read, and you can download it for free from the publisher's webpage. Here's just a taste:

"The Buddhist pantheon of India features a fascinating and diverse array of female divinities. The pantheon is dazzling in its breadth, encompassing voluptuous tree spirits, maternal nurturers, exalted wisdom figures, compassionate healers, powerful protectors, cosmic mothers of liberation, and dancing female Buddhas. Goddesses preside over childbirth, agriculture, prosperity, longevity, art, music, learning, love magic, and occult practices. There are goddesses who offer protection from epidemics, snakebite, demons, curses, untimely death, and every mortal danger. There are also goddesses who support practitioners in their pursuit of knowledge, mental purification, a higher rebirth, and full spiritual awakening."

After the Introduction, the first chapter is on the Earth Goddess, Prthivi. Most Buddhists are vaguely aware of the fact that just before the Buddha attained enlightenment he reached down and touched the earth. In fact, this "earth-touching posture" is one of the most common motifs for statues and other depictions of the Buddha. The whole story goes like this, according to Shaw's rendition:

"When Mara, the king of demons, challenged Siddhartha to provide a witness to his worthiness to attain enlightenment, the Bodhisattva stretched forth his golden hand and touched the earth, invoking the one who observes and remembers every event that transpires on her vast body. Responding to his summons, the earth goddess rendered her testimony in world-shaking tones and personally dispersed Mara's armies. In doing so, she created the environment of peace necessary for the Buddha-to-be to enter the subtlest spheres of meditation and attain full spiritual awakening. So crucial was her intervention that she is said to perform the same role in the enlightenment of every Buddha throughout the ages."

Other chapters that I especially loved were the ones on Lakshmi (whose image adorns the earliest known Buddhist structures found in India), Prajnaparamita (the Goddess who embodies the foundational teachings of Mahayana Buddhism), Tara (the Universal Savioress), Chinnamunda (the Goddess who cuts her own head off while dancing ecstatically), and the Red Enchantress and Mistress of Knowledge Kurukulla (who is often associated with Red Tara).

Maybe some day I'll write a more in depth review of this book. Here's a short and sweet review I found on the web, by Leah Samul.

Alan Watts explains it all

Here is a very well done video which combines snippets of talks given by Alan Watts with animation from Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame.

Unfortunately whoever posted this on youtube gave the whole thing the moronic title "Atheist Spirituality" - but that can be ignored. Alan Watts was about as much of an atheist as I am.

My favorite segment from the video is the one on "Appling", which starts at 3:01. A different version of what Watts says in that segment can be found in "The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are", which can now be downloaded as a pdf (clicking on this link will automatically download the file) here.

Brad Warner on Buddhism, Evolution, and Women

Brad Warner's article on Buddhism, Evolution, and Women that he wrote for Suicide Girls is damn good. He says "The powerful patriarchal religions of the modern world have mostly treated women like shit .... Except for Buddhism." He then spends the rest of the article defending this claim against the anticipated charge of "sounding like a shill for Buddhism."

The reason I really like what Warner says is that there are far too many people who unthinkingly make sweeping generalizations about "all religions" without ever bothering to find out what different religions actually do and say. Buddhism is far from perfect with respect to the issue of sexism, but I think Warner makes a good case that wherever and whenever there is sexism in the Buddhist Sangha, this "goes against the explicit directions" of the Buddha himself.

Oh, the actual article by Warner (at the Suicide Girls website) is here. Warner is supposed to have a new article coming out soon on meditation and post-traumatic-stress, or something like that. That's what I was looking for when I found this article. When that one comes out I'll probably post something about it, too.

OK, so finally I've got a little Buddhist content on this blog!

Note added later: Warner's next SG article won't appear until Monday, his blog says it will be "about whether or not zazen is dangerous for trauma survivors."