Christ Crucified on the Wheel
This is the cover for the latest Radix, a multi-faith newsletter run by McGill Chaplaincy in Montreal. The theme for this issue was religion and the body, or Corpus. Here’s a caption, of sorts.
The wheel and the cross are similar metaphors. The cross represents our sins while the wheel represents karma. The ideas here was to depict Christ crucified on the wheel. This image is a sort of Tibetan Thangka, depicting the wheel-of-life, with a Dali Christ crucified on it. The outer and inner circle of this Thangka are from a detailed Mandala by Atsuro Seto. The circle is filled with a 11th century Samarakand bowl that reads: “Generosity is a disposition of the dweller of Paradise” – from the Nasser D. Khalil Collection of Islamic Art. The figure of Christ is from the 1951 Salvador Dali painting, Christ of St. John of the Cross. The center is a swastika, which can represent the force that turns the wheel of birth-and-rebirth in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. It is still an auspicious and positive symbol in India and Sri Lanka.
The body of Christ is central to Christianity, from crucifixes to the ritual consumption of his body and blood. In Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism the body is just one step between many levels of existence. It is through the body that we experience old age, sickness, and death, and it is into other bodies that we are reborn until we reach nibbana. It is, however, possible to break free of the suffering that the body entails. In the east the Buddha broke the wheel, and in the west, Christ did. These ideas intersect in the swastika, which is a cross and wheel at the same time.
Outer and inner patterns: Chakrasamvar Mandala, a Thangka by Atsuro Seto. I like Thangkas, but I keep forgetting their name and then I can’t find them. They are incredibly rich Tibetan-style illustrations of the wheel of life, though I think Atsuro is Japanese. My favorites are the ones with the big fat demon holding the frame and the stages of life depicted within (check the buddhanet interactive) They have pictures of all the sins and suffering of the world, and images from heaven, hell, and the realm of the animals. Some, like Atsuro’s, come closer to the Islamic tradition in their geometric intensity and absence of representations of living creatures.
Central fill: 11th century Kufic bowl from Samarkand (Uzbekistan). Reads “Generosity is a disposition of the dweller of Paradise.” Meaning, I hope they don’t mind me sampling the image. From the Nasser D. Khalil Collection of Islamic Art. Image itself found at the University of British Columbia Spirit of Islam site. Sometimes I feel like Islam is a little crazy, but when I look at their art and architecture it takes my breath away. You can tell that they are the inventors of algebra. The perfect geometric balance of the design is remarkable.
Center: Hindu swastika, from Wikipedia. Used in the sense that it represents Samsara, or the cycle of death-and-rebirth. Also, the wheel, the same wheel of life that the Tibetan style Thangkas depict.
Software: Adobe Photoshop CS and Google Images.
They want a bio too: Indi Samarajiva is a McGill Cognitive Science graduate. He now lives in Colombo, Sri Lanka – but grew up in Columbus, Ohio. He’s currently doing websites for LIRNEasia (asia.lirne.net), the Montreal band The Lovely Feathers (www.thelovelyfeathers.com), and developing one for the Leisure Times. He maintains a blog at www.indi.ca.
“I admire your blog and I – like everyone else – feel and see the suffering on this earth. I just happen to love technology. I don’t mean to contradict anyone, especially since people are talking about how they feel, but technology gives me hope.
Before he left to meditate the Buddha was disgusted by human suffering – old age, sickness, and death. These are all ‘natural’ phenomena. This suffering comes from nature. Technology, on the other hand, is humanity’s attempt to reduce suffering. We are trying to help the the elderly, children, the disabled – those who are not fit, those who would not survive. Take 2 examples:
1. Antibiotics: Before penicillin even the slightest scratch could mean a slow and agonizing death. Natural bacteria would rot your body from the inside. Antibiotics fights this ‘natural’ bacteria and has saved millions, if not billions, of lives.
2. Sanitation: Before people began to manage the very ‘natural’ shit and urine that we produce viruses, dysentry, and other horrible diseases were rampant – especially among children and the elderly.
The Buddha didn’t see Starbucks, Microsoft, and Walmart. He saw old age, sickness, and death. These are natural problems, and the solutions are artificial. Technology has lengthened life, cured sickness, and – thru AI – can create creatures that don’t die as we understand the term.
On the very real task of ending suffering, I side with technology over nature.
PS. I don’t think the Buddha would say anything like this. The real way out of suffering is within all of us, through meditation. Technology can take us to a god-like plane where there is less suffering, but the real work has to be done within.”