The Tantric Buddhist statue pictured above (credit: Mark Alonzo) is sexual and symbolic. Saw it with Mark and Laura this past Wednesday when we made a trip to the Crow Collection. I don’t remember exactly when or what region it is from, but Mark took a beautiful picture that gleams.
The Tantric statues on display were meant for more monks of a more elite status. Like this one, they were meant to be contemplated, meditated on. Some of the statues were of figures that would wear chains made of human faces. You could see, say, on the Lord of Death a bunch of faces which seemed smug or vain or any number of related emotions. I, at least, thought that death as the end or “judge” of any human pride might have been part of the point.
Exactly why the statues are so erotic is an open question. The Crow Collection discusses Tantric practice as bodily ways to achieve a body/mind unification, where compassion can flow from one’s very grounding in reality (their phrase):
Tantric practices, unlike other Buddhist vehicles, explicitly use the body as the path. Visualization makes use of the power of sight to bring the outside in and the inside out, to dissolve the boundary of our body. Breath control, gestures (mudras), and positions of the body (yogic asanas) are tools to stimulate and direct the flow of energy, along with extensive ritual performances ordering and purifying space and summoning and dispelling energies.
Part of me feels this a bit too technical, though many of the statues feature some cosmic force personified trampling other bodies: a rejection of human form. And the practices described are obviously important. But to what degree are the statues simply about using one’s own erotic passions to pursue something higher? The statues are stylized and symbolic, but there’s a lot of sensuality on display.
The statue pictured above is probably the mating of wisdom (Buddha) and compassion (the girl). His hands, left over the right, are in a “teaching” gesture. While gold, it is relatively unadorned, instead focusing on their expression, their gestures, their unity. “Wisdom” is a bit distant, but “Compassion” seems to have warmth and joy. This is a cosmic tension represented.