Sunday, September 09, 2012

WHAT WAS THAT ? ~ No 2

THE PLACE ~ Jnanasalin and I were in our favourite local ~ The Elm Tree.

WHO ~ On a table opposite us were an informal group of folk from the north of England. One of the women was trying to discover what sort of a house one of the other men would like. She started asking him about his interior decor, when she uttered these words ~ 


' You don't look like the sort of man who'd have scatter cushions.'



FEATURE 107 ~ Army Of Lovers




As Camp as Christmas and somewhat more........

Sunday, September 02, 2012

ARTICLE ~ Drdha ~ Part Eight



Earth Shattering


“If there were no gratification in the earth element, beings would not become enamoured with it; but because there is gratification in the earth element, beings become enamoured with it. If there were no danger in the earth element, beings would not experience revulsion towards it; but because there is danger in the earth element, beings experience revulsion towards it. If there were no escape from the earth element, beings would not escape from it; but because there is an escape from the earth element, beings escape from it.”
“I set out seeking the gratification in the earth element. Whatever gratification there is in the earth element - that I discovered. I have clearly seen with wisdom just how far the gratification in the earth element extends

I set out seeking the danger in the earth element. Whatever danger there is in the earth element - that I discovered. I have clearly seen the wisdom just how far the danger in the earth element extends.

I set out seeking the escape from the earth element. Whatever escape there is from the earth element - that I discovered. I have clearly seen with wisdom just how far the escape from the earth element extends.

“The knowledge and vision arose in me:unshakable is my liberation of mind; this is my last birth; now there is no more renewed existence”5


The earth has shaped us, made us breath, made us dream, and has made us to die. The earth embodies and positively embraces our mortality. In the Bible, god creates Adam, the prototype man, out of the earth. In so doing the earth performs an eternal role mythically in the minds of humanity. From earth all life is formed. The seed that is planted in its soil, is watered until it bursts out from under its blanket of soil, to become a flourishing plant, with an illusory sense of its uniqueness and independence, its own individual life in the midst of a field of corn that will ripen until golden. Every cornhead knowing that at some point there will be a harvesting, a reaping, a turning over of the straw stumps to replenish the earth’s fertility, to renew its ability to go through this cycle all over again. This is the existential angst that coerces, chokes and cloaks human lives. It stimulates our religious impulse, our spiritual striving, our prescient dreaming for life to be otherwise. It also causes us to bury our heads in hedonism, to drown our sorrows in upturned glasses of ale, to party party party until we drop.. Our mortality has both a creative and a crippling force behind it.

Despite our tribal and family loyalties, our shared cultures, cities and civilisations, we still feel abandoned and alone even whilst we are walking upon the earth. It was reassuring for us to imagine gods and minor deities inhabiting the everyday world of fields, trees, streams, air, fire, even our hearth and home. These gods became like our invisible, secret friends, who in difficult times will hold our hands and give our hearts the strength to carry on. You’re never alone in a world filled with earthbound gods and goddesses.

But then there are times when the gods and goddesses seemed to desert us. Why do they do that? Where do they go? Where do they disappear too? They must go somewhere, perhaps its to a godlike realm, a heaven of sorts, from which we must beseech them to return. Then they do return, but less and less frequently, almost begrudgingly. They seem to prefer to stay in heaven and rule the earth from there. The gods and goddesses look down upon the earth and its creatures, and become bored with our neediness, indifferent to our aloneness and existential despair.  

One by one the gods and goddesses abandon humanity, until only one god is left behind to mind the earth. He has become more like a caretaker at a school, than its headmaster. He opens the gates every morning, mops the floors, clears up litter after us, and locks the gates again of an evening. The caretaker god is unappreciated, people notice less and less what he does, until they stop believing in him altogether. Leaving humanity to face the reality of their aloneness upon the earth. Trapped in the earthly cycle of life and death without a transcendental friend. Without the guidance of a divinity, what are we to make our lives about?  We can make it about what we do ~ our work, careers, celebrity,the money we make, the kind of house, car, sofa or TV we own. Or we can make it about our relationships ~ the number of friends we have, the interests and enthusiasms we share, the companionship we have through life, the children we can live out our un-fullfilled ambitions for life through. Every earthly thing we choose to build our sense of purpose around, will always feel flawed, because ultimately such things let us down at the point of our death, or their death, or they break, tear or decay.  All our possessions become ownerless.  All earth-bound luggage is left behind on the station platform as the train bound for heaven departs.

Severing our dependence upon heavenly divinities, has paradoxically reinforced our dependence upon that earth-bound luggage. We may believe that this is the only life we have, or that we will be reborn or reincarnated after this life is over, or that we go to some sort of perpetual afterlife in heaven. Yet what concern is it of ours exactly what happens when life is over, when life is not yet over? Who really knows anyway? The afterlife is for the afterlife. The purpose of life is during the living of it. It’s rarely what we are in life, but who we have become through life, that matters. Who  we are at the point of our death? Will we still be craving for death to be anything other than death, for life to be about more than life?  Can we shatter the earthly bonds that cause us to suffer, the craving and the clinging for and to earthly existence?

Human life can seem to be about leaving clearly distinguishable tracks upon the earth - through the history, buildings, ideas, art, people and genes that we leave behind. We leave such marks, carved like graffiti on castle ruins, to show that we were here. In the forlorn hope that ‘GH loving JW’ will be fondly remembered. A life that is lived and quickly forgotten, is a common occurrence. Yet we expend so much effort and time trying to ensure we are remembered, only to find that even the tracks of our mourner’s tears will soon evaporate. Not everyone can end up written in history books, even as an obscure footnote or reference in the appendix. We mostly disappear without remainder.
Even the figure of the Buddha is so historically shrouded in ambiguity and mystery, because time has already erased so much. The Dharma gives us a glimpse of how he was, what he was, and what he did. Yet without a direct experience of Enlightenment within ourselves, we cannot fully understand who he was. Yet the power of who he was is central to why Buddhism has lasted  over two and half thousand years. This human being who awakened to reality as it really is, is a potent idea to place in the hands of mankind. Instead of humanity transcending life and death through the medium of heaven, and its gods and goddesses, he demonstrated that humanity could discover transcendence within themselves. That Enlightenment could be found whilst one is alive upon the earth. A life extinguished then has just ‘the remainderless fading away’.


“‘A great bonfire was burning, consuming ten, twenty,thirty, or forty loads of wood, and a man would cast dry grass, cow dung,or wood into it from time to time. Sustained by that material, fuelled by it, that great bonfire would burn for a very long time. So too, when one lives contemplating gratification in things that can be clung to, craving increases....such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering”

“When one dwells contemplating danger in things that can be clung to, craving ceases. with the cessation of craving comes cessation of clinging; with the cessation of clinging, cessation of existence..cessation of birth...aging-and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain,displeasure,and despair cease. Such is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering.”

“ A great bonfire was burning, consuming ten,twenty,thirty,or forty loads of wood, and a man would not cast dry grass, cow dung,or wood into it from time to time. When the former supply of fuel is exhausted, that great bonfire, not being fed with any more fuel, lacking sustenance, would be extinguished. So too, when one lives contemplating danger in things that can be clung to, craving ceases...Such is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering” 6






5 - Taken from Ch22 & 23 the Dhatusamyutta, in the Samyutta Nikaya, Translated by Bikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom Publishers.
6 - Taken from the Ch52 the Nidanasamyutta, in the Samyutta Nikaya, Translated by Bikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom Publishers

ARTICLE ~ Drdha ~ Part Seven


Footprints upon the Earth

Two and a half thousand years ago, during the Axial Age, many significant individuals emerge, who found religions that have survived with varying degrees of success until today.  Lau Tsu founded Taoism, and Gautama Buddha founded Buddhism, during this time. This era is before historical documentation, in an age of oral transmission of teachings. All that we come to know now as Buddhism and Taosim, comes from texts written down and assembled several centuries later, or from more recent archaeological discoveries in the last century and a half.
Due to this factual absence and lack of substantial verification, it is unclear how historical these figures actually were. Did they actually live at all ? Both Lau Tsu and Gautama Buddha could have existed, but they may also be compound figures created around a coherent body of teachings that had no single founding figurehead. The consistency of the teachings might indicate the authority of a single visionary figure, but this might also have been created retrospectively  Both religious traditions appear to have been aniconic in their early days, and only developed a tradition of symbolism and representation of their founders, around the same time as their oral traditions became written ones. It could be there was no prohibition about representing their founder, because there was no specific individual founder to represent. To prevent this viewpoint hardening into objective fact, lets just recognise that it’s all conjecture, and only one of many such conjectures with very different assumptions as their basis. Until more concrete evidence emerges we can only conjecture on the basis of very limited and frequently unreliable sources.

Our twenty first century perspectives and assumptions themselves, may be be blinding us or distorting our perceptions of what was really going on then. Misinterpreting the perceptions and motivations of people of this time. They may have had significant cultural reservations about the making of images in general, that we do not have now. It is not uncommon for early agrarian societies to see making an image of someone as imprisoning their souls in stone. Imagine then how loaded making a representation of a supposedly enlightened being might then become.

The first Buddhist images when they do arrive two centuries later in the 3rd Century BC represent the Buddha symbolically, as an empty chair, a riderless horse, a stupa, or a pair of footprints. The common theme being of an absent presence. They show that the Buddha once sat, rode and walked upon the earth, but he does so no more.  He left his mark, but now he has gone. One of the epithets of the Buddha is ‘the trackless one’ the one who has gone beyond making his self distinct in the world. So it’s paradoxical that the Buddhapada, the Buddha’s footprints, his stylised tracks, should become a cult object of veneration. There are a couple of apocryphal stories surrounding the Buddha and his footprints, that give some background to why this was. The Buddha was said to have walked immediately from birth, and each step he took left a footprint with a golden lotus flower in it. The lotus being an early symbol for the unfolding of Enlightenment, this was meant to be a presentiment of his future attainment. After his Enlightenment, the Buddha’s footprints are said to have left imprints in the earth of the dharmachakra embossed in their soles. Everything he did was now so imbued with the Dharma that even as he walked he left an imprint of it. So however ‘trackless’ he’d personally become, he did leave the track of the Dharma.

Over the millennia these representations of the Buddha’s footprints have developed from single embossed lotuses and Dharmachakras on the sole, to an extremely elaborate and often esoteric iconography covering the whole foot. Symbolically representing his numerous virtues,qualities and attainments.  But why were the Buddha’s feet given such reverence?  In India it has always been a sign of obeisance and devotion to kneel down and touch the feet of a revered figure. So there was a pre-existing cultural tradition, but this symbolism goes further than just social convention. Feet in hot countries gather dirt and dust, and they leave tracks behind them wherever they go, ones that everyone can follow. The accumulation of the dust and dirt is the evidence of having walked and travelled across and upon the earth. So those pair of footprints in the earth are a sign literally to follow in his footsteps, to copy his footsteps, to revere and rely on his footsteps, to have sraddha (faith) in his footsteps. To manifest and walk the dharma into the ground, imprint it upon ourselves like a footprint does in the dust of the earth. Don’t follow me, follow my example, follow my path, follow the Dharma.

The Dharma is the Buddha’s footprint, it is the tracks of these tracts that will takes us, if we’ll let it, towards the trackless state of Enlightenment itself. A footprint is quite personal, each one distinct in size and shape. Its imprint upon the earth proves you were here, identifiable by the marks you’ve left in the soil. A footprint, even that of the Buddha, is recognisably human. But in the Buddha’s case, his Buddhapada takes the fact of his earthbound humanity to another level. Once enlightened he goes beyond the earthly, the worldly, even whilst he still walked upon it. It’s a reminder that he was not different to us, whilst he also was, and that we can become like him, though we currently are not. The mark that a Buddha’s footprint leaves is of a transcendent human being having touched the earth. This alone makes it worthy of reverence, so even the Earth Goddess herself must seek it out, and bow down to who-so-ever that person may be.


The Earth Goddess Drdha

forever scans the heavens
scouring every rock and crack in the surface of the earth.  
each country, district, forest or mountainous region
each village, town or city,
every poor humble dwelling or rich royal palace,
for signs of the excellent Dharma being expounded.


The Earth Goddess Drdha
goes wherever that place may be
to arrive beneath the Diamond Throne
and making visible her invisible body
leans her head upon the soles of the feet
of whoever is expounding the Dharma
and satisfies herself with hearing its sweet nectar.

The Earth Goddess Drdha
will pay homage and rejoice
until this suffuses her whole being
extending down as far as that founding thunderbolt
respect for the earth she shall cause to multiply
moistening it until it reaches the shores of oceans

The Earth Goddess Drdha
will then possess great power, fortitude and strength
the brilliance and glory of the Dharma having entered her body
will increase the savouring and love for the earth
and all beings living dependent upon it
will likewise be blessed.

The Earth Goddess Drdha
searches the earth for an expounder of the Dharma
and finding them already sat upon the Diamond Throne
leans her head upon the soles of their feet
To ensure that in a future time
all may be awakened to supreme and perfect Enlightenment
and all the manifest woes of the world will be wholly cut off.4






4 -  A freely adapted rendering by Vidyavajra based on excerpts from Chapter 10 The Sutra of Golden Light
   ~ based on the translation by R.E.Emmerick

ARTICLE ~ Drdha ~ Part Six


Earth as Witness


THE STORYTELLER
The Bodhisattva sheltering beneath the arched branches of the tree, held his body and mind serene in deep meditative absorption. He remained immovable and confident, whilst raging internal demons attempted to tear away his composure, each fell away unable to gain a foothold. The most persistent, Mara, repeatedly tempted the Bodhisattva to stray from his chosen path and ruin everything achieved over countless lifetimes. Mara, stepped out from a veil of darkness, and ready with a new tactic, spoke loudly and with great derision :

MARA
' Who do you think you are? This spot is the Vajrasana, the Diamond Throne, the central turning point of the universe. A place where all the great Buddhas of the past have been enthroned. What right do you have, an ordinary and most undistinguished person, to sit here where many magnificent Buddhas have once triumphantly sat?'
THE STORYTELLER
The Buddha, unperturbed by this criticism, said;

THE BUDDHA
' I am indeed an ordinary person, yet over many lives I have diligently practised all the Six Perfections. Each has now reached its purest form. Dana has been perfected, Sila has been perfected, Ksanti has been perfected, Virya has been perfected, Dhyana has been perfected, and Prajna has been perfected. Having perfected them all, I am worthy to sit here, like all the previous Buddhas who have gained Enlightenment'

THE STORYTELLER
Mara responded;

MARA
'Well, anyone could say that. Anyone could say they've practised all these perfections over previous lives. How do I know you’re not just making it all up? Who is there alive now who can vouch for that? What proof do you have for your assertion? If this were a court of law you'd have to produce witnesses in order to win your case. I doubt you could bring even one person forward to corroborate what you say?'

THE STORYTELLER
The Buddha said nothing in reply, but leaving his left hand resting on his lap, leant  forward slightly and with his right hand touched the earth. The point where his fingers gently tapped upon the ground, a large hole in the earth opened up and out of it came the Earth Goddess Drdha in her arms she carried a vase. This was one of many vases containing all that the earth remembered from the past and the present. The Earth Goddess spoke;

THE EARTH GODDESS
' I have been here for all time and all eternity.  I have seen all men and women come, and I have seen all men and women go. The earth has been their mother, and the earth is always their grave. Before life and after death, it is only the earth that remains. From my many vases I will show you what the earth remembers. From my many vases I will pour out ancient tales, the best remembered songs of the earth. Only I have been the true witness to the past lives of this Bodhisattva.  I have seen all his previous faces, the thousands of lives where he practised the Six Perfections. I bear proudly the truth of my perceptions and uphold that he has attained what he says. He is more than worthy of sitting here on the Vajrasana, on the seat of diamond wisdom, on the seat of the Buddhas. I will now provide you with the proof'

THE STORYTELLER
Mara, and all beings throughout the whole Universe the truth of what she has witnessed. The Earth Goddess bowed towards the Bodhisattva in reverence, and returned from whence she came. The earth closed up,returning to how it was before. Mara recognised his defeat by telling a story of his own;

MARA
'There was once a pond in which a crab lived. Cruel children would pull it out from the water, and whenever it extended a claw they would cut, break or smash it with sticks and stones, before throwing it back in the water. I feel I am like that crab, for every manoeuvre, strategy or trick I have made, has been similarly cut off, broken, or smashed by the mind of this Bodhisattva, before it achieved its aim. So now, like the crab, I am once again thrown back from whence I came, more humiliated and damaged than before'

THE STORYTELLER
With this, Mara sank back behind the veil of darkness. Leaving the Buddha alone, calm and serene in the depths of his contemplations once more. It was now beyond all doubt that this Bodhisattva would now attain complete and perfect Enlightenment. He would now be seated on the Vajrasena and become a Buddha.3





This story has no literal historical truth in it at all. Yet it would be far too easy to discount it as just Buddhist hagiography, and therefore of no enduring spiritual value. But the subject matter of this story is steeped in spiritual value;  honesty, integrity, simple humility, staying grounded when on the brink of exalted states, and dealing equanimously with the arising of one’s baser doubts and motives. Difficulties most spiritual practitioners will find themselves dealing with on some level, at some point in their lives as practitioners. They are the gritty sand that we find somehow gets into our ice cream.  

The story of the Buddha’s enlightenment is more archetypal than historical, it possess a spiritual, psychological and poetic truth easy to overlook in the rush for literal veracity. As a myth it’s rich and highly significant. The Earth Goddess appears at this crucial tipping point on the Buddha’s journey to Enlightenment. He’s very near to attaining his goal, yet it is now that he’s besieged by his most deep-seated questions and doubts, personified by this figure Mara. When Mara accuses him of being an imposter, the Buddha calls the Earth Goddess to be his witness. This is an interesting choice of defendant. One might have thought he’d have summoned other Buddha’s or Bodhisattva’s to verify he was the real deal, call up a higher spiritual authority to speak for him. Instead he calls upon a relatively lowly Earth Goddess, Drdha.

Traditionally in Buddhist versions of the story, Drdha is described as being green from head to toe with long flowing wild hair. When summoned, she only half emerges from out of the ground. Her head ,arms, breasts and torso are above ground, whilst her hips legs feet and vagina remain underground. In her arms she’s carrying a vase. There is figuratively and conceptually something about Drdha that is forever unknowable, hidden or half concealed. Yet here she is being summoned to be a reliable witness, but a witness to what?  Well, to all the past lives where the Buddha perfected all the necessary virtues and perfections required of an Awakened One. It’s a bit like pulling out all your O & A level certificates, to justify your applying for a degree course. You need to provide evidence of applied earthly effort and initiative over time. It’s a spiritual CV that only an Earth Goddess could supply, because the earth is always with you whenever and wherever you are.

Earth as an element, is very receptive, it readily becomes the conduit for anything to grow in it or pass through it. Water soaks into it, collects underground,  re-emerging as streams and rivers lower down in the valley, that wends its way onwards to the sea. Earth without water, becomes a desert, barren and infertile wasteland. Earth and Water are lovers that can only bring forth life when bound together in intercourse. Water, is the Water of Life.

Drdha’s reproductive capacity, her vagina, is buried in the ground, whilst her nurturing capacity,  her breasts, are there for all to see and be suckled by. This is Mother Earth with all her fertile significance fully embraced. That vase in her hands, receives and contains memories and histories. That vase holds the water of lives that have passed through the earth, in this case the Buddha’s past lives, which she is about to pour forth as evidence.    

Drdha herself has a history, a checkered past of mixed origin. She’s not a purely Buddhist deity. In India the Earth Goddess bears many names and manifestations. She’s also known as Prithvi, which in Sanskrit means earth, or Bumi, which means soil, both of which point to her primeval origins  These are just two out of twenty one epithets. Prithvi Mata the Earth Mother mates with Dyas Pita the Sky Father, an inverse version of the Geb & Nut relationship which spawned Osiris in Egyptian mythology. The Earth Goddess in Hinduism has three levels on which she manifests -  as a provider, a sustainer and an enricher. The Provider manifestations are :~ the soil, the nursing mother,the nurturer, the birthplace, the mother of plants, the womb of forest trees and herbs,all nourishing, the world’s womb, the producer of everything, and the source of everything. The Enricher manifestations are described as:~ the repository of gems, abounding in jewels and bearer of treasure.

Drdha is part of the Sustainer manifestations, her name meaning ‘the steady one’. Descriptions of other sustaining aspects are: ~ the upholder,the patient one, the stable one, all preserving, all supporting, all bearing. With this roster of qualities it’s clearer why it is Drdha that the Buddha calls to be his witness. She has preserved the truth of what the Buddha claims he has attained. She has supported him over numerous lives and upholds the records of his legacy. Her perspective is broad and long, time is born with patiently, she waits for the right time to be called to arise, to bear witness. She’s confident in her own integrity, and that of others. She is stable and dependable because her loyalty is unwavering. What better witness could there be?

In times of doubt or loss of sraddha (faith), we could ‘Touch the Earth’ of our experience, to call forth the Earth Goddess to be our witness.  We all have an Earth Goddess aspect, to remind us what we have achieved so far in the spiritual life. History can always brings a longer, larger sense of perspective to a momentary mood of despair that can feel vastly out of proportion and hence overwhelming. An Earth Goddess reminds us it hasn’t always been so.These peaks and troughs in our experience come with an inflated sense of their own importance, which the grounding quality of the Earth Goddess can prick and burst. When we’ve lost touch with our sraddha, we often believe we just need to be more devotional. re-tune ourselves into the transcendental dimension of our spiritual goals. Get back in touch with the divine, pronto. But that might not be the thing we can do. First we may need to become reacquainted with our experience within this larger perspective of the Earth Goddess ~to ground ourselves in memory, remind ourselves how many times we’ve been here before, that this never lasts long, what it was that brought us out of it last time, recognise how far we’ve come already. In the relief that follows, then be more devotional. ‘Touching the Earth’ calls up a less emotionally based, objective version of our experience, to make this more conscious. Only afterwards will we be able to notice just how dependent on specific conditions our connection with sraddha has been.  


3 - A retelling of the traditional story written by Vidyavajra

ARTICLE ~ Drdha ~ Part Five


Elemental Earth

Before the days of atomic or particle physics, religious and philosophical thinkers wanted to  divide reality into its constituent elements. The number and type of these elements or qualities varied from tradition to tradition. In Buddhism there are six elements - earth, water, fire, air, space and consciousness. So even here the earth has become just one of many elements from which life is derived, its no longer the source of everything. The Buddhist stupa symbolically represents all these six elements, giving them concrete shape; earth is a cube, water is a sphere or hemisphere, fire is a cone, air is a crescent, space a disc, and consciousness a flame. The stupa is probably the oldest surviving devotional object from early Buddhism. Initially it was a reliquary, a container for actual relics of the historical Buddha, but quite quickly stupas came to symbolically represent the Buddha (with or without relics), and hence to represent the completed Enlightened state.

There is a Buddhist visualisation/reflection practice based on these primary elements,called the Six Element Practice. The purpose of it being to imaginatively breakdown our over-identification of our self with our body. This practice always begins with earth. That is the primary foundation upon which all the other elements are built. You then visualise the qualities of earth in the world, then imaginatively identify and connect with those elements of earth as being  present in your own body. Having done this you then imagine these bodily manifestations of aspects of earth returning to the external earth as present in the world. This then continues on through a succession of ever more rarified elements, of water,followed by fire, air, space, till finally we reach consciousness, something extremely tenuous and difficult to grasp imaginatively. By doing this practice you weaken the attachment we have to our Self as a permanent, substantial, and fixed entity. Its a strong practice meant to rock your self conception in its boots. So its not recommended for inexperienced practitioners whose meditation practice is lacking in breadth, depth or integration.

These elements, as represented in the Stupa, can also symbolise the different levels of spiritual attainment. This of necessity always begins with the Earth element. This is the rich and fertile ground from which a desire for spiritual practice emerges and then grows. In order for any plant to flourish, first a seed must be planted directly in the earth. The earth is us, unrefined, suffering, but rich in potential to flourish. Earth is composed of humus, a mix of rotting vegetable matter. Its the stuff of our lives previous to wanting to practice spiritually. It includes all the bits that don’t want to be a Buddhist, as well as those that do. One of the things that the earth can do is use and incorporate all these disparate elements of our psyche. It can integrate them, turn apparently barren and infertile ground into the mulch that eventually can sustain spiritual practice. It’s shape on the stupa is a cube, often coloured bright yellow, but probably was originally a more earthy yellow ochre. A cube is solid, inflexible, difficult to shift, it is experience in and on the ground, a stubborn, crude ,heavy object, that has smooth aspects but also defensive sharp edges and corners. This describes the working ground and psychological state of most Buddhist practitioners, struggling with integrating these intransigent elements of their personality. Yet here is where the foundations are laid for an effective practice of ethics, meditation and wisdom.

On top of the Earthly square in the Stupa, is placed a Watery sphere or hemisphere, white in colour.  Water we know flows over, under, or around any obstacle it encounters. If it freezes it becomes ice, hard as rock, as though it really belongs to the earth. If heat is applied through fire, water evaporates as though it really belongs in the air. It’s an extremely adaptable element, responding flexibly, no matter what the circumstances are. Rain falling upon the earth, either rolls off, or is absorbed into it,is stored in underground aquifers and flows into streams. Having become more grounded in our earthly experience, and to some extent integrated it. The result is a certain amount of fluidity emerging into the way we live or respond to life and circumstances. We find it easier to not let things bug us or stick in our minds. We find our minds can more easily let go of things, or allow them to roll off us. It’s as though we’ve become a sphere, to which little sticks. A sphere knows where its own centre of gravity is. Even if pushed, it will restore itself back to a stable balanced position. Having practiced ethics, meditation and wisdom with reasonable effectiveness, we reach a position of flexible stability and poise, on top of, instead of under the thumb of our Earthly experience. We remain able to be fed by and use Earthly energies, but we are no longer so easily floored or disrupted by them. If we are able to dam or contain water, it becomes a source or energy or provide sustenance to quake our thirst whenever its required. Like the colour white, water is pure, without taint or discolouration.

Upon the top of this white sphere representing Water, is a red cone of Fire. Whilst it’s important to learn how to be flexible and respond to earthly circumstances with creativity. It can’t be the only tactic in our spiritual armour. Sometimes things shouldn’t be got around, but need to be cremated in a purposeful fire. The three basic poison’s of the human mind; greed, hatred and delusion, are like noxious chemicals that can’t be accommodated, they need to be burned up. The term Nirvana means ‘to extinguish’. What is really being extinguished is the dominance of greed hatred and delusion in our consciousness. However, if we look closely at the outcome of a fire, it never destroys anything completely, what happens is that whatever it touches is transformed by contact with its flames. What was firewood becomes ash, what was liquid becomes steam, what we thought was a permanent immovable part of our self-identity is proved to be impermanent and transitory.  Fire is synonymous with spiritual death, the death of something that previously seemed impervious to change. The cone shape is red, often traditionally constructed in a sequence of ridges that get narrower as you ascend it. Flames are always broader at the base, but the hottest part of it is at the flames blue tip. So as we ascend through the levels of fire, we are working on transforming ever more refined states of greed hatred and delusion. These require a more focused, precise heat to be applied the higher up the flames go.

So far, with these first three elements, we have been dealing with things fully tangible to the senses, or at least readily graspable with the imagination. But with the green crescent of Air, perched on top of Fire, what can be experienced by the senses becomes slightly weakened. Earth we can hold in our hands, water though translucent moistens and dampens everything it comes in touch with, fire brings a warmth and a light, that if we get too close to it, will burn us. But air, though it is everywhere and covers everything on and over the Earth. It can never be seen, only felt when its a cool breeze, or by its effect upon the water by making waves, or by fanning the flames of a fire, or by moving our hand through it, or via the simple sensations of breathing when we inhale air. Our sensory experience of air is subtler, and likewise in the aftermath of all that burning off by fire, the level on which we find ourselves practicing is harder to objectively grasp. Air cannot in essence be seen directly, only the effects of Air can be felt. Like in particle physics, the presence of some fundamental aspect of our being is discerned by what is not objectively observable, but by the effect it has upon things that we know exist surrounding it. The crescent is reminiscent of the moon, either just appearing into or disappearing from view. It is green, because its the central thing upon which every living thing depends upon for survival.

Likewise as we move upwards to the silver disc of Space, things are increasingly tenuous and less susceptible to sensory interpretation. We inhabit a space with our bodies that because we are in space, we obviously cannot see it. Air parts around us as we walk to accommodate the space that we occupy. We can only observe with our eyes the amount of space discernible in our present surroundings, Physical space then is a movable, temporary, exchangeable commodity. Space is what we inhabit, but its not a fully measurable phenomenon. A silver disc is convex, like space it mirrors back at us all the visible world reflected in its polished surface. Space is as discernible by what is absent as much as by what is present. In fact whether things are present or absent in space is an irrelevant distinction with regard to the existence or not of space. Space exists regardless of whether it is or is not occupied. Space may be occupied, but it is never eradicated or reified by that occupation. A mirror perfectly reflects whatever it is placed in front of it, whether it is earth, water, fire or the air as sky. A mirror disappears and is absorbed by whatever it reflects, with only a barely discernible circular boundary edge to indicate that it is present. Even making a distinction between the mirror and what it reflects is an illusion. Space turns out to be an illusory reflection of the self. The self is defined by the space it occupies. It’s the mirror is itself, it is the thing that it does i.e. it reflects back, and is the substance of what is being reflected.

Such contemplations on Air followed by those on Space, prepare us for a greater metaphysical challenge, to reflect on the element of Consciousness. That small golden flame perched precariously on the top of the silver disc of Space. Imagine it as similar to tracking down the elusive presence of the Higgs-Boson in the Hadron Collider. There is something quintessentially baffling about a consciousness reflecting upon the nature of its own Consciousness. Like a telescope trying to observe in the detail of its own telescopic nature. We get entangled in Consciousness not as it is, but through its manifestations. Through its outcomes of self-awareness,self-expression and self-direction. Electricity is pure energy that has to be manifested through something in order to drive machines or light bulbs. Consciousness similarly needs to be embodied in human form. When you see a dead body of someone you knew, the prevailing impression is of a lifeless form, whatever once animated it has left.
Contemplating on the nature of Space started to dissolve the distinction between what was Self and what was Other. The contemplation of Consciousness starts with a puzzle - where exactly is consciousness? Is it in our body,where is it located in our experience? Otherwise how can we give it back, and to what do we give it back anyway ? How come something we can possess, such as a consciousness can be so hard to pin down? Can we in fact possess consciousness, or is it just on loan? The flame of consciousness, though golden, is small, its really hard to see. It’s like a tiny pilot light that we know must never be allowed to go out, but inevitably does. When consciousness is extinguished, what then? To what does it, or we, then return? Is human life just a brief spark of flame in the dark?

All these six elements, however rarefied, are understood through the exegesis of the Earth.  Without the earth’s ability to hold us and bring us back to it, all this spiritual mountain climbing would leave us gasping for oxygen in altitudes for which we are not suited. Likewise spiritual methods or practices for which we are not prepared or ready, instead of Enlightening us, would turn us into gibbering lunatics.

There is a zen phrase concerning the relationship between the truth and a practice to discover the truth. It’s contained in an answer given by the Sixth Zen Patriarch Hui Neng to a disciples question:-,


"Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger,right?"

The brightness of the moon is alluring, it’s undoubtedly always been an object of veneration and desire for humans. Yet its silvery beauty was also held to be dangerous. Staring too long at the moon would turn you into a lunatic. Enlightenment, is like the Moon, alluring distant and desirable.Yet the longing for it, whilst not driving you mad, can delude you. The words of the Buddha’s Dharma may point us in the right direction, but they are not the truth as an earthed and lived experience. You have to gaze beyond the teachings, beyond the finger, perhaps even beyond the image of the moon itself. There is a tendency over time for spiritual practices, methods and metaphors, to be taken too literally. Our minds become misled by our imaginations. Maybe from a fully earthed level of experience you should just stare at the moon in wonder and aspire, or stand at the base of a Stupa looking upwards without straining your neck muscles.


“Do not become so accustomed to images that you are dismayed by the real dragon”

Eihei Dogen.

ARTICLE ~ Drdha ~ Part Four



Underneath the Earth

Earth can be synonymous with the life giving, with death, with transformation and with rebirth. Earth has always had its shadow side as the container for a frightening hellish underworld. It’s deeply embedded in so many myths of the afterlife, such as that of Osiris. Though his role as guide through the underworld is a benevolent one, not all of the guides or gods of the dead are so kind. The metaphors and symbolic links between life, death, the afterlife,and the changing of the seasons are made time and time again across cultures and civilisations. Vegetation and death are twin aspects often embodied in one deity. Yet these myths are full of the sort of hope, that is more akin to the most ardent of wishful thinking. In Greek mythology, people after death would descend into the realm of Hades the ruler of the underworld, filled up with the earthly bodies of everyone who has ever died. The lord and king of this underworld Hades, is a tyrannical ruler. He represents everything about human death that is cold, oppressive and imprisoning. He is the dark that will separate you from all whom you love, blind your eyes to life, will wall you off from the experience of sunlight falling upon your forehead, forever.

No one has escaped the clutches of Hade’s ironclad and deadly fist. All except one person, Persephone, who, because she was the daughter of Zeus and Hades wife Demeter, is almost able to cheat death. It all started with Hades abducting his step daughter Persephone and taking her down into his underworld. Demeter is an Earth Mother like patron of agriculture. Out of her grief and anger at the loss of Persephone she causes all vegetation to wither and the whole earth to become barren. Zeus negotiates with Hades a way by which the return of his daughter can be obtained. Part of this contract meant that Persephone must marry Hades, and reign over the souls of the dead with her new husband. She does, however, get to leave the dead and the underworld for six months of the year, to make a return to the world of the living.  

Persphone subsequently became a revered vegetation goddess strongly associated with springtime. Making the parallels between her mythological story and that of the seasons even more apparent.  Like her Mother she can cause plants to wither, and the earth to become barren, only to break forth in the Spring with renewed vigour. She’s also similar to Osiris, because it’s through betrayal and treacherous circumstances beyond her control, that she becomes a guide to the dark underworld of death and of rebirth into the light. People worshipped and prayed to Persephone to help their recently deceased friends and family make the difficult traverse to heavenly rebirth. Interestingly she also the result of a union between an Earth and a Sky deity, which appears to be a common archetypal element in the myths of gods or goddesses of the underworld. They have to be able to put one foot in the world of the living and one in the world of the dead, be partly of the earth and partly of the heavens. Into the black earth one’s earthly body will be buried and entombed, and into the blue sky your etheric essence, your soul, your spirit or your consciousness will disperse or dissolve. Eventually to fall like rain onto freshly tilled soil, from which will emerge new life.  

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It would appear we have always needed a sort of saviour figure to conquer death for us, or to come and rescue us from the jaws of it. In this archetypal role that they perform in their myths, Osiris, Persephone and even Jesus Christ, are very similar - it is to rescue us all from the twin hells of suffering and death. The Buddha’s spiritual quest, as traditionally told, is motivated by this same very familiar desire. He leaves his comfortable home-life as a prince, and sets off to lead a homeless life because he needs to discover how to bring to an end old age, sickness and death, to bring to an end all human suffering.  Once he discovers it, he is awoken,  transformed into an Enlightened being, a Buddha. One who has the wisdom and compassion to see the nature of reality, not only clearly but truly. The difference between this and other myths is that what he discovers isn’t a propensity only given to gods, it lies within the reach of all earthly humanity, requiring no divine intervention for it to be achieved. Over the many millennia of Buddhist history, the way Enlightened beings are portrayed has developed into a diverse pantheon of beautiful archetypal forms. Incalculable numbers of previous Buddhas and Bodhisattvas from past aeons, have mythical stories of how they also discovered the truth, and manifest the many different facets of wisdom and compassion.

The Earth Store Bodhisattva is one such figure, who has become a popular devotional figure in Buddhist East Asian countries. His name in Sanskrit is Kshitigarbha, which means ‘one who encompasses the earth‘. ‘Kshiti’ meaning all that is stable, still, firm,vast and versatile, whilst ‘Garbha’ is ‘a treasury’ ‘a womb’ ‘a store’ or ‘a matrix’  Earth Store Bodhisattva then, represents an inexhaustible resource for the world, abundant with earthly wisdom, filled with compassion for all earthly suffering. Here are some verses in his praise:~


Earth Store Bodhisattva,wonderful beyond compare;

Gold-hued in his transformation body he appears,

Wondrous Dharma-sounds throughout the Three Paths and Six Realms;

Four Births and Ten Kinds of Beings gain his kindly grace.
His pearl,shining brightly, lights the way to heaven’s halls;
Six-ringed golden staff shakes open wide the gates of hell.
Leads on those with causes garnered life and life again;
To bow at the Nine-flowered Terrace of the Honoured One
Namo Earth Store Great Vows and Compassion
Bodhisattva of the dark and dismal worlds;
On Nine Flower Mountain, Most Honoured One,
With Ten Wheels of power you rescue all the suffering ones
Homage to Earth Store Bodhisattva.1


Like all Bodhisattva figures he has vowed not to accept full Enlightenment until all sentient beings are saved from suffering.  Kshitigarbha’s Vow is however quite specific ~ not just to save all beings from the hell realms, but to empty and destroy the hell realms altogether. He’s willing to go down into those ‘dark and dismal worlds’ as it says in the verses, in order to rescue them. Though he started off portrayed like most Bodhisattva’s as an ever youthful golden skinned deity, Kshitigarbha eventually is portrayed as a human being, dressed humbly in a monks robe, with a six-ringed staff in one hand to show he is mendicant, and a chintamani , a pearl or jewel, in the other to demonstrate his desire to liberate the minds and lives of everyone. In Japan he became the protector for families, and all who’ve ever died, particularly children, and is known as Jizo Bosatsu. When Kshitigarbha was a mortal it is said he attained insight through the practice of filial piety over numerous lifetimes. He therefore encourages the practice of filial duty, because its the simplest and most direct ethical practice that anyone can perform.

Kshitigarbha, is either portrayed standing as one liberated and walking in the world, or seated with one foot stepping down off his main lotus, to rest on a smaller lotus pad beneath it. This ‘stepping down’ posture symbolises his insightful desire to save, by direct intervention in the world. Green Tara and Padmasambhava, who also have this ‘stepping down’ manner, have similarly ‘active’ earthly roles. Kshitigarbha is said to be willing to walk with you, to guide you through death, to put you on the right path to heaven, in much the same way as Osiris is said to do. Though Bodhisattva’s are not gods, they do represent the same ethical archetypes or spiritual urges. So their postures and iconographic imagery become quite significant in denoting  the specific behaviours of an Enlightened being. In this a Buddha or Bodhisattva figure is supposed to model them for us. Devotional practice focused on these figures becomes a way for a practitioner to tune in and be influenced by this virtuous imperative present, not only within themselves, but also in the universe. Even if we don’t believe these figures have a literal existence, the things that they embody and represent do. We can align ourselves with these imperatives for the good, through directing our devotion toward these archetypal figures. Through them we can be put in touch with what  transcendental wisdom and compassion may be like. In this way a figure like Kshitigarbha can indeed become a source of treasure, a womb, a store, a cosmic matrix that we can tap into imaginatively. One of our deepest human desires is to be saved from suffering in the hell realms of our own making, whenever and  wherever they may occur.

So there is significance to be found in the iconography of Kshitigarbha. The mythology that lies behind the Earth Store Bodhisattva, can only be touched on briefly here. Such as the interesting tale that Kshitigarbha’s Bodhisattvahood is based on a previous life as a Brahmin maiden called Sacred Girl. Who was deeply troubled at her Mother’s Death, for her Mother had repeatedly slandered the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and would suffer in the hell realms as a consequence. Sacred Girl, sold all she had, and used the money to make daily offerings to the Buddha Flower of Meditation and Enlightenment. fervently praying that her Mother might be spared the pains of the hell realms. Pleading for his help, the Buddha transports her to the Hell Realms where a guardian says that her fervent prayers and offerings have accrued such merit that her Mother has ascended to heaven. Sacred Girl though relieved and happy for this, sees the sufferings of everyone else in the hell realms and vows to save them in all her future lives in whatever aeon.  

What is it then that this Earthly Bodhisattva keeps in his Treasury his Store?  One could say its a wealth not to be measured in gold or jewels. What Kshitigarbha is rich in, is in all the many forms of  wisdom ~ worldly wisdom, other-wordly wisdom, mudane wisdom, heavenly wisdom, transcendental wisdom. The archetypal wisdoms of all Buddha’s and Bodhisattva’s; the mirror~like wisdom; the wisdom of sameness; the discriminating wisdom; the all~accomplishing wisdom; the dharmadhatu Wisdom ~ which all amount to the same thing ~ the knowledge and vision of things as they really are. When Kshitigarbha sees the sufferings of the world and knows not only what its causes but its cures are, he doesn’t just weep for us, he must act  to save us from ourselves, from our self-inflicted suffering. So his earthly store, is an infinite Store of Wisdom and an infinite Store of Compassion. No-one can know what he knows about reality and the human condition, and do nothing. Life on Earth, as exemplified in Earth Store Bodhisattva, becomes not just the repository of knowledge, insight and compassion for the world, but the very means by which we can liberate ourselves. By being willing to go deeper into the earth, deeper into death, deeper into the underworld, deeper into our self, we discover for ourselves the means to save ourselves.  Without the intervention of a god or goddess.  




1- Taken Verses of Praise from The Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva
Translated by Master Shikshananda. Publisher The Corporate Body of the Buddha Educational Foundation.

ARTICLE ~ Drdha ~ Part Three



Existence on Earth

What experience of earthly existence do we have, as we gaze up into the heavens for guidance as our ancestors did? The earth lying beneath us, forces upon us a fixed reference point from which to view the universe. This grounded perspective, consequently blinkers and limits our horizons by this fixedness.  We are earth bound creatures, who live lives stuck to the earth by the glue of both a real, and an existential, gravity. We look up and wonder at the heavens, pondering upon and imagining, other worlds, other dimensions, other realities, whilst both of our feet are pressed firmly against, and supported by the earth.  We dream, in order to escape this  existential experience of being earthbound. The Earth is the dominant force shaping our whole conception of what it is to be human.

When we saw photos of the Earth taken from space in the 1960’s, they showed us the Earth for the first time, as this gloriously patterned sphere set against a dark velvet background. Earthly beauty looked so fragile. This prompted a shift in human awareness, more conscious of our interconnectedness with the planet’s eco-system, and the potential damage we may be doing to it. It’s rare to get such a glimpse, to gaze down upon the Earth and see our home from an entirely new perspective. An alien species might comprehend our planet quite differently. Perhaps they'd remark upon its beauty too, or its fortunate position in the solar system by which all sentient life is blessed. It is a planet of magnificent swirling clouds; a planet of azure seas; a planet marbled with minerals; a planet with a silvery embossed moon. But perhaps they’d only notice it’s ugly blemishes, its signs of sickness; overrun by humans, of its crippled,suffering beings, its poverty and inequality, a planet verging on extinction, where vision has been lost and all hopes have been abandoned.

Even though 71% of our planet’s surface is ocean, we still call our planet Earth. Of the 29% that is land, a large part of it is lifeless rock or desert.  To say nothing of the fertility of the earth’s soil that is buried out of sight beneath equally inert brick, tarmac or concrete. Our planet is not all covered with the black soiled fertile earth of our imagination. There’s a dry gritty gravitas that the earth brings to everything we do, a determination to survive, to overcome and make something of our lives upon it. We see ourselves as its progeny, caretaker and gardener. Earth sustains us during our life and absorbs us at our death. Human civilisations have been born because of the earth, and do not survive without it. The earth is a spherical life support system like no other.  It’s no wonder she’s been called ‘Mother Earth’.

Earth symbolises many things to our imaginations. Most of humanity's earliest religious notions were dreamt up in response to what the earth might bring, and what the earth might take away. What has been discovered from this primitive time are mostly female votive figures. Nature was seen then, and is still seen, as predominantly feminine. An earth that is bountiful, venerable and vengeful. The Earth Mother became like a black hole from which we were expelled at our birth and into which we are sucked back at our death, like some huge cosmic vaginal hoover.
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The Earth Mother’s relationship with humanity was both deeply personal and profoundly universal. Mirrored and mired in our experience of the natural world it was nevertheless a precarious volatile relationship. We understood the world less well, with fewer controls over the impact it might have upon us. The Earth Mother may provide us with pleasures and treasures, but might just as easily chose to provide pain and poverty. We lived in fear of what the Earth Mother might do with her vaginal vengeance. Overnight she could make the land barren and  humankind infertile. She might betray our trust, withdraw her support, remove all wealth and abundance. Visiting famine, plague and death upon us, of biblical dimensions. The Earth Mother was certainly a patron to humanity, but also an unpredictable bringer of pestilence.


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At this point I’d like to make some general observations about the physical location and power invested in those gods and goddesses, which does appear to change overtime. Whilst we were still nomadic hunter gatherers our conceptions of how the gods and goddesses inhabited and influenced the world, was predominantly embodied in the earth, trees, skies and water that surrounded us, the things upon which we depended. With the development of more settled communities, those first identifiably urbanised civilisations emerge. From these towns and cities, the gods and goddesses become more remote, if not alienated. Today this remoteness, has ended in their almost total expulsion from our imaginations. Back then they still had a presence in human lives, but increasingly they were living dissociatively in celestial heavens. Sometimes this distance resulted in them reeking arbitrary havoc upon the world just for fun, or out of spite, or out of some internecine rivalry between the gods themselves. An archetypally masculine way of executing power ensues, of fractious argument, the waging of war and submission to the will of the physically strongest.

The main power brokers in the heavens also transit from being female to male. It’s impossible to know fully why,when or how this happened. Though it is clear that changes in the gender dominance among the gods and goddesses does correspond to developments in the nature of human society. Civilised communities seem to become predominantly realms of male power, where the feminine is invested with less actual power or control. The desire to make reality conform to human will, instead of humanity conforming to the will of the Earth Mother, maybe be a contributory cause of this gender switch. The relative strengths of gods and goddesses correlate with this, and mirror its power struggle. The earth, for a time, remains the realm for minor female spirits, nymphs and semi-goddesses, until what survives of their pagan power and places of worship is usurped or absorbed by an increasingly masculine and singular godhead. Because up in the Heavens, the power that is held by a diminishing number of male gods, eventually becomes compounded into one god, indivisible, omnipotent and on high.

Due to this change in imaginative location, humankind becomes less able to observe the work of the divine, whatever the gender, in the world that surrounds them. The locus of power is intangible, beyond sense, sensibility, or logic, lost in the lofty remoteness of Heaven. The act of creation itself no longer emerges kicking and screaming from out of the Earth Mother’s womb, but is the result of a great spell instigated by an all powerful male god, magically forming human life from out of the mud and slime of the earth. Further demonstrating the increasingly subservient role being given to the earth in the act of creation.  The Earth Mother has now become the handmaiden of god.

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In the methodology of medieval alchemy, it starts with the ‘Prima Materia’ the blackest of earths. All magical transformations weilded inside the alchemical crucible are created from this earth. which, if perfected, result in ‘The Philosophers Stone’. Through this mysterious talisman the predominantly male alchemist attains the universal wisdom. The understanding of the true purpose of the whole of reality. The alchemist is the medieval equivalent of the ancient oracle or sage, reading heavenly signs in earthly traces.  It’s ironic that modern empirical science emerges out of the arcane gibberish of alchemical theses and experiment. The word alchemy is derived from an Arabic word al-kīmīā meaning ‘to cast together’’. Al-kimila’s linguistic origins are Greek, the word chemi or kimi being their name for Egypt or Egyptian, so alchemy can also mean ‘coming from Egypt’. Science owes some of its basic understanding of the properties of chemical elements to alchemy. This lineage probably dating back thousands of years, is still honoured through the word chemistry. The knowledge that comes from Egypt.

Many beautiful richly adorned golden objects have been unearthed from the ground of Egypt.. Sometimes the captivating nature of gold, overshadows more unprepossessing articles with perhaps greater symbolic value. One such odd object, made around 1323 BC, represents a myth that is actually far far older than this. It’s a cast metal effigy, discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun,  made in the outline of the Egyptian god Osiris. It was moulded hollow, so it could be filled up with Nile mud and planted with seeds. When first sealed up in the impenetrable dark of the newly closed tomb, these seeds grew feebly upwards. Desperately searching for a glimmer of light, they found none and inevitably died. But perhaps the whole purpose of this object was not for it to survive, but to conjure into being, by acting out, a process of earthly renewal. This votive object, performs sympathetic magic for Tutankhamun, a statement of intent, a spell that says something like:~ ‘here are our best wishes for you in the afterlife.’  

There is an earthy wisdom woven into the whole life of Osiris. He is said to have been the originator of the spells and methods of mummification to preserve of life, from which the medieval alchemists believed their experiments had their origins. Osiris was created as a god of the earth, who over time develops responsibilities that oversee the transmission of the dead through the underworld, to the heaven beyond. Like Jesus Christ, Osiris’s own macabre death and resurrection becomes the object for a reverential optimistic cult. Through ardent devotion and seeking of his guidance you save yourself from a hell in the hereafter. What follows is the legend of Osiris,a classic folk story, filled with love, jealousy, murder, sex, and primeval symbolism.


Osiris was born of the union between Geb,the god of the earth, and Nut, the goddess of the heavens. Geb eventually passes on his earthly rule to Osiris, who through introducing agriculture and wine making into the land, makes the Egyptian soil fertile. He becomes deeply revered as ‘that eternally good being’,’ that perfect one.’ His brother Set grows increasingly jealous of Osiris’s success as Pharaoh, deciding to assassinate him and take his place. Set has a coffin made that will only fit Osiris. He holds a party, inviting Osiris to attend. During the celebrations there is a competition, in which the coffin is the prize, offered to whoever can fit in it. Many people try and fail. However the moment Osiris lays down in it, Set jumps forward, slams on the lid, locking and sealing it with lead. He throws the coffin into the waters at the Nile Delta, where it floats out to sea.

Set imagines that will be the last he’ll see of his brother. However, Osiris’s wife, Isis, goes in search of her husband’s body and coffin. She finds it on the coast of Lebanon buried within a cedar tree, that is being used as a pillar in a temple. She returns the coffin to Egypt hiding it in the Delta marshlands. Set, whilst out hunting, stumbles across it, reopens the coffin, and violently dismembers Osiris’s body into fourteen parts, scattering them widely throughout the kingdom of Egypt. Once again Isis goes on a search, and locates thirteen of her husbands fourteen lost body parts. She reassembles them, binds them together with cloth, and soaks them in the preservative unguents of mummification. The one part missing is Osiris’s phallus, which has been eaten by a fish. Isis fashions a replacement phallus out of gold, and by turning herself into a bird hovering over Osiris’s body, breathes life back into him. During this restoration of his life-force, Osiris and Isis conceive a child, and thus the falcon headed sky god Horus is born.


Osiris guides deceased souls to an afterlife, but he is also a fertility god, with his phallus frequently shown erect on his mummified body. He is both dead and alive, he died and was reborn, his fertility (represented by his phallus) is lost then symbolically restored. He moves effortlessly back and forth across the boundary between human existence and nonexistence. He was born from the earth, lived on the earth, died on the earth, and was reborn upon the earth. So this metal votive artifact of Osiris,filled up with mud and sown with seeds, is founded on deeper primary anxieties and aspirations surrounding the human condition. As an earth god, Osiris’s life-force can lie dormant, flourish, decay, die and renew itself, and be able to do the same for others. Osiris maps out the course of a human life and our desire for a life beyond death.

For all earthbound creatures this is the cycle of life and death within which we exist. In the King James Bible, it says;To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven’.  Our lives upon the Earth have their seasonal fluctuations, their periods of material, psychological or spiritual dormancy, followed by flourishing,decaying, dying and renewal. We live these periods out ‘under the heavens’  whilst still walking upon the earth.  For meaning and purpose we look up to the skies and wonder, we pray for help, guidance or salvation from a deity. We see ourselves as beings existentially separate from both Earth and Heaven. Sandwiched like an insignificant filling in-between the bread of life. Never fully of the Earth, and never fully of the Heavens. Consequently neither fully alive, nor fully dead, even whilst in the midst of life. Too conscious of that unknown point where what we know as ME will terminate. A point where our tangible presence upon the earth becomes an intangible absence. Some may plead to the heavens, and others will mourn upon the earth. We create gods and goddesses in our image to make sense of our brief time upon the earth, and when we die, they die, and everything else remaining grieves in silence.