Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Up in Smoke: Chinese Joss Paper Offering

In 1974, an unsuspecting farmer in Xian, People’s Republic of China, discovered that the retinue of 8,000 terra cotta warriors and horses buried with China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, in about 210 B.C.E., never made it to the netherworld.

While grave robbers and archeologists alike have delighted in unearthing material culture in burial sites throughout the world, the Chinese invented a better way to deliver the goods and to maintain a spiritual harmony with one’s predecedents. Ever the technological innovators, by around the eighth century C.E. (mid-Tang, 906 – 1125 C.E.)[i] it became a common practice to render facsimiles of one’s earthly possessions – real and coveted – into one of the world’s greatest inventions – paper. What’s more, the offerings can be delivered during rituals by sending them up in pyre of smoky flames. 

In the complex Taoist belief system each person is born into this world by borrowing money from the celestial treasury and stays alive only so long as the term of repayment has not ended. Upon death, repayment is due in full; souls go into purgatory to be redeemed through ransom to the Kings of Hell so that they may move on to join the great Tao. Thus, it became the responsibility of the living to settle the account of their loved ones to insure them a safe passage through the various realms of the beyond.[ii]

To this day, it is most desirable that a person provides an heir in life, preferably male, to serve as the executor of the material and spiritual estate. Most desirable is to provide an appropriate funeral for one’s loved one so that the transition will lead to a “life” after death as an ancestor or, better yet, a god.
Failing to bear children, or to die without the benefit of a spouse, (or through violent death or other unhappy circumstances) sets the scene for turmoil for both the deceased and those remaining in life. Spirit marriages and adopt-an-heir practices – may be undertaken on behalf of the deceased to try to prevent the havoc-wreaking fate of becoming a hungry ghost. “Lack of sustenance or material goods is a common cause of a ghost’s discontent,”[iii] a condition that can be lightened or even reversed by sending off money and material goods rendered in paper via smoke at a local temple.

Lisa See’s protagonist in her novel Peony in Love, set in the 17th Century China, gives unique voice to such fate. A girl of marital age becomes terminally lovesick from a magnificent obsession with the main character of the great Chinese opera Peony Pavilion, and dies just before her nuptials:

On the third day after my death, my body was placed in my coffin, along with ashes, copper coins and lime. Then the unsealed coffin was set in a corner of an outer courtyard to wait until the diviner found the right day and place for me to be buried. My aunts put cakes in my hands, and my uncles laid sticks on either side of my body. They gathered together clothes, binding cloth for my feet, money and food – all made from paper – and burned them so that they would accompany me to the afterworld. But I was a girl, and soon enough I learned they hadn’t sent enough.[iv]

Baba, as the eldest son, was in charge of all the [funeral] rites. His main duty and responsibility now were to see me properly interred and my ancestor tablet dotted. My family and our servants prepared more paper offerings – all those things they though I might need in for my new life. They made clothes, food, rooms and books for my entertainment. They did not provide a palanquin, because even in death Mama did not want me to go abroad. On the eve of my funeral, these offerings were burned in the street. From the viewing Terrace, I saw Shao use a stick to beat at the fire and the leaves of paper as they twisted in the flames to keep away the spirits who wanted to take my belongings. My father should have had one of my uncles do this to show that he meant business and my mother should have thrown rice around the edges of the fire to attract the attention of the hungry ghosts who craved the food, because Shao did not scare away the spirits and nearly everything was stolen before I had a chance to receive it.[v]

The young girl learns, under the tutelage of her ghostly grandmother, to navigate the after-life as a hungry ghost, manipulating events on earth so that her account may be settled and that she may move on to achieving full ancestor rank:

On the first day of the tenth month, the official start of winter, they should have burned padded jackets, woolen caps, and fur-lined boots all made of paper to keep me warm. Throughout the year, my family should have been making offerings to me of cooked rice, wine, plates of meat and spirit money on the first and fifteenth of every month.[vi]

As in life, “gold” and “silver” bullion and cash are welcomed legal tender in this virtual economy. Even the most humble deceased seems to need piles of it to bribe gatekeepers and buy other everyday necessities, just as one would need in life.

In the case of the precious metals, rice or bamboo paper with a field of metallic (usually gold, silver or copper) foil[vii] pressed in the middle are sold in wads of 100 stacked about four inches high. They may be purchased for about $1 from general merchandise stores in Chinese communities next to the joss sticks (incense) and altar candles. These “money papers” are folded into three-dimensional shapes by mourners according to different family traditions. The most frequent design is of a sycee, an ingot of precious metal that was used as currency up to the 19th Century. Its “boat” shape symbolizes richness transported from one point or person to another. Prefabricated two and three-dimensional paper sycee are also widely for sale.

Paper currency drawn on the “Bank of Hell” began to appear according to one account in 1968, at the height of the Cultural Revolution. According to one popular story, zealous Christian missionaries warned all non-Christian Chinese they'd "go to Hell" upon death. In a classic case of misinterpretation, the Chinese believed Hell was the English term for the Afterlife.”[viii] Most of these “funds”, purchased in wads of “gadziillions” of “dollars” bear a likeness of the Jade Emperor, Yu Wong, who signature as “Bank President” may appear to “guarantee” the legal tender. The currency is the basis of the deceased’s karmic “bank account” that generates interest from his mortal generosity and other good deeds. How can a person making a paper offering be sure that it is received? Some burn a paper “treasury officer” to can take care of the offerings.

The living may also send “up” “care packages” of material possessions, from yachts and automobiles, laptops and flat screen TVs, cell phones (with chargers!) to spiffy new outfits complete with shoes and sox -- all rendered in paper. Other selections include off-brand cigarettes, first aid supplies, condoms and even “Viagra”. Facsimile “Visa” cards are popular, begging some obvious questions: Are there ATMs in the afterlife? Do they impose late fees?

These are usually sold in specialty shops that may also be workshops in which elaborate three-dimensional sculptures, such as mansions complete with furniture, are fabricated by skilled craftspeople. Much of the work has become mass-produced, but there are still craftspeople who take pride in not only knowing how to make objects but who also know the proper rites for offering.

In Hong Kong, Taipei, and Macao some of these may be elaborately constructed to near life-size to be offered at the funeral. When ignited they make huge bonfires and are in sufficient quantity to have challenged local anti-pollution regulations. However, most paper effigies are simply rendered from flat, printed single ply cardboard.

Dzi dzat are also offered on annual festival days, such as lunar New Year, Ching Ming (15th day after the Spring Equinox) and Ghost Month (seventh lunar month), the deceased’s birthday, and anniversary of death. Some people may make such an offering after having a dream about the deceased.

Would a poor, immigrant deceased great-great grandparent who always only paid in cash know how to use a credit card? I asked Carol Kwan, owner of Commonwealth Trading Company, a joss paper specialty store in Los Angeles’ Chinatown.

“Keeping up with modern lifestyle and technology is important,” she explained. Her stock includes cell phones and “Blackberry” devices (with paper chargers, paper batteries, belt hooks and ear pieces); a few older style “wired” phones were found tucked away on a higher shelf.

Respect for one’s ancestors is a life-long duty and translates easily as a cross-cultural exercise. Providing lavish, material offerings is also thought to have an earthly pay-off, including luck, wealth, and progeny, made possible by the intercession of those from the beyond. It gives one pause to consider what Peony’s grandmother admonished:

“Now pay attention, Grandmother ordered. You need to think about why you’re stuck here.”


[i] Johnston Liang, Ellen and Liu, Helen Hui-Ling. Up in Flame: The Ephemeral art of Pasted-Paper Sculpture in Taiwan (Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 2004, p. 11.)
[ii] Scott, Janet Lee. For Gods, Ghosts and Ancestors: The Chinese Tradition of Paper Offerings (Hong Kong, Hong Kong University Press, 2007, page 26.) 
[iii] Johnston LIang and Liu (p. 10)
[iv] See, Lisa. Peony in Love (New York, NY, Random House, 2007, p. 101)
[v] ibid, p. 109
[vi] ibid, p. 123
[vii] The extensive analysis (origins, uses, religious and philosophical significance, and the various crafts involved in papermaking and foilmaking, like woodblock printing, paper cutting, ink manufacture and printing), while fascinating, is beyond the scope of this article. Jocelyn Cohen has produced The Spirit and Craft of Chinese Ritual Papers, a 225-page book, including 400 additional paper samples, that explores the philosophy, history, folklore and fabrication of the six broad groupings of Chinese spirit papers. It can be found in the British Museum (London), Lilly Library (Indiana University) and Marriott Library (University of Utah) and sampled, if only virtually, online at http://www.jocelync.com/ritpap.html.

text and photography copyright 2010 by lauren w. deutsch. all rights reserved.
originally published in parabola, v. 35.2, spring 2010

Friday, October 24, 2014

Urban China Update: Zaha Hadid on "Weird Architecture"- Mixing Tradition and Contemporary

In a presentation at USC, the renown architect Zaha Hadid responded to a query about what she thought about China's current movement against "weird architecture". The award winning designer, who, like Frank Gehry has literally taken architectural design out of the box, spoke about the importance of society to push research on materials and design and, at the same time, to find "new interpretations"  of tradition, specially referencing folklore  and "Chineseness".

She said she learned a lot when she went to China in the early 1980s, especially about gardens. Being one who is "anti-shrubbery", a failure of other architects to start using Zipatone dry transfer symbols of people and plants on drawings when they had no other thought for the use of space beyond their boxed buildings, she found the Mandarin gardens of Shanghai of great interest, especially their lake-eroded rocks and mazes where one returned on one's self.
Guangzhou Opera House, China

Liu Fang Yuan - Garden of Flowering Fragrance 

at the Huntington in San Marino CA

One can learn from tradition, added Ms. Hadad, but now major public buildings were not commissioned by aristocracy and had no need to be fortified. The buildings -- such as civic centers, auditoria, stadia, libraries, universities, etc. are for the public domain. She credits Frank Gehry's design for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbau as important as it enabled that type of building to be situated in a historic context.

Her associate Patrik Schumacher also added comments about the "social intelligence" and "social rationality" of their process of research-based designs as a "necessary investment" to promote open, transparent environments.

Monday, September 29, 2014

5775: Shmita / Sabbatical Year: Matchmaking vs Online Dating Algorithms

Just curious as to wether preregistering with an online dating service is the best approach to finding a mate during the Shmita Year instead of hiring a matchmaker for a make-over. Is this like setting the lights on a timer so they automatically go on and off during Shabbos?

Here are some insights worth considering from American Public Radion's  Marketplace (Playing Matchmaker in Silicon Valley) and JDate.com. There's a lot of effort to expend on the latter ... I don't know if it closes down on Shabbos.

Lots of information about Shmita Year here:

5775: The Shmita (Sabbatical) Year - On Tomatoes and Figs

I was in the garden this morning, trying to encourage my tomato plants to bloom, finally. (I've already tried encouraging them to produce fruit. Perhaps a bit hasty?) They look healthy, strong, green and have the benefit of my being around a lot. Likewise, to no avail, I had hardly a fig on an otherwise well-producing "tree-ish, from-a-finger-width-twig", but only two dried fruit the size of grapes. I was told by one garden expert that I had over fertilized early.  Perhaps the sabbatical year began a bit early for me, just so that I understood what is in store.

During the 7th year, we humans are given the opportunity to let the earth do her thing without prodding. What grows, grows. What lays and produces milk, does so on their own accord, just friendly encouragement. We all get a chance to take a break and smell the roses. (If they choose to bloom.) Regeneration is necessary for all of us.

Will it rain, hopefully. What is "it" that rains? Will there be enough? Just, fortunately.

How to celebrate the harvest / sukkos?

I'm getting ahead of myself, again.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Blessing in Disguise: Would You Give This Woman a Gun?

I was perplexed to see images of people draped in a full-body burqa on TV "news" noting that ISIL/ISIS is recruiting women for its terrorist activities. Whether they are women or not is unknown from that report given the full black covering everything from head to toe. Shooting rifles is no determination of gender; I tried to see if "her" feet were excessively large for a woman, but, again, that is not a determinant nor the point.

My first impulse was ... "Terrific ... given the horrendous way that fundamentalists treat their women, giving weapons to an anonymous person who happens to be female may be a blessing in disguise. The "government-issued" burqas all look alike because they are.Now she can defend herself and her children against massive testosterone explosions at home and in the souk ... and her anonymity can be preserved."

I decided to do some research about this report and found an article in the UK's Telegraph:

This took me to research "Umm Layth" the nom-de-blog of a female English speaking jihadi in the UK.

If it is still online and you are willing to risk blemishing your here-to-for blue-white-red record for keeping your eyes on corporate media, you will find, of course, basic fundamentalist rhetoric; substitute your name for your god, your paradise, your holy effort, your miserable existence on this plane ... etc.

Here is the call to the emotions ...

"Our claim for Al Wala Wal Bara is fake if we do not externally and internally hate for the sake of Allah the one who tarnishes the image of Islam, the one who takes allies with the Kuffar and denounces the main pillars of Islam including Jihad, even if this very person is the one gave birth to us or just our blood in general. Wallahi in Islam, there is no importance to Blood ties over ties over Din. Being angry for the sake of Allah swt is part of our Islam, part of our Aqeedah [The belief system that is based upon a firm conviction in all the fundamentals of faith and of the Oneness of Allah, i.e. creed], part of our eeman [faith], and part of tassawuf [inner, mystical dimension of Islam]."

As the Telegraph article notes, beyond the fundamentalist rhetoric quoted from sources, including shaiks, the blog also includes "typical" comments by the age group (18 - 24) that could be made by even the most hip socialite or "valley girl" in another culture. For example, there is a post from "anonymous" who requests that a photo on the page, ostensibly of the author, be removed because it belong to "anonymous". Despite the author's willingness to sacrifice "the one who gave birth to us", there's a mother's day tribute.

The blog clearly states that the recruited women aren't mindless and many are very educated. Makes sense ... how can one bend the mind of a mindless being?

Beyond the hate speech, however, is the actual role for which women are being armed: marrying jihadi men. Marginalized into a police force and actually not on the front lines, they are given tasts to keep fundamentalist women in place. It is no different than the kapos recruited by the Nazis in work and death camps from among prisoners to keep the condemned in line. 

Does it make sense to give hidden women a gun during "that time of the month"? Girlfriend ... if you really want to feel powerful ... see who is willing to take out your trash every four weeks.

I certainly hope this posting, and my research, will not make me lose the precious, incidental, TSA preCheck status ... but we don't live in simple times. I am intrigued.

Just because you are/not paranoid doesn't mean that you aren't being followed. Thanks, George Bush!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

칠석고사 Chiseok-gosa -- ritual for 7th day of 7th lunar month

The auspicious day (August 2, 2014) is observed by shaman rituals in the home.
(Text from Encyclopedia of Korean Folk Culture; LWDeutsch photos)

칠석고사(Chilseokgosa)  is a ritual held in homes to mark Chilseok Day, the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. Also called chilseokje (Seventh Evening ritual) or chilseongje (ritual for Seven Stars), this ritual is an annual seasonal ceremony held to pray for the health and longevity of the family’s offspring. It is observed either on the morning or evening of Chilseok Day, or the evening before, with a simple hand-rubbing (bison) rite to worship Chilseong (Seven Stars) or Okwangsangje (Pure August Jade Emperor).

Patron offering "kit" with bag of rice,
bottle of soju and dried fish.
The ritual takes place in the backyard by the sauce jar terrace, a location considered the cleanest place in the home and thereby the most suitable place to offer devotion to Chilseong. Altars are sometimes set up in the form of a rock (chilseongdol), or a pile of red clay (chilseongdan). Many of the ritual’s procedures are performed in sets of seven, in association with Chilseok or Chilseong: seven spoons inserted in the bowl of steamed rice (me) on the ritual table; offering seven bows and seven cups of ritual wine; burning seven sheets of prayer text (soji); and steaming white rice cake in a steamer (siru) with seven holes.

Shaman's assistants preparing offerings (pancake),
polish brass altar utensils.
Sacrificial foods generally comprise steamed rice and sea mustard soup, which is related to the longevity of children. In South Chungcheong Province, the rice enshrined inside Samsin pouch, the sacred entity for the Goddess of Childbearing, is used to make steamed rice on Chilseok Day. Since rice is an important sacrificial food for this occasion, during the fall harvest each year, some rice is set aside for Chilseok. Other offerings include plain white rice cake (baekseolgi), made with clear water and rice powder, and cooked vegetables. Flour pancakes are also offered in some regions. In some cases fish and seafood are considered taboo.

Taboos are more strictly observed compared to other household rituals: The ritual is not held in the case of impurities, including a death in the village. If the family keeps a “life bridge (myeongdari),” or longevity prayer cloth, hung at their shaman’s shrine, they visit the shaman on Chilseok Day to pray for the longevity of the children, and offer prayers at the Chilseong shrine at Buddhist temples as well.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Searching for Sanshin: Interview with Hiah Park, Lover of the Mountain God

Originally published Kyoto Journal, No. 25, 1993, and subsequently in Mountain Spirits of AsIa  (Shambhala, (Bolder CO)

Hi-ah Park Manshin*, Korean shaman, specializes in ritual dance. Original artist, healer and teacher, she works at the level of the primordial state through ecstatic trance. Skilled in the healing arts, she communicates the needs of humans to the spirits and oracles of the spirits to humans.

I met Hi-ah Park during the 1990 Los Angeles Festival during which she participated in a multi-cultural program about spirit and art, along with several native Americans and a bevy of Buddhists. I had heard a report that the Native Americans earlier had tried to cancel their plan to do several sacred ceremonial rituals at this program if TV cameras or newspaper photographers were present. What is ritual for, she remarked, but to engage the spirits on behalf of people. “Sharing the experience of rapture I have nothing to hide.” She seemed a wise, old person, though she looked only 40. She told me she had “died many times.”

The night of the presentation, she “performed” several dances of a traditionally longer kut, ritual, going into a trance and deftly wielding a sword and a rainbow of flags before an altar resplendent with dogk, the many-layered Korean rice cake, fruit, sticks of incense and other offerings placed on the altar in front of a gilded statue of Buddha.

Out of whirlwind of colorful costumes, loud drums (native American and Korean), cymbals and gongs, and some 200 people dancing ecstatically, the “performance” stopped into complete stillness. It was the trailhead, the ken,  keeping still, of the I Ching , that great mountaineer’s bible. The buzz of mountain-top seeking mind dissolved into silence, then plunged through formless ecstatic trance, leaving no footprints, taking the memories, too! It was as if a weather front moved in and blew the clouds away.

At that point all I knew about Hi-ah Park was that she was born in Seoul and is considered the finest Korean traditional classical dancer of her generation. The first woman to be admitted to the National Classical Music Institute and into the esteemed ranks of Court Musician, she gave by any standards an exquisite “performance”, but this was not just a dance recital on the second floor of a downtown Buddhist temple. She literally went a giant step further.

I have since come to realize that her life mirrored that of an intimate of Sanshin. As Canda explains in Korea Journal, Sanshin is a “tangible, specific and personal entity,” evident to human senses through vitality, power and mystery of the physical landmass as well as in dreams and visions. This, I was to learn, this was Hi-ah Parkʼ s history. His observation of Sanshinʼs “having awesome natural power in service of sacredness and wisdom,” became her destiny.

* A mountaineering “sports” term usually refering to trying to get to the top of a mountain and back down on ego strength alone. Sort of “the tao be damned”. At best youʼ ll get callouses.

* Manshin is a title of respect identifying a mudang, Korean shaman  For centuries manshin had been openly persecuted, their practices disrupted and shrines destroyed, their artistry desecrated to entertainment. The prevailing religious and social order forced the practice of shamanism “underground”. It is still considered a curse to suggest that someone would grow up to be or to marry a mudang.  That one of Koreaʼs most acclaimed artists, an American citizen and university lecturer became a mudang has had impact in Korea as well as globally.

After a number of years of quiet reflection, Hi-ah Park decided to fulfill her destiny as Manshin, to put her art in service of the spirit and the people who seek her out. She currently works in Europe and the USA, teaching through performances, workshops and lectures, including many prestigious universities and mental health centers.

Whether clad in Manshinʼs colorful robes performing a formal kut to the accompaniment of changʼgo, hourglass drum, and cymbals and gongs, or in a simple flowing white tunic dancing to the sounds of steel cello, bow chime, Chapman Stick, Mongolian drum or a wall of gongs, HI-ah Park shows us how the shaman warrior climbs the mountain, and dances atop the peak in mu-a , ecstasy.

What was your earliest memory of Sanshin?  From very early childhood, I loved mountains. My memory of childhood is playing in the tiger cave near my neighborhood. Often there, I lost time and space while my family was looking for me. One day I climbed into the mountain deeper than usual, as if somebody invisible being was guiding me into the unknown world, and I found the big tree surrounded by piled with lots of stones. There unknowingly I bowed to the ground after respectfully gathered stones top of the piles. Definitely that was my first encounter with Sanshin .

Of all the Sanshin in Korea, why do you think you are relating particularly toTangun?  During my illness before my initiation, I had several visions. In one, I saw Tangun, the Korean heroic founder of the nation who later became Mountain Spirit, sitting in a meditation posture within a yurt and wearing a red hat and robe. As I gazed at intensely at that figure, we became one; then I saw myself sitting as Tangun. This clear vision of Tangun convinced me to visit my homeland after an absence of 15 years. I didn't have any specific plan for my visit. However, from its start, everyone I met and everywhere I visited turned out to be connected somehow with shamanistic practices. I was introduced to Kim Keum-Hwa, a well known Hwang-haedo manshin  (a western province of Korea) viewing a video of one of her shamanic rituals. I couldnʼ t believe my eyes: I saw Kim Keum-Hwa wearing the same red robe and hat I had seen in my Tangun vision of week prior.

A week later I was introduced to her. When Kim came into the room in her house where I was waiting, we both shuddered. She told me she had the sensation that her spirits wanted to talk to me. She brought divination table and started to pronounce oracles: "Rainbows are surrounding in all directions. The fruit is fully ripe and can't wait anymore!" She told me I was lucky to have surrendered to the spirits’orders and to have come to her. Otherwise, she said, I would have died, like an overripe fruit that falls onto the ground and rots. Kim continued to explain that I had disobeyed two times previously and, consequently, had to go through unbearable pain and loneliness and near-death experiences. She warned that I should not resist anymore--the third time, there is no forgiveness. It was absolutely essential that I undergo the naerim kut without delay. On a more positive note, Kim told me she saw double rainbows stretched around my head, celestial gods surrounding on me. She said that warrior in me was so strong that I would want to stand on the chaktu, sharp blades. She predicted that, in the near future, I would be a famous shaman, and I'd travel all around the world. Then she set a date for the initiation--June 23, 1981. In less than two weeks, I was transformed into a new shaman.

Did you have personal desire to be a shaman? When I began studying shamanism in 1975, I had neither wish nor the intention to become a shaman. I initially considered the whole process solely as an artistic endeavor, yet everything I encountered along the shamanic path seemed to create a thirst in me for spiritual fulfillment. I became a manshin after I was called to the profession through sinbyong, or initiatory illness.

What is the symptom of shamanic illness? I began to suffer from tedium and loneliness, without knowing any meaning to my life. My interest in mundane affairs and domestic chores waned completely. I suffered unbearable loneliness and longed for the mountains.

I spent many nights weeping endlessly or dreaming of impending death. In my dreams, I was imprisoned in the under world and chased by wild animals. For about nine months, I endured sleepless and restless nights, until I had an incredible, lengthy dream of an ancient royal funeral procession. My insomnia stopped right after this mysterious dream. I was happy without any specific reason. I felt elevated into the air, as if somebody was lifting me. After this funeral dream, my dream scenes started to change into lighter, celestial ones.

 In one of unforgettable dream journey, a white unicorn with wings took me through the Milky Way to an incredible, infinite space of deep, jet-dark indigo. In that place, I heard a deep and resonant voice ask me, "How are the people down there?" I still remember clearly the conversation with that invisible voice and the ecstatic feeling I had. Then the voice told me I had to go back to teach the people love. I felt boundless joy and, at the same time, sadness that I had to go back. Without any sense of waking up from a dream, I found myself in my room. For a while, I was obsessed by this visionary dream and felt very connected with that other reality. Although I couldn't understand it, the other space was so clear that I now felt as if my waking state was the dream.

Why do shamans have to go through shamanic illness?  I believe that it happens because a persons spiritual body is starving from a lack of inspirational creativity. The initiatory sickness allows her to escape from the world and withdraw into the darkness, in order to experience her own rites of passage. In order to become a shaman, the person must go through years of introspection, personal torment, and progressive spiritual development. Without understanding the stillness, one will never understand the spirit world.

How do you come out from sinbyong?  By reaching the point of mu a , ecstasy, the death of ego. Ecstasy is a sensation which is encountered in our hearts. It is seeing and hearing with the heart, rather than just with eyes and ears. It is also a flame which springs up in the heart out of longing, to see and to become one with its truth (God). Atop this mountain there is such clarity that there is no duality.

What place did Sanshin have in your initiation ritual?  In the preparation for initiation ceremony, I had to climb up to the mountain to receive the Mountain Spirit early in the morning by a purifying bath in a cold mountain stream. My Godmother and I had ascended the mountain north of Seoul. She asked me to climb up a steep, rocky cliff to get a branch from a pine tree. This task was the first test of the day. I did as she requested, performing the task necessary to receive Sanshin. We spoke as little as possible.

At the mountain altar I offered rice, rice cake, three different kinds of cooked vegetables, fruits, lighted candles and incense and makghuli, home made rice wine.

As my Godmother chanted and beat a small gong, I held up the Sanshin dari , a long piece of cloth called minyong , white cotton bridge, through which the shaman receives the Mountain Spirit. My body started quiver uncontrollably, a sign that the Spirit was entering me. I completely surrendered to the Spirit, turning off my internal dialogue, and entered into inner silence. I sensed light coming from every direction, and I started to feel drunk with the Spirit in me. It was dramatic close encounter with the separated "Lover" at long last. I felt the ultimate completion of my primordial self before separation. I knew that the spirit loved me and forgave my long resistance to accepting it. Bathed by the light of Spirit, I felt clean and reborn. I practically flew down the mountain to the town in the valley below. I returned with my Godmother to her house which would become the site of all-day ritual that was to come.

Could you describe some more details about the initiation? Korean term for initiation is "naerim kut .” This aspect of the ritual is concerned with the descending spirits and identification and presentation of the deities which have already made their presence known through possession of my body.

At the initiation ceremony, the minyong was placed leading onto the upstage portion of the house as a bridge between the heaven and the earth. To test my psychic ability and to determine if I could identify the deities who had descended on me, my Godmother and her assistant shaman, who serves as a messenger, sat at the end of the minyong, in a sense ending in heaven. A straw mat was placed downstage. Each question asked by the head shaman was repeated by her assistant. Instead of answering the questions directly, I began dancing. Then, kneeling down on the straw mat, I answered the questions orally. The dance seemed to heighten the trance state so that my answer came without thinking as if I know everything already.

The first question was, "If you become a shaman, through which gate will you enter?

I started singing in an occult nature, previously unknown to me. Again I danced until possessed and knelt down to wait for the next question.

"Which spirit is entering you?" she asked.

I answered, "Elwol Sung Shin and Okhwang Sangchae, spirits of the Sun, Moon and Stars and the Jade Emperor, are entering."

"Then reveal your true nature and find the symbolic paraphernalia of these deities," she ordered.

I stood, and walking upstage, grasped the Il wrol dae , sun and moon stick, a pine branch which I took from cliff at the mountain, bundled together with a bronze mirror and covered with a white long sleeved gown, the costume of the deities.

After I danced, she asked me another question, "Which spirit did you received this time?"

My reply was, "I received Sanshin , the spirits from the High Mountain and Sa Hae Yong Wang Nim, from the Four Direction Deep Ocean."

Why did you receive it?, she asked.

"I obeyed the order from Tangun, the founder of Korea. He has told me to help infertile couples, to counsel parents and their children to love each other. Through him I am guided to heal sickness and help those in poverty to find prosperity. Lastly, he advises me to engender love and respect among all people." Acknowledging my remarks, the head shaman invited any other spirits that might be present to enter me, and the Deity of the Seven Stars, Chil Sung, Big Dipper; Taegam Nim , the Spirit of High Nobility; Chosang Nim , Spirit of Ancestors; and Obang Shinchang Nim , Warrior of the Five Directions, came through.

What other occasions have you encountered Sanshin?  After I teaching summer school of 1977 at UCLA, I retired to an avocado ranch located deep in the mountains. I left all worldly affairs behind, obsessed like a lover longing for the mountains. In the mountains I could feel the presence of something indescribably different, an exotic apparition, the spirit of which one can not find in a human, a beautiful, bewitching spirit which embraced with boundless joy. I journeyed to Yosemite, Mt. Rainier, Death Valley, and other places like the Grand Canyon. In Canyon de Chelly I was led by endless double rainbows to the White House cliff dwelling with its ancient kiva, subterranean ritual chambers. As I emerged from a ruined kiva a sudden thunder and lightening storm attacked me mercilessly. I fainted onto the sand, and in total surrender I offered myself to the spirits present. I awoke with the most incredible orgasm I have ever known, basking in the most luxurious ecstasy. The sky was replete with rainbows and the reflections of rainbows reaching every horizon. The mountain breeze passing through the canyon seemed to be coming and going in the rhythm on an inaudible chant. As I flowed into that chant my soul ascended as flying unicorn, higher and higher into the sky. At last I was free and flying with such a feeling of exhilaration and joy that I wanted to cry, for I was experiencing the ecstasy, for which I had been yearning so long.

How has the initiation influenced your dance?  Since my initiation, my understanding of dance changed completely. The inseparability of art and spirit became essential for healing myself and eventually it has helped others. My teaching and performing is at the level of the primordial state, mainly achieved through ecstatic trance. By integrating breath, sound, movement and theatre, I set the stage for the transformation of the audience and society.

How has Sanshin influenced your decision to work globally?   Transformation is a fundamental concern of the shamans ritual. One important function of ritual is that it makes you a member of the tribe, of society, and hopefully a member of the global community. Today it is especially important to return to tribal integration in a global sense. Ive been traveling a great deal since 1988 sharing Tangunʼ s doctrine of “Hong Ik In Kan”, to be of benefit to all sentient beings, to engender love and respect among all people. Sanshin cannot afford any longer to wait on a lonely mountain top.

What is Sanshinʼs message?  The nature and message of spirit is beyond mental condition; it is bliss of pure energy, pervading everything, mua / ecstasy. The Spirit, which is formless, speaks through me in ecstatic dance. Spirit is shy, but sword is sharp. It teaches us a powerful but direct process of purification. Through ecstatic dance, sound and breath meditation, it cuts through fear, conflict and confusion. Fear is transformed into plentiful, universal love, and suddenly, we understand that our lives are about much more than suffering; it is also about experiencing rapture. This only works for those who are willing to confront their dark side and surrender to the primal spirit.


SITE-SPECIFIC SANSHIN  Over 70% of Korea is mountainous and many of the “most famous” sacred peaks are in the northern part of the peninsula. Perhaps most notable is Mt. Taepaek (Myohyang-san in Yongbyon, north Pyongan Province), the spot chosen by heavenly god Hawan-in for his sonʼ s, Hwan-woong, earthly abode.

Tangun, founder of the Ancient Chosun Empire and considered the first Korean, was born near a sandalwood tree to a patient, obedient bear-woman and Hwan-woong in 2333 BCE. He established his capital in Asadal (old name of Pyongyang) in Paegak-san where he eventually died, aged 1908 years, and became Sanshin of Mt. Kuwol. Other peaks sacred to Tangun are Mani-san (on an Island in the mouth of the Han River) where it is said he established a rock altar, and Paektu-san (Mt. Whitehead).

Centuries ago you could find a cozy wooden hut, with thatched straw or tiled roof situated deep in the mountain. Today, anthropomorphic images of Sanshin appear everywhere fine arts and tourist memento are found. Scrolls and screens depict Sanshin as a stately old man with a long beard leaning on a tiger, his messenger. The tiger, even the one playfully rendered as the mascot of the Seoul Olympiad, is also said to be Sanshin and Tangun. Sanshin icons were once prepared only for religious worship exclusively. To this end they were found only in the mountain spirit shrines in the samsinggak, three spirit hall, behind the golden hall in the Buddhist temple compounds, shamansʼ houses or at the ceremonial grounds of shamanic ritual.

CAVEAT If youʼ re really looking for Sanshin in Korea, particularly Tangun, choose carefully whom you tell. The three “Cs” which have been dominating the political and social order north and south -- Confucianism, Christianity and Communism -- donʼ t want anyone to find him, his being the national ancestor with all implications that this powerful identity implies. And given the state of the world, you shouldnt be to surprised to know that Tangun has been spotted outside Korea. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Jacqueline Nicholls' "Draw Yomi" Project

The tradition of joining the world-wide Jewish community commitment to study a page of the Babylonian Talmud  a day (2,711 pages in total) in a 7.5 year-long in a specific cycle -- is called Daf YomiSince the custom, minhag, began in 1923, then the entire cycle has been completed 12 times; the last one ending August 2, 2012. The current one is due to be completed in January 2020. 

I've not done it even for a day, but I have been following Jacqueline Nicholls' "Draw Yomi" Project in which she not only participates in the reading, but also she draws images from the passages and offers a short commentary or note about its contents for a decidedly personal,  21st Century feminist eye. It is a bit haiku-ish in that it is not work that is over thought, but definitely impressionistic. We are who we are when we enter the current of the big river.

A prolific artist who lives in London, Nicholls' other works are mostly in the fiber arts that address women's role in Jewish rituals, exploring the forms and intentions of minhagim, traditions, and projecting them on to personal experiences of life cycles of the body and the peoplehood. 

Today, after catching up on her daily impressions, I explored once again her website and entered "rooms" of her many thematic projects. I was struck particularly by her "Kittel" project today. A kittel is a very simple garment that an observant man (usually) will wear at his wedding, funeral and on the annual days of yom kippur in between. It is white, full length and has sleeves. A perfect canvas for such an inspired, skillful artist.

Here is her thought about the “Dignity Kittel” ...

“I used to spend Christmas volunteering at a temporary homeless shelter in London that provided basic services and support. In amongst the medical and dental care, food, hairdressing, there was a large clothing section. The guests could choose an outfit, and my job was to make sure that these garments fitted them properly, so when they stepped out in their new suit, they looked smart and dignified. We were instructed to make sure that they didn’t look like they were wearing hand-me-downs. The shelter also supplied practical warm coats, but by ensuring that there were people there to make adjustments, they recognized that clothing doesn’t just provide protection against the elements."

We have an obligation to help recognize the inherent dignity of all Beggars, Holy or not. Thus, I’m posting this in two blogs: “Trads in Contempo Life” and “Holy Beggar”.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Japan Goes Mod(ern)

Book Reviews by Lauren W. Deutsch
Originally published in 
Kyoto Journal  #58May 2004
Reprinted in support of LACMA's Kimono for a Modern Age Exhibition 2014

Turning Point: Oribe and the Arts of Sixteenth-Century Japan
Miyeko Murase, Ed. (Yale University Press, New Haven, 2003)

Mavo: Japanese Artists and 
The Avant-Garde 1905-1931 
Gennifer Weisenfeld (University of California Press, Berkeley, 2002)

Mirror of Modernity: Invented Traditions 
of Modern Japan
Stephen Vlastos, Ed. (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1998)

Imagine … It's early 1924. Furuta Oribe XII's 20-something only son, Oribe xiii, is deep into an early mid-life crisis. Life as an heir-apparent is not cutting it. Endlessly attending and holding those stuffy tea gatherings every time a cherry blossom petal takes to wind or a maple leaf blushes. He's full-up-to-here with the pretentiousness of emptiness, with a capital "EMPTY". Besides, no one sits seiza anymore.

His family's legacy of quirky ceramics and interior design, so beloved by generations of aesthetes of yore, has not transitioned into the new social economy. The Western hungry ghosts have insatiable appetites for Japanese oldies-but-goodies Chinoiserie knock-offs. The nouveau riche industrialists are good to go 24/7 with assembly line versions of his great-great-great-etc. granddaddy's classics, but the output is so much vulgar stuttering, diluting the genius of spontaneity. They think a whack of a paddle, a swish of brown slip and a splat of green glaze and … a masterpiece. Ha!

Very soon he'll be installed with full rights as Mr. XIII. This will mean managing and supporting the dreary household staff. It's not his cup of tea.

Wriggling out of the nijiriguchi, he hangs up the "Sorry We Missed You!" sign on the roji gate and heads for the sento. In the genkan, the front page of the morning's shinbun blasts an editorial about the decline of morals of youth due to a dangerous and growing sense of individualism among the intelligentsia. Women are cutting their hair short, exposing their skin in public, and men are wearing unisex fashion. There's a notice about a group of artists who are staging an art show and poetry reading at a café in support of a petition for more affordable housing. Another about the round up of students hanging out at that same joint.

Slipping into his new brown hounds-tooth jodhpur, cream mohair jacket and forest green leather boots, he heads shitamachi to find that little café. His soul is dry. And he's very thirsty. Thirsty for a fresh look at the world.

Consider what might transpire if xiii had met the modernists of his own time, Picasso for sure … But this fantasy must serve this review, so he meets Murayama Tomoyoshi and his band of merry Taisho pranksters, the artists of the Mavo movement.

Turning Point is the long awaited book on about the impact of Momoyama generalissimo chajin Furuta Oribe on Japanese aesthetics. Hideaki Furukawa, the director of The Museum of Fine Arts in Gifu, offers in its early pages, "The impulse to challenge and defy convention could be called the defining theme of Japan's Momoyama period. 'Oribe' neatly captures this sprit of creative nonconformity…" The Oribe book made its debut in sync with the block-buster one-stop exhibition of the same name held at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art staged at the end of 2003 through early 2004.

Weisenfeld's dense opus, Mavo,  is a chronicle of the activities, inspirations and impact of Mavo, the Japanese sociopolitical aesthetic movement dated 1905 - 1931. It primarily focuses on Murayama Tomoyoshi, the movement's mastermind, who seemed to have a whole lot of fun stirring up the already turbulent Taisho status quo, with a capital QUO. While a bit dense to casually, the narrative would serve very well if complementing an exhibition.

"Mavo was a self-proclaimed avant-garde constellation of artists and writers collaborating in a dynamic and rebellious movement that not only shook up the art establishment, but also made an indelible imprint on the art criticism of the period," she outlines.

Rigorous narratives supported by copious illustrations fill these two volumes. By re- and de-constructing reputations, myths and the physical remnants of the times, they address philosophy and production of art in a multitude of methods -- from clay and oil painting and sculpture, to architecture, theatre and the mass media. They also give us images of how Japan deals with errant aesthetes.

During each period, evolutions of artistic styles were inseparable from developments in Japanese enterprise, hegemony and industrialization, mass consumer culture, and social order. Bookending three centuries of isolationism, it may be argued that the volumes under consideration reflect "modernist" trends within its own time period, providing an interesting spectrum from which to explore the premise of Vlastos' book Mirror of Modernity: Invented Traditions of Modern Japan

"Artists are too often omitted from sociopolitical studies [of the Japanese intelligentsia], here they gain their rightful place in the debates of the early twentieth century. Including those who dealt with art: educators, bureaucrats, dealers, collectors and publishers," notes Weisenfeld.

As an exhibition catalog, Turning Point is a font of illustrations of stunning dogu for chanoyu. It also contains generous helpings of mind -candy about the who / how / huh of Oribe. In addition, it offers literary works, screen painting and even Portuguese maps and diaries. Each points to Oribe's impact as a major "player" in volatile and changing political, social and cultural landscapes of his time … and now.

A major focus of the book and exhibition is the new archeological scholarship being undertaken at historic Seto kiln sites. Sifting through household waste and layers of potsherds, they are documenting the popularity and mass production of Oribe-ness. What is lacking in both book and exhibition is a sampling of today's Oribe-ish ephemera such as plastic sushi bar shoyu dishes. Do I ask too much?

The editor states, "During the era of Oribe, a common aesthetic language bound all the visual arts more strongly than any other time in Japan before or since, and intimate working relationships existed among artists in different media." Until the advent of Mavo, perhaps.

Like the French impressionists in the late 19th century, Murayama and his avant-garde cronies took on the gadan (art establishment) of their time, unabashedly challenging conventional taste and social norms. And like Oribe, Murayama was charismatic and drew tremendous inspiration from his collaborations with others.

Where Oribe's jazzy naturalistic designs were to be "seen" mostly dimly lit tea rooms set to promote harmony and tranquilly, purity and respect, MaVo was a brash, in-your-face under- and-above-ground collective tour de force affront to the bitter reality of life Meiji / Taisho.

The origin and significance of the "Mavo" name itself  seems to be contested among the group members. The most widely disseminated story has it coming from a random selection within a collective process with representation of the membershipitself. While a hotly disputed conclusion, it proved to be a useful "brand", replete with mystery. The actual composition of "membership" also waxes and wanes with opinions, however scholarly, but consensus contends it fluctuated.

What is quite clear, however, is that they played turned everything upside down and backwards.. For example, The "V" in Mavo on their publication covers is mimicked in several of the members' (men and women) hair styles … or is it vice versa?Like Andy Warhol's "Factory" in New York of the 1960s, the group of young, largely self-trained Mavo men and women spent as much energy promoting its manifesto as making the "art" itself.

"While drawn together because of a 'constructivist inclination,'" states the author, "the Mavo artists did not assert ideological solidarity. Rather, they maintained distinct convictions, respecting each other's personal goals."
On the serious art side, Mavo was deeply imprinted by German Abstract Expressionism and the "happenings" of Dada and other modernist movements in Europe and the USA. Illustrations include architectural designs catering to the lifestyle of the proletariat. Graphic designs for leftist literary works, periodicals and promotional materials for Mavo events incorporated typographic influences of Europe (including classic Germanic script and Hebrew!).

Weisenfeld writes:  "They strived to revolutionize the form, function and intent of Japanese art. They aimed to reestablish a connection they felt had been broken in the Meiji period with the codification of autonomous "fine art' based on the Western model … reintegrating art into the social (and political) practice of everyday life."

As a friend living in Japan said, it would take an exhibition in New York or Paris for Furuta Oribe to be publicly claimed by the Japanese as a favorite son in "mixed" (gai and Nihon-jin) company. And then there's Mavo. Can't imagine the French keeping Picasso a secret for 400 years, much less declaring the uniqueness of analytical cubism.
If you're reading Kyoto Journal, you have undoubtedly been in this situation: You're in the market check-out line; your basket includes tofu. The Japanese customer in front of you turns and, eyeing the tofu, says, "You can eat?" You nod, perhaps a polite grunt, and say, "Do you eat this?" "Yes, but I am Japanese."

In Mirror of Modernity, his excellent collection of essays on an eclectic assortment of "modernisms", Stephen Vlastos writes, "Modern Japan is widely regarded as a society saturated with customs, values and social relationships that organically link present generations of Japanese to past generations." (The accompanying article, "En Avant Garde" attempts to exercise this notion.)

A confession: I fell for it when I was a teenager. I believed in Japan's reverence for the traditional. I shunned rock 'n' roll for origami. I completely missed the party scene in the 60s and am trying to make up for lost time by getting high on matcha and eating dried breakfast cereal called "Zen".

An easy, entertaining read (with a great index, glossary and bibliography), the book takes us backstage to view the artifices of the Meiji and Taisho with compelling arguments to support his conclusion that there may be no there "there". It's done with mirrors.

Vlastos central question is, "How, by whom, under what circumstances, and to what social and political effect are certain practices and ideas formulated, institutionalized and propagated as tradition?"

While it is stated that Ito Hirobumi was the principal architect of Japan's modernization project in the latter part of the 19th Century, we are told that Yanagita Kunio invented the "tradition of Japanese tradition" by claiming, "Japan's preservation of its original culture made Japan unique among modern nations. Japan alone had achieved modernity without cutting itself off from its original culture."

"Every tradition trades between two poles: imagination and contrivance, creation and deception, he says."

The explosive growth of Japanese capitalism after World War I sparked new media technologies, new forms of entertainment and pleasure seeking, and the mass markets with their items of personal consumption. It's how the Daimyos became princes and evolved into CEOs.

Vlastos' selection of 16 essays by which to explore the social and cultural chaos is eclectic: the fundamental notion of wa, harmony, is hit head-on. Other checkpoints include labor management, shifting gender roles as reflected in the café waitress as moga (modern girl), the development of sentimentality for folksy village life, the challenges to tame colonial Manchuko with Imperial loyalty. At the same time the archipelago was evolving into a "modern" nation state, newly contrived prefectural identities were galvanized with neo-religious fervor.

One of the most intriguing discussions is the morphing of the classic warrior skills into more broadly accessible martial arts, budo, represented here by Kokudan judo. This provided a safe way to address the threat of the growing popularity of sports and the penultimate expression of world harmony, the Olympics  -- a Western construct which was considered dangerous to the populace as it could infect society with "individualism and liberalism". Author Inoue Shun notes, "Ideologues argued that sports must be "Japanized" through budo." These "games" became a much-needed "safe" expression of national identity and was consumable casually or otherwise by everyman.

Another intriguing piece deconstructs the notion of "home", the architecture of domestic life, in post-Meiji. Its author, Jordan Sands, notes one of the big jumps from the feudal to a modern, social construct could be found in the new practice of family dining. This meant synchronizing mealtimes and sharing an eating place. It required replacing individual meal trays with a dining table. He goes on to address other elements of domesticity such as interior design as it imposes and implies social status and carves out the possibility of privacy.

The author's own essay focuses on agrarianism. "At the end of the 1920s embattled farmers and rustic intellectuals transformed agrarianism into a movement of economic renewal and political activism. Farmers, desperately searching for practical solutions to the very real problem of economic survival, and rural polemicists, certain that capitalism and city culture were the root cause of the crisis, developed their own brand of agrarianism."  Capitalism's "erosion of social authority" was thwarted by "the enshrinement of the agricultural village as the well-spring of authentic Japanese culture."  As a result of the social turmoil of the 1930s, the reassuring image of harmonious and productive farm families served the ideological needs of many sectors of Japanese society, he concludes."

Vlastos calls upon to Miriam Silverberg for a glimpse of that new “traditional” phenomenon: the café waitress as representative of moga. Not to be confused with geisha and the kissaten, coffeehouse, staff, she was "bourgeois woman's challenge to established gender norms".

[The café was itself a modern construct. Unlike the coffeehouse, which is said to have been established in 1888 and could be considered a version of the pre-modern teahouse, the café, was considered a "modern success of the Taisho-period milk halls," the author says, but does not describe further. Puratan (Printemps) is considered the first Japanese café, modeled after the male-staffed French hangout. Puratan was opened in the spring of 1911 by the artist Matsuyama Shozo, a painter in the yoga (Western style) who served food and wine to go with the graffiti he had painted on the café walls. It catered mainly to the salaried middle class and intellectuals.]

Going back to the front of this article, it attempts to demonstrate how Japan draws upon the past to create and validate the present and uses this energy to illuminate the past. Sounds like a flawed plan for a perpetual motion machine. I maintain that one must go back as far as possible and cite the source. Rand Castile, the American scholar of chanoyu, once observed that Rikyu created wabi. Sabi, on the other hand, cannot be created. "Perhaps wabi exists only in opposition to something." I maintain this tension is similar for the notion of "modernity."

Taking Vlastos at his word, I can't help but look at the Momoyama's chado explosion, with its nostalgic bow to the artifice of wabi and chashitsu -as-cosmos construct. Are these any less contrived than the café and sumo's yokuzono system discussed in his book? Aren't the former "modern" for their time?

When asked why, despite the unbroken lineage and impeccability of presentation of the art, the oiemoto of a major chanoyu school is not designated a "living national treasure", I was told that no one can tell him he isn't.

I would suggest that this practice of self-alignment has something to do with encounters with gaijin. Perhaps it was an act of purification, much like the Biblical Exodus period of isolation and wandering in the desert to galvanize identity. While not discussed, it seems necessary to determine whether there was a lack of fabrication of tradition during the 300 years of Japan's isolation until "opening up".