The Tuscan Cross

Writing by Michael Bowen

Warhol “electric chair”

The Tuscan Cross
Oil Painting and mixed media by Michael Bowen

The cross is an assemblage painting made in the Villa above Florence. The Tuscan hills are filled with churches and the churches are filled with crosses. All the crosses have a dead body hanging on them. For me it is one of the weirdest symbols ever invented by human beings because it is exactly the same as having Andy Warhol’s electric chair painting stuck on buildings every where and people worshiping some fried guy slumped over horribly contorted in agony. The truth is that among the Christians, or the Jews called Christians during the time of Roman power, the symbol of the cross was a symbol of hideous degradation and horrible suffering. I never liked it. It took at least 250 years before the cross was adopted as a symbol of Christ by the now non Jewish people called Christians who had before, during the time they spread out Christ’s message, or rather Jesus of Nazareth’s message, used the original symbol of Christ, the symbol of the fish or two fishes.

Christ is derived from Christos, a Greek term similar to one who has achieved an enlightened state almost identical with the exact meaning of the Buddha, which refers to a state of mind, not a person. Only ignorant people with very little education worship symbols of the Buddha. They keep them and according to all Buddhist writing, should keep them only as a reminders of the state of mind that Gautama achieved sitting under the Bo tree in the deer park for forty days. When he achieved that state of mind and returned to this level of consciousness, he told his avid followers waiting the forty days with him that the experience could not be described because there were no words for it. Anyone who has penetrated the mind deeply enough, whether through psychoactive substances or long meditative training, knows that when the chambers of the brain open to the mind, which is a separate thing, there are no words for it.

I believe both these men, Jesus of Nazareth and Gautama, were giving the same message. Similar things happened to both of them because of the egalitarianism inherent in the only teachings possible, which is the way to conduct your life and set yourself on the path to gain transcendental consciousness. Gautama was driven out of India by the Brahmins, whose endless rules and priest-craft were threatened by the Buddha’s simple but efficacious teachings. And, Jesus of Nazareth ran into a bit more nastiness. He was supposedly killed by order of the Jewish priests who had to get permission of the Roman overload, Pilate, who saw complete criminality of those people and, as we know, washed his hands ceremoniously to absolve himself to the political agreement he had to give to the vicious Jews. It was the fish and sometimes the twin fishes of Pisces, which should now be and was originally the symbol of Christianity. There are many reasons for this fish symbol, nothing that has at all to do with the fact that Peter was a fisherman, but everything to do with astrological and historical reasons. Those reasons came from Sumer, which was to the East towards India, from the place where Jesus was unfortunately born.

Actually when one analyses the few lines, and that’s really all there is, that are authentic words of the Christos, one gets only one thing; Buddhism. Christianity happened five hundred years after Buddhism began and grow and began to spread. The story of the three wise men looking for the child goes on today amongst Buddhists looking for incarnations of particular enlightened beings who left indications where they would be born. I myself have witnessed and filmed this activity.

Kali and Shiva Michael Bowen painting

So why did I make the cross? There wasn’t any particular reason, I was just surrounded by them so I thought I would make one and that is it. It has absolutely no meaning for me. As far as Hinduism is concerned, we have a saying that is a side from any studies, philosophies, rituals, or any thing else, one might do to raise their consciousness. This is found in Buddhism and I believe was meant also as a message by the Christos. There is some indication in the Dead Sea Scrolls translation that this is true but one would have to have tremendous interests in those translations at the British museum that I do not have. That Sanskrit saying is “Ishta Devata” What this means is your personal choice of a symbol, that which feels best to you to focus on when the need should arise. In Hinduism, the number is in the millions from Shiva to Vishnu to Kali etc. on and on. Among the Buddhists, it is the same, although they keep it rather quiet and generally concentrate as they do currently on pictures of the Dalai Lama. However, the Dalai Lama in turn has written many times in answer to questions about a personal deity form that for him, and again he emphasizes

Lha Mo

himself alone, it is Lha Mo. Lha Mo and Kali, the so called horrendous deity of the Hindus are exactly identical in description. The difference between Buddhism and Hinduism is that while there may be a few statues here and there in the Buddhist world to Lha MO, certainly, the Dalai Lama has a small one; there are no temples to Lha Mo. Whereas in Hinduism, Kali temples abound, especially in Bengal but all over the world. I have been to Kali temples in Singapore, Hong Kong, Mexico City, San Francisco, Delhi, Calcutta, and many more. Kali temples are totally egalitarian; no one for any reason other than misbehavior is ever not admitted to a Kali temple. In fact, one of the most interesting series of Kali temples is in California and follows the route laid out by the king of Spain which we know is highway 1. There you find the various Catholic missions from the San Diego area to San Francisco. In 1905 or 1906 the Ramakrishna Math was founded in Calcutta and Vivekananda left, made a big hit at the world congress of religions earlier, and then founded the Ramakrishna missions on the exact same route. They are there today opened for you to go to, each different and none display the Kali image except for one day a year. The reason for that is that when the San Francisco Ramakrishna mission was built in 1906 or 1907, they did put a Kali image up and it was attacked by Christian fanatics and blown up. Two people were killed. Nevertheless, that dissuaded no one. The monastery was re-built and you can see it today down below Union Street built in Calcutta style, a very large wooden building with every blind and window closed. This building is only used for meditation purposes.

In the forties, maybe a little earlier, another quite modern building was built which is open to the public and I think anyone who visits my beloved San Francisco would really enjoy going there. As I mentioned before, you may find a kali image or two in the shop, if there is a shop in that one, but you will also find Christian crosses and other paraphernalia available since Hinduism is the only religion that considers all paths to enlightenment valid. Buddhism does not define itself as a religion and is often mistakenly called an atheistic organization. Therefore, I suggest you buy a cross for Kali the next time you are in that part of town and then go to Julius Castle on Telegraph hill, ask for the owner, tell him you are a friend of mine and get treated like a king while you watch the lights of the beautiful bay. To tell you the truth, I do miss San Francisco and it is very hard for me to think that I will never see it again. But as long as we are losing bit by bit, day by day, our sacred Bill of Rights and Constitution, I cannot bring myself to return even to the city I love.

Michael Bowen

Stockholm Sweden

Copyright 2006

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