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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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