Tag Archives: urnes

Narrator – back to the civilised world


From the empty gate to the North Cape we travelled in the eternal light. No night, no darkness, no visions of murdered villagers who wanted to escape from the nightly fire in the forest, no vigils for the breath of the deceased, only the constant day where the sun did not set. This peaceful world without nightly phantoms was new to me. Finally I could sleep quietly.

My beloved was in euphoria about passing the Empty Gate – his here and now was boundlessly connected with the universe. At the North Cape he did not need any sleep; he rested peacefully sitting on the ground while I slept.

Noordkaap[1]

The outward journey to the empty gate in the north was straightforward. The return to the civilised world included many detours along the winding coast of the fjords in Norway. From the North Cape my lover studied the endlessly intertwined worlds described in the Avatamsaka Sūtra [2].

My beloved was deeply moved by the abundance of descriptions of these intertwined worlds. Dumbfounded he read that there had existed many Buddhas in the past and in the future unmentionable Buddhas would follow according to this sūtra. Until that moment my lover with his American Protestant Christian background knew but one god. After he had studied Buddhism, that one god was replaced by Buddha.

The road to the empty gate led to a unity including the comprehensive Buddhist universe, but now this sūtra proclaimed the existence of infinitely intertwined universes in which many, many Buddhas were involved. His dismay was complete, just as complete as my amazement about the eternal days and about the infinitely intertwining separation of mountain landscape and sea along the coasts of the Norwegian fjords.

Geirangerfjord[3]

During our return along the Norwegian coast, the nights with my dark phantoms came back almost unnoticed. I kept the vigil while my beloved slept. In the northern ports and places I was an attraction – not many people arrived with a blue-dark complexion. Fortunately we were in transit; my mask of an idol evaporated on leaving the place.

After a few weeks of study in the Avatamsaka Sūtra, my lover was used to the intertwining of the universes, but he also read that the universes are mirrored in each other and thereby affect each other. He could understand this intellectually when he looked at the water and the air in the fjords, but these thoughts were inconsistent with his cultural background. His euphoria and happiness after passing the empty gate was shocked upon reading this sūtra.

Sonnefjord_Norway2[3a]

The descriptions of Indra’s Net [4] brought some clarification in the confusion that had arisen after studying the abundance of intertwined worlds, but he experienced this model as artificial. The euphoria and liberation of the Northern Cape changed in care and doubt about an infinite winding road that my lover could never finish during his life. A parable of my father – about an endless life with many rebirths in which living beings in many manifestations (from microbe to enlightened people and gods via individual universes) followed the road to a blissful existence – gave no rest. My beloved uttered gloomy comments upon the description of the 32 abodes “from hells, titans, hungry ghosts, animals, people, gods in 22 categories to five spheres of infinite space, consciousness and emptiness” [5] in the long discourses of Buddha.

From the Sognefjord we decided to travel to Oslo via a direct route along stave churches. First we visited the stave church in Kaupanger and then the oldest stave church in Urnes with a crucifix whereof part of the original paint came from Afghanistan according to the guide. The dark night was inside the Church with glimmer from above – outside there was the excess of the summer light.

Stave_church_Urnes,_panorama[6]

My beloved and I made a day trip on the plateau of Hardangervidda [7]. To the North the clouds and the landscape appeared to go on endlessly. My lover compared the repeating clouds with the intertwined universes from the Avatamsaka Sūtra. He wondered how we can achieve the enlightenment of all the intertwined universes. I indicated that the clouds and the worlds can take care for themselves; the wind is the same everywhere – ultimately there are no two kinds of wind [8]. After my remark my beloved started to beam again; his concerns and confusion were gone. My nightly phantoms remained.

800px-Hardangerviddaflora[9]

The joy of my beloved remained in my life until the following spring he returned to his parents ‘ house.


[1] Source image: http://nn.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nordkapp

[2] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avatamsaka_Sutra. De full name of this sūtra is: “ Mahāvaipulya Buddhāvataṃsaka Sūtra ( महावैपुल्यबुद्धावतंसकसूत्र)” or “The extensive marvellously decorated garland of flower-buds sūtra”, wherein “Avatamsaka” means amongst others “marvellously shining garland” and “sūtra” stands for “transference of the good”.

[3] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Geirangerfjord.jpg

[3a] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sognefjord

[4] See also: Origo, Jan van, Who are you – a survey into our existence, part 1. Amsterdam: Omnia – Amsterdam Publisher, 2012, p. 65 – 67

[5] The Long Discourses of the Buddha. Massachusetts: Wisdom Publications, 1995 p. 38-39

[6] Source image: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stabkirche_Urnes

[7] See also: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hardangervidda

[8] See: Cleary, Thomas, Book of Serenity – One Hundred Zen Dialogues. Bosten: Shambhala, 1998 p. 110.

[9] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hardangervidda

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Introduction: Three – Object in the middle – Church


In the previous post you and I have met the role of the house as “object in the middle”. The role of the home has changed over the years from the environment where we live to a habitation. This habitation in the form of a house is seen by our ancestors as a safe haven and as a reference point from where the world is experienced. Recently, people started to identify with their home: they give shape to the house and the house expresses who they are. Our society demands of us more and more that we have a nationality and a permanent home and residence. Without these assets, people are not treated as full citizens.

Now you and I are looking into the role of the house of God as “object in the middle”.  The first sacred places, we have already seen. We have encountered sacred stones on our Odyssey. We remember the stone circles as places for ceremonies which we no longer know.

[1]

We also know the golden calf as an image of a (demi-) god [2]. We have read in the Old Testament about Yahweh who is present between the tips of angel wings above the lost Ark of the Covenant,.

Probably the hunter-gatherers have already given shelter to Gods. We have read about rituals performed by the hunter-gatherers to unite the hunters with their prey as redemption for killing of the prey, and to maintain the unique bond between prey and hunter for both their survival. The rituals may be performed at specific times and places. These sites may be seen as a precursor to the house of God. The many caves with paintings of hunting scenes are a next step towards a house of God. Probably, these paintings also had a religious background.

Many nomadic peoples have travelled around with their herds. They may also have known fixed holy sites. And probably they have seen sacred sites of established residents. Have they identified themselves with the gods of the established residents and the hunter-gatherers? Probably not, but maybe they have adopted some elements of the faith of other people. As nomads, they will have carried their sacred objects on the travels with their herds. In their tents special places are reserved for shrines. One example is the Ark of the Covenant that the Jews carried around on the travels and place in a tent during stages. Even in the temple in Jerusalem, the ark is placed with poles on both sides as a reminder and a preparation for a new travel.

The form of Islamic mosques reminds you and me of temporary stays – large tents and outposts to indicate the entrance point – in a desert. These mosques are transferred in imposing houses of Allah with courts and outbuildings around. An example is the Suleyman Mosque in Istanbul.

[3]

Farmers with fixed fields are moving into permanent habitations. Also the gods receive their private habitations. The recognition of the house of Gods does not happen overnight. When we visit the oldest stave church at Urnes in Norway, the guide explains that the woodwork of the church is decorated with dragon motifs on the outside to keep the many evil spirits outside. This is necessary in the long dark winters. The Vikings have to leave their swords outside next to the door. Inside the church has only a few small lights from above. In that light a wooden crucifix is seen from which redemption and access to the afterlife may come. The priests at that time do try to change the image of Valhalla – the hall where the honorary fallen soldiers during battle continue eating, drinking and fighting to the end of time – into a longing for deliverance from sin and a Christian view of the afterlife. The blue paint color – lapis lazuli – on the wooden crucifix from around the 12th century AD comes from Afghanistan according to the guide.

During the explanation of the guide I think of Jalāl al-Dīn – also known as Rumi, who is born around the same time in Vaksh in Balkh Province in Afghanistan. Probably Rumi transcends the “object in the middle” in his contact with Allah: “My thoughts are in the heart of Allah, the heart of Allah will be sick without the thoughts of me [4]”. Later on our Odyssey more about this.

When we leave this church, you say: “Those light openings under the roof remind me of a saying by Oscar Wild:” We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars “.

[5]

“Do you remember the first rays of the sun at 6 o’clock in the morning on the first day of spring? [6]” I ask.

“Whenever I visit a church.” You answer.

The next message continues on churches as “object in the middle”.


[1] Source of image: Marieke Grijpink

[2] See the previous post “Introduction: Three – Object in the middle – part 1” on 5th of May 2011

[3] Source image: http://www.islamleer.nl/islaam/biografie/geleerdenoverigen/758-kanuni-sultan-suleyman-i

[4] See: Nicholson, Reynold A., The Mathnawi of Jalálu’ddin Rúmí, Book II. Cambridge: Biddles Ltd, 2001 p. 281

[5] Source image: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/norway/urnes-stave-church

[6] See the last post on “Two” on 25th of April 2011