[Originally published in a different format in The Dallas Morning News]
While the primary motif for “Fabled Journeys” is travel, its current incarnation seems to express arrival. We’re already “there.” Viewers share space with various deities from the Hindu and Buddhist pantheons and, if we treat the adventure metaphorically, there’s much to be gained. Moreover, the exhibition provides impetus to do a little investigative work to understand diverse cultures. Harvard professor Diana Eck, one of our great contemporary religious scholars, has noted that we don’t fully understand religion until we become acquainted with two traditions. Well, now is our white-hot chance to do exactly that — and the effort to do so easily transmutes the aforementioned “arrival” into a pilgrimage without the need to pack bags, negotiate airports and deal with less than adequate hotels. It’s all here and ready to spill its genius if we simply take the time to look.
Among the images depicted are the Hindu gods Ganesha and Vishnu, both of whom are forms or aspects of the Indian godhead. Unlike the Western notion of the divine, they never offer Eastern followers a completed picture of the ultimate spiritual being — nor are they meant to. Rather, these Indian figures are signposts, clues and guides that merely point toward the truth, which is too vast to be grasped directly. For instance, Ganesha is widely regarded as the remover of obstacles. His distinct iconography makes him easily recognizable and a popular figure in Indian art. Here we see him with his characteristic elephant head and four arms. He’s sitting in a manner that indicates a readiness toward movement and appears agile despite his substantial girth. In other words, he does, indeed, seem wholly capable of banishing obstacles, both physical and yogic. While he‘s not an embodiment of a sole, universal god, to Eastern believers he’s invoked as a means of facilitating their spiritual journeys.
Vishnu can be understood as yet another inflection of the numinous. He reports that he “comes into being in age after age.” He offers us yet another way of understanding that the divine is never complete. We’re reminded that it’s never culminated. Instead, it perpetually streams forward, enabling evolution toward increased meditative understanding. Surprisingly, a marvelous place to enhance our own personal journey might be near at hand. Downtown, to be exact.