28 April 2007

The Yellow Rite

Yellow is the colour of the sun, of gold, and of fields of grain in the autumn just prior to harvest. Hence it is associated with richness, abundance, and fecundity. The sun is probably the most important thing in India and features in the mythologies of all the various sub-cultures. It is also a potent symbol. For the last five years I've lived in Cambridge England. When you are 52 degrees north of the equator the sun is never directly overhead. But in India the sun is high in the sky even in winter. The sun is the key to everything. Just enough and the plants grow and ripen, but too much and plants, animals and people start to die. The sun has many names in India - Sūrya, Vairocana, Prabhakara, Āditya, Mitra, Savitri, etc. Gold is a precious substance where ever it is found. Gold does not tarnish. It is both ductile and malleable and can be made into any shape, or beaten so thin that light passes through it, picking up a greenish tinge on the way. The Aryan people were golden skinned, and Buddhists insisted that the Buddha was the colour of gold.

So it should come as no surprise that the Yellow, or Golden Rite is the Rite of Abundance and Increase. This rite can be used to gain wealth, to be materially rich, but spiritually speaking the greatest wealth is not material, it is knowledge and vision of how things really are. However there is often a middle ground in the use of this rite. In the Tara Tantra it says by this rite, one will be endowed with necessary goods, long life, beautiful appearance, and strength. In the form of the Tara mantra addressed to White Tara one requests that Tara grant you long life, merit and wisdom. But why these qualities? It is said that these things - long life, beauty, strength, merit, wisdom etc. - all help the Bodhisattva to spread the message of the Buddha and to sustain them in their repeated sojourns in saṃsara. One requests the material things that will best support one's spiritual progress in other words!

I'll talk about two applications of the Yellow Rite: gratitude and generosity. With my usual disclaimer about my rather idiosyncratic approach to this kind of magic.

Gratitude is a very positive mental state. By cultivating a sense of gratitude for what we already have we do begin to experience a sense of abundance. Often our dissatisfaction with what we have, whether it be a sexual partner, a car, or whatever, is because we have ceased to pay attention to the fact that we have it. Because the grass is always greener on the other side, we stop looking at the grass on this side. Gratitude brings us back into relationship with our immediate surroundings, our personal possessions and helps up to appreciate how lucky we are. In other words gratitude helps us reconnect with the fundamental interconnectedness of the cosmos. This is the essence of tantric magic according to Ariel Glucklich who studied modern day tantric magi in Varanasi.*

Even if things could always be better, anyone well-off enough to read these words on the internet probably has plenty to be grateful for. Gratitude is a way of creating awareness of abundance, the abundance that we already have, and which can help to counteract the feeling that we don't have enough, or even that we aren't good enough. From a state of abundance, we are always ready to give, which leads us onto generosity.

Generosity is giving from a sense of abundance, and it creates abundance for others. I've written quite a bit about generosity in my take on the six perfections for instance, or in the story of my generous friend Kapil. I see one of the primary aspects of generosity as making us aware of other people. But the Yellow Rite it is also a way to create a sense of abundance in everyone around us. If we all gave until we "swooned with joy" then what abundance there would be! Generosity is also about letting go of attachments, and this again creates a sense of abundance in us.

You can see that I am not advocating the Yellow Rite as a way of getting what you want, although this aspect of the rite is present in the texts. The Buddha was quite clear that amassing a fortune, acquiring lovers and families, storing up food, or gold, or favours, etc would not provide any lasting satisfaction. At the very least we are all going to die. A mountain of gold will not change this fact. A dozen beautiful lovers will not prevent us getting old. And most of us will get sick at some point despite having a hundred DVD's in our collection. Actually it is possible to be happy and have very few possessions. Remember back in the 1980's when Ronald Reagan was pursuing the arms race with Soviet Russia and it was announced that there were enough nuclear weapons on both sides to destroy all life on the planet 100 times over? I remember thinking how insane that situation was. I remember thinking what's the point? Sometimes having more of something is completely pointless.

In my blog post about the yellow Buddha Ratnasambhava I pointed out that he represents both our highest ideals - the jewel of Awakening - and our most fundamental value - generosity. The Yellow Rite is concerned with activating the latter in pursuit of the former.

* Ariel Glucklich (1997) The End of Magic. Oxford University Press Inc, USA.
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