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Flash Review 2, 8-4:
Out of Body Experience
Master Vajrachara Channels
By Terry Hollis
Copyright 2000 Terry Hollis
Dance: to perform, either
alone or with others, a rhythmic and patterned succession of movements,
commonly to music.
Embody: to render concrete
by expression in perceptible form, as in words, acts, institutions,
or works of art.
--Webster's New International
Dictionary, Second Edition
When I walked into the
OM Yoga Center last night I knew right away that this would not
be a "performance" in the classic sense of the word. Sure, one of
the upstairs studios had been outfitted with a semi-circle of candles
that separated the audience from Master Vajrachara, and the whole
proscenium thing had been established, but we were clearly there
to share something. Prajwal Ratna Vajrachara, founder of Dance Mandala,
is the foremost practitioner of Charya Nritya, the Tantric Buddhist
Dance of Nepal. As he embraced the deities of the Buddhist religion
one by one, I found that I had stopped watching him altogether because
"he" was nowhere in sight. What we got were a series of complete
transformations that paid respect to the physical discipline of
dance and a meditative ritual over 1300 years old.
Charya Nritya is a Sanskrit
term that means "dance as a spiritual discipline." As with most
ritual-as-performance events, it takes a shift on the part of the
spectator to clear the expectations from your head. Try to forget
that you are there to "see" something and just sit there. This approach
turned out to be more rewarding than I could have imagined, and
as the fifth and last dance rolled around I was convinced of the
body's role as a vessel. Master Vajrachara (who has been performing
since the age of twelve) welcomed deities that embodied universal
compassion, wrath, unflinching reality, and fiery crusade. Gender
was never a barrier; Vajrayogini (one of the evening's most memorable
visits) was introduced as the primary female Buddha. Adorned with
decorative beads, an ornate headdress, and elaborate make-up, Master
Vajrachara took on the wide-eyed, uncompromising stare of reality.
With a constant quivering of hands and fingers and a triumphant
stomp of his feet, he showed us the feminine energy that the Buddhists
believe is at the base of everything real. Spinning in tight, quick-footed
circles, and piercing the room with his expressive eyes, he made
you realize that fear and apprehension have no place here.
Sinhamukhi (another female
deity) embraces an interesting point: There can be no enlightenment
without knowing the wrath you can call up. Invading the space wearing
mostly vibrant reds and a mask fixed in a menacing scowl, Master
Vajraychara displayed the passion that is inherent in anger and
also managed to show how cleansing that kind of energy can be. Just
being present when such a pure manifestation of rage occurred was
cathartic. Pure in the sense that the basis of it, according to
the doctrines of Buddhism, is protective and not aimlessly destructive.
Adorned with bells and large strings of beads that replicated skulls,
Master Vajraychara's confrontations with audience members did not
read as a threat but rather: "look at this, this is a part of who
you are." When he exited the room using the door in the rear, he
took with him not only the physical reminders of the moment but
the very essence of what had just happened.
Incredibly enough, Master
Vajraychara could have done away with the costumes, jewelry and
make-up for each of these five deities and used his eyes alone to
convey their presence. In his post-performance discussion he explained
that these dances are usually done in the privacy of a monastic
order, and you can sense that he is as unaware of us as we were
aware of him. Not only did he graze the back wall a few times because
of his absolute immersion in the events but even with his eyes on
you, you could sense that he saw a lot farther and never wavered.
When he spoke to us, as himself, we could finally see his real nature.
He seemed smaller, less powerful, and well, one of us. Were we there
to see the embodiment of a physical tradition or commune with spirit?
As it stands, it seems like they both apply.
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