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YabYum-Duality and Union Celebrating Father Mackey

July 26, 2014 Destination Global, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59“Every temple contains statues and pictures; every home has its own statue of Yab Yum -mother and father squatting in the marriage act-similar to the Song of Songs in the Bible.”

Father William J Mackey S,J, (1915-1995) describes how the Bhutanese represent the union of the mind and the body of affection and love and the oneness of individual with the Supreme Being.

In 1963 when the Canadian Jesuit came to Bhutan, he became the first Jesuit to be formally invited to the last Buddhist Kingdom.

In his un-published notes, Lamaism and Christianity, Father uses the common sight of the Yam Yum as an example to explain the

Card sent to Father by Class X, 1981

Card sent to Father by Class X, 1981

concept of union and describe the experience an individual can encounter in this life. Father believed that Lamaism propagated the practice of duality and union.

In Buddhist art, the male and female are depicted in sexual union. This common symbol is known as the Yab Yum, where the male represents compassion and the female signifies wisdom.  The union denotes non-dualism, which is necessary to overcome the duality of object and subject.

One of the fundamental differences between Buddhism and Christianity is the concept of God. The former faith accepts that all sentient beings have the seed of Buddha and can become one while Christian’s believe in the concept of the Supreme Being. Buddhist’s are open to the idea of creation and happy to debate about it while in the western world god is seen as the creator.

In the four pages of Father Mackey’s unpublished notes, he shares his idea of God. Father Mackey said that what he believes in is the Supreme Being who is omnipotent, omniscient and has ways and means that we know nothing about. Father believed that God is the creator and saviour. “God is at work in all religions. God has created all men. He wants to save all men.”

For a Buddhist, the reality of Supreme Being is too big to be captured in a name or included in an image. Father attests this and said that the Bhutanese represent the concept of God in art. For example, God to a Bhutanese would mean the first rays of sunlight light lighting up the room of a small lhakhang or the monastery perched on top of a mountain. Father agreed with the Bhutanese that no concept could enclose the limitless. “No word or idea can express the unknowable. No mind can grasp the ungraspable.”

The Canadian Jesuit states that the Christian idea of experience is not sufficiently appreciated. He believed that mirroring the Supreme Being is possible and says that experience and love applies to all life and is fundamentally one. “All life is sacred because it mirrors something in an inferior way of the reality of the Supreme Being. There is no, “I.” It does not mirror God, but God has mirrored the “I” and if it does not exist, that would imply a certain equality of being, a dualism of being that is not a-dvaita, not two.”

Father says that a true Buddhist strives to strip his ego and eventually annihilate it destroying the I.” Father records his observation; “I can see God, Father, Son and Spirit actually, really at work in Lamaism. My work and life have been enriched by my contact with Lamaism.” In his notes, Father records, that that living working and praying with the Bhutanese he could experience his god’s omniscience.”

Emptiness

While Buddhist and Christians have differences in the understanding of the concept of God, both faiths agree on the concept of emptiness.  Buddhists strives to experience the emptiness of all created being. According to the Canadian Jesuit the Christian Saint Paul explains the same concept. “I is no longer I but Christ lives in me. Baptismal death should plunge us into the very same nothingness out of which we are created.”

“Only few of us have and will attain this experience of nothingness or emptiness in its fullness.” Father said, “The saints living or dead find their life in the Spirit already radiant with its drawing light.” Father elaborates, “For the man (Gautam Buddha) or others, who have a direct experience or the real, nothing else remains except the naked uncompounded light of being itself. There is no room left but to whisper, “O my God. Thou alone art.”

Christian Baptism, which is the rite of initiation into the Christian church, is essentially an experience of death or nothingness. “One cannot be a Christian at a lesser price,” Father questions, “Is this not the lesson of death?”

Death 

Before Father died, he wrote about death and his observations of the Bhutanese attitude towards it.  Father lived 32 years in Bhutan during which time, he learnt a great deal about Buddhism and the practice and makes insightful observations on the Bhutanese belief in death.

Father noticed the respect accorded to life by the Bhutanese and the belief that taking life in any form is the biggest sin. Father makes observation of the lavish use of the phallic symbol. In Bhutan you will see it everywhere, hanging from the ceiling, drawn on walls of houses and models of it kept in the altar room of monasteries and now a book on it.

Another thing, Father noticed about death is the performance of the religious ceremony. He said it was only done for cremation, as there are none for birth and marriage. Traditionally, only death is celebrated. “Very special prayers and rites on the day of death, day of cremation on the 3rd, 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th after death.” Father sums up his own belief in death, “We come from life we are life and we go back to life in death.”

In 1995, when Father died, it was common knowledge that he willed to be cremated in Bhutan, and his remains left behind in the country. Father had already identified a place in Kanglung and a Bhutanese had agreed to build a chorten to put his ash in but this did not happen.

The Jesuits from Darjeeling claimed Father’s body and rushed back to bury him in the Cluney Sister graveyard in Darjeeling among his Jesuits brethren.  The argument the Jesuits used was that Buddhist believes that the body is only a vessel to store the conscious. Since, they were only taking away the vessel, Father will always be in Bhutan.

Bhutan left a lasting expression on Father Mackey. In his words, he said that Bhutan is a strong spiritual centre and most Bhutanese have a deep spiritual core. This is one of the reasons that drew Father to the remote kingdom. In his 32 years in Bhutan, the Roman Catholic did not convert a single Bhutanese but always encouraged his students to practice their own religion in depth.

Father drew inspiration from his students, which he quietly reveals in his unpublished notes. Father Mackey, acknowledged the spiritual depth of the Bhutanese and admitted that it influenced his life and changed his perception of the concept of god and helped him become a better person; a good Christian, Catholic, Jesuit and priest and prays that he could be a bridge between these two faiths and enrich it.

Written by : Tshering Tashi

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