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The Symbolism of Colours and Mantric Sound

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by Sangharakshita

Lecture 109: The Symbolism of Colours and Mantric Sound

As one becomes accustomed to giving talks, to giving lectures on various occasions, not only, perhaps on Buddhism, but on other subjects as well, one starts learning various things, one starts noticing various things, about the lectures themselves, about the people who listen to the lectu res, about their reactions, interest and so on. And o ne of the things that one learns, one of the things that one notices fa irly soon, is that there seem to be certain words that have a rather special drawing power, that really attract people, that really rouse their interest and their curiosity. For instance, there is the word 'Secret'. Some years ago I was having a discussion with a friend of mine who was a publisher's reader and who had no t only to read through manuscripts prior to publication or rejection, as the case may be, but also to advise the author, advise on among other things, the title. And this friend told me that if he thought that a book wasn 't likely to sell very well - and he w as in the orien tal publishing line - then he ad vised the au thor to include the word 'Secret' in the title, because, he said, that always helped. As soon as people saw the word 'Secret', secret this or secret that, in the title, they were much more inclined to buy it. It seems as though people rather like the idea of penetrating into secrets, of finding out things that, they are not really supposed to kno w.

Then another wo rd that rather seems to draw people is the word 'Sex'. If you include that it's sure also to be a draw. For some reason or other this word seems to aro use peo ple's curiosity. Maybe they think that perhap s they are missing something. And, of course, another word that really draws people, that really gets them interested is the word 'Tantra' or the word 'Tantric', to say nothing, of course, of the word 'Symbolism'. And now adays we can say that the word 'Tantra' and 'Tantric' is more popular than the word 'Zen', which I feel is rather losing its popularity. Why, I don't know.

But one of the most effective words that one can possibly encounter, one of the most effective words that one can use, it would seem now adays, is the wo rd 'Magic'. And this seems to have a very wide and very definite appeal indeed, especially when it's joined with one or another of the other words which I have mentioned. I remem ber this w hole question of w ords of this kind, words with draw ing p ow er, words to be included in titles of lectures, was discussed among a group of us quite a few years ago down at our old centre at Sakura in Monmouth Street. And in the course of this discussion, I remember, one of our friends suggested that I should give a lecture with what he described as a really effective title, something that would really appeal to everybody, something that would draw everybody in, make them feel really interested. And the title of the lecture, he said, should include all the most spell-binding words. So we asked him what sort of title he had in mind. And he thought for a moment and then he replied, he said: "I think you should give a lecture on 'The Secret Symbolism of Tantric Z en Sex M agic Y oga'" [Lau ghter] He said that will really draw them! S o I mu st confess that so far I have not got ro und to givin g a lecture on this fascin ating subject an d I'm not even going to say a an ything about it tonight.

I'm not even going to say anything on the sub ject of mag ic really. Bu t one cann ot help referring to magic at least once in a series of lectures pu rporting to deal with the Tantric path to enlightenment, especially when one is dealing with the creative symbols of that path. And the reason is that if we study the Tantra, if we study the Indo-Tibetan T antric tradition, we discover that a certain amount of its symbolism, perhaps quite a lot of its symbo lism has its origins in magic, especially in, of course, Indian magic. And we very quickly come to see, w e very quickly come to recognise, that in ancient times magical practices of all sorts w ere very very po pular all over India. In fact on e can say that they are very popular even tod ay. Wherever one goes in India one enco unters magical practices or references to magical practices every now and then. Now it must be confessed, it must be admitted, that this Indian magic, this popular Indian magic which one finds all over India even today, is not of a very elevated type. It's not particularly philo sophical, it's not particularly spiritual, it's not really concerned with spiritual things, not as understood by most people, anyway. For the most part it's concerned with the attainment of purely wo rldly objectives with the help of supernatural, or at least supernormal, m eans and methods.

Let me give a few exam ples. S upp ose, for instance, you live in a village, and su ppose you hav e a sort of feud going with someone, suppose you are on very bad terms with them, you want to get them out of the way, perhap s you'd even like to kill that particular person. But obviously, even in an Indian village, and quite a lot goes on in Indian villages, I can assure you, even in an Ind ian village, you can't very easily dispose of someone, kill someone, just by ordinary means, not unless you've got quite a bit of pull. So the average person , the ordinary person in a village, in circumstances of this kin d will have reco urse to magic. He'll have recourse to what is known as the rite of destruction, he'll have the rite of destruction performed for him by a practitioner in these arts, or he may perhaps even perform it himself and hope for the death of that particular person. I remember when I was staying in Kalimpong among the Nepalese there w as q uite a lot o f magic of this so rt goin g on. W e'd call it, of course, black magic, and I remember on the night of the new moon very often we'd hear from my Vihara, from my monastery, the little drums some few hun dreds of yards aw ay, the little drums beating - tuck tuck tuck - tuck tuck tuck - tuck tuck tuck - you 'd hear that sometimes all night, and you'd sometimes hear a horrible wailing and shrieking as the magician or sorcerer, the jakri, as they call him, danced beating his little drum and shriek ing h is incantations, maybe not to cause somebody's death, though that wasn't unknown, but certainly sometimes for a rather nefarious purpose. And I remember in that area, that if someone died suddenly quite often one could hear the death attributed to some kind of witchcraft, as w e would call it, some kind of black magic. It would be said that someone or other perhaps had had performed this rite of destruction. So in India nowadays, and especially all along the Himalayan border and among the Nepalese, to say nothing of the Bhu tanese and Tibetans, practices of this sort are not uncommon and certainly not unknown even now . But that's just one instance.

Suppose something of a rather different kind happens. Suppose, for instance, you have the misfortune to fall in love, and suppose you find that the object of your affections is not particularly responsive, doesn 't show any particular interest in your approaches. So what do you do? W ell, the time-honoured remedy is that you hav e recourse to love magic. A nd lov e magic, as you can imagine, is even mo re popular than th e death m agic, as it w ere. You perform or yo u have performed for you the rite of fascination. And the person that you are interested in is supposed just to come, just pulled by some sort of irresistible force, slowly and unwillingly perhaps, but he or she is supposed just to come as the result of that magic, as the resu lt of the performance of that rite of fascination. And if one goes about India, as I have done, if people know that you are some kind of holy man, or sadhu, or teacher, or sanyassin, they'll come to you very often asking you if you have any magic pow ers and can do anything of this sort for them. And especially the young ladies will enquire whether you know anything about love magic, they are especially interested in that.

But another example: supp ose you are very poor. Lots of people in India are very poor. So you live in a village, you've just got a miserable hut, a few pots and pans and pieces of cloth and an old bedstead, and that's about all you've got. But suppose you would like to grow rich, suppose you'd like to have lots of money, to be wealthy. But there seems to no prospect of gaining wealth by the ord inary means. So what do you d o? Y ou perform, or you have performed, the rite of prospering , the rite of gaining riches, prosperity and so on. B ut in this case, in the case of the rite of prospering which you normally perform if you're very poor, there is just one snag: the snag is that these rites are usually rather expensive, especially if you have to pay for them to be performed on your behalf.

So, in this way, one finds that there are rites, magic rites for all sorts of worldly purposes current in India, especially current in the Indian villages from ancient times right down to the present day. There are rites for gaining offspring, there are rites for paralysing people, for just stopping them in their tracks, there are rites for pacifying enemies and evil spirits, there are rites for winning law suits, rites for warding off misfortune, rites for curing disease, and so on, all sorts of rites.

Now what happened was that the Tantra, the Indian Tantra, Indian Buddhist Tantra, took over quite a number of these rites. It didn't take them over in their crude magical form, just took over, as it were, the symbolism, gave the rites its own spiritual, Buddhistic, meaning, and among other things associated these rites of various kinds with different Buddha families. All the different Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and so on are organised into different groups, according ...

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