WAY of the
CROSS and DREAMING theMANDALA
on the Human face of the Divine.
The image of the Cross is not only related to the suffering of Jesus, but is also a cosmic sign, which helps in our understanding of both time and space. The devotion of re-enacting the Way of the Cross goes back to the time of the Crusades, and was influenced by the spirituality of the Franciscans, who encouraged pilgrims to go to the holy Land, where they followed the Via Dolorosa, and in this way meditate on the life and Passion of Christ. The act of following Jesus on his way carrying the Cross, is an initiation into the true vocation of the disciple of Jesus. In the process the imagination is evoked, as the scenes of Christ’s life are visualized, in the same way that the Rosary also helps the Faithful picture the important moments in the ministry
of Jesus as described in the Gospels. Entering into the spirit of the Way of the Cross is also understood as a journey into the whole prophetic message of the Bible, of which the life of Jesus is as being fulfilled, and exemplified. The meditation on the Way of the Cross is in that sense an exploration of the Biblical Spirituality which gave to this journey a profound Christological and Cosmic significance. To follow this way of meditating on the path that Jesus took, is also to identify with his Way, and to model the life of the disciple on the spiritual quest of the Lord. It is in this context that we can understand this devotion to the Way of the Cross as an essential part of the imitation of the life of Christ.
I have been working on the theme of the Cross, but also thinking of it in relation to the way we understand both time and space. I have been exploring the image of the “Way” of the Cross. The symbol of the Way appears in many Faith traditions—Jesus Himself said he was the Way. Here in India the Way is referred to as the Marga,and like the Tao of Chinese tradition, the Way is something mysterious and Cosmic.
I have often tried to reflect on the disciples meeting Jesus on the Way. One such occasion was when the disciples met Jesus on the Way to Emmaus. This theme has interested a number of Indian artists, like for example Angelo da Fonseca, who painted a number of pictures of Jesus meeting with Indian pilgrims on the way, after his Resurrection. There was an American missionary who came to India called E. Stanley Jones. He became a disciple of Gandhi, and when he went back to America gave a series of talks about his thoughts concerning India, and the experience he had of meeting Christ in India, which he delivered in the year 1924-25. These talks were published under the title “The Christ of the Indian Road” in 1925. It has been my dream to also picture the "Jesus of the Indian Way"
Imagining the Way of the Cross in an Indian Landscape.
In the village of Silvepura in Karnataka, where my family and I have settled down, the local villagers enact the stations of the Cross going through the streets of Silvepura. The name of the village, ‘Silvepura’, means the village (pura) of the Cross (Siluve). This settlement is a Christian village established in 1872 by French missionaries. During Passion week, some villagers dress up as guards, and someone actually plays the part of Jesus, carrying a very large and heavy wooden Cross. This Jesus actor is beaten in a very realistic way by the guards, and it is evident that the villagers, who come from a Dalit background, very much identif themselves with his sufferings. The whole village is involved, and this dramatic liturgy, which goes all round the village, is not planned by the Parish Priest, but comes from the villagers, on their own initiative. It is important for the local villagers to imagine the Gospel events taking place in their own village, in this way situating the passion narrative in the local landscape. This idea of imagining the journey of Christ in the local landscape has been an important way of experiencing the world in which the local Church finds itself. The Passion events become, in this way, part of a collective dreaming, helping in the self identification of the individual believer,with the life of Christ. Dreaming, in this way, is understood as making actual a virtual reality, a play in which the individual, or group of actors, re-live a cultural memory, which is hereby made their own identity, and corporate history. It was this idea of realizing the Jesus story like a dream in the local landscape, that made me decide to picture the way of the Cross on the road that passes through this Karnataka countryside. Not long ago I visited the ancient city of Hampii which used to be the capital of the Vijayanagara empire, which encompassed much of South of India after the 15th Century. Now this city is a ruin, with only the old Temples standing amid the rock strewn landscape. For me this landscape has become a cultural memory, in the sense that I am understanding a ‘dream world’, speaking to an inner imaginal reality of the sub-conscious. It represents the relationship of human culture to the abiding presence of the land, and its elemental forms.
One of my ideas working on this series of the Way of the Cross, was to understand that Way in ecological terms, as an involvement in the suffering of the whole earth, and trying to link the Way through the landscape, with an inner experience of the body, and our journey through life. In the Indian context, such a Way would also involve the presence of animals, which also represent symbolically the soul, or ‘anima’. In many folk stories we find the seeker being
guided on the way by animal friends, who intuitively know the location of that “other” world of the imagination.
The Way as the
Spiritual Quest, in different religious traditions.
The Parliament of the Birds by Fariduddin the Chemist (Attar)
The image of the migratory bird, which appears in the poetry of Kabir as the Hamsa, (the Himalayan Goose) becomes a symbol of the questing Soul. It is perhaps in this sense that we may also understand the mysterious incident when Francis preached to the birds, after which, we are told they rose up into the air in the form of the cross, and then set off in every direction, perhaps imitating the pilgrim quest of the early disciples of Jesus, who were told to go off to the limits of the earth, in search of the Truth. In fact the first disciples of Jesus were known as the Disciples of the Way.
One of the classics of Sufi literature in Persia is the discourse, or Parlaiment of the birds by the 12th century Sufi Fariduddin ‘Attar. Henry Corbin, in his work on “The Voyage and the Messenger” writes:
‘As with Avicenna’s version, we find ourselves among the birds in their flight. Here, the feminine messenger who urges the captives to escape is the hoopoe, Solomon’s bird. Then comes the reference to the seven valleys which mark the degrees of ascension. In this account, these are the mystical valleys of searching, desire, knowleeddge,
independence, unity, swoon, and nakedness. Just as the ninth heaven had to be crossed before glimpsing theee City of the King, in Attar’s version these valleys must be trsaversed before one discovers the palace of Simorgh which is the end of thee voyage of the Birds.”
The theme of the Voyage and the Messenger, p.151. Henry Corbin 1998. North Atlantic Books.
It has been remarked by Idries Shah that this narrative poem has much in common with “Pilgrim’s Progress” and may even have influenced Chaucer’s pilgrim stories in his “Caterbury Tales”.
This inner quest of the soul, setting out on the Way in search of Truth, is a universal sign of the pilgrim disciple. The Cosmic Cross symbolizes the “Pass over”, which was the Sign of ‘Tau’, the last letter of the Jewish alphabet which looks like the letter T, drawn by the Jewish people on the door, thus guiding the angel of death to “pass over” their dwelling place.
The Way that ‘cannot be told, or named’.
In Taoist thought, the Way is “ordained” and is a cosmic way. On the one hand there is a path that we can choose—a direction that we can take consciously. But on the other hand, beyond our human, and rational “intentions” there is a way that we can only follow—it is a way that chooses us. This Way cannot be determined by any human intelligence, as it has a Will of its own. This Way leads us; our individual actions ultimately fall within a much greater course of events than can be comprehended by individual actors in this Cosmic Drama. The Way is a Principle that underlies all that is done, all that happens in the phenomenal world. This is what is described in Taoist thought as the Way of Heaven.
As an artist I may be master of certain techniques, certain abilities that are under my conscious control. But beyond what I can command, beyond the knowledge that I may gain, there is a power which directs all that is creative in my work. The individual, creative person is
only an instrument, on which the Way plays its own cosmic harmonies. To be creative is to be in accord with this Way, to allow this Way to take its own course. This is the wisdom of a traditional aesthetics that has informed what we might call the spiritual philosophy of art, found in all cultures. The Way is a Power, or Energy; a process to which we can only submit our individual talents, or capacities.
The way we tread is an external journey, but is also an inner path. The inner road is like a dream corresponding to the imaginal story of a Spiritual Quest. Later I will relate this dream pilgrimage to a creative process that I am calling “Dreaming the Mandala”. For the psychologist C. G.Jung, the mandala pattern is very much linked to a dream sequence which he termed the “individuation process” and which he found interesting links between a series of dreams that a patient has, and Indian yogic ideas, related to cosmological designs. It has been shown that many pilgrim routes follow a kind of mandala pattern through the landscape. Labyrinth or maze patterns are found all over the world in association with Holy Sites, where pilgrims follow a ritual path, enacting their inner journey to the Centre.
It is in this sense that I have been exploring the Way is the Cross in my own work as a visual artist. We take the way, when we submit to carrying the cross. The Chinese philosophy underlying landscape art, directs the painter to allow the Way to take over, and be the inspiration underlying all forms of creative expression. We cannot understand (consciously, or rationally) this Way. We can only follow it, and practice it. The way the artist paints, or the poet gives utterance to words, must come from a far deeper level than our limited human intelligence. The way is a mystery; it guides us the Truth.
This insight into the nature of the Way is perhaps what lies at the very heart of what some have called the “Perennial Philosophy” of the “axial age”. It is what the Sufi’s understand as the Tariqua, or the Buddhists term the Marga. It is a determining principle that guides all that takes place in heaven and on earth. Arthur Waley, discussing the classical Tao Te Ching, writes:
“Birds are, of course, the intermediaries between heaven and earth. But they are also the great voyagers and know what is happening to human travellers in distant parts. It is above all the wild-goose that in the Book of Changes, in the Odes, and all through the subsequent course of Chinese literature, is appealed to for omens concerning the absent”
(‘The Way and its Power: the Tao Te Ching and its place in Chinese thought’, by Arthur Waley. 1934. Introduction. P.23)
It is this mystical bird of the Soul that is known in Indian thought as the Hamsa, which is sometimes referred to as a Swan:
Tell me, O Swan, your ancient tale.
From what land do you come, O Swan ?
to what shore will you fly ?
Where would you take your rest, O Swan, and what do you seek ?
Even this morning, O Swan, awake, arise follow me !
There is a land where no doubt nor sorrow have rule: where the terror of Death is no more.
There the woods of spring are a-bloom, and the fragrant scent “He is I” is born on the wind:
There the bee of the heart is deeply immersed and desires no other joy.
Poems of Kabir, translated by Rabindranath Tagore 1915, 55-56
The name of this wild Himalayan goose, or “swan”, which in Sanskrit is called
‘Ham-sa’, itself conveys the meaning “I am that”, or as Tagore puts it “He is I”. This cosmic “I AM’ which is the essence of the Way, is the Truth that all knowledge tries to find. It is the voice that Moses heard in the burning bush: I Am who Am, and I am who will be” Every spiritual tradition tries to find this path to inner realization. It is the path to freedom, the Divine Power that enjoins: “Let my People Go!!”
By reflecting on the archetypal image of the Way, we can understand how the Way of Jesus may link the great spiritual traditions of the world. Jesus says that he did not come to destroy the laws laid down by Prophets like Moses, but rather to fulfil these precepts, through his own suffering and death on the Cross. We may imagine the Risen Christ as a pilgrim, who travels along with his disciples to the ends of the earth, meeting all those on the way, who are also searching for the Truth. Jesus accompanies all pilgrims, on their inner spiritual journey. In this way the Risen Lord, becomes present in the cultures of the world, as an inner companion in the search for meaning, and the transformation of the world in which we live. In this context Jesus the Suffering Servant, appears as the human face of the Divine, who himself becomes a wandering pilgrim, sharing in the daily trials of those who choose to take the difficult road, in search of a Truth that will free them from their inner bondage.
Imagining Jesus in the Spiritual Exercises and Little Flowers of St. Francis.
Recently, what led me to this reflection on the Way of the Pilgrim, and meeting with Jesus on that journey through different lands, was an interest in the spiritual exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, and their relation to the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi. What brings these two spiritual thinkers together, is I feel their use of the creative imagination, and the way in which they could make the gospel narrative into a part of an inner dream world, in that way personalizing the story of Jesus, and relating his way to an inner process of transformation.
Hugo Rahner writes of the Vision of La Storta, which Ignatius of Loyola experienced on his way to Rome with his first companions :
The vision in the little chapel of La Storta was not imprinted in Ignatius’ soul suddenly and without preparation. On the contrary, we know so much detail of what passed in his mind in those lonely weeks at Vivarolo and on the way to Rome that we may venture to reconstruct, so to speak, the inner state of his soul—and under this aspect we
shall not only come to a better understanding of the vision itself, but also gather some worthwhile insight into its meaning.
The tumbledown house in Vicenza, the hermitage near Fra Antonio in Bassano, the ruin of a castle where Xavier lived in Monselice—all this was but a symbol of the interior exultation that filled the hearts of the Masters of Paris after their ordination....
Inigo’s mysticism is based on the fundamental ideas that he had already set down in his book of Spiritual Exercises. The Vision he had in Vivarolo as he sat on the poor heap of straw and the wind blew through the desolate holes in the windows, would have become more and more unified: how Christ came down from the eternal Holy Trinity, became poor for us, lay on the straw, and fasted in the desert.
Then, with flowing tears, he would have asked the poor Christ that he might follow him under his standard, and would have prayed the Madonna, as he himself said, that she place him with her son. “To be placed with Christ”: that was the content of this priestly mysticism of Vicenza and La Storta.
Reflecting on the companions on their way to Rome, the Eternal City, and in contrast the place where they stopped on the road, at a “lonely and abandoned chapel so as to be able to pray more deeply”, I thought of the experience of St. Francis who also, at the beginning of his spiritual quest, entered the ruined chapel of San Damiano.
The chapel was in a sorry condition: it seemed to be falling to pieces for want of money, but apparently it was still used for worship sometimes, because a big Byzantine crucifix hung above its altar, and the candles looked as if they had been burning that morning.
Now, the face on that crucifix was unusually alive, with wide-open, questioning eyes....Francis, gazing fixedly on those strange painted eyes, and asking “what can I do?” felt the love and joy-in-unity swell to an ecstasy, and suddenly was aware of words being spoken. Their sense was simple enough, like himself at this stage, and humble enough; it did not deal with the principles and deepest foundation of things. Doubtless, they really came from his heart, but in this trance-like condition he externalized them and believed they came from the figure on the cross.......Somewhere in that chapel of San Damiano, that day the words were heard, “Francis, go and repair my Church which, as you see, is falling in ruin”
Evelyn Underhill in her book on Mysticism comments:
...we find instances in which ecstatic trance or lucidity, the liberation of the “transcendental sense” was inadvertently produced by purely physical means. Thus Jacob Boehme having one day as he sat in his room “gazed fixedly upon a burnished pewter dish which reflected the sun with great brilliance,” fell into an inward ecstasy, and it seemed to him as if he could look into the principles and deepest foundations of things. The contemplation of running water had the same effect on St. Ignatius Loyola. Sitting on the bank of a
river one day, and facing the stream, “the eyes of his mind were opened, not so as to see any kind of vision, but so as to understand and comprehend spiritual things...and this with such clearness that for him all these things were made new.”
Later, when Francis and his first companions went to Rome, to seek permission to found a new order, in the same way that Ignatius also came with his friends to Rome for recognition of the newly created “Society of Jesus”, Pope Innocent had a vivid dream the night before Francis had his audience with him, that a small man was propping up the church of St. John Lateran as it was beginning to fall down. He recognized in this dream an omen of what the new group of Franciscans were called to do for a Church which in many respects was coming to a state of ruin.
This image of the Ruined Church (which Giotto has painted in the Church of St. Francis in Assisi) is also to be seen today. Perhaps it reminds us of the ruins that all civilizations inevitably come to, like the ruins of the Byzantine empire. But out of these very ruins emerges a new way, and this is the Way of the Cross.
Whether at the broken down chapel of San Damiano, or at La Storta, the message is apparently the same: the Church may be in ruins, but the Christ of the Way points further, to something that promises to be beyond the ruins of today. To travel on this Way, we must find ourselves in the “company” or “society” of Jesus, who is the pilgrim Christ, meeting his disciples on the way. In this sense, the way itself is the mystery of the Cross.
Gilles Cussons sj in his book “Biblical Theology and the Spiritual Exercises”(1988) writes:
Christ comes to embrace this sorrowful human condition in order to change it into life and joy. Hence we are invited to unite ourselves intimately with this suffering of Christ which is really our own, and which he carries, so to speak, “cosmically”. Our suffering for him is added to that of the universe, to overwhelm the Savior of the world. But above all, it is united to a redemptive suffering of infinite worth which delivers us from evil in the love which supports it.
It is this understanding of the Way of the Cross that underlies both the spiritual vision of St Francis of Assisi, which comes close in many aspects to the thought of Sufis concerning the spiritual journey. A similar inner path is also outlined in the ‘Spiritual Exercises’ of St. Ignatius of Loyola. It is on these insights concerning the Way that we may find a Sadhana of art, which is in harmony not only with the Biblical tradition, but also the spiritual practice of the arts, to be found in the cultures of the East. These creative techniques of seekers, have nurtured the traditions of Buddhist as well as Hindu art forms. Perhaps through an understanding of this universal symbol of the Way, and our encounter with the human face of the Divine on this pilgrim route, the figure of the Cross could point to a confluence of different Faiths concerned with the transformation of our human condition.
The Prophetic Way and the Dharma Of Jesus.
It is in this context that I would like to outline some important archetypal figures that are related to the inner Journey. First of all we might look at the person of the Prophet, who is a messenger. Like the Guru, he is thought of as one who “shows the Way”. The Prophet bears a message, acting as an intermediary between the Cosmic Way, and the paths that human beings choose to tread. The Prophet is concerned with those who stray from the Eternal Way, and are lost in the tangled tracks that lead through a spiritual wilderness.
The way is associated with the Truth, and in that sense is also a kind of prophetic judgement on those who stray from the Path of Truth.
The Cosmic Way is the Truth, the ‘Dharma of Jesus’. The Sanskrit word ‘Dharma” implies that which is fixed,pre-ordained (Latin: Firma). It is like a pillar or Standard, which we are called to follow, like the Israelites in the desert were led by a pillar of Fire. The pillar is the Stauros (the Greek word that is translated as Cross in many parts of the New Testament) which in Sanskrit would be the Sthamba, like the Pillar of Ashoka, on which he set his edicts.
The seat of Judgement, where Pilate takes up his official place in the courtyard of his residence, is on the pavement where those who are condemned are brought before his authority. Here the path is itself the place where popular justice is made public. Already the place where Jesus stands condemned, is on the Way.
The Indian mystic Kabira (15th Century weaver of Benares), said that he stood in the market place,--he did not retire to some secluded or other-worldy place to meditate in peace, avoiding the crowded streets of the city. The spirituality of the Way of the Cross is a public thoroughfare. It is not a secret, or esoteric path. Jesus walks on the road that everybody uses—the main street of the city. What the Prophet witnesses to, is an integrity, which is concerned with changing the ways of every human being, and the manner they interact or do business with each other, in the public domain.
The path that Jesus has to take leads out from the ruined place where Justice in a worldly sense is announced to the people. The city that is supposed to represent order, and the rule of what is right, is itself a place of destruction, and desolation.
This is what the Prophetic tradition announces in a public forum: the Holy City is condemned to die, in the same way that Jesus himself was sent on the way of death. Jesus himself represents the true City of God. He is the prototype of the Citizen, or Purusha. The word Purusha is derived from Puru, the City settlement. And yet Jesus the Eternal Purusha, is led out of the earthly crumbling city, to die.
The journey that we take in the company of Jesus on the way of the Cross, is also an inner journey using the imagination. We find the City in our own body. It is in that city that Jesus is judged, and condemned to death. The way is a path that leads to the heart. It is there that we find Jesus mocked, and made to carry the Cross.
In the series of images which I have tried to create, representing the Way of the Cross, it is this inner path of the imagination that I am trying to follow. The landscape that I visit here, is the world of my own dreams. Here are the ruins that represent wayside shrines in my own soul. They are not to be understood as representing an external reality. Rather, they represent an interior landscape where Jesus walks, and where we find the Lord in what is familiar, and sacred to our own past. This is the landscape of memory which has to be revisited, and transformed by love. As we noted earlier in the spiritual journey, both of St. Francis of Assisi, and later Ignatius of Loyola, they encountered Jesus in a ruined place. They see their mission in life as one of rebuilding the City of God’s Kingdom, which is crumbling, destroyed by its own forces of injustice, and loss of hope.
Jesus takes up the Cross.
We associate the Cross with the painful and humiliating suffering that
Jesus had to undergo at the end of his life on earth. But right from the beginning of the Church, the Cross was understood in a broader sense, as representing a process of transformation. St Paul refers to the “Tree of the Cross”. Here, the fact that the cross was constructed out of wood, immediately related the cross to the structure of the tree. What is characteristic of this structure? We think of the basic form of the vertical shaft intersecting with the horizontal beam of the Cross. This structure lies at the very basis of what we call the mandala. The early Cross-form is related to the circle, representing the wheel of life, or ‘Chakra’. The Cross can be discovered in the spokes of the wheel, represents both the centre (where the vertical and horizontal intersect) but also the radii, linking the centre with the wheel’s circumference. The Wheel as an image goes back as far as Neolithic art, and plays a prominent part in early Buddhist iconography, where it symbolizes the wheel of the law. Later the Chakra is a basic mandala form to be represented as a series of stages in the yogic process of self transformation through the different nexus’ of the human body, along the spinal column.
The idea of Jesus taking up the Cross implies that in his work of pilgrimage, he carries the mandala. This mandala itself symbolizes the way—a map of the world through which the Lord of the mandala travels as a pilgrim. But it is also related to other images, like that of the plough, or yoke. Here the action of cultivating the earth is symbolized. The sword of the medieval soldier was also perceived as a cross, so that the cross form was linked to the standard, and to the weapon of defence against the powers of evil. Finally, one can also relate the cross to the doorway, in that the vertical and horizontal beams of the cross represent a kind of passage, the vertical being like the standing pillar or door-post, and the horizontal the lintel resting on the pillar. The cross can also be understood as the scaffolding whose structure supports the whole building. This built space itself symbolizes the body of the worshipper, in that poetically the place of habitation becomes an extension of our human form. The cross as a built form can be found in different aspects of the temple, in the plan of the temple site, but also in its elevation as a sacred edifice. It is also related to the very pattern of the human body which hangs on the cross with outstretched arms. It is in this way that the “sign of the Cross” is made on the body of the worshipping, starting with the point between the eyes, and going down vertically to the heart, but then cross-wise from the left shoulder to the right shoulder.
Jesus at the Gateway.
The image of Jesus as the door, relates the Way to a rite of passage. In traditional homes in India, we find that the main door of the home or shrine is decorated, often with mandala designs. In fact mandala patterns known as Rangoli, Kolama, or Alpana designs are made by women of the home in front of the door. Many of these patterns have a cruciform structure. In this way we see that the cross-design is archetypal, and found in all cultures across the world. The cross symbol is associated with the crossing over from the outer to the inner, from the earthly to the heavenly. In the cross form we find the meeting of opposites, which are brought into one whole.
The Cross of Vision.
Eusebius of Caesarea (c263-c339) in his famous “ Life of Constantine” , tells us the story of the Emperor’s conversion to the Christian Faith. According to Eusebius, who claims to have heard this account directly from Constantine himself, the Emperor had a vision of the Cross of light, imposed on the Sun at mid day, which led him to use the Sign of the Cross, combined with the first two letters of the name of Jesus (the Khi Rho) on his banner when he conquered Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge over the river Tiber, near Rome, on October 28, 312
This vision, which is celebrated in Byzantine art, shows a non-figured Cross. Describing the vision Eusebius writes:
Now it was made in the following manner. A long spear, overlaid with gold, formed the figure of the cross by means of a transverse bar laid over it. On the top of the whole was fixed a wreath of gold and precious stones; and within this, the symbol of the Saviour's name, two letters indicating the name of Christ by means of its initial characters, the letter P being intersected by X in its centre: and these letters the emperor was in the habit of wearing on his helmet at a later period. From the cross-bar of the spear was suspended a cloth, a royal piece, covered with a profuse embroidery of most
brilliant precious stones; and which, being also richly interlaced with gold, presented an indescribable degree of beauty to the beholder. This banner was of a square form.....
Century is based on the Golden Legend of Voragine (written in 1260). What is striking about this legend, and the way it spans the time between the Fall of Adam, the building of the Temple by Solomon, the death of Jesus on the Cross, and finally the vision of Constantine,Later,we are told that the emperor had a dream which confirmed that his victory in the decisive battle, would be in the name of Jesus Christ. The dream of Constantine is one of the most important works of Piero della Francesca’s cycle on the Legend of the True Cross, which he painted in the choir of San Francesco in Arezzo between 1455 and 1466. This cycle of murals, which was recognized as being among the greatest masterpieces of the Renaissance in the 15 and the discovery of the True Cross by St. Helen, the mother of Constantine, is the very symbolic and mythical frame in which the whole narrative cycle is presented. Here is a visionary world view, which gives meaning to major historical events, around the symbol of the Tree, and Cross of Light. One senses that here, as in the other Christian Myth of the Holy Grail, we have a series of narratives which relate to “Dreaming the Mandala”
To understand the history of this “Visionary dream of the Cross”,we will need to go back to the imagery that we find in the Bible, and how this imagery profoundly influenced the world view of Christianity through the middle ages, and into the Renaissance. Certainly the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi played a very vital part in this Dream or Vision of the Cross. In the mystical experience of Mount Alverna, the Cross appeared to St Francis with a seraphic figure, from which emanated rays of light, piercing his own body, so that St. Francis’ own body was marked with the wounds of Christ, that were venerated as the saving signs in the Divine body. Here we may note how the dream vision of the mandala of the Cross, enters into the very body of the disciple, in this way transforming even the means by which the senses apprehend the physical world of phenomena.
Later it is this vision which informs the spiritual insight of Ignatius of Loyola, whose meditation on the two Standards, is obviously deeply imbued by the symbolism of the experience of Constantine the soldier. It is this mandala form of the Cross that the modern artist Joseph Beuys develops in a series of installations around the spiritual vision of St. Ignatius, that runs through the Spiritual Exercises, and which Joseph Beuys discusses as the cosmic figure of the Cross.
The series of images that we find in the Golden Legend, which give them history, so to say, of the True Cross, are arranged sequentially as a journey of the Cross through time and space. The story begins with Adam nearing his death bed, and sending his son Seth to ask the
archangel Michael for the oil of Mercy, which might heal him and bring him back again to life. In the Golden Legend we read:
...the angel gave him some of the tree for which Adam had sinned; and he said thus: that when this tree bore fruit, his father would be healed and well. And going back to his father and finding him dead, he planted that twig over his father’s tomb, and once it was planted it grew into a great tree and endured until the time of Solomon. Whether these things are true or not is left to the judgement who reads them...
In another version it is said that Seth brought back three seeds from the tree of Life in the centre of Paradise, and planted them in the mouth of Adam, and from these seeds a tree grew from whose wood later the Holy Cross was constructed. In the Eastern Christian tradition it is said that the True Cross was crafted out of three kinds of wood: the cedar, pine and cypress. It is from these woods that Solomon also built his temple.
In India we also find the idea that the Temple was originally built out of wood, and the traditional temple architects who are called ‘Acharis’, in the South of India, are master wood workers, or carpenters. There is the notion, found in the Vedanta, that the whole universe is a tree, and it is out of this Cosmic Tree that the temple is constructed.
In the Golden Legend it is also said that the holy wood of the original Tree of Life was somehow rejected by human craftsmen (like the stone which was also rejected), and that instead, a bridge was made from this discarded wood. When the Queen of Sheba came to visit Solomon, she recognized the true nature of the wood of that bridge, and before meeting Solomon she fell down, and worshipped the wood of that bridge. This image of the bridge appears again in the vision of Constantine at the Milvian bridge, which played a mysterious part in the battle, because when the army of Maxentius crossed the bridge, it collapsed, and so helped the forces of Constantine achieve their victory. This kind of typology was very fascinating to medieval artists, and even in the great cycle of murals that Piero della francesca’s representation of the Legend of the True Cross, he uses the image of the bridge, both in the story of the Queen of Sheba, and in the battle at the bridge, to make a visual connection between these two events. There is a famous apocryphal saying of Jesus inscribed over the great entrance to the Mogul capital of Fathepur Sikri near Agra, which reads : “Jesus, on whom be peace, said that the world is a bridge: cross over it, but do not build your mansion on it.”
In one of the most ancient liturgies of the Church, which is performed on Good Friday, there is an adoration of the Cross, which goes back to the tradition founded around the discovery of the True Cross by the Queen Helen, the Mother of Constantine, who went to Jerusalem to search for the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified. She located the Holy Sepulchre under a temple to Venus which was constructed by the Romans in 135 A.D. after the destruction and reconstruction of Jerusalem which took place when the revolt of Bar Kokhbar was put down ruthlessly by Hadrian in the years 132-35. Constantine later ordered that this Roman temple should be demolished in 325-326 and a great Church of the Holy Sepulchre be built over these pagan or pre-Christian ruins, where it was believed that Jesus had died and was buried. The feast of the Holy Cross was instituted on Sept. 14, and is also called the feast of the exultation of the Cross. In the Syrian Christian tradition which we find in the South of India, the feast of the veneration of the Cross is considered to be one of the twelve main feasts of the year. The non-figured Cross is itself addressed as ‘Mar Shilube’, and is identified with the Person of Jesus who died on the Cross.
Throughout the Middle ages a very popular pilgrimage was made to the Holy Places of Jerusalem, and an important part of this pilgrimage was visiting various sites which were associated with the Passion of our Lord. In fact there was an old English poem called the “Dream of the Road” which mentions the discovery of the True Cross. The holy sites in Jerusalem were given to the Franciscans to look after when the city was ruled by the Muslims, after the defeat of the last crusade. This was because the Franciscans were trusted by Muslims, as even St. Francis had a good relation with the Sultan, and was given access to the Holy places under his control. It was the Franciscans who later developed the devotion to the Way of the Cross, which was very close to the itinerant spirituality of the mendicant Friars
This passage from the book of Ezekiel was referred to by Pope Innocent at the fourth Lateran Council (Nov. 11, 1215) and it is believed that St. Francis attended this council. Later the Franciscans were to adopt this form of the Cross as distinctive of their spirituality. Francis often used this sign on the documents of his order, and St. Bonaventure remarked : “This Tau symbol had all the veneration and all the devotion of the saint. He spoke of it often in order to recommend it, and he traced it on himself before beginning each of his actions.”
In this way we see that the Cross symbol is both a Cosmic sign, on which the whole universe is modelled, but it is also a very personal symbol, related to the human body, and the inner sufferings and hopes of the individual. St Francis composed a prayer before the crucifix of San Damiano, which had spoken to him at the beginning of his spiritual quest:
“Most high, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me Lord, a correct Faith, a certain Hope, and a perfect Charity, sense and
knowledge, so that I may carry out your holy and true command.”
In a way one can understand his famous Canticle to Brother Sun and all creatures, as itself a hymn of praise to this Universal Cross, which appeared to Constantine inscribed on the Sun, and which is related to a sense of Quarternity which governs all the cycles of the seasons, and the different Elements from which nature has been constructed. In that sense the Cross is not only a symbol of death and human suffering, but is also a symbol of all time and space, like the great Mahakal Mandala that is so important to Buddhist spirituality of the Lamaistic tradition of Tibet. The dream of the Way of the Cross, is the play of Creation itself. It is the coming together of all Creation to celebrate the mystery of the Way through the Wilderness to the Promised Land.
In these Biblical images which are related to the way of the Cross, we find that emptiness, and a sense of being broken, is an essential experience of dreaming the Cross. The Cross is found in what is ruined, dashed to pieces, but it is also the opening which holds the promise of a new life. That surely, is the meaning of Hope.
Making the Mandala.
The mandala is not just a pleasing, or symmetrical design. Rather, it is a process of making. To make the mandala is itself a ritual, and often involves a whole community. It is said of the word “Bhakti”which is usually understood as devotion, that in the Indian context it is not the devotion of the individual, alienated, so to say, from a community context. Rather it also implies participation. It has this dimension of what came to be known as the “Sat Sangh”—the gathering of all those searching for Truth (Sat). Making the Mandala, itself demonstrates the coming together of various elements in the process of making. It is a Sangam, in the sense of a meeting point, a flowing together of various forces. ‘Mandal’, in Sanskrit, simply means circle—we could understand the ‘Sat Sangh’ is a circle of seekers after Truth, which is not just an objective definable Truth, in the form of a truth statement, but is an existential truth, a state of being, and being-in-relationship.
Another aspect of the mandala, is that it has to be continually re-made. In one sense the mandala form seems to imply something pre-determined, archetypal. The mandala structure is based on universal, and unchangeable forms. But in another sense, the mandala can never be left to remain—it always has to be re-drawn, and re-made. Its energy lies not in its perennial symmetry, but in the very process that aims at discovering the order which is in balance. After having made the mandala, those who have participated in its making, need also to take it apart. The mandala has to be returned to its constituent elements from which it has been assembled. Part of the ritual of making the mandala, is also the work of taking the mandala apart, of dispersing the various agents that have come together in its making.
The creative, and healing power of the mandala lies in this effort to realize it through the process of making, or doing. Like all forms of play, the attraction of participating in the action, is not in the structure of the rules that govern the game. Those who play chess, for example, do not take pleasure in just gazing at the chess board, with its neat pattern of black and white squares, or learning how each piece on the board moves. Hop scotch games which are loved by children all over the world, and which are often made by drawing out on the ground a mandala type cruciform pattern, are not meant just as floor decorations, but rather as templates for the action of playing together using the pattern as a basis for interaction.
It is in this sense that labyrinth or maze patterns have such a profound appeal. All over the world, we find labyrinth designs structured often on a cruciform pattern held within the bounds of a circle. But the attraction of these designs is in following the spiralling, and often knotted pathways, that lead one in towards the centre, but also
lead out again, so that there is finally the liberation of escaping from the maze. This was the golden thread which Ariadne offered the hero Thesius. Without this thread he could not have entered the maze to confront the Minotaur, and then find the way back into the ordinary every-day world of the realm. The labyrinth ritualizes the process of going in, of entering the forbidden world of the inner mystery, but also of regaining the outer world of observable phenomena.
The mandala helps us to ritualize the relationship between inner to the outer, private and public domains, and to discover that both are at a deep level, one. This process is known as ‘Sahaj’,in Indian Bhakti language. It is the interaction of external and internal processes, in the complexity of a life of spiritual engagement. This interplay of opposites, of light and darkness, of
inclusion and exclusion, of being and becoming, helps the participants to come to terms with temporal finiteness; the reality of being born, but also of coming to the moment of death. That is why the ritual, or may we call it the sacrament of making the mandala, includes this process of discovering the meaning of death in life, or of living in order to die.
The symbolism of the Way, and carrying the mandala of the Cross on thatway, is profoundly linked to this ritualization of life processes. We cannot only think about this mystery of life, we need to enact it. That is the underlying significance of following the way of the cross—not just being bystanders, but becoming involved participants. In the Buddhist tradition, monks come together to make the Great ‘Mahakala Mandala’, which is a pictograph of the whole universe. But once this icon is created, it must be destroyed, its carefully compiled imagery merged back into the undifferentiated parts of the various materials used to visualize this eternal picture. Then the materials are swept up together, and taken to be deposited in a flowing stream of water, symbolizing the transience, the ultimate apophatic no-form (nirguna) of a reality that can never finally be represented, or defined by words and symbols. In the same way the simple Indian village housewife might begin the day by making a Kolama or Rangol design in front of the doorstep into the home as a greeting to the new day—but by evening this pattern must be swept aside, and the floor cleaned for a new pattern to be re-drawn the following day. The pattern is in one sense perennial and timeless, but in another sense it has to be continually re-discovered, and re-composed. This is the act of adoration, of Bhakti, that welcomes each moment of time as a new manifestation of the eternal circle in which we are all travellers on the same Way.
There are many references to the making and re-making of the vessel. The simple village pot to hold water, is made from fired clay, and easily breaks. The pot is itself a recurring symbol of wholeness, but also of the fragility of life, and the human body which is also a clay vessel. In that sense the making of the mandala is part of an age-old tradition of earth-art. It is drawn on the ground, it makes the earth into something holy. “Ranga” means colour, but it is also the stage, the empty space on which the pattern of life and movement is enacted. The traditional Rangoli, or coloured pattern, made from coloured earths, or the petals of flowers, leaves, or seeds, is used to decorate the stage on which the dancer performs the myths of creation. This is the “kalakshetra” or open field (kshetra) of art (kala). The whole world is a stage, and the field in which the grain is planted, is also the soil from which God made the first human being. In Indian yogic thought, the human body is conceived of as a mandala, made from vessels of clay, and will again return to the dust after the cycle of life has been completed. There is a profound link between the Way of the Cross, and the field, through which this way goes, and finally comes to Golgotha, the ‘Place of the Scull’.
It’s just as well, my pitcher shattered
I’m free of all that hauling water!
The burden on my head is gone....
A single well, Kabira
And water-bearers many!
But the water always One.
‘Bhala Hua Meri Gagri
Phooti’ –song of Kabir.
Reinventing the Wilderness: Towards an Ecosophy.
In the process of reflecting on the significance of the Way of the Cross, I became conscious that here one might find the basis for an
eco-art, that is an art which celebrates not just the way human culture transcends over nature, but rather how art is a way back to re-discovering nature.
There is a profound link between the way of the Cross and the time that Jesus spent in the Wilderness after his Baptism by John. And this also leads us back to the period of exile, and the time that the Hebrew People spent in the Wilderness, after Moses led them away from Egypt. There are many images related to the wilderness, and the
journey through the wilderness, which have a direct relation to the Way of the Cross.
I am not of this world, this land
I am a bird from another country
I don’t belong here.
The people here are unawakened
Every moment, sunk in
The unseen One is beyond
No one can meet Him.
The Unattached One is what I seek.
Song of Kabir, 15thCent. Mystic of Benares.
In a way the Wilderness is like the ruined place. It is where human culture, human discourse, no longer has any sway. It is the original place, the place of Wisdom. Here we come back to the very source from which all culture takes its meaning. It is like the foundation for all that we call human. But it is also the place of temptation, the place where we are tested, and reduced to what is just the essential. In the light of the Wilderness, where God dwells, all human habitations are put into question. It is in this context that Jesus also challenges the meaning of the Temple, of what is built by human hands.
It is in the Desert that God made a covenant with his People, and it is again there that a New Covenant will be made.
Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when i will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and the house of Judah, not like the Covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my Covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the Covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Jeremiah 31 31-34
In the image of Jesus falling, or nailed to the Cross, we have the self-identification of
the body of Christ, with the earth. This was his Kenosis. It is not only Jesus who suffers, but the whole of creation suffers in and through the suffering of the body of the Lord. Already we noted how the field becomes the Field of Blood, reflecting in a way the wounded body of Christ. Human beings have inflicted deep wounds on the earth, in the very act of wounding the body of God. The price which was given to Judas for betraying Jesus was used to buy a field in which strangers could be buried. How often land is bought and sold in betrayal of himan lives, alienating people from the very land that is a source of livelihood. The Wilderness takes on the aspect of the torn and wounded body of the Man of Sorrows. Human futures, and the
future of the earth planet, are bound inextricably together. This is an important aspect of the Way of the Cross.
We know that the whole of Creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the Creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were save. Now hope that is seen is not
hope. For who hopes for what he sees ? Bit if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Rom. 8. 20-24 35-36
The ‘Spirit of the Place’ and the ‘Elemental Christ’.
All sacred places are constructed on the principles underlying the mandala. This is because the mandala represents the microcosm, and mirrors the way that we imagine the Universe. The Temple, or Holy Place, reflects the order that prevails in the whole Cosmos; by reflecting on the Spirit that is present in the Holy Grove, Shrine, or Temple, we are transported to a vision of the Being who rules the whole Universe. The door of the shrine, or the Temple, opens up, so to say, on a Universe that we see through this small aperture. In the temple, in the Holy of Holies we find the Mula Sthanam,that is the root-place. Here, as in the centre of the mandala, is the mysterious seed, which is so small, like a drop, or like the pupil of the eye, but from which a whole world opens up. Hidden in every seed is the secret of a great tree. Many of the Parables of Jesus speak of this hidden essence, like the mustard seed, which when it finally grows, becomes a great tree in which the birds of the air can come and rest. This is an image of the Kingdom of God.
The Guru is the one,
Who gave me the roots of Wisdom.
My True Guru is the one
Who gave the healing Wisdom.
Those roots of Wisdom, are dear to me as nectar.
O Guru, the Prophet
Lies between the eyes,
Black and white; in the pupil a star
Unknowable, Unseen,-- my Lord.
In the eyes a bird shimmers.
In the bird a door,
On that door, I place a telescope...
I make it across the Ocean.
After a poem by Kabir.
The Way of the Cross brings us finally to the Christ who is present in the Elemental. The Christ who is the Risen Lord, is not only the historical Jesus, but the pre-existing Lord, who said “Before Abraham was, I Am.” We find various hints about this Lord who is the source of all that we apprehend as the world of the Senses. This Lord is present in the imagination, as a Presence whose song resounds in all things—the Dream who echoes in all the forms of nature. He is the unstruck note, the uncarved block of stone—the pre-existent energy, and matter from which all that we see and hear came to be.
And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of the rock?”
And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his rod twice; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation drank and their
cattle. Numbers 20. 10-12
I want you to know, brethren, that
our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea,and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food, and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the Supernatural Rock, which followed them, and the Rock was Christ. I Cor. 10 1-4
The Christ whom we encounter on the way of the Cross, is the human face of the Divine. In this person we feel a primordial Presence, one might almost say an aboriginal man. The Lord carrying the Cross,seems to go beyond time and space, to encompass the aspirations of all mystical insights. It is in his dreams that the mandala first takes shape as a healing sign. He is the image of that wholeness that humanity longs for, despite the wounds and sense of brokenness that history and memory inflicts on the soul. Here is a wanderer, who is a friend, who walks with those who are homeless and lost, who feels the pain of those who find it hard to hope. The comfort this physician of the soul has to offer, is not a fantasy which is in the beyond of a spiritual world that we cannot touch with our physical senses. Rather, the healing touch of this man of sorrows, is in the present, the here and now. What is offered is a way of seeing that includes all that the senses have to offer. But it finds the spiritual in what cannot be grasped, or possessed, but can only be felt through a spirit of wonder, and acceptance of all that is given to those who are willing to receive, and to dream.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I fear no evil;
For thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff
They comfort me.
Ps. 23 4