BUILDING WITH THE
BREATH OF LIFE - Tom Bender - revised
draft text 8 Jan.1999
* What we imagine happened (Mesa Verde)
* What people actually intended and what actually did happen
* Other things that really happened that the people involved weren't aware of
* Totally new patterns we are somehow inspired to see
* Various combinations of the above
All can be useful.
The last twenty years have brought a total revolution
in our understanding of the energetic dimension of how other cultures have
used and related to their surroundings. Chi energy and access through it
to the spirit world have been shown to play central roles in society after
The Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert in Africa, like others, achieve through dancing. Other cultures achieve the same through hypnotism, pain, psychoactive drugs, or sleep deprivation. Kung descriptions closely mirror those of awakening kundalini energy in yoga and other spiritual practices:
"You dance, dance, dance, dance. Then num lifts you up in your belly and lifts you in your back, and you start to shiver. Num makes you tremble; it's hot. ....But when you get into kia, you're looking around because you see everything, because you see what's troubling everybody. Rapid shallow breathing draws num up....."
"In your backbone you feel a pointed something and it works its way up. The base of your spine is tingling, tingling, tingling, tingling. Then num makes your thoughts nothing in your head."1
During kia (trance state), the Kung do extraordinary things - performing cures, handling and walking on fire, seeing the insides of people's bodies and scenes at great distances from their camp, or traveling to the home of gods. But most important, they do these things to heal sickness in individuals, to restore community emotional intimacy and spiritual harmony, and access the wisdom of the world of spirits.
The patterns of accessing altered states of consciousness
and their function in community health is amazingly consistent from culture
to culture. Native American s undance rituals, South American shamanism, Mayan community
ritual, tribal practices from Africa and Siberia as well as certain practices
in Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, share very similar territory.
Malidoma Somé reports similarly on the role of ritual and access to the spirit world to community health in modern tribal Africa:
"Whenever a gathering of people, under the protection of Spirit, triggers a body of emotional energy aimed at bringing them very tightly together, a ritual of one type or another is in effect. People prepare the space for the ritual and its general choreography. The other part of ritual cannot be planned because it is in the realm of Spirit. That part is a spontaneous, almost unpredictable interaction with an energy source, and a response to a call from a nonhuman source to commune with a larger horizon. "
"A sense of community grows where behavior is based on trust and where nobody has to hide anything. There are certain human powers that cannot be unleashed without such a supportive atmosphere - powers such as the one that enables us to connect with ancestors and to unlock potentials in ourselves and others far beyond what is commonly known. When an individual feels connected to an entire community, this connection can extend far beyond the living world. A healthy connection with one another can spill over into a connection with the ancestors and with nature. In a tribal community, healing of the village happens in ritual."2
And his wife, Sobonfu, speaks on the role of community and ritual:
"The whole concept of the intimate is p rimarily derived from ritual. Outside of ritual, nothing can be truly intimate. Which is why, in the village, every emotion is ritually understood. So human relationships, when they begin to deepen, enter into the canal of ritual.
"In the village, everybody is addicted to ritual. There people experience intimacy not just with their partners, but with the rest of the village, at all times....There's such a high from this ....Maybe that's why they don't care about television.3 "
Ritual, community, and the spirit world are essential to both individual and community health. They permit trust, deep opening, emotional melding, giving, support from others and the spirit world - resources that are unavailable to an individual alone.
The community of people, nature, and the spirit world,
The healing and nurturing energy of chi,
Intimacy of ritual,
Cathartic resolution of conflict,
Healing emotions of shared grief, passion, joy, and pain,
The ever-present support and caring of friends,
Experience of intense human connection and attention, Access to parts of our souls and wisdom from which we are otherwise walled off
The fullness and freedom from worry coming from abundance of life
All these are parts of the web of community, chi, and health. It is these things which have caused society after society to create unique and powerful places designed to access and enable this community.
Because energetics of place has not been part of
our own recent tradition, we have never even considered looking for its
role in the monuments of the past. Archeological and anthropological studies
have now uncovered incontrovertible evidence concerning the role of energetics
of place in the shaping and use of people's surroundings in many different
Along with detailed study of practices from other traditions, work applying energetics of place in our own culture has been going on for a number of years now. This has given us both a broad range o f techniques to apply and verifiable achievements in our own world which affirm the historical record. A glimpse at a few examples of these different cultural practices can give a good sense of the foundation we have upon which to build. We will examine others in later chapters.
MAYA COMMUNITY PORTALS TO THE SPIRIT WORL D
Breakthroughs in deciphering the Mayan written language in the last ten years have brought a transformation in our understanding of both the nature of their ritual centers and in the events that transpired there. Emerging is a picture of a society living with an amazing degree of intimacy with the spirit world - where the soul and the supernatural were physically present phenomena in all aspects of their lives.
In the Maya world, all things are alive and imbued with sacredness - a sacredness especially concentrated at special places, like caves, mountains, and ritual centers established by the people. The principal pattern of power spots was established when the cosmos was created. But within it, a complementary human-made matrix of power points is generated by the actions of the community.
Ceremonial centers were considered not so much places for ceremony, but places which are centers because of ceremonies performed in them by creating sacred space and opening the portals to the Otherworld. Individuals - whether kings, shamans, or warriors - who could enter and leave the spirit world at will and who could manipulate its forces and bring its wisdom to the rest of the community - held central power in the community. 4
Visionary rituals involving the whole community, possibly somewhat akin to today's "raves", were a central part of life. Unlike many other cultures where trance journeying was done in seclusion, here it was performed by the rulers in public, experienced and affirmed by the entire community. With the use of dance, drumming, song, sleep deprivation, and psychoactive substances, both individuals and large groups went into altered states that allowed both personal transformation and communication with the Otherworld.
The most important interactions, they held, are not between people and objects, but among the innate souls of persons and material objects. Ch'ulel, itz, or k'awil - all referring in some way to chi energies - are central to their language and culture. It is hardly surprising that they called their kings ch'ul ahaw, "lords of the life-force".
Warriors and deities from the spirit world took major part in military battles. The K'iche Maya account of the battle where thousands of their warriors were defeated by the Spanish under Pedro de Alvarada with only 720 men reads as a battle of worlds and the gods who ruled them. The battle took place with the warriors of both sides, but also with their spirits guides on another level.
The K'iche leader, Tekum Uman, transformed into his way, or spirit companion, and fought - along with the wayob of their gods and ancestors - as a sorcerer and an eagle against the magic of the Spanish supernaturals. He was ultimately unable to kill Alvarado because of the Spaniards' defense by a floating maiden (the Virgin Mary), many footless birds (angels), and an exceedingly white bird (the Holy Spirit) - who blinded the K'iche warriors and forced them to fall to the earth.5
In Maya public architecture, the operational spaces were not the buildings, but the plazas, courtyards, and exterior spaces surrounded by the buildings. The buildings themselves acted as ceremonial definers of space which contained the rituals, dances, and processions at the heart of Maya life. Their small interior spaces held gods, ancestral images, regalia and equipment for ceremonies. Temples were frequently built in the image of mountains or witz - the volcano being a powerfully experienced gateway of the vital forces of creation. Caves, or interior spaces, were often used as places of conjuring ancestors.
Plazas were seen as portals, or Spirit World gateways, opening onto the Primordial Sea - with special areas being paved with rare stone several meters deep to concentrate energy. Their ball courts represented the crack in the earth where humankind emerged, and they went into this crack to contact their ancestors and consult oracular deities. Treaties and transfers of power to new rulers took place there in the presence of beings materialized from the spirit world. They negotiated and sealed alliances in the ball court, and captured kings died by sacrifice there. Tombs, such as that of Pakal at Uxmal, had "spirit channels" built in so the spirits of the dead could continue to communicate with the living in the attached temple.
Sacred precincts were often entered by a ceremonial path - "sak beh" or "white road" - corresponding to the Milky Way giving access across the stellar realm to the spirit world. The names and sculptural imagery on their ceremonial structures leave no doubt as to their nature. Fixed portals to the spirit world were called "pib nah". "Kunul" were conjuring or bewitching places. Sorcery houses were "Itzam Nah", often marked by the winged Itzam-Ye birds. "Waybil" were dreaming places, and "kyxan sum" were sculptural representations of the umbilicus connecting individuals on earth to the spirit world.
Words, or ceremonial objects like sculpture, were not merely a preamble to a magical action or way of describing things, but an essential conduit of the forces of the cosmos which are embodied in them. We may look at statues as "symbols" of something else, while the Maya and other cultures have demonstrated that they can actually be embodied by a force or energy which can connect us to the supernatural.
To the Maya, "Nothing important is just made. It also has to be born." All things made by the gods during Creation were imbued with sacred force and an inner soul. Places, buildings, and objects made by human beings, however, had to have their inner souls, their ch'ulel, put into them during dedication ceremonies.
Dedication rituals, accompanied by depositing ceremonial plates of sacred objects below the floors, was part of bringing the k'ulel, or life-force, into the buildings or ritual spaces. With them, they opened portals to the spirit world:
"When the Maya materialized their gods and ancestors through these portals, the spiritual beings left residual energy in the buildings and the objects that opened the portals. Thus very old buildings, very sacred rituals, and very powerful people affected this energy in proportionally greater ways, so that the oldest portals contained the most intense k'ulel of all. The Maya kept building over these portals for hundreds of years, so that their buildings were like onions - layer after layer accumulating over the sacred core."6
As long as they used these objects, that power was safe. But when a ruler died, when a cycle of the calendar finished, when a sacred area was abandoned, the Maya performed special termination rituals to protect the community or put that power "on hold". A new ruler or period of time would bring construction of another layer over the existing, and ceremonies of reactivation of the portals.7,8
The Maya spirit world was a powerful part of their everyday lives in a way difficult to even comprehend today. But their ritual centers remain as testimony that such a world exists and can be brought into our lives in many different ways.The ritual center of Chichen Itza includes ceremonial plazas, temples, residential areas, and two great cenotes, or sinkholes in the underlying limestone giving access to the underground rivers that flow through the area.
INITIATORY TEMPLES OF EGYPT
Our cultural innocence concerning chi energy and the spirit world has caused us to miss evidence right before our eyes of practices from other cultures. We've failed to ask questions that would lead us to an understanding of this unique area of interconnection. Frescoes and carvings give substantial evidence, for example, that the Egyptians used a variety of dowsing rods for diagnosis of patients needing healing, for obtaining oracular information, and for determining truth or falseness in resolving disputes between individuals, as well as for finding water.
One straight rod was called the "was" wand. Another was made of a pendulous plant, lupinus termis, whose response was probably a shaking or trembling movement. Woven wands, of grass or stalks of grain, became part of the hieroglyphic symbol for "to speak", were shown in The Egyptian Magic Papyrus, and were probably the precursor of the caduceus used by Greek and Roman physicians as a diagnostic tool. Another type of rod, the lotus calyx wands, appears in Etruscan, Minoan, Greek, Algerian and Christian imagery as well.9
The temples of Egypt were not used for congregational religious assembly as in Christianity, or merely for homes the Gods/Goddesses or their images. Their religion was a Mystery religion, focusing on individual initiation and communication with the spirits in the spirit world. Temples were places of psychic training and ritual. Statuary was a means of embodying energy into an image which could communicate on many levels the spirit of the deity concerned, and become a portal of access to that spirit.
Mystery / shamanic / psychic-centered spiritual practices are connected to but the obverse of meditational practices common to many spiritual traditions. They are involved in use of the same chakra-based, chi-centered systems. But instead of a focus on individual practice of inner quieting, they concentrate on opening outward to create specific energetic connection with other parts of Creation.
Brainscans of dowsers show, for example, a significantly different brainwave activity signature than those of meditators. Dowsers show the coherent delta wave profile of meditators, but also coherent alpha, beta, and theta waves - related to creative cognition, contact with the subconscious mind and the visual component of imagery.10
Success of Egyptian sacred architecture is not measurable in terms of magnificence or visual drama, though that was often present to a high degree. It is measurable in terms of success in grounding, in focusing energy, in centering attention and intention of participants in their rituals and to the success of the psychic dimensions of the specific rituals being performed. Evaluation of the overall success of their architecture requires, as well, awareness of the energetic elements of their design and of effectiveness of the experience for both ritual participants and onlookers. As with Mayan ceremonial centers, experiential participation in the kinds of occurrences involved is necessary to their understanding and evaluation.
Not visible with traditional archeological tools is the sophisticated manipulation and use of energy fields beneath and within the temples, whose effect can still be felt today. Site energies were manipulated for protective barriers around the temples, for creating special environments for working with different energies and spirits, and places for calling in specific connections with the spirit world.
Power spots can still be located beneath almost all Egyptian temples - with the exception of the Temples of Ramses II and Hathor at Abu Simbul and the temples on the Isle of Philae which were relocated to new sites in the 1960's to avoid being submerged by the Aswan Dam project. The pioneering work of Blanche Merz in documenting these energy patterns has been confirmed by other researchers.11,12
Egyptian religious architecture shows from even its earliest dates an amazing mastery of masonry constructive techniques. Even those most ancient structures, such as the Osireion at Abydos and the layout of the pyramid/temple/sphinx complex at Giza, show a powerful grasp of astronomy, a focus on the same stars in Orion's belt as in the Maya tradition(!), and brilliant design to embody connection to the spirit world.
The Osireion, for example, was recessed deeply into the earth (30' below present grades) so that ground water would form a pool within it. This pool reflected the night sky and the Milky Way, while also representing the River of Death which had to be crossed between our world and the spirit world. The surrounding walls and partial roof shut off distracting views and focused attention on a particular area of the night sky. This powerful imagery gave a deep conceptual support framework for trance meditation in the individual cells surrounding the pool.
There have probably been more theories proposed concerning the purpose and construction of the pyramid complex at Giza than any human construction in the world, and no undisputed conclusions yet achieved. Recent studies appear to confirm that the Sphinx, the Valley Temples in front of it, and some of the other work on the plateau date back far beyond the construction of the three great pyramids - as far back as 10,500 BCE! 13
While employing very sophisticated methods of moving and assembling very large stones (routinely exceeding 200 tons in weight), those temples - along with the Osireion - appear to have roots in a very different building tradition than architecture of later Egyptian work or that of most other cultures. Though built of massive assembled stones, their configuration is that of "rock-cut" architecture, similar to the rock-cut tombs of later Dynasties, or the rock-cut temples and monasteries in India.
Individual chambers are hollowed out of the rock with no regard (or need for regard) of other nearby spaces. In contrast, most built architecture is concerned with partition of space and the structure needed to support its enclosure. Every wall built creates usable spaces on both sides of it, and plans are worked out to make good use of all spaces thus created. Regardless of the origins of that unique building tradition, it created places for interaction with the spirit world with immense connection with the earth.
Connection with the spirit world played a vital role in Egyptian culture, as it can in ours today. The energetic world of chi says that we live on in our energy bodies after death. Those souls can see into all of our hearts without the attachments and singular viewpoints we inevitably hold. Their wisdom is invaluable to the many difficult decisions of life and the pivotal events of a society. Past rulers with demonstrated wisdom and love for their community while on earth can be a particularly accessible and valuable resource to their present descendants.
Individuals able to reach through the veil between the worlds to contact these souls and other deities perform a vital role in the health and well-being of society. The techniques available to them are many and varied - oracular readings, out-of-body journeying to the spirit world, dream walking with the spirits, channeling their voices, bringing their presences into the gatherings of the living are but a few.
While we are far from any real understanding of the role of the unique constructions of the great pyramids and their accessory structures, or even whether the bodies of any of the Pharaohs were ever interred there, there are certain things of which we can be sure. One is that physical entry into the pyramids for ritual purposes would never have been essential in a tradition which could achieve that same access by psychic journeying.
Another is that the "mortuary temples" connected with the pyramids probably constituted an ongoing ritual base for psychic access to the spirit world and the soul of the deceased pharaohs using the embodied energy of the adjacent pyramid as a vehicle. And finally, we can be sure that the immensely powerful intention which these constructions represent would have vast capability of enabling and enhancing any attempts at joining the powers of the earth and the heavens.
Even today, consistent and unique experiences occur to people at various places in the archeological remains of the Egyptian spiritual tradition. They beg for a reexamination of the role and function of those temples, the spiritual practices which they housed, and what that heritage can contribute to our lives today.
SETTING INTENTION OF A NATION IN HAN CHINA
The archeological world was set abuzz in 1974 with the chance discovery, near Xi'an in central China, of an underground army of terra-cotta warriors. The underground vault of earth and timber eventually yielded more than 7000 life-size terra-cotta warriors and their horses in battle formation and with more than 10,000 real weapons treated to remain sharp even to this day. The terra-cotta army, of extraordinary artistic workmanship, dates from the reign of Qin Shihuang, the "First Emperor", who unified China in 221 BC and established the Han Dynasty.
Historical accounts in ancient texts of Qin Shihuang's tomb describe it as containing palaces filled with precious stones, ceilings vaulted with pearls, statues of gold and silver, and rivers of mercury. The walls of the inner sanctum were supposed to be 2.5 km in length, and the outer walls six km. in length. The texts also speak of the terra cotta army, and hint that other ones exist on other sides of his tomb facing the other cardinal directions.
Qin Shihuang is known also for construction of the Great Wall of China, linking up separate walls of former independent kingdoms to keep out marauding nomads. Most commentators consider the terra-cotta army as a symbolic defense of the ruler's tomb, and make no connection of it with the Great Wall. The tradition of feng shui in China, dealing with the energetics of place, suggests a somewhat different interpretation.
Feng shui suggests that the clarity and strength with which an intention is expressed plays a vital role in its success in achieving its aims. Qin Shihuang's aim was a unified China which would endure. The vast effort, in time, material and artistry which he marshaled into creation of the Great Wall, his tomb, and the known and possible other terra-cotta armies, represents a massive commitment to achieve a strongly held intention.
The armies symbolically are prepared to defend the kingdom he created against encroachment from any of the four directions, while acknowledging their own success in battle unifying the country. The tomb, if its configuration follows its position relative to the known terra-cotta army, would embody the relation of the ruler, the people, and the country to the Cosmos as in the archetypal Chinese city plan or Ming Tang ceremonial center. The Wall represents more than anything a statement of edge, boundary, distinction between what is and is not China. Its potential value as a defensive structure, however questionable, is probably far less than its value in defining for the Chinese themselves a distinctive image of their collective self.
From an energetic standpoint, Qin Shihuang's tomb and its surrounding armies represent a powerfully protected and held point of access to the source, now returned to the spirit world, which sparked the creation of this vast new self of the Chinese. It is an immensely powerful statement, radiating out in all directions and infusing the entire country with the energy of unity. It is a unity of image which has held, through vicissitudes and change, for over 2000 years and remains strong yet today.
If excavation of the remaining parts of the tomb complex bring to the surface what is suggested in the Classics, it will reveal one of the most extraordinary efforts ever taken in history to manifest and project into the future an idea and a dream of what a people can become. It will also stand as the most forceful example ever of feng shui practiced on the level of an entire country, focusing its energy into the future.
FENG-SHUI OF CHINESE CITIES
Mirrors of the Cosmos
In the feng-shui process of locating and laying out a Chinese city, the view of the cosmos upon which city location was based spoke symbolically in terms of four Godsone dwelling in a stream to the east, one in a plain to the south, one in a highway to the west and the fourth in a mountain to the north. A site with these surroundings was felt suitable. A rectangular plan was made in the symbol of the cosmos, reflecting the rhythms of the sun and the seasons which most strongly affected the land.
The Emperor was placed in the north, as he always faced the holy southin alignment with the growth-granting forces of the earth and sun. Temples were built in the northeast to a guardian deity, as that direction was felt to be unluckydevils dwell in the mountains (as well as enemy troops). Buddhist temples often were placed in the west, as it was felt that Buddhism had a tendency to proceed eastward. The entire geometry and detailed layout of the city symbolically reflected and reinforced their understanding of the cosmos.
Thus sites were selected with mountains to protect the city from winter winds, and monasteries were founded in the mountains so the city could be warned of attack. Southern orientation brought sunlight, warmth, cheer, and sanitation. Fresh water and air were provided for, and the commerce and food supply of the city assured. At the same time, every activity in the making of the city, of living within it, and participating in its life reminded a person of the forces they felt in the world. They became aligned with those forces, and gained nourishment from them.
This Chinese tradition of placing themselves and their places of living clearly within a pattern of the forces of the universe followed also into similar configuration of the Ming Tang, or "Bright Hall" where the Emperor followed a progression of ritual within the circle of the seasons, and into the inclusion of that design into the pattern of tombs, possibly including that of Qin Shihuang.
WATER, CHI, AND THE SPIRIT WORLD IN KHMER WATER TEMPLES
Monuments in the Khmer capital of Angkor in Cambodia give us a record of design with chi to achieve dimensions of power and function which extend far beyond today's conventional design concepts. The Khmers created a unique and integrated structure of myths, sculpture, temples, royal cities and palaces, reservoirs, irrigation systems and local shrines which both provided irrigation water for their fields and created a powerful and ubiquitous image congruent with their beliefs. It also permeated the water with ch i energy, and interfused their entire physical world with creative power from other, more primal, energetic dimensions of existence.
Agricultural productivity in the Mekong region is impacted by the seasonal nature of the rains. During spring melt and the monsoons, the flow of the Mekong River is so great that it reverses the flow of the Tonle Sap, backing water up into the Great Lake in the central basin of Cambodia. During the wet season that lake changes from a shallow, muddy chain of pools to a great lake, eighty to one hundred miles long, fifteen to thirty miles wide, and in places forty to fifty feet deep. As the waters recede, they leave millions of fish stranded in the many muddy pools and bayous.
The Khmers worked out systems of sophisticated reservoirs and irrigation canals to distribute the stored water during the dry season, and to function as communication and transportation routes as well. A primary role of the government was to ensure the prosperity of the country through developing and maintaining this sophisticated system.
The systems of canals, levees, and water-works were executed on a scale which dwarfed monuments and shrines, such as Angkor Wat, which are themselves of impressive size even today.14 The temple and royal palaces from which the water systems radiated acted both as celebration of vast achievements and as moral guarantee of success for a deeply religious people.
On another level, chi was considered of central importance to the entire culture of the Khmers. The seven-headed (seven chakra) hooded cobra, or naga, became one of the central themes of their art and mythology. Their creation story was a tug-of-war between the gods and the demons, alternately tugging on the serpent Vasuki encircling Mt. Mandara. This caused the mountain to revolve like a giant churn in the primal void, or Sea of Milk, drawing forth the amrita which ensured the welfare of the king's subjects.
In the layout of their temples and waterworks, the temples and royal city represented this central mountain; the gods, demons, and snakes formed giant balustrades for the causeways giving access to the gates of the city or temple; and the reservoirs and canals distributed the chi-charged water to the fields themselves.
In this, the Khmers succeeded, like many cultures, in creating a powerful image and symbolic representation of the spiritual beliefs of the society. From the viewpoint of our culture, that was all. But to the degree that chi does play a significant role in health, it was a wonderfully practical system also.
However, if we change only one factor in our beliefs, a totally different picture emerges.
If it is true that the kings after death are merely "on the other side", then they remain in touch with and able to help their descendants and their subjects. In this situation, it follows that the rulers' tombs and temples, and honoring the rulers after death, take on real meaning with substantive effects on the lives and welfare of the people. The Chinese practice of locating tombs at places with good chi and using them to honor their ancestors; and the effort exerted by the Khmers to make their mortuary temples a part of their "chi-irrigation" system are then far more than symbolic. The dead, and the necessary arrangements for remaining in connection with them, are then an integral part of a functioning support system for the society. They are a valuable means of tapping into the wisdom of the rest of the society living on the "other side".
From this viewpoint the wonderfully coherent Khmer structure is one of the most powerful and effective examples of cultural or psychic infrastructure ever created. Given the existence of the breath of life vital to healing and connection with the rest of life, and our on-going existence in "energy" bodies punctuated by periodic incarnations on the physical plane,15 a very different meaning and function for buildings emerges. With it, many of the peculiarities of design in Khmer and other cultures are suddenly explained.
The ornamental organization on Khmer temples, for example, is quite sophisticated. The texture and rhythm of ornament, the positioning of sculptural images, the layering of plinths and entablatures; and the rhythmical vertical and horizontal bands of ornament are handled beautifully and with great refinement.
Yet a peculiar thing happens when we come to a doorway into a Khmer temple. An abrupt and sharp transition occurs - almost like a knife cut. The molding bands at the base of the wall end abruptly, though returned around corners everywhere else. The pilaster capitals and the ornamental entablature over the top of the opening similarly are abruptly sliced off on the side of the opening. And within that opening almost invariably is a second surround of pilaster and entablature, far more richly and finely ornamented with an almost "vibrational" layering and rhythm of ornament.
The same abrupt separation occurs on the terracing and stairways giving access to these doorways. The three-dimensional sculptural surfaces of the terraces are rent apart, with the steps almost always "let in" or recessed behind the surface planes of the terraces. In combination, the effect these two elements give is one of the surface of the temple being cut through and slid apart, revealing a glimpse of an "inner temple" and an "inner access" to that layer.
In most cultures the rooms or spaces inside a sacred structure represent one of two things. In churches, cathedrals, and some temples, we find a congregating space for adherents to the religion to gather in worship, meditation, or other religious activity. The other kind of space is a "Holy-of-Holies" - a space belonging to and acting as the home of a God, Goddess, or other representation of spiritual power.
Khmer temples represent a different configuration. The interior of their temples are neither spaces that people walk into like the interior of any other building in the physical world, nor the property of some distinct and separate "Higher Being". Instead, they represent that within the surfaces of everything in the material world there is contained a finer, richer spiritual inner existence. Entering into the temple is entering into that inner "energy" body which transfuses all of Creation.
Khmer temple design reminds us that "functional" role of sheltering our activities is often secondary to more vital functions. Important structures have a more important role - to access power, to give a clear and potent representation of its efficacy, and to transmit that energy out into the surrounding world.
In Khmer culture, funerary temples and sculptures dedicated to an individual were not, as often viewed, an egotistical attempt of self-aggrandizement or a selfish attempt to better their personal afterlife. The Cambodian images of persons living or dead were intended to contain their "essence", or "vital principle". When consecrated, they acted as a "bridge" between the person "on the other side", and those on this side of the veil. King Yasovarman, a Khmer king of the 10th - 11th century. is quoted, "Guard this dharma which for me is like a bridge"16, suggesting their conscious role in connecting the material and non-material world.
The temple or statue, then, acted as a kind of architectural body substituted for the flesh and bones previously inhabited by a now deceased 'cosmic person". Through it, their soul can continue to be accessed, prolonging their connection with the embodied community. 17
The giant sculpted faces of the king facing in the four directions surmounting the central Bayon temple and the gateways of the royal city were not, as often described, the faces of a "Big Brother" king watching every movement of his subjects. Their eyes, as in the vast majority of Khmer sculpture, were actually closed in meditation. These were, rather, images manifesting and conveying out into all corners of the kingdom, the chi or breath of life. This was chi channeled from the energy dimensions of existence to the material one through the king, in trance, in his sacred role.
In the Bayon also, we see these giant faces not as sculptures of independent objects or persons, but as a manifesting of inner consciousness or spirit within the material (rock) of the temple. They represent a human connection with that source of energy.
This central focus on the breath of life is dominant everywhere in Angkor. Headdresses on sculpture represent "flame emanations of aura energy." A sculpture with a hooded cobra headdress gives the kundalini or serpent image of that same projecting of chi energy. Three-headed "Vishnu" sculptures give a sense of simultaneous multiple-exposure, male/female, multiple existences, or simultaneous occupation by different manifestations or dimensions of existence.
The temples themselves are virtually covered with fine-grained banded profiles and layers of ornament. Particularly when looked at with the "soft eyes" of meditation, this gives a feeling of being manifested by sound or vibration - a sense of time-lapse emergence, of vibrating from or towards a medial resting, of emerging from or transforming into something else.
The bas-relief Creation story of the Churning of the Sea of Milk in the enclosure of Angkor Wat contains an equally unique sense of chi energy manifested in itsdesign as well as in its story. The top figures seem to bounce in vibration - almost like a plucked string. The central composition of rows of gods and demons tugging on the sacred snake again produce a graphic sound-vibration rhythm pouring out to both sides from the center.
The sacred traditions in India are well known for having used yantras - geometric compositions - or sculpture based on space and time divisions of geometry to entrain a person's mind into the energy of the non-material world . In the Khmer world of Angkor, this was not necessary. Being within the web of its "chi-irrigation" system of temples, sculpture, causeways and canals created an equal envelopment and permeation by the flows and the power accessed through its configuration and meaning.18
With that, we see another facet of the entire Khmer society. With no meaningful distinction into secular and sacred roles, every part of a Khmer's surroundings functioned to connect and empower them through their spiritual/governmental system. A temple is not an isolated, separate "spiritual" place to go to. Instead, it is part of a complex environment imbued with spiritual power which reaches everywhere within the kingdom.
What the Khmers created was a framework encompassing, enfolding, and transforming the entire material world of the kingdom. Wherever one was - on roadways, canals, levees, in fields, towns, between temples and reservoirs - one was surrounded by, one was within, a framework or connection system manifesting the spiritual world within the material one and bringing the material one into full congruence with the energetic/spiritual one. 19
All things - buildings, sculpture, ornament and yantras in particular - can contain and be imbued with the energy to jump-start our personal and community access to that deep font of creative power. They can twist that boundary between worlds to create a cusp, to bring the matrix of the other dimensions into reach within our physical dimension. At minimum, they can act as momentos or testimonials - like the crutches on the walls at Lourdes - that confirm the real existence and efficacy of what lies behind the veils .
LEARNING FROM THE DAGARA TO HEAL OUR ANCESTORS
Our individual root intentions come from the spirit world. And that world contains all of the ancestors that have come before us. Energetics connects with that world, and allows its wisdom to be drawn upon by those who are open to it either by gift or by practice. Thus care and consideration is given to places which are gateways to those worlds. Ernest Eitel says, in reference to Chinese energetics:
When, through exhaustion of the vital breath, the body is broken up, the animus returns to heaven, the anima to earth; that is to say, each is dissolved again into those general elements of nature whence each derived its origin and the temporary embodiment of which each was within the sphere of individual life. The souls of deceased ancestors therefore are as omnipresent as the elements of nature, as heaven and earth themselves."20
When we consider relationship with ancestors from
an energetics standpoint we move into what is to our culture a totally foreign
realm. Energetics (whether from a Buddhist, Taoist, Vedic, Yoruba, Hopi
or other philosophical or religious context) says that an incarnate person
begins as an intention in the eternal energy body of that soul. That intention
joins with chi to create an etheric template or auric body, around which
material structure gravitates and coalesces into our physical form.
When we die, that energy body or soul remains in the energy realms, altered by its recent material life. So we rejoin our ancestors on death. But these cultures also claim, and willingly demonstrate, that the doors are not closed between these earthly and heavenly realms. Through specific techniques, the veils can be parted, we can communicate, journey, and work together between the worlds.
To feel that directly from a living culture, listen to the words of Malidoma Somé from the Dagara tribe of Burkina Faso in West Africa:
"For the Dagara, every person is an incarnation, that is, a spirit who has taken on a body. So our true nature is spiritual. This world is where one comes to carry out specific projects. A birth is therefore the arrival of someone, usually an ancestor that somebody already knows, who has important tasks to do here. The ancestors are the real school of the living. They are the keepers of the very wisdom the people need to live by. The life energy of ancestors who have not yet been reborn is expressed in the life of nature, in trees, mountains, rivers and still water...."21
Out of this, Somé also provides an interesting perspective on our relation to our own ancestors:
"In many non-Western cultures, the ancestors have an intimate and absolutely vital connection with the world of the living. They are always available to guide, to teach, and to nurture. They represent one of the pathways between the knowledge of this world and the next. Most importantly - and paradoxically - they embody the guidelines for successful living - all that is most valuable about life. Unless the relationship between the living and the dead is in balance, chaos results.
When a person from my culture looks at the descendants of the Westerners who invaded their culture, they see a people who are ashamed of their ancestors because they were killers and marauders masquerading as artisans of progress. The fact that these people have a sick culture comes as no surprise to them. The Dagara believe that, if such an imbalance exists, it is the duty of the living to heal their ancestors. If these ancestors are not healed, their sick energy will haunt the souls and psyches of those who are responsible for helping them. Not all people in the West have such an unhealthy relationship with their ancestors, but for those who do, the Dagara can offer a model for healing the ancestors, and by doing so, healing oneself."22
With variation in nuance in different cultures,
this is the universe acknowledged and inhabited within energetics. We will
look in a later chapter at the fundamentally different role that religious
buildings, tombs, and homes play in such a world.
But here we want to acknowledge only that ancestors and the spirit worlds exist, that we can communicate with and be nurtured by them, and that this is part of the philosophical, and if you wish, scientific, framework of energetics. It is part of this framework shared by Chinese geomancy, Celtic magic, and the Japanese Emperor speaking with (not praying to) his ancestors as part of his inauguration. It underlies the heart of Mayan culture. It is part of shamanic initiation rituals worldwide, and part of our own dream worlds. It underlies the care given by the Chinese and others in locating tombs for good chi, and the attention given to "celestial" influences in many forms of geomancy. 23
Interestingly, at least the English language literature on China (Needham included) gives a somewhat subdued tone to the Chinese relation to ancestors. Mention is made of speaking with them, considerable energy goes into tomb siting, household rituals are performed. But there is nothing of the emotional intensity, power of experience, immediacy, and involvement in everyday life that one feels from Somé, or from Suzanne Wenger's emotionally compelling Yoruba shrines in neighboring Nigeria.24 And there is none of the vitality of nature spirits inherent in Aboriginal, Japanese, Native American, Celtic and other traditions. [Wenger photos]
The role of communication with ancestors in energetics of place gives at least an inkling of the spiritual domains tapped into in an energy-based universe and the kind of sustenance gained by those within cultures built upon that basis.
LIVING IN THE BELLY OF A BIRD IN A KAWAKIUTL
Every form of life is a different facet of the jewel of Creation and has particular characteristics which distinguish it from other life. Those attributes give it unique perceptions, powers, and relationships with the rest of existence.
Through trance, mimicry, and opening psychically to these different lives, we can enter within and experience their unique nexus of the universe and even assume some of their powers. This ability to connect with all Creation on the energetic level and in the spirit world deepens our resonance and harmony with the song of life, and enriches the wisdom with which we move through life.
Other cultures live intimately with and commune continually with this world and these powers. Some of these cultures, such as the Aborigines in Australia, rarely build, and commune directly with the spirits within the special natural places they inhabit. Others make places - homes, communities, and whole regions of the earth - where human action has come to dominate the nature of the physical world. In such surroundings they have proven able to retain and even to make more accessible and powerful the connection to the spirit world of their surroundings. This depth of experience and relationship with other life transforms everyday existence, giving immense richness of meaning and knowing to every action and community of support for every situation.
Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest work and live closely with spirit totems in all of their art, aspecting their nature with compelling masks and dance, and imbuing their dwellings with the power and imagery of the family totems. Family association with the spirit of certain animals, birds, fish, or other forms of life extend back tens of generations into the past, creating a depth of support inconceivable to our world.
Massive cedar posts supporting roof beams of their dwellings are carved in the likeness of the spirit totems, and embodied with their energy to shelter, nurture, and empower the family and community. One doorway in a Kawakiutl village in British Columbia filmed by Edward Curtis was carved in the image of a raven - associated with their Creation story. The dwelling was entered through the mouth of the raven, using the lower beak as a ramp. As a person crossed a pivot point, the beak swung shut, and the person was "swallowed" into the belly of the raven . A person coming out of the dwelling was similarly "born from the belly of the raven", emerging through its mouth into the village.[Curtis photo]
Susanne Wenger's expressive Yoruba shrines in Nigeria give an equall y potent imagery to the spirits connected with them. The mouth, trunk, and ears of an elephant, the symbol of Obatala, are visible under the roof of a shrine sculpted in the "spirit image" of the orisha, transformed and energized by its hot passion. [Suzanne Wenger]
Knowing their role and what they embody energetically, we now realize that the fierce figures located in the gateways to Japanese temples are not intended to frighten visitors but to embody shielding protection of those within the complex connecting with the spirit world. And even in the European Christian tradition, a place of sanctuary and shelter is promised by the sculpted images greeting us at the gateway to a cathedral. [Japanese temple guardians][Notre Dame entry]
Masks in ritual and ceremony shut us off from our conventional world and help us open to the spirit of the life we assume. That new awareness carries on into our subsequent actions. Incorporation of spirit guides and guardians into our own homes and community places can today give connection to the same fonts of life. The carved eagle head on the ridge beam of this living room, for example, combined with the shape and materials of the ceiling to give a forceful sense of being protectively sheltered under the wings of a powerful bird. [Venice mask shop][Rombalski eagle ]
VISITS OF THE KAMI AT IZUMO SHRINE, JAPAN
The Izumo Shrine is the most ancient Shinto shrine
in Japan. Located near a small bay on the west side of Honshu, across from
Hiroshima, the shrine has been venerated for well over a thousand years.
Every year in late fall the kami, or earth spirits, of Japan leave
their normal homes throughout the country and gather for a week at the shrine,
where thousands of pilgrims celebrate their arrival and visit. The period
of the kami's visit is known as kami-arizuke (period with the gods)
at Izumo, and kannazuki (period without gods) in all other parts
At the time of their 1998 visit, an experiment in remote dowsing was performed to see if any change in the chi energy of the site was perceptible during their visit. Dowsers Sig Lonegrin in Europe, Joey Korn and James Sullivan in North America and Hitomi Horiuchi in Japan dowsed a map of the shrine precincts before and after the arrival of the kami. All found major change in the energy of the site, which reverted to its earlier state after the departure of the spirits.
In spite of the Westernization of Japan, the kami still exist and continue their annual visits, carried out for probably more than a thousand years. Their presence is still perceptible to visitors, and people still gather from around the world to honor and celebrate their presence.
Various cultures have stumbled upon one or another of the diverse means of accessing the energetic dimensions of existence. They seem to have, understandably, stayed with those means of access although far simpler and less painful means of doing so may exist. Our unique opportunity today is of gathering in, sorting out, and amalgamating this richness of techniques and their unique or similar achievements to develop a unified and comprehensive science of the sacred .
38755 Reed Rd.
Nehalem OR 97131 USA
© 8 Jan 1999