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Ruminations on Zen's Cows  

Part 3: The Fascinating Bulls

by Ming Zhen Shakya, OHY

Good Grief! Just as we were getting used to the idea that women were from Venus and men were from hell, the Age of Cloning is upon us! So here we are back where we started.

It seems like only yesterday that an amorous amoeba, lubricious with desire, would do the honorable thing and reproduce itself. But no... we had to fault this model and tamper with perfection. We wanted the expense and heartache of intersecting parts and their respective owners just to generate another wretched member of the species. We wanted jewelers and lawyers and miseries indescribable. And once we saw what all this had really got us, it was back to the old drawing board.

Again we’re on the cusp of true unanimity - potential clonors with nobody to challenge for property and custodial rights but ourselves. Hello Dolly, indeed! Who needs Parton’s bosom or Levy’s matchmaking? Legal and esthetic excess can nicely be replaced with subtle egocentricity. We’re back to basics.

But let’s not get carried away with Paleozoic ages. We have to go back only a few hundred thousand years to explain our fascination with bulls.

Ah, the good old days. We were all walking upright it seems, or most of us anyway. We could see over the tall grass ever so much better when standing on our hind legs; and we needed our front paws free for holding weapons and tools.

In one other notable way our vertical posture distinguished us from fellow primates. We, unlike they, mated face to face; for upright locomotion required a ball-and-socket thigh and hip joint which, in turn, required a deep pelvic basin and a balancing spinal curvature. The vagina, easily accessible from behind when the spine was parallel to the ground, now became perpendicular to it. Worse, it was tilted - and in the wrong direction. Catching one on the run became an impossible task.

Comparison of simian blade-shaped pelvis and straight spine suitable for bent locomotion and limited leg rotation to human bowl-shaped pelvis and curved spine accommodating upright posture and full leg rotation.  

With sneak attacks from the rear no longer a successful tactic, a new strategy was required. The vagina had to be lured into a horizontal position, and because of the tilt, that position had to be prone. And then, just as eye contact and facial proximity made the cosmetics’ industry inevitable, a mere two hundred thousand years ago, the scene was set for Eve.

Eve, of course, had a mother, too. And it was one eventful day for mankind, I can tell you, when the divine mutating lightning struck Mater and she produced dear baby Eve whose genes were sufficiently scrambled to produce a rather large cerebral cortex.

Eve, with her cantaloupe head, no doubt made delivery rough on Mater; but the pain soon turned to pride. Eve was always smarter than everybody else and being so, she mated as frequently as she liked. No dateless Saturday nights for her. She was quite the little schemer and, because she was able to pass on this extraordinary intelligence of hers, every available male schemed to be included in her schemes. She gave them many opportunities.

Yes, for this was another way in which human females distinguished themselves from other primates: human females were fertile and sexually receptive in accordance with the phases of the moon. Other primates were more "seasonal", i.e., solar; but humans were decidedly lunar. Every twenty-eight days, a new cycle began unless, of course, pregnancy intervened. And the driving force of this new celestial adjustment was programmatically refined in that large cerebral cortex. Eve possessed self-knowledge and, as every Buddhist knows, self-knowledge means self-consciousness and a definite sense of futurity. Not only does the ego become Numero Uno but satisfying its demands for status, love, power and security become goals of primary concern. Godly archetypes filled Eve’s head the way no instincts ever filled the heads of other creatures. Eve knew love. She also made the nearly always fatal mistake of equating sex with love. An imaginative creature, she desired romance and, desire, as every Buddhist also knows, is the cause of bitterness and pain.

Why was it necessary to shift from seasonal to monthly estrus? In the absence of knowledge, guesses can be made. Surely Eve’s Mom and her associates were already of a sort smarter than the average primate. Instincts can kick in instantaneously; but thinking requires training and development. The gestation period could have been already stretched out as far as Mom’s birth canal would permit. With bigger heads, stillbirths would likely have been more common; and the long dangerous period needed to raise the little thinking-machine-menaces to self-sufficient adolescence may have disastrously raised the childhood death rate. It may, therefore, simply have been a biological imperative to produce greater numbers of kids, i.e., to get pregnant as often as possible; and natural selection would have favored the hormonally rich. And we are back to Eve’s insatiable desires.

Any working mother today will have a hearty laugh should anyone tell her that women evolved into needy, passive creatures so that men will take care of them while they are pregnant or are tending small children. In agricultural times, perhaps, when a mother was isolated from other women and planting and harvesting chores came at critical times of the years, times of enormous labor expenditure, women may have absolutely required male support. But the changes in male and female bonding arrangements we are interested in occurred in pre-agricultural times when it would have been far easier for women to band together, as many other apes and animals do, to share the nurturing duties and the care of the pregnant or lactating female. And naturally, when it comes to hunting, females are not second best. Ask any lion.

  Human female skeleton probably contemplating the travail that caused her present condition.

Carl Jung says that human females have several Animus gods of love in their heads while men, alas, have only one Anima goddess of love. This is another way of saying that a woman may be attracted to different types of men but a man is usually duck-soup to only one type of woman. Eve, while not exactly fickle, saw the need for variety. So, with frequent pregnancies having to compensate frequent infant deaths, what could she do... especially what with love and sex so wedded in her mind?

Naturally, everybody wanted one of her offspring. Were they not the Whiz Kids of the Stone Age? But we know all too well what those big craniumed kids did to Eve’s pelvic basin and, of course, to her vaginal canal. They widened it so very, very much that in order for Eve to have a meaningful sexual experience, she required a male with corresponding dimensions.

Freud got it wrong. Women do not suffer from penis envy. Men do. And the penis they envied most was that good old macho fellow, the bull. Now, there was a penis a man could do something with! And men, thanks to Eve, were getting smarter, too. They could not be soft-soaped into believing the idiot notion that size didn’t matter. Every female who pushed a melon-headed child through that unaccommodating canal knew that it mattered, and in those forthright days women were not constrained by Victorian coyness to be silent on the subject. Men, as we might expect from the deviousness of their sex, began to wear loin cloths. (GQ will not deny this.) Some men even began to pump iron so as to shift the focus upwards. But when the chips were down, there was no bluffing. An unendowed fellow had to compensate by being a good provider. If he couldn’t deliver the bacon - and bacon was just for openers - who needed him? Men became civilized.

But looming over man’s psyche, haunting him day and night, was that damned bull: Everywoman’s dream date. The standard impossible to meet!

Naturally, it was a love/hate relationship. Bovines of various sorts ranged all over the world as did Eve’s descendants. Cattle yielded meat - meat that could be consumed on the spot or dried as jerky. Their skins yielded leather and their horns, drinking cups. There was no end to the benefits. Females gave milk; and males, when castrated early enough, could even be herded. But reproduction was still between the cloning eras. Bulls were as needed as they were admired for their sexual capabilities.

In the age of agriculture bulls were the symbol, par excellence, of fertility. If a farmer wanted a productive field, he let a bull walk across it. The association was intimate: the ox pulled the plow, and the plow was a lingam, a penis, which penetrated and deposited seed in the Earth Mother. Nothing was more clear than this. He was, of course, deified.

In Mesopotamia he was Enlil, the divine fecundating bull whose bellowing was thunder and whose benediction was rain; in Greece, Zeus, too, took the form of a bull; Dionysus Zagreus had the body of a man but the head of a bull and when the people worshipped him, it was with such sexual license as would make Tantrics look like Quakers; in India Shiva was the Bull Nandi, and so on and on around the globe. Wherever there was farming there was worship of the virile bull.

But even during agricultural times, the formidable aurochs (Bos primigenius urus) continued to be hunted and used for amusement. A worthy adversary and performer, he stood six feet tall at the shoulder, and was sufficiently wily to qualify as a trophy animal for the mighty Julius Caesar. Cretan women, immortalized in friezes on the palace walls of Knossos, used to vault off the aurochs’ forehead, somersault over his head, land feet-first upon the hind quarters, and then leap to the ground. Egyptians, in their customary artistic style, depicted the bulls in profile; and so the pair of long forward pointing horns thus appeared as one - giving birth in the popular mind, it is said, to the creature called a unicorn. The aurochs proved to be quite a survivor. Until the year 1712, the last known member of the species resided in a Prussian zoo at which place he was much admired by Gottfried Leibnitz. 

Section of a fresco from the Palace of Knossos, Crete, showing women somersaulting over a charging aurochs bull. (1500 BC.)

But the "toros bravos" bulls in Iberian Basque country were a different sort. They were smaller and faster and far more aggressive. They were not circus performers and they had no use for farming. Neither had the Basques. Significantly, there is no evidence that they were intrigued by the bull’s sexual organs as were the rest of the world’s people.

Just as man could domesticate felines and get a useful housecat, or lupines and get a useful dog, he could domesticate bovines and get cattle. But some felines don’t domesticate. We don’t have pumas curled up on our hearth stones... or coyotes, either. And some bovines don’t care to be domesticated. Neither as Bos taurus africanus nor as Bos taurus iberius would the breed from Spain ever condescend to pull a plow. He was as regal as he was wild. And he had one very peculiar characteristic: if provoked, he would charge anything that moved.

  20,000 year old Basque bull painting on a cave wall, Lascaux, France.

He had killer horns - sharp, gently curved lances upon which he’d easily impale the creature of his choice. He also had a great memory. He could be fooled a few times; but he learned fast.

He was also a different kind of animal to hunt. Normal hunting techniques did not work with him. Trying to stampede a herd over a cliff was frankly suicidal. The animals were more fierce than they were fearful. Toro bravo bulls usually tolerate the presence of other bulls, so there wasn’t much point in luring one bull away from its family to get to the females and young. In the first place, a tora brava is just as feisty as a toro bravo... sometimes more so. And if she was defending her young, well... it’s best not to think about it. The way to kill the bull was to let it charge and to take it on, mano a mano, subduing it and keeping it occupied until one’s fellows could get a shot at it with their spears. It must have been quite a sight... the dark beast with many spears, each with the individual insignia of the various hunters, penetrating his hide. Perhaps the modern group of six banderillas, hanging colorfully from the bull, commemorates the group lancing. But who was the heroic fellow who provoked the charge? Who was that oxherding stalwart who held his ground when the bull attacked and then controlled his movements, bringing the fierce animal to a winded standstill, a no-longer moving target?

Bull felled with lances displayed before it -from cave painting, Pindal, northern Spain.  

Who stepped forward to challenge the great beast... to seek him out and subdue him? This was not a fecundating animal prized for his virility. Mundane sexuality could have had nothing to do with it. This kind of heroism speaks to salvific selflessness.

Who was this heroic savior... this cowboy who imbued himself and the bull with such extraordinary meaning, a meaning that went beyond the need for food or commonplace bravery and became an exemplar of egoless sacrifice?

No mere shaman or master of the hunt, perhaps this fellow who stepped forward and became so focussed upon his task that he passed through mere concentration and entered the zone of non-being could rightfully be called the world’s first priest-king, consort and representative of the sun, itself.

And surely, as he performed his dazzling ritual, that world had to drop away as he encountered the great dark animal. In his entrancing eyes, there could be only the bull. Like Arjuna who knew his aim would falter if he saw anything other than the hawk’s eye-- the target, nothing else was allowed to exist. It was the premeditated surrender of self, the perfect meditation.

And having surrendered his ego, he became, in the eternal moment, one with God. One, indivisible.. yet from which the many come.

And so we’re back to cloning, to self-contained sexuality: Androgyny. The union of opposites. Yin and Yang. Power and the law power obeys coming together in perfect harmony. Divine Marriage. The Mysterium Coniunctionis. And which, in the equinox of dark and light, the dark will yield to light, the days of glory will lengthen, if, of course, we’re lucky. We’ll have a feast instead of a funeral and we’ll have a sunlit hero to excite us. We’ll celebrate, and we’ll be inspired to be better than we are.

Next time will have a look at the Basques, those first bullfighters.

As an exercise, assume the proper meditative posture and after calming yourself with deep breathing for a few minutes, relax everything except your eye muscles. Behind gently closed eyes, visualize a north, west, south and east passage around the eye-socket. Especially when looking north (up) hold the gaze for four times the amount of time you stay at the other cardinal points. Do this for at least ten circuits. This is a basic exercise which will become increasingly more complicated as the regimen progresses.

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Part 3   ~   Part 4
Part 5   ~   Part 6
Part 7   ~   Part 8
Part 9   ~   Part 10
Part 11   ~   Part 12
Part 13
Last modified: July 11, 2004
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