The Neverending Blog, Day 147: Life Insurance

February 24th, 2011

Without really being aware of it, Munyin and I have surrounded ourselves with reminders of spiritual life from several traditions.

The picture above is a 19th-century Japanese scroll (we have a lot of Japanese scrolls) of the monk Do-gen on the path.  Revered as one of the founders of Japanese zen, Do-gen refused honors and robed himself in peasant clothes.  The actual painting is a lot rougher and less “pretty” than it looks here.  The path symbolizes both his wanderings and the path toward enlightenment.

As long as we’re on Buddhism, here’s a carved-wood Thai monk, gilded with semiprecious stones, from the 18th century.  Note the feet, politely tucked behind him so as not to affront the viewer.  He’s about two and a half feet high. I bought this in Bangkok many years ago and bought it a seat on the plane for the trip home. You can’t really see it here, but the tail of his robe fans out behind him and is as fragile as a potato chip. There was no possibility of my entrusting it to the baggage handlers.  I was on Thai International and the stewardesses gave me extra-immaculate service because of my traveling companion.

The backdrop is a Japanese folding screen of flowers painted on a background of metallic gold, from the 1840s and now, sadly, falling apart.

We live with a lot of depictions of Guanyin, the Chinese goddess of mercy, who is thought by many scholars to be a manifestation of the Buddha’s compassion. Unfortunately, most of them are old paintings and are under glass, which makes it difficult to photograph them without glare.  This little ceramic representation lives on top of a boxed set of Buster Keaton’s films, which seems somehow appropriate.

By the way, all of these are in our living room.
Here’s something different.  This is the head of an apsara, a Hindu angel, probably ripped from a 14th-century Khmer temple.  I bought it long ago, before we all learned about the desecration of these astonishing structures for the antiques trade.  I’d put her back if I knew where she belongs.  Southeast Asian Buddhism is richly flavored with Hinduism, and the great Khmer ruins are monuments to a harmonious collision between religions and artistic traditions.

Just a few more.

This is a modern wood carving of the Sanskrit word Hu, which is an ancient name for God.  It hangs high above the door between the living room and the rest of the first floor, which means we pass under it continually.

This lovely pairing of Mary and Joseph is carved in balsa wood by a South African artist.  It was virtually the only thing I bought there.  I love it; the long faces and the overall attitude seem somehow Flemish to me.

One more Buddha, Khmer and contemporary.  This is carved in soapstone and weighs about 20 pounds.  The glass bar of candles makes him gleam in a very persuasive way at night.  I hand-carried this, and it caused me immense trouble as I left Thailand, which has a law against exporting images of the Buddha other than personal amulets.  It took fifteen minutes of explanation and a low-grade bribe before this carving was handed back to me.

I love this one.  It was worth the trouble with Thai customs and the effort of lugging it through 24 hours of flight.

Oh — the images of Wumsy are in a separate room.

11 Responses to “The Neverending Blog, Day 147: Life Insurance”

  1. Larissa Says:

    So, can I mail you money and you get me anything of Guanyin you can find and afford and shove in a suitcase the next time you’re over there? Please?

  2. Munyin Says:

    Wow, Tim: Your photography and descriptions make me want to visit you and see these lovely objects grace your home… but wait, I live here too. Thanx for taking the time to renew my eyes. And I know that subliminally, all these mementos do give me a sense of the sacred atmosphere we experience in our home and sanctuary. You’ve made all our homes really beautiful & light-hearted.

  3. EverettK Says:

    Now that was a lovely and refreshing visitation during my lunch break from wood floor hell. But, the worst is over, and it’s clear sailing from here to the end (unless we run out of wood…)

    Thanks for sharing the images from your home, Tim! Lovely and peaceful.

  4. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    How very lovely and peaceful, indeed. I like Munyin’s word “sanctuary” which is what a home should be. To me, the so-called “Eastern” traditions have always inspired thoughtfulness. The picture of the pilgrim quiets a lot of the stress and striving that we experience on our trail. I have a little hotai a Japanese friend gave me. He always makes smile. Thank you.

  5. Larissa Says:

    Munyin-beautifully put. (c: And I agree that a home should be a sanctuary-there’s enough crazy in the world to keep us all spinning like tops-having a place to come home to and settle and relax is crucial. It took me a lot of years to figure out ways to put all that good energy into a space where I’m living-it took a lot of work and I’m still learning how to keep the restlessness out and bring in the zen(c:

    Thanks for sharing a piece of your Tranquility Pie. 😀

  6. Gary Says:

    Guanyin must be universal. I have a little gilt Guanyin amulet, pressed into my hand by my girlfriend as I left Cambodia. “She’ll keep you safe,” I was told.

  7. Susan Says:

    Tim, I love this post. I have a few Buddhas and I find that they bring me a sense of peace. It’s wonderful to see your and your wife’s collection. They’re beautiful.

  8. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Riss — Guanyin is ubiquitously available — go into a shop in any Chinatown and you’ll find ceramics similar/identical to the one in the photo. She’s so often painted or sculpted that most Asian antique and even furniture shops will have her on the premises in one form or another.

    But if you want to send me money, please do.

    Hi, Mun — what a surprise to find you here. Who’s dusting the Buddhas? (That’s a J-O-K-E, deriving its humor from (a) the unexpected direction it took; (b) the interpolation of a humble domestic chore – dusting — with a symbol of spiritual enlightenment — the Buddha; (c) the pretense of sexist assumptions on my part about traditional female tasks; and (d) the fact that I do virtually all the dusting.) Laughter continues to mystify us, doesn’t it?

    And when Munyin says, “all our homes,” she doesn’t mean to suggest that we currently occupy several homes. It refers to the succession of places we’ve inhabited. Just in case the IRS is reading this.

    Thanks, Everett, but shouldn’t you be sanding? (JOKE) Seriously, if it brought a little peace into the day, it was worth running around at 8 AM taking all those pictures.

    Hi, Lil, and thanks. I’ve often thought that there’s an eternity of difference between the central symbols of two of the world’s great religions: a guy nailed to a piece of wood with a spear wound in his side, and a man sitting silently and going within. If I were in a sort of spiritual ad agency, evaluating two marketing approaches, I know which one I’d choose, and pretty fast, too.

    Riss (again!) it’s not a total coincidence, I think, that most people who can be plausibly said to be enlightened are older. (Jesus is an exception, but look how that worked out.) When we’re young — or, to put it more accurately, when I was young, I was crazy. Not to malign young people, although I think I’ve already alienated enough people for one day with the Jesus remark.

    And, just to keep it personal, I don’t think that religion/reverence for spiritual traditions are necessarily opposed to humor, although several of the world’s great religious traditions do seem kind of short on laughs.

    Gary — But ARE you safe? I know I worry about you down there with all those wallabys. Wallabies. Not to mention being upside-down all the time.

    Hi, Susan, and welcome. It’s interesting to hear it described as a collection, because we never felt like we were building one, and yet that seems to be what we have, in a modest sense. and there are dozens that I didn’t show you.

  9. Larissa Says:

    And for the third time in one post…true, Guanyin is ubiquitous but we don’t really have a Chinatown..a cow town yes…though come to think of it there is an import store down the street that I bet would have something. (c: So you might have to wait on that whole “sending you money thing…” hehe.

    And in regards to spaces, there probably was a bit of too-much-youth-not-enough-life that was getting in the way of my good mojo but I think the other side of it was that I had bounced from living with my mom to living with roommates to living with nobody…and I was bad at being by myself. Still not my preferred mode of existance but at least I can do it now. hehe. It just took lots of hours of me pacing back and forth telling myself that no, I did not need to go out for once and yes, I can just sit here and pick up one of those projects I keep saying I never have time to do…or dance in my living room…or whatever.

    recaptcha: cognitive focis I think it’s making fun of me…not quite cognitive focus but close? 😀

  10. EverettK Says:

    NOT sanding. I finished nailing down boards last night at 6:42pm (yes, it was THAT much of a relief to be done. If I’d owned a Kalashnikov rifle, I’d have been firing it in the air.)

    I may be an idiot (for putting the flooring down myself), but I’m not a STUPID idiot. We’re hiring someone to do the sanding, filling and finishing.

  11. Jaden Says:

    These are beautiful, Tim. They do create a sense of sanctuary, as Munyin so eloquently phrased it. I love the juxtaposition of the Guanyin statuette and the Buster Keaton tapes.

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