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20 March 2011


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Sidney O. Smith III

This article looks fantastic. I look forward to reading it when I have more time.

I must note there was a Dr. Michael Brenner sighting over among the Melrose Ave crowd called the Huffington Post.


Yes, an article titled “Buddha as Icon” is now appearing at Huffington Post via the good professor, Dr. Brenner.

No doubt about it -- as Thomas Merton clearly demonstrated -- the Buddha is an icon and their religious art is superb. Merton apparently had a peak religious experience at a Buddha “icon” in Polonnaruwa

But, if I may, you don’t have to leave the Western, even Abrahamic, tradition to have the same experience.

In fact, Jung stated that those who abandon what they are hardwired to experience will really just make a mockery of it all. He suggested that you study the East to revitalize the West and maybe vice versa (as witnessed by how Asians have taken European concert music to new hts, often leaving Westerners in the dust. It is what it is).

And the apophatic tradition about which the good professor writes has long existed in the West and he fails to make mention of its existence. Therein lies my only criticism.

Sure, it’s great to grab a copy of Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge and head to Nepal. I am all for it. But, let’s tell the truth here. Sooner or later, when you are sitting on the mountain top, you may have an experience all right -- "YHWH" may tap you on the shoulder and say, “What the hell are you doing, playing Himalyan saint when, in truth, you are really over here to just check out the women and maybe experiment with some drugs? Grow up and get a job.”

Surely "YHWH" has a sense of humor. Does that describe Buddha’s smile? But Dr. Brenner’s appears to have delved into very somber, if not dour, theological musings in his essay. If he takes it too far, Karma Buddha may turn into dreams of Rothko.

And, while Zen masters such as DT Suzuki most definitely are the real deal -- as testified to by Merton -- I never understood the Hollywood-Huffington Post Buddha scene. On one hand, they applaud and fanatically support secession (Tibet) and apparently support the extreme emphasis on Buddha celibacy as a “mystical path” for a few.

But try to mention that the same existed in the West and you can forget being invited to Michael Ovitz’s party at broad beach just north of Malibu. Oh boo hoo. And Arianna was going to be there!

BTW, the Hindu chakras, according to some are represented on the façade of Chartres Cathedral. I ain’t lying. And yes, the Buddha mandala is the rose window and so on and so on. Hat tip. Joseph Campbell.

But, come on good professor, at least give the Chartres Cathedral and the West a little credit here. Buddha would.

William R. Cumming

Interesting article in most
recent issue of ART & ANTIQUES mag on modern use of camoflauge and its artistic origins and usage just before WWI! Also possible influence on CUBISM!


Sidney, if I remember correctly Jung's point was that the archetype's were universal (the hardware), their cultural interpretation was therefore the 'software' , abandoning that which you were brought up within often brings trouble, not clarity, to the soul.


Ah! But don't stop there Professor Brenner! You are quite right, but there are real implications in this subject for SST readers:

"From the outset, the modernists’ envisaged community of free spirits risked materializing as an assemblage of narcissists. So it has."

My first visits from Australia to Europe naturally exposed me to the Great cathedrals and Castles of Europe and the architecture of places like Siena, Perugia, Viena, medieval chapter houses, etc. that were totally foreign to my experience. My biggest shock was discovering that the architecture of the Cathedrals was about power, order and stability. For example it is no accident that Siena Cathedral - Santa Maria Assunta has its famous ring of busts of Popes - all looking down on the congregation from Thirty metres above - this is about commanding obedience, not faith and piety.

Then of course the public buildings, as well as the "renovated" Castles, reflect the innermost fears of the society that gave birth to them as W.G. Sebald once put it. For example, the outsize architecture of Viennas Ringstrasse.

Coming back to your concern about the "me" generations that first started rebelling against the excesses of the old order in 1848, it is Professor Sir Michael Howard who tells us where this leads, and it is not good.

Sir Michael points out in his sublime little volume "The Invention Of Peace"; that peace is an invented condition and it was an invention of the nation state, because it is only a nation state that can impose the strictures and agreements required to maintain peace on its citizens.

So as nation states start weakening because of the competing demands on the "me" generations time and attention, it becomes progressively more difficult for nation states to impose a state of peace. Britain for example is characterised by Sir Michael as just a brand - "Britain Plc." these days. It is quite clear from modern architecture that we are heading down the road to weakening the nation state, to put it another way, can you imagine anyone these days proposing to construct a structure that embodies the idea of an aristocracy, a priesthood to which we must all be obedient and whom we must worship?

This change is apparent even in my lifetime, for a trivial example as a Thirteen year old, I travelled on public transport with my military rifle each weekend, to the approving smiles of adults as I was a future defender of the country, to shoot competitively with free army supplied ammunition at the local range. If a Thirteen year old appeared in public like that in Australia today, the police would be called, the weapon confiscated, the child detained for psychological counselling, and most importantly the parents interrogated as to why they were putting such ideas into a childs head,

It should be clear to SST readers that what we are witnessing in Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, Tunisia are examples of this phenomenon. The implications for the rest of the world are there for all to see. Simply look around the world and look for the ethnic and tribal tensions simmering away.


Thank you for a very perceptive piece, professor Brenner.

But I'd be careful, if I were you. More of this sort of material, and you'll be seen as a conservative.


But I'd be careful, if I were you. More of this sort of material, and you'll be seen as a conservative.

there is nothing wrong with being conservative, but I like his article about The Buddha Icon better. There I feel depth, soul and understanding, here not so much.

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