SUNDAY, August 7, 2016
Rev. Julia Hamilton
One of the things I did this summer was make a visit to our local art museum, to the exhibit they’ve got going on right now called Puja and Piety. It’s a collection of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain artwork that is devotional in nature – that is, art that was created to be used as an object of devotion – in a temple, a home shrine, at a festival or celebration. These pieces are meant to be relational – to tell a story, to help focus attention on a god or goddess, to remind us of some key aspect of the spirit, as it is understood in these three traditions.
In one of the rooms, there is a large-ish painting, perhaps on a scroll, a very intricate and detailed painting of the layers of existence, from the hells down below to the heavens at the top. The hells were notable for their violence – war, suffering, blood and pain. And it was clearly not just the physical violence that was considered hellish, not just the pain, but whoever had drawn this piece was also portraying a psychological hell – the anguish of war, the brutality of one human being against another.
The heavens, in contrast, were of course peaceful. People sitting in gardens under canopies, enjoying one another’s company, music and flowers all around. Again, it was not just the physical comforts of heaven, but also very clearly the human element of harmonious relationships.
The painting was a meditation on our options, on the cycles we pass through in our lives, on the karma that moves with us. Heaven or hell – harmony or discord. Think on this, the painting says, meditate on this, and let these visions influence your actions in this life. Exert the control you have right here, right now, to move toward peace. The painting reached out across the centuries to me, a tap on the shoulder from long ago, “Hey, you all didn’t invent this stuff.”
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