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Ruminations on Zen's Cows  

Part 5: Androgyny in Spiritual Alchemy, Cont.

by Ming Zhen Shakya, OHY
Page 3 of 3

Still, all this is or must surely seem rather vague. What, precisely happens when we enter the Chamber? We all know or should at least have heard by now that the goal of meditation practice is samadhi and samadhi is ecstasy or rapture. This altered state of consciousness constitutes divine union but it does not necessarily constitute divine marriage. Samadhi is merely experienced during divine marriage, exponentially so.

It is no surprise then, that divine marriage has something to do with sex. But the Bridal Chamber is not in some hotel’s honeymoon suite. It is located entirely in the brain. Further, aside from a certain radiance, nothing shows on the Bride or Groom’s face, body carriage, or manner of dress that in any way that differs from the way he or she normally presents himself. To his friends and family, there is no hint that any change, much less such a serious alteration in spiritual status, has occurred.

There is an exception to this: in many (usually non-literate) societies, the shaman who attains androgyny will cross-dress to indicate his or her spiritual status. Native American or various Polynesian groups, for example, usually regard with inordinate respect such a shaman; and outsiders, when told that such a person is a holy man or woman and not a homosexual, are usually baffled. (I once spoke to a woman who had encountered such a shaman in Bali. "He was wearing lipstick," she said, "and had his hair up in curlers, but still I was told he was not gay at all." She thought the good people of Bali were terribly naive.)
Cross-dressed Native American shaman.

Androgynes, whether shamans or not, in their meditative "dream time" will inhabit another society, a society in which, in their opposite sex, they will be lovers and parents; and, because their ego is not present (by virtue of their being in the meditative state) the experience, not being dulled or skewed by the prejudices of ego-consciousness, will be far more vivid and complete than any experience they might have in ordinary life.

Bizarre as it seems, we’ll provide a scenario:

Let’s pretend that a candidate for divine marriage (we’ll call him Robert) has prepared the Way. Then, on one incredibly blessed morning he awakens to discover that his ego has been subsumed by his anima/goddess and he finds himself in the midst of a vision... a vision in which his brain is in her body (we’ll call her Roberta) and he is being ravished by a king. (The divine partner wears a radiate crown. The mystique of monarchy!)


Rebis stands triumphantly on an unimpressed man in the moon. JD Myles, Philosopher reformat, Frankfurt, 1617.

It is as if Roberta is living in a distant place, and Robert, for so long as he is in the meditative state, does not exist. Yet, the peculiar thing is that Robert is subsequently aware of all that has happened to Roberta. (It is rather like satori in which the ego is obliterated but yet survives sufficiently to know that its host has experienced satori.) While Roberta is living her life, she is completely unaware of Robert. But when Roberta weeps, tears run down Robert’s face, too; and when Roberta is in ecstasy - which she often is - it is Robert’s body that reaps the benefit of all that bliss. In short, one body has two heads. A male head (Robert, the passive observer) and a female head (Roberta, the active participant).

During the succeeding two weeks, Robert will know more orgasmic ecstasy than he has known throughout his entire life. Of course, if the telephone rings, he will pop out of the meditation and in a perfectly normal voice address his caller. But the moment he hangs the phone up his eyes will roll back in his head and he’ll be delirious with Roberta’s lovelife once again. The cast of characters will change after two weeks, but the divine drama continues. The cast will then remain fairly stable. We won’t go into the necessary but degrading "dark night of the soul" meditational experiences (that foray into the unconscious being beyond the scope of this or any other work I’m likely to write.)

D.T. Suzuki, in his Essays In Zen Buddhism: Third Series, reprints artwork which depict the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra in his female form both as a courtesan of gentle beauty and as an associate of the licentious, blood-lusting Rakshasha sorority - see also The Mahabharata.

Hibbo Kannon by Kano Hogai, color on silk, Japan, 19th Century. In this lovely rendition, Avalokitesvara’s dual sexual characteristics are delicately illustrated. Maitreya, the Future Buddha, is in the bubble into which the Bodhisattva pours the amniotic Dew of Life.

Eventually, after a few years worth of adventures in the Tushita Heaven, the alchemist or mystic has a strange vision. He or she, in his or her own ego identity, enters the drama to impregnate or be impregnated by his or her own anima or animus. (This is the only time the meditator comes face to face with his androgynous "other".) The Setting will be pure white... sterile, in fact. And the experience will last no longer than satori, i.e., a few seconds of earth time. But when the vision subsides, the meditator will know that the divine child is gestating within. If you have followed this explanation, you’ll also understand why savior figures always have one mortal parent (the mystic or alchemist) and one divine parent (the Bodhisattva or spiritual "Other").

Though we often wonder why, Nature has additionally programmed us with the archetypal Child. (Another peculiarity which promotes a specie’s survival is the strange ability to tolerate and even sometimes to enjoy the young.) Again, this archetype must be available for integration, i.e., it may not be projected upon any child or child-like adult in the alchemist’s pedestrian life, nor may the alchemist be in a state of desire for a child upon which to project the archetype. In short, the alchemist or mystic must be comfortable with a childless existence - one that he enjoys because his own children are grown or because he has come to terms with having produced no children of his own. (He will need all the poise he’s got. The alchemical child, Mercurius, is an adorable but absolutely frustrating creature.)

Mercurius and Mom. The ‘divine’ androgyne offspring in its third and hopefully penultimate phase. J.D. Mylius, Anatomiae auri, Frankfurt, 1628.

These brief references should serve as an explanation of why books which claim to teach an unintegrated or prenuptial person how to produce a divine child or immortal foetus simply do not work. Instruction manuals can teach someone how to prepare himself for the event by cleansing and purifying his life and by helping him to cope with the strain of eradicating desire; but they cannot provide him with a divine partner. And in the production of children, unless we be in that cloning era we previously spoke about, we are still in the place where it takes two.

This seems an appropriate place to discuss the extraordinary silence most Zen masters keep on the subject of androgyny. So studiously do they avoid mention of it that we easily get the idea that the Sambhogakaya’s Tushita Heaven is situated in some other religion’s spiritual landscape. It is as if Buddhism’s statuary, artworks and stirring chants are mere decorations or entertainments created to honor fictitious creatures.

Worse, Zen masters, in their discourses and anecdotes, tend to give people a nasty push into the "Knowledge Pit." (We seldom need any help to fall into this pit. Just one more book, we think, just one more course in physics or psychology or biology and we’ll possess the secrets of the universe. And then... then we’ll con Mephisto into hoisting us to Paradise!) It always seems so simple.

Masters seem to indicate that we should jump right over the Sambhogakaya and go directly to a lofty, intellectual appreciation of the Void’s Dharmakaya. According to this notion, the more impressive a person’s academic credentials are, the greater is his spiritual depth. Clearly, doctors of philosophy ought to be the most enlightened people in the world... saints, if you will. But if eye-witness testimony counts for anything, the impression given by academics themselves is of faculty lounges more akin to conventicles of paranoiacs than to gatherings of saints. Postal workers would seem to show more restraint.

However, in the orient, despite their reluctance to discuss "The Mysterious Feminine" or "Valley Spirit," Zen masters treat any monk who attains androgyny as if he were truly royal. In China there are rather nice, private apartments kept to the side of each monastery complex, and the person who has attained androgyny is permitted to occupy one of these pleasant dwellings. The "Bride" alone in his reveries need not contaminate his vision of the divine even by looking at the kitchen worker who is privileged to bring him his meals. He has a sort of horizontal "dumb waiter" outside his window, an enclosed exterior shelf that allows him to receive his food tray at his pleasure. At night, however, he often exits his quarters and sits under the stars, chatting amiably with anyone else who is lucky enough to constitute his peer group. He may enjoy these wonderful accommodations for up to three years.

What is particularly noteworthy about this is that most people who learn about these private quarters assume that entrance into them is some sort of challenge... an ordeal of sorts, an endurance marathon of self-imposed solitary confinement. As if a Zen monastery has nothing better to do with its resources than squander them on some masochistic fool. Anyone who wants to demonstrate such idiotic machismo can go to a busy streetcorner and kneel on pebbles or lie on spikes like the rest of the world’s penitents. Generous strangers will throw him alms. But no monastery staff that I’ve ever heard of will put itself out to cook and clean for such an exhibitionist... for up to three years, yet. It just isn’t done. (Let him suffer the way they do!)

Finally, the staff may not know the identity of the spiritual celebrity is who is occupying the apartment, but the Abbot knows. (And there is no fooling the Abbot, either.) Needless to say, a monastery is not a hotel. Nobody can purchase such accommodations. They are honeymoon suites freely given to those who have attained divine marriage.

Before the birth of the Mercurial Child or Immortal Foetus the mystic experiences another curious vision: the death of the ego personality. This act of self-immolation is accomplished with resignation and without emotion. If, in the course of the vision, the ego-self is asked where he or she is going, the calm response, as the scaffold is mounted or the volcanic crater is approached, is simply "to my death."

So, as the Alchemical Opus begins, we plow the field and prepare it. We get control of our emotions: our likes and dislikes and our pride. Through the various means of meditation we engage the earth, water, fire, and air chakras, gates, or stations. The terminology is not important. In one way or another, we transmute the illusions and dross of samsara into the reality or gold of nirvana.

Nobody has to go anywhere special to accomplish this. Nirvana and samsara are the same place: the mind. The problem is one of interpretation. In samsara, our perception of "the ten thousand things" changes as constantly as does the time in which we form our perception. And as time and our perceptions alter, so do our judgments and opinions change. The Great Work is to cease being judgmental, to cease assuming that a specific state or thing is fixed, to cease imposing arbitrary ideas of permanency and reliability upon the people, places, and things of the ephemeral world.

The Wheel turns; and things not only change cyclically but they seem directed to be restored to balance before they turn again, expanding or contracting, evolving always into their opposites. Black becomes white. Yin becomes yang. Human becomes divine - just as white became black, yang became yin, and divine became human.

To regain Eden we pass beyond the ego’s divisive judgments and become whole. Unity is firstly conjugal.

Religions, we finally note, come two ways: they are either religions of saviors or of perfect masters. When the divine beloved is a celestial savior (such as a bodhisattva) we are reasonably safe. When the divine beloved is embodied in a perfect master or guru and is worshipped there, we’re in the other somewhat more dangerous camp. Celestial bodhisattvas never get caught in compromising situations, but human ‘gods’ might be found to have feet of clay or might, like Shams, be murdered by the jealous and ignorant, leaving their beloved’s sight much too soon.

In our next installment we’ll look at the Oxherding Series’ problem with cattle gender.

As to the exercise regimen, the reader should continue to work on the breathing, pulse meditations, and eye rotation concentrations - this time going counter-clockwise. The upward gaze (north) should be held four times longer than the other directions. These exercises should be done slowly and with complete concentration and control.

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Last modified: July 11, 2004
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