Thursday, November 25, 2010

In the Name of Rain

In many of the Buddhist lands, children are taught that Shakyamuni Buddha manifested as a Buddha because, with utmost compassion, he could not bear to witness the prevalence of animal sacrifices attending holidays. Perhaps you may recall hearing something like that in your own youth.

In the Americas, quite literally millions of the ancient fowl misnamed as turkeys have died in the name of today's holiday, called "Thanksgiving." So, I want to give them their due. Actually, turkeys have been sacrificially dying in the Americas for thousands of years, and Thanksgiving is only the latest excuse. Long before the somewhat mythical pilgrims landed here and betrayed the humanity of the somewhat mythical natives, turkeys were being sacrificed in the name of water -- yes, water -- and in some cases, to a god named Tlaloc.

Tlaloc is the Mesoamerican god of water, and the longer you study Tlaloc, the stronger your suspicion becomes that he functions as the Aztec version of a naga king -- possibly even a dragon. -- but, is he really? Is he that, or is he a controller? The image above, from the Palace of Tepantitla, in the ruined city of Teotihuacan, northeast of Mexico City, depicts a fresco archaeologists have named "The Paradise of Tlaloc." To place it in historical perspective, the fresco was painted well before Padmasambhava came to Tibet, and certainly flourished around 600 CE, in what was then one of the largest cities in the world. The image below is Tlaloc in all his glory, from the 16th century Codex Rios.

In his readable survey of southwest prehistory, House of Rain, author Craig Childs informs that turkeys, "were killed in place of humans, their heads ritually cut off as offerings to water spirits," and their corpses were placed interstitially in the spaces between spaces. According to Childs:
"among the modern clans of the Hopi who are descended from the Anasazi, turkey feathers represent the scintillating underworld, their white, flat tips symbolizing water churning up from underground. Turkey feathers are planted in fields to attract rain. Some of the surviving tribes far south of here, in southern Mexico, Central America, and South America, believe that the turkey represents Tlaloc, one of the most powerful and ancient gods in the Americas, a governor of water said to live underground in the House of Rain."
So, who is this Tlaloc? The academics teach that he is the easiest of the deities to identify: he has "goggles formed by two serpents that meet in the center and join to form the nose, and a serpent moustache framing the mouth from which emerge two fangs. His color is blue." We note that he is adorned with a crown of heron feathers, and a net of clouds.

A master of water, a master of serpents; snakes and feathers, in the net of clouds. Hmm... might know somebody who fluently empathizes in those circles.

There could be some logic to it. After all, the same ocean's vagaries impacted both the home of the garudas and the home of the Tlalocs. El Nino gave unusually warm temperatures and abundant rainfall. La Nina gave unusually cold temperatures and a dry season (we are currently in a La Nina year). It is likely that men in both places sought clues from the spirit and animal worlds to understand and possibly influence both conditions.

Regardless, my purpose in writing this post is not to debate Tlaloc, ambient rainfall, ocean temperatures in the Pacific, or our dear friends the garudas. 

My purpose in writing this post is to encourage you in the direction of tofu, rather than turkey. Nobody likes to hear that sort of thing this time of year, so I had to slip it in between the pages.

Happy Thanksgiving, from Digital Tibetan Buddhist Altar, where we never miss a chance to give you a nudge.

Let your rain be the rain of compassion.


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3 reader comments:

cloudhand said...


Cliff said...

All nudges appreciated!

Anonymous said...

Tlaloc has the face of a makara.