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The Dharmakaya Light

by Lorenz Gude

It is 1947. I am 5 years old. I am with my father in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. My mother is somewhere else - shopping perhaps - and my father is in one of those rare moods where he takes a real interest in me. Treating me as an equal and showing me some of the things he values most in this place which I know he has visited many times. There is a painting of a cardinal. My father calls my attention to some lace, which protrudes from beneath the main pink-red garment that the cardinal is wearing. Then he makes me come up close to the painting and points out how the individual brush strokes that depict the lace appear chaotic. Individually they seem purposeless. Then he makes me back away until suddenly the individual brushstrokes create the illusion of lace. I wonder a bit why my father thinks his is so important, but what he says is there - is obviously there. I have no trouble seeing it. We go on looking at this and that - some Greek statues - other paintings but there is something that my father is looking for in particular that he wants me to see. He wonders if it is, perhaps, not on exhibit.

At last, he finds it. It is a landscape painting with a sky full of light and dark. He says "I don't know why I wanted to show you this so much, but it has always been one of my favourite paintings. There is something about the light. It catches exactly the way the sky looks just before a storm." The title of the painting is "Storm over Toledo." It is by El Greco. Later I would study Art history at the same New York university that my father had attended and I would learn to see my old friend El Greco as part of the post renaissance Mannerist movement.

It is 1992. My father has been dead for nearly 20 years. I am sitting in my little house on a back alley in Perth, Western Australia. I am reading Pirsig's Lila. Page 345-46 in my British hardcover edition. Pirsig is discussing the Dharmakaya light after he has related the Cleveland Harbour incident. How we filter out what our culture's static value system tells us does not exist. The discussion turns on the painting of El Greco and his ability to paint the Dharmakaya light as the eye sees it rather than in a stylised way as a halo because, Pirsig speculates, El Greco could actually see this light directly. I am stunned. I remember my father and the day at the museum. El Greco! I'm pretty sure that Cardinal painting was by El Greco too, but it is the light that is important. The light that my father had wanted his 5-year-old son to see - no matter that he didn't understand it himself.

I sit there filled with the exhilaration of the moment - remembering the feeling of connection to my father. The wonder of how fathers sometimes pass on odd scraps of information to their son's knowing that somehow these scraps are important and how occasionally a son is lucky enough to find another scrap that begins to make some sense of it. But something was bothering me. I felt dissatisfied. Incomplete. Why had my father been so determined to show me the painting by El Greco? Did he sometimes see this light himself - or was it just something he saw in the painting? No, I thought. He loved nature and the outdoors. Enough to leave New York City and become a farmer labouring in the fields all day and sitting with my mother watching the sunset at the end of it. He always felt a strong connection to light. Had I ever seen this light myself? No, of course not. And I'm not much on sunsets either. But wait. In 1991, in a small southern town where I was researching a book, I had been impressed by the light. Day after day it was gorgeous. The research went exceptionally well. Everyone was welcoming. The material seemed to come to me effortlessly. Had I been experiencing quality? The Dharmakaya light? Ha! Wishful thinking. Then I turned to my computer and dug out a letter I had written to a person I had met on that visit. There it was. Sentence after sentence going on about the light in that small southern town. About my determination to return there and pursue the research seriously. About having wanted to stay on instead of returning to Australia. Checkmate.

It is four years later. I have since gone back to that small southern town and once again the research has gone well and once again other things took me away sooner than I would have liked. But this time these things have Quality too. I have learned to follow the light more quickly now. Tonight I put Pirsig's name into Alta Vista and found a discussion group dedicated to discussing the Metaphysics of Quality on the web. I found some negative reviews of Lila from academic philosophers. I'm willing to be convinced but they are not convincing...just attacks. I read some of the material. It seems alive and involved. There are about 70 people in the group. Pretty small for the entire world I think, but they sound like good people who are neither too academic nor too superficial. They ask for essays to put on their website. I am sick. Depressed. But I find the energy to write about my father, and El Greco, and the Dharmakaya light.

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