A Lotus Grows in Brooklyn


Contemplating Death and Spirituality on a Friday Night
June 2, 2010, 1:26 pm
Filed under: Arts, Buddhism, Hinduism | Tags: , , ,

In an accidentally timely move for Memorial Day weekend, on Friday a friend and I strolled to the Rubin Museum of Art to take in the current exhibit “Death Across Cultures.” The Rubin is a lovely little spiral-shaped museum that calls itself the keeper of “art of the Himalayas.” But really it’s a gem of a place in Chelsea that exhibits art and artifacts related to Buddhism, Hinduism, and occasionally Jainism—the spiritual traditions that were born and still thrive in the Himalayan region.

On this visit (timed for a Friday after 7:30 when admission is free, fyi), I got entranced by several paintings of gods and goddesses in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition that are part of the permanent collection.  There is so much going on in these intricate works that you can stare at them for hours and keep seeing new features.

Alas, we didn’t have hours so we moved on to the upper two floors, which until August are housing the exhibit on death. Upon reaching the top of the stairs you are confronted by a giant banner hanging from the ceiling that proclaims “Remember that you will die.” This absolutely stopped me in my tracks, which is of course the intended effect. There’s no escaping that fact, is there, although we try our darnedest throughout most of our lives.

The exhibit consists of items of death imagery from across various traditions, and the most interesting aspect is that they’ve displayed Buddhist art dealing with deal on one half of the top floor and Christian art and icons on the other half. Seeing the memento mori of Christianity set against the Buddhist Wheel of Life really brought home to me how utterly different the two cosmologies are.

Even as someone who doesn’t really accept the idea of successive lives in which one gets to continue bettering oneself on the path toward enlightenment, I find the Buddhist (and Hindu) belief system much more appealing. And I find it inspiring, in that you get to keep trying, and you need to make the most of this human life because it’s only in this form that you have the chance to really do what’s right for yourself and for those around you.

I highly recommend visiting the Rubin while this exhibit is up, or at any time, really. On Fridays they also show thought-provoking films in their Cabaret Cinema event. Plus, they’ve got a shop full of neato books, jewelry, scarves and other items from Eastern spiritual traditions. (Hint! Want to buy me a gift? Go there! 🙂 )

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3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

WTF?! Are you using your blog to try and get gifts?!

Didn’t someone already offer to buy you something there?

Try 7-Up — it’s the uncola!

Comment by Baron Samedi

Look, Baron, it’s my blog and I’ll fish for presents if I so choose. I’m surely not gettin’ ’em through any other means! 🙂

Comment by Carrie M

Interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Comment by Steven Morrisroe




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