Saturday, June 20, 2009

Buddhist Bells Meet Davinci Code On Freud's Couch

Notice the Buddha heads, positioned near the head of Freud's couch.
Could we be tempted to insert some meaning into that?
Care to erect a hypothesis?

A brilliant don has the power to inspire; to cause in his students the wish to delve further into scholastic mysteries, and to inculcate a lifelong thirst for knowledge. He awakens in us the useful habit of examining beneath the surface of things.

A bad don? Well, a bad don is like old avocado, encrusted between the tines of a fork, and we shall have no more to say about that.

Professor Dan Martin, who sits in the Middle East and examines all directions, is a brilliant don who has just applied his pristine silver fork to a favorite subject of mine, and this with such grace and fecundity I cannot help but stand in awe.

His topic?

Bells. [Nothing which follows will make any sense at all if you don't click that link.]

His thesis?

The Christians got jealous 'cause the Buddhists had bigger bells.

Forgive me the over-simplification, but we are engaged in catharsis therapy here, the clinical necessity for which demands telegraphic brevity.

Let it be recorded that on 5 February 1484, King Dhammazedi, 9th of the Mon kings of Burma, caused a great bell to be cast from 600 tons of copper. Because the date was astrologically unfavorable -- whether for the king or the casting, history does not tell us directly (but instead instructs obliquely that it was a bad day for both) -- the bell had an unpleasant tone. Yet, it was encrusted with gems and precious metals nonetheless, and hung in Shwedagon Pagoda.

Such opulence indeed attracted notice from the ever-Catholic Italians. In 1583, the Venetian gem merchant Gasparo Balbi saw the bell, and wrote that it was: "full of letters from the top to the bottom, so near together that one touches the other, but there was no Nation that could understand them."

Knowledge of this great Buddhist bell -- the largest bell in the world, and progenitor of the Christian-Buddhist bell race -- festered in the consciousness of the late 16th and early 17th century, until it fell to the Portuguese to make strategic entry.

In 1608, the Portuguese adventurer Filipe de Brito y Nicote hatched a scheme to move the bell, upon which he had the bloody heavy thing lashed to his ship, and thereupon sank. The bell lay in the mud at the bottom of the river, and its top could reportedly be seen at low tide, as late as the 1800s. Meanwhile, for all his bungling, Filipe de Brito y Nicote was put to the stake.

Time passed, the bell race de-escalated, and there came a period of Christian-Buddhist bell exchanges.

You can read all about the Great Sunken Bell of Dhammazedi by clicking here, and this will also take you to an account of what is, today, the winner and still champion of the world's biggest ringing and functional bell contest: the Great Bell of Mingun, at around 200 U.S. tons, again located in Burma, at the Mingun Pagoda.

Now, in our shared tradition, the bell is known to symbolize the feminine divine. During the period in question, and according to a most erudite lecture I once heard from Prof. Tom Hanks, the church was at pains to conceal evidence of the feminine divine.

Yeah... that's it... Buddha had a son, but he didn't try a cover-up. Maybe... just maybe... Jesus had a daughter! Jesus had a daughter, and the Buddhists found out, so they gave bells to the Christians to rub it in!

A patient visits the psychiatrist. "Oh, doctor," he cries. "I can't help myself. I keep thinking that I'm a bell!" The psychiatrist hands the patient some pills, and says, "Take these. If the symptoms persist, give me a ring."

Anyway, I think we are all adults here, and we all understand that it takes big bells to be a Buddhist.

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2 reader comments:

hamish said...

A link to Beijing's bell museum. The largest bell is only 46 tons, but still very impressive when you stand next to it.

Anonymous said...