Sucker Punch: Portrait of a Marriage

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Object of Desire

It may be called the Club for Men, but if their encounter is to amount to anything, it’ll need to be more meaningful than the act of their copulation. Sadly, She’s more likely to recognize the force behind their choreography while He remains oblivious to the shape of its truth.

As object of (his) desire, She’ll be both alluring and dangerous: a symbol of the mystery that lies beyond his horizon but also the harbinger of forces that could destroy him. Which is how the struggle to define the nature of truth and reality begins.

While her adornments and surroundings signal untold pleasures, peeking around the corner – and barely hidden – is a different kind of promise, less about the bliss visited upon the senses than the fire of transformation the dragon brings.

Prajnaparamita a Buddhist Vidyadhari

The Churning of the Ocean began with a similar scene, although it’s often forgotten.

While riding his elephant, Indra, Lord of the Indriyas, came across a sage offering him a garland from a Vidyadhari (“holder of wisdom”). Without thinking, Indra placed the garland on the elephant’s head, only to have the precious gift tossed and trampled into the ground.

Having taken a vow of lunacy – and known to possess a nasty temper – the sage cursed Indra and his devas, declaring that they would lose their glory. Sure enough, when the “crazy” sage departed, their kingdom fell into darkness. Their divine powers disappeared, all because a Vidyadhari’s garland had been rejected.

Panicked, the devas sought assistance wherever it could be found, eventually leading them to Vishnu. During their darkest hour, He provided them with aid, teaching them how to churn the ocean for the treasure that would return their lost powers to their former glory.

Churning of the Ocean

The story usually focuses on the tug-of-war between gods and demons. But Vishnu is the actual star, as He ensures the gods’ success. For example, before the churning could actually begin, the mountain needed to be moved, although devas and asuras were too weak for the task. In the end, it was Vishnu who placed the mountain in the ocean himself.

When the devas and asuras started their work and the mountain began to sink, it was Vishnu – as Kurma, the tortoise avatar – who raised the mountain from the bottom of the ocean on his back. So powerful was He that the brutal churning felt good to Him. It even began to lull him to sleep.

Later, when the devas began to tire of their labor without any sign of success, Vishnu once again came to their aid, taking up the task of churning himself. Only then did the first “treasure” from the ocean emerge (the poison Halahala), soon to be followed by others, including the nectar so desperately sought by both demons and gods.

The Fourteen Treasures

Interpreters say this story represents the process of meditation: at its core is the pact between opposing forces working toward a common goal. So, while advice for meditators usually focuses on posture, breathing, etc., the Churning actually represents the yogi’s internal world.

The Ocean stands for the primordial waters upon which the entirety of creation rests; it requires a violent churning before untapped potentials are released. The mountain represents the mind, or more specifically, the accumulation of experience and conditioning that has amassed in the unconscious mind. The devas and asuras can be seen as our indriyas and vasanas.

The first task of meditation involves moving the mountain to the (primordial) ocean, which the devas and asuras are unable to do on their own. This is why Vishnu is so important, directing them but also involving himself in their labor. Like the jewel he later wears upon his breast, He stands for the principle of Consciousness.

When the gods and demons follow Vishnu’s command – and when Consciousness joins in their work – that’s when the ocean finally gives up its treasures. Of course, not all of them are pleasant. But their arrival brings awareness, and an outline of the subtle body’s anatomy.

Dhanvantari Physician to the Gods

The one who brings the nectar is Danvantari, the physician to the gods. In his hand he holds a pot containing the nectar and its promise of renewal.

His name can be translated to mean “desert oasis.” He is the Lord of Ayurveda, the science of healing that views illness and health in terms of the five elements. Just as the devas lose their brilliance when the “crazy” is disregarded, the body is also vulnerable to illness and disease. For the physical body is a site of accumulation, just like the unconscious mind.

Dhanvantari is the principle – and knowledge – available to all who seek to restore balance where it’s been lost. And while Ayurveda emphasizes the physical elements, practitioners will discover that it has emotional and spiritual benefits, as well. Which is why any guidebook worth its salt recommends balancing the gross body before embarking on the spiritual quest.

Kurma, the Tortoise Avatar

Kurma, the tortoise avatar, provides the foundation for that endeavor: he ventures to the bottom of the ocean even though, by nature, he’s more comfortable on land. And because he carries his home on his back, he’s able to retract head and limbs, withdrawing from the outside world.

As an avatar of Vishnu, the tortoise represents the practice of pratyahara, the "pivot" in the eight limbs of the royal art of yoga. To underscore its importance, some depictions even show the Sri Yantra Chakra mounted upon Kurma’s back, the necessary foundation for moving through the higher planes of existence.

The tortoise wasn’t the first avatar of Consciousness, and neither would he be the last. The first came with the Great Deluge which (according to some stories) is when animals were paired off to ensure their survival and propagation. Subsequent avatars battled demons – like the brothers Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu – until the entire universe was renewed.

Muladhara

Sometimes, portraits of the chakras represent this principle of withdrawal using withered vines. Unlike arteries or veins, these (yoga) nadis are only activated when in use. Otherwise, when vital energy is withdrawn and redirected, the channels shrivel up and disappear.

Muladhara is often shown with eight spears, like what hunters use. The nadis represent the attractions to the physical world, the element of earth. The petals of the other chakras follow the same pattern. Some are associated with the heat of pingala; others are associated with the coolness of ida; some are associated with both.

With its set of two, Ajna is the first – and last – of the chakras. (Technically, Sahasrara is not a “vortex” or “wheel” like the others.) During creation, it represents the birth of duality, of self and not-self; during the reverse passage, it represents the dissolution of difference, as Consciousness merges into One.

In other words, the process of Churning continues all the way to the head.

Knot

Three knots (or granthis) block passage during the journey of ascent. Each acts as a safeguard against the influx of energy the organism is normally unprepared to withstand. Sadhana teaches the aspirant how to untie these knots, gently.

Each granthi stands for a kind of attachment, which is also a form of protection. The Brahma granthi is associated with the lower chakras, representing attachment to the (physical) world we call “reality.” A premature disturbance can cause massive trauma, producing something like a psychotic break.

The Vishnu granthi represents a different kind of attachment. Unlike the struggle between real and not-real, the struggle here is between truth and not-truth as it relates to the heart. The Rudra granthi is associated with the head, representing the struggle between self and not-self, between affirmation and annihilation.

Ideally, the knots are untied with discipline and with calm. When done carefully, the transitions are painless and smooth. In this way, leaving the region of un/reality to the region of un/truth – or leaving the region of un/truth to the region of non/self and beyond – is actually welcomed and embraced.

Asylum

The Asylum tells us that the Brahma Granthi was aggravated, if not undone. The lines between real and un-real had become blurred and confusing, largely because there was a violent struggle between someone else’s reality and her own.

It wasn’t her first trip to the asylum, either. Another version of herself was already inside, which points to her long history with that place and the strategies she was forced to develop in order to survive.

This time, her mother died, leaving no one to protect her daughters against the angry stepfather written out of the mother’s will. In the fight that followed, a stray bullet killed her younger sister, which is how one grave became two. Then the men came, dragging her back to the place she thought she’d finally left behind.

Almost immediately, there was a fantastical transformation: gone were all signs of insanity and despair, immediately replaced with a glittering profession in which the girls had at least a semblance of control over the shape of their lives.

Forming a Pact

Which doesn’t mean everything was fine. In fact, none of them was especially happy in that place. But Sweet Pea, the eldest, used it as a refuge: as a runaway, she put a premium on the practicalities of survival, and the Club was the only place she knew where her sister Rocket was sure to be (relatively) safe.

With the arrival of Baby Doll, however, the question of escape was brought out into the open, unleashing long-suppressed terrors (imprints, of sorts). Not least among these was the fear of getting caught and being punished, but also a creeping panic about the large Unknown.

But because of their growing weariness, a sisterhood was formed and a pact was made, all under the leadership of the eldest girl. So, while their uniforms and dancing indicated their different specialties, with the newly formed alliance, all began working towards a common goal.

Baby Doll may have provided the impetus for their new endeavor, but it was Sweet Pea who organized them, doing her best to ensure that all went well.

Accessing Other Worlds

Somehow, Baby Doll had acquired the ability to travel between different worlds, not just between the Asylum and the Club for Men, but other planes that existed beyond … simply by withdrawing into herself and closing her eyes.

Her first trip brought her face-to-face with the Wise Man – the Gu-Ru – which suggests the nature of her journeying, linked as it was to an ancient tradition.

Usually, this kind of travel is a skill possessed only by yogis, since most beings are trapped on the plane that defines the nature of their existence. The skill only develops only after the knot of Brahma has been untied or broken.

This is the new capacity Baby Doll brought to the sisterhood. It’s also what fueled the girls’ enthusiasm for their plan to escape. For not only did she have access to other places, she could take them with her as well: not just for sightseeing but to engage the enemies that worked so hard to keep them trapped.

Earth

According to ancient texts, Earth is divided into three regions, each populated by a different kind of being. They’re known as “embodied-beings” (sa-kala: with-parts). The type of body they possess determines how they interact with the world.

Humans are unique. They alone possess what Kashmiri Shaivism calls karma-deha, an action-body. They alone can choose to behave in ways that improve or worsen their spiritual condition. The consequences of the past cling to them in the form of impressions and impulses which continue until all karma has been exhausted.

In contrast, deities and subhuman creatures possess bhoga-dehas (enjoyment-bodies) and have no will of their own. They relate to the world through pleasure alone. Lower creatures are ruled by instinct or the collective will, while deities are ruled by a will beyond their control (their Lord). Spiritual evolution is not possible for either until enjoyment has run its course – or animals evolve – and they are reborn as humans capable of karmic action.

The names of the deities happen to be the same as the names of eight forms of marriage. For example: where a father gives his daughter with sacred water without accepting anything in return (Brahma), where a father gives away his daughter with her blessings (Prajapatya), where the marriage is between two lovers (Gandharva), or when an asura takes a woman by force (Paisacika).

In other words: different ways of being wedded to earth.

Doing Battle

Is it any wonder that the girls found themselves doing battle on not just one plane of existence but on three? For the netherworld was merely the hidden double of the Club for Men, just as the Club for Men served as a cover for the Asylum. (The Polish therapist said Sweet Pea controlled the Club; it was as real as any pain).

Each of the things they fought for connected these planes, like the fire of the Dragon, linked to the cigar-smoking Mayor, who was linked to the guard with the lighter at the Asylum’s gate. If the girls were to succeed, they needed to recognize all three levels without getting caught in the drama of any one alone.

High Roller

The influence deities wield over us is what makes them super-human. They represent specific powers, amply illustrated by the world’s mythology, reigning over an element or aspect of creation (e.g., god of thunder, god of the oceans, god of fire). Their very presence can be awe inspiring, perhaps even a source of bliss.

But not all marriages named after deities are wanted; neither do they always refer to an actual relationship. They could refer to a form of attachment, like being drawn to an element, an aspect of creation (like thunder or the ocean), an organ of sensation, or an organ of action.

When such a “marriage” is the cause of unhappiness and suffering, it provides the impetus for cutting ties and finding a way to escape. This is done by “capturing” the element the deity reigns over and making it one’s own (map, knife, fire, key).

Death (Detachment)

After each battle – each time one of the items has been won – a member of the sisterhood is lost. The symmetry between one and the other should not be surprising: each time a new capacity is gained, an old way of relating to the world becomes obsolete.

Everyone has their own repertoire, a toolbox for constructing a sense-of-self and a way of being-in-the-world. It’s the result of years of living in which certain skills and capacities were developed while others lay dormant or repressed.

Each of the girls was a skilled dancer and entertainer; each vying to become number one. However, despite their skill and popularity, none was able to escape on her own. Their very strengths could also be considered their shared weakness, since it kept them tied to the Club for Men.

(What can be said of them and their profession can also be said of anyone else.)

Samsaric Cycle

Each time attachments are dissolved, the world comes to an end.

Pralaya-kalas reside on the plane of dissolution. According to Kashmiri Shaivism, they’re usually unconscious and have no bodies to interact with the world. If karma remains, they’ll acquire a new body (and senses) for another round in the cycle of birth and death.

Above this is the Void, where vijnana-kalas reside. They possess knowledge about the diversity of manifestation: its allure (maya) as well as its ability to impel action (karma). Despite their knowledge, however, they remain stuck.

Since they’ve overcome karma-mala, they’re unable to act. At the same time, they still yearn for completion. They’re still bound by the third mala (anava), feeling separate and cut-off from the Divine.

The only thing that can assist them is Saktipat. The guru who acts as a medium or conduit for God’s Grace which finally enables them to leave the Void. After they transcending the “impure” realm of the three malas, they’ll reach the “pure” realms beyond where they can complete the final stages in the journey of ascent.

Wise Man

Of all the characters Baby Doll meets, the Wise Man comes closest to this. It’s a sacred relationship – like a marriage – except with a different purpose and goal. When she first met him – while her eyes were closed – he was alone in a vast and empty sanctuary, surrounded by candles, as if in the midst of meditation or commemorating the dead.

The guru’s instructions are similar to what happens during initiation, including his declaration that she must learn to defend herself and fight. For this, he provided her with the tools (“weapons”) best suited for that task. Once she learned to use them, she returned to the intersecting worlds of the Asylum and the Club for Men.

The relationship between sadhaka and guru is more complicated this, although the specifics are veiled in secrecy. It’s often said that gurus can be ruthless, aimed at breaking the fetters that bind the sadhaka to the cycle of birth and death. Often, the guru also helps the sadhaka move through the sheaths that hide the Self:

..* Food Sheath: related to the act of feeding
..* Energy Sheath: related to energizing activity
..* Mind Sheath: related to thought activity
..* Knowledge Sheath: related to the act of discrimination
..* Bliss Sheath: related to the urge for completion

The guru might even share the code for deciphering the scriptures, like the principle of reversibility (which is how yogis stop feeding and take nourishment from the air). When such lessons have been learned – and saktipat is recognized – the sadhaka can then becomes a guru, able to help others yearning for Freedom.

Sacrifice & Victory

When Baby Doll stood defiantly in front of the Club for Men, the girls had figured out what the guru meant when he described a great sacrifice and a perfect victory. For it was a substitution – Baby Doll taking Sweet Pea’s place – which finally allowed her to be free.

Before the sisterhood, Baby Doll lived with her mother and sister while the others were still caught in the Asylum and Club for Men. It didn’t work as a strategy, and not only because her mother died: her sisters were still imprisoned without a means for escape. And yet, when Baby Doll returned, she brought a new and needed capacity for their quest to be free.

If their escape was to be successful, they had to go back to the beginning, peeling through the layers (sheaths) that defined their incarceration. This is what Baby Doll reenacted, reversing the course of history by taking the elder’s place. For it’s the eldest – like Jyestha (“first-born”), the goddess of misery – who holds the secret to the past but also its resolution, even if her sisters tried to deny or compensate for what was lost.

Mountain

It might not look like it, but Baby Doll is the Mountain. She first appeared when Sweet Pea was working with the Polish therapist on stage; she held the memories and impressions that made her stomach feel like it was churning.

WitnessShe’s also a Witness, always there yet unseen. While others were consumed with passionate activity, she was in the background observing, silently absorbing impressions of the manic energy that swirled about.

Reaching-Climbing

She also learned to climb (through the planes) higher and higher, as if she’d become a dancer in the sky. It’s how she contacted her Gu-ru, retrieved the map, and how Sweet Pea was rescued from a runaway train about to explode.

EscapeAs a girl of Sixteen, she was a set of capacities, not the Self. That honor belonged to her elder, even if it hadn’t registered yet. Eventually, Baby Doll would sacrifice herself for Sweet Pea, just like the other sisters who came before.

Sarasvati is another example of a first-born who carried more than met the eye. She was Brahma’s first creation who later came to be known as the Queen of the Vedas and the Goddess of Learning, associated with the power of the tongue and throat. After leaving her father-creator, Sarasvati went across the desert to bring fire to the ocean. But somehow, she disappeared, presumably dead. (According to the scriptures, she “went under”).

And yet, it’s her power that needs to be resuscitated. For not only is the throat associated with with the power of speech, it’s also the place where Halahala was stopped, giving its particular hue to the voice. But when VIshuddha is awakened, the throat is also the site where the poison is purified.

So important is this power, in the Sri Yantra Chakra the Eight Sarasvatis represent the last step in the journey that unites Kameswara and Kameswari, returning the aspirant to Yoni, the womb of creation.

The Yoni triangle (and its Bindu) crown the Sri Yantra Chakra, the apex and goal of the spiritual quest. It’s also prominent in the yantras of the Mahavidyas. Like all yantras, they depict an “instrument or machine,” the power that is controlled – or is controlling – which is why they’re an object of worship and contemplation.

In the sequence of events depicted by sacred geometry, after the dot (bindu) and the line (the separation of Shiva-Shakti), comes the triangle (yoni), also known as the primordial womb. It represents the birth of space. Different names are given to the points constituting the triangle – like Kriya-Jnana-Iccha and Sat-Chit-Ananda – which describe the birth and dissolution of all creation.

By way of analogy – although it’s certainly not the same – our psycho-physical constitution can also be understood in terms of a set of three: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. All three are necessary for healthy functioning, while our doshas represent elements out-of-balance due to the genetics of birth, interactions with the environment, and habits of living.

These imbalances produce disease and distress specific to each constitution. They also explain certain tastes and inclinations. Although we tend to interpret these as a measure of our individuality, they’re usually a reflection of our elemental make-up and its effect on our bodies and minds.

Health is restored when each is brought into balance. More optimal than this is when they’re elevated to their "higher" forms of functioning: when wind (Vata) is transformed into Prana, bile (Pitta) is transformed into Tejas, and mucus (Kapha) is transformed into Ojas, and each is held in correct proportion to the other.

Anger and Grief

When the orderly finds Baby Doll “gone,” he’s overcome by anger and grief, unable to believe that she’s left him alone in his world of shit.

The scene’s set in a filthy bathroom, which means he’s returned to the Asylum: the “crazy” he tried to escape. In place of the Club’s glamour are symbols of dirty water and waste, the same kind imagery that shows up in dreams, bringing an important message that hasn’t yet registered on the conscious mind.

As order-ly, he tried to manage and control the Asylum, including the girls. With that power gone, he’ll find himself depleted, robbed of his glory. With his kingdom swallowed by darkness, he’s faced the terror of a loss he’s unable to manage on his own.

But rather than look to the girl for salvation, he must turn to Vishnu, like the devas in the story about the Churning. For it will be Consciousness that will help divine the nectar from the primordial ocean. He’ll also need to form an alliance with his darker forces (the asuras) who, in truth, actually share the same goal. In the process, Consciousness will be transformed: from the normal waking state, to the dreaming state, to deep sleep, and the fourth, beyond.

Different traditions describe the path he could take, different versions of the same. The passage marked out by the chakras show how his unleashed energy can be channeled toward its proper goal. Or he could follow the path of Vishnu and his avatars engaged in battle, until the dark age of Kali Yuga is brought to an end. If he finds Buddhism more appealing, the Six Yogas of Naropa outline the path the sadhaka should take.

Should require a guru, he – or she – will appear, one who’s willing to establish a relationship different from the marriage of the gods. Submitting to a spiritual advisor will require a different stance than what he’s used to but, in the end, one object of yearning will come to be replaced by another.

And when this happens, half the battle will be won.

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~ by mistified on February 11, 2014.

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