Greetings from Masa Rasa Studios.
We’re coming up on the one year anniversary of launching our line of bronze statues. Yay! And to celebrate we have a couple of new statues to offer, and more planned for the future. After a long time of working it’s way through the foundry process, our new sculpture of Ramana Maharshi is finished in bronze and available for sale on our website. Many people know of Ramana, but for those who are just discovering him, let me share a few thoughts about his life and teachings, and in doing so, also talk about the nature of sacred statues, which to some minds is a difficult if not controversial subject. We promise to make it easy.
The Life of Sri Ramana Maharshi
Enquiring into the source of life and the nature of death with the most fundamental of questions, 'Who Am I?", Ramana Maharshi found enlightenment at the age of 16. He emerged as one of India's, if not the world's, greatest spiritual teachers. Ramana was considered by his followers to be a Jnani, a knower of Truth. He lived on his beloved hill Arunachala near the town of Tiruvannamalai, and received all who came to him with the same kindness and unwavering compassion for nearly a half century until his passing in 1950. Ramana illumined the path of Self-enquiry and knowledge for a host of seekers around the world, and continues to do so. His life and teaching were indeed about who we are, serving those wanting to explore their need for spiritual meaning in life. According to Ramana, to know God is to know your own Self. His path was that of direct knowledge and the revelation of Self-enquiry beyond words and images, stating unequivocally:
"Your own Self-realization is the greatest service you can render the world."
The renowned philosopher, author, and spiritual rascal, Alan Watts, was so taken by the power, joy, and simplicity of Ramana's words that he kept a smiling photo of the Sage by his front door. Carl Jung was also an admirer, saying . . . “Sri Ramana is a true son of the Indian earth. He is genuine, and, in addition to that, something quite phenomenal. In India he is the whitest spot in a white space. What we find in the life and teachings of Sri Ramana is the purest of India with its breath of world-liberated and liberating humanity. It is a chant of millenniums…”
A white spot. So why create a statue of him? Why make sacred sculpture at all?
Ramana Maharshi, the Sage of Arunachala. Ceramic 12”H
Well, the short answer is we do it, and did it, because we enjoy it. Making statues and images of spiritual figures and deities has been an accepted and creative practice among many of the world's religions and spiritual paths for millennia. Traditionally, a sacred sculpture in India is known as a murti. It is both a work of art and a vehicle for the deepest most profound feeling and experience - a means of communication with the spirit of the subject imaged, a work infused with the power of Consciousness.
There are those who don’t share that kind of experience when it comes to sacred sculpture, finding that God, Spirit, or the Truth, is unmanifest . . . untouchable by the mind and senses. Inexpressible. Those people require no outer form for contemplation, no object on which to rest the mind, so they probably won’t be reading this. For those who do enjoy worshipping outer forms that represent God, the great Indian scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, has this to say:
“It is much more difficult to focus on God as the unmanifested than God with form, due to human beings having the need to perceive via the senses.” Chapter 12, Verse 5
There is a depth to that statement that is perhaps not so obvious. This ‘need’ is not a weakness or lesser state as some would interpret it. It is the play of the Divine itself. So why make it hard on yourself? If you desire a manifested form, a sacred sculpture is one way to go. That desire may be fulfilled through any number of mediums and works of art and craft, or fulfilled by contemplating the beauty of nature itself.
Portals and Do-It-Yourself Consciousness
Murtis are living portals. They are a round trip. Our portals, our gates, our vehicles, may be in the form of statues, paintings, texts, scrolls, architecture, music, symbols, calligraphy, gardens, or even mountains, just to name a few. Ramana had his divine hill, Arunachala. For some, the greatest pathway is through the human form of the teacher, the lover, the friend, the prophet, the guru. All of these may serve as a means of communion and remembrance.
Some people refer to a sacred statue as a moorthi - a slightly different transliteration of the Sanskrit word for murti (also spelled murthi or murthy - moorthi is a spelling that is often used in association with the sculpture of sacred cows :)
A person who recently viewed our murti of Ramana online suggested that “one should make their own murti rather than buy one,” presumably to insure the greatest truth and authenticity in worship. Kind of a do-it-yourself approach to sacred statues. Of course, one can make a murti for themselves if they like, and in that spirit, consider the ancient story of Ekalavya, a young character in the Mahabharata who longed to study with the master archer, Drona, his chosen guru. Yet Ekalavya was denied being a disciple because of his lower social standing. Ekalavya was determined to learn one way or the other, so he made a mud statue of the great teacher and worshipped it every day while practicing his archery in secret. As a result of his determination, faith, and love for his guru, Ekalavya imbibed the skills of the master from a distance, and in such a way that Drona finally sang the praises of Ekalavya’s mastery. So, if you decide to make your own murti, may you enjoy the artistic process while bringing the statue to life.
Perhaps you don’t have the desire or skill to create your own sculpture, then you might instead choose to buy a work, or you may receive one as a gift. Perhaps you prefer to visit a temple or place of worship that have statues installed, sculpture created by master artists and made available through the donations of devotees. There are alternatives, and simply put, there is no right or wrong way here in order to avail yourself of a murti of your chosen deity or teacher. In a sense it’s all do-it-yourself. For those who create their own, receive a murti as a gift, or choose to purchase one, they will make it their own in any event by bestowing their own grace, energy, and devotion upon it . . . Consciousness.
Ramana’s murti at Sri Ramanashramam, Tiruvannamalai
Rasa - The Aesthetic Response
The Mundaka Upanishad makes the wonderful and astonishing assertion that “aesthetic experience is the twin of God.” God has a twin?? Why not. Aesthetic experience is also known as in Indian philosophy as Rasa - the inner nectar of the Self. It is the sweetness experienced while beholding the falls at Yosemite, viewing a Van Gogh at the museum, or listening to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. To test that understanding, the next time your heart skips a beat over seeing a piece of art, someone you love, or a panoramic view in nature, recall that statement and see if you find it to be true, see how you feel. Such aesthetic response is an experience infused with the richest meaning and pleasure, and affirms that regardless of whether it's a Great Being, a murti, a work of art, an artist, the world, or You - Consciousness inheres equally in all.
Aesthetic experience is the bridge in human experience, the ‘Art’ in the great saying ‘Thou Art That.’ It is the experience that devotees have when they gaze on Ramana’s murti in his ashram in Tiruvannamalai. Again, there are many ways to have that experience. Yet problems in human communication arise when people begin to think that what floats their boat is somehow superior to others, forcing their ideas upon people who don't share the same understanding. The veneration of sacred objects has often been such a source of controversy between religions and aspirants, sparking heated debate and violent prohibitions. So many viewpoints . . . but as they say in the art world, ‘you gotta draw the line somewhere’ and it could be a tangent. Then again, you could decide to draw nothing . . . something Zen artists have been doing for centuries. Still, they come up with beautiful works of art, a positive something. Simply put, there is no right way or wrong way in art. Why would it be any different in spiritual life?
My perspective is mainly that of an artist. I focus on the creative act and the form the work takes, if it takes form at all. They are indeed twins, creativity and the form it takes, or two sides of the same conscious coin. Sometimes the coin is made of bronze. As the great Indian philosopher and guru Abhinavagupta said, “motive is everything.” That’s my portal - the aesthetic experience of creation. But that is not to the exclusion of what the art represents, in this case Ramana Maharshi, nor to the exclusion of those who might enjoy the work - my family, friends, art lovers, and critics (yes, we will also include the critics, for they just want to be loved).
Let me finish up with a few musings about the nature of media. In essence we’ve been exploring what exactly media is, specifically what a murti is, having this new statue of Ramana as the teacher. What is the nature of the ‘vehicle’? Is it an inert substance conjured into life and meaning by our ideas, inspirations, and efforts, or something more? It cannot possibly be separate from the energy flowing through the forms and identities expressed. So isn’t media more than metal, paint, and pixels? What has been communicated, with what, and to Whom? The mind stumbles. And that’s the whole point. . . going beyond the mind. That’s where the juice is.
I have found the understanding that works for me as an artist is one of inclusion, an understanding beautifully expressed in this benediction by Swami Lakshmanjoo. Swamiji was a great scholar of the philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism, and spent time in the presence of Ramana.
“Let God, who has taken the form of this individual being, offer salutations to his own Universal Being through this form and all forms of art and ritual, which are also God, for the removal of obstacles to all understanding, which are indeed one with God, and for the bestowal of grace, which is Love.”
A murti may appear to be a heavy object made of metal, but it’s truly a starlight gate to wherever you want to go. This new murti of Ramana is no different. All the Great Beings say the same thing, that the truth dwells within you, as you. Sri Ramana Maharshi exclaimed “the whole world is my Guru.” To truly understand him, we must also ask the question he poses:
“Who Am I?”
Om . . .
Masa Rasa JN
“You should sculpt,” he said with a smile. Mischief mixed with laser insight graced his face and beamed through his eyes. My portfolio was being looked at by my guru, Baba Muktananda. And although I'm always wary when someone tells me what I 'should' do, coming from the Guru such expressions take on a deeper dimension beyond words. The work was primarily a collection of oil paintings from my recent studies as an art student, and I had been called to speak with him about a sculpture project being proposed for the ashram grounds. He slowly and deliberately gazed at each image, had some complimentary things to say about the work, and then looked up and uttered those words, “you should sculpt!” Awash in a wave of bliss from simply sitting with him, I smiled and said, “Yes, Baba, whatever work you'd like me to do,” while protests and alarms rumbled through my mind . . .“How can I do this? I’m a painter, not a sculptor!”
Charite After William Bougeureau Oil on linen 46”H x 35”W
One of the paintings Baba viewed was the one you see here, a copy I made of Charite, created originally by the French nineteenth Neoclassical painter Adolphe William Bouguereau. The original was part of the permanent collection at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, where I was completing a degree in Drawing and Painting. I had told my professor in my senior year that I wanted to learn more about classical academic painting, probably because nearly all my other professors insisted that I explore modern art, which I did and was happy to do, but they seemed to be in a ‘Picasso was everything, Rauschenberg is the new king, figurative work is dead’ mind set, so naturally I had to look in the other direction. After all, Picasso had trained as a highly skilled traditional painter before he launched into his more expressive and abstract explorations, and it shows. I wanted to have that same academic grounding and discipline before I ventured into my own pursuits.
Charite perfectly embodied the subjects I was interested in learning - composition, anatomy, drapery, and masterful technique in the oil medium. The museum told me the painting was hanging in the basement storage racks, awaiting some minor restoration. I requested from the museum director that I be allowed to copy the work directly from the original, just as a painting student would do in the era of Bouguereau. With help from my professor, Guy Palazolla, and after a brief meeting with the museum’s head curator, the doors opened wide. Amazingly, I was given direct access to this multimillion dollar painting and a place next to the racks to set up my easel and paints, ready and able to study the work up close. Not only was the painting beautiful, it exuded a rich treasure of craftsmanship, mastery in both technique and form. My task was to see if I could imbibe and duplicate some of those riches.
Actually, at that time I never heard the title Charite associated with this painting. The curators affectionately referred to the painting as The Twins, an informal title. One of the historians relayed the idea that the two babies were Jesus and his brother James in the arms of their mother, The Virgin Mary. Others related the symbolism of the painting to Greek mythology. Someone else suggested the composition had Oriental influences which were popular in French culture at the time, the babies intertwined like a Yin-Yang symbol, opposite yet complimentary, cradled by the Tao, Mother of all things. Over the years, I came to see the work as symbolizing the twins of grace and self effort, cradled by the Goddess, the two ingredients Muktananda taught to be necessary for spiritual life. Safe to say, as with many great paintings, there are several ideas and layers of interpretation to be harvested, intended or not. Yet for the purposes of the project, the meanings within the work were of lesser importance compared to serving as a stellar example of the craft of academic painting. I will say, however, that the painting’s indescribable beauty attracted me the most, and kept me working on it.
Swami 'Baba' Muktananda
I believe I went off on a bit of a tangent . . . Fast forward three years from when I completed The Twins and I am sitting with my Guru, showing him my work. “You should sculpt!” . . which is what I wanted to do in the broader sense, serve him with whatever artistic gifts had been entrusted to me. However, Muktananda was known for taking his devotees in new and challenging directions, and so he did. I did a couple of full size cement statues on the ashram grounds, which was a little like sculpting with soft sacred cow manure. The medium was unwieldy and did not hold detail very well. The first of these sculptures was, of course, The Virgin Mary . . . right up my alley, as Baba well knew. Then followed Martin Luther King and a Shiva Lingham. It was rich, visceral, and engaging work. I even experienced a ‘Michelangelo and the Pope’ moment when I was working on MLK in the late afternoon, alone on the scaffolding. Baba came along walking all by himself, which in itself was unusual, and pointed up to the work gesturing, “is it done yet?” I said firmly, “no, Baba.” Ha! Michelangelo and I were now brothers! . . although his protest to the Pope was the other way around, "I'm a sculptor, not a painter!" Baba smiled and kept walking, and I had a good laugh. After that I didn’t sculpt for many, many years, at least not in clay, not so much ignoring that suggestion from the Guru but simply forgetting it, letting that tantalizing idea roll around in the back of my mind while pursuing other interests . . . until now.
Babaraj Anandamayi Ma
Over thirty years after that encounter with Baba Muktananda, I am sculpting him and other Great Beings and enjoying it immensely, the latest of which is a rendition of Anandamayi Ma, another serene and Divine Mother. So, we could say that the seed Baba planted with a smile all those years ago sprouted in it’s own sweet time . . .
Charite still hangs in the living room of my parents’ home.
Greetings from Masa Rasa . . .
Introducing new work from Masa Rasa Studios! . . . . a sculpture of the renowned Indian Saint, Anandamayi Ma. Admired for her beauty and deep devotion to God from a very young age, Sri Anandamayi Ma has been described as "the most perfect flower the Indian soil has produced." Her name means ‘Blissful Mother,’ and it is with that beautiful maternal energy in mind that she has been brought to life in clay. Regarded by her devotees as an enlightened being, she served as Guru to thousands, and still does. I find the many photos of her simply mesmerizing. Someone once asked Anandamayi Ma: “Are you God?” Anandamayi Ma answered: “There is nothing but God. Everything and everyone is only a form of God. Also in your shape God has come to give me darshan (‘auspicious sight’)”
She was born in 1896, which was an auspicious year in many respects, a great year for the spiritual legacy of India. Bhagavan Nityananda took birth that year, and Ramana Maharshi experienced his enlightenment at the age of 16. Anandamayi Ma, one of the few female Saints that India can claim in its long storied history of great beings and world teachers, is a beautiful presence that can be accessed from anywhere, any time. She lived until 1982, a year I happened to be in India staying at Muktananda’s ashram during the months leading up to what was his last birthday celebration. I was getting married at that same time. I had heard wonderful things about Anandamayi Ma, yet Muktananda, who spoke very fondly of her, had my full attention . . as did my soon to be wife, Mondodri, another beautiful woman of divine proportions. Baba told Mondodri and I that he would not be in his body much longer, and after the birthday celebrations had faded, he sent us off back to the States with words of wisdom, laughter, tears, and his full blessing. Anandamayi Ma died shortly after our departure, and Baba left his body about a month later.
I hope you enjoy looking at this sculpture of a great Saint and Guru. I offer her likeness in homage to all mothers, and thank my dear friends Zoe and Nikki for their wonderful inspiration. The piece is now at the foundry being proofed in Panchaloha bronze, and the edition will soon be available for sale. Stay tuned.
• • •
It’s been a couple of months since last writing, there have been a few bumps in the road, some changes at the foundry, and a trip for Ganapati to India during which he almost lost his marbles, yet kept his bronzes intact and hanging loose, spirit renewed. I’m now writing this blog as myself, and if I say ‘we’, that means there was and is a collaborative effort with Ganapati and our friends in the making. The initial creative work is my own, so only I can really describe that process. On another note: Prices for our bronze sculptures as well as select prints have been substantially reduced by around 25%. Yes! I have a long list of people who really would like to own a bronze sculpture but find the price a bit out of their reach, so I hope this will help. It’s an expensive medium to play in, and I’d give ‘em away if I could. These changes will be made even more clear over the next few weeks.
This sculptural work of the Gurus has taken on a perspective and life of its own. Actually, it’s been that way from the get go. These beings imaged in clay often guide the process, ‘appear’ as the energy in the making, their presence palpable in the studio. . . especially late at night when my ‘second wind’ appears and fingers feel nimble and begin to dance. Perhaps these beings realized that I needed guidance, having not worked in this medium much at all until beginning this series some eighteen months ago. Let’s say they want to make sure their respective images are up to snuff, and it’s a boon for me to feel their energy and presence while working. With their help, more work will come, and who knows what divine mischief I can get myself into.
Omward . . .
Spring is fully here, we’re into May and the full moon is upon us. It’s been a while since posting a few words in our blog. The truth is I much prefer the play of the clay to the play of words, but play is play, and I do enjoy writing from time to time. We do have several things to share. A lot has happened in the last year here at Masa Rasa Studios. New statues, new foundry, new friends . . . and a new swami.
To the NEWS . . . !
• It’s May, and yes, we have a May Sale going on! For the entire month, we’re featuring our Babaraj statue in honor of Baba Muktananda’s 109th birthday, which is celebrated both on the lunar date, the full moon on May 10th, and the solar date on the 15th. Anyone who buys a Babaraj statue may purchase any other statue in our collection at 50% off, now or within the year. This particular statue is made at our Florida foundry, and takes about 6 to 8 weeks to complete.
You can view more images of Babaraj here.
• We have a new foundry partner, Artworks Foundry in Berkeley, California. They have accepted the task of casting several of the statues in our collection. Our original foundry, Bronzart of Sarasota, Florida, handles all the others. So now we have a foundry on both the east coast and the west coast which helps expedite production. The professionals at Artworks do wonderful work, ranging from small pieces, such as ours, to monumental sculpture. A notable piece that you may have recently seen is the beautiful bronze statue of baseball icon Jackie Robinson erected at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, created by Oakland sculptor Branly Cadet. Artworks also does bronze work for the Metropolitan Museum Of Art in New York City, including some reproductions of Michaelangelo’s work. We are very happy and honored to work with them to produce our editions of bronze sculpture. If you want to know more about Artworks’ amazing abilities and process, you can see their work at www.artworksfoundry.com
SAI BABA OF SHIRDI
• Last time I wrote a blog post, we were about to pour a bronze proof of our Sai Baba murti. This piece had a journey to get completed. The original blew apart in the kiln, so it became a special challenge to get that jigsaw puzzle back together. Nothing like a little epoxy and loving care to set things right.
After the resurrection of the original, we took a mold and went straight to bronze. Pictured above and below is the first proof as produced by Artworks Foundry. After a digital 3D scanning of the original, and then having it reduced in size to 3.5”H, we are in the process of producing this murti in a smaller in bronze compared with the 12” original.
Next year is Sai Baba’s 100th Mahasamadhi anniversary, and there is a massive celebration planned in Shirdi. You can view more images of Shirdi Sai Baba on the Masa Rasa website here.
• We have made smaller versions of four of our statues, and as I mentioned, Sai Baba is being added to this collection in the very near future. This process begins by having the original statue scanned with a state of the art 3D scanner, and then printed in a 3D printer. These statues have been reduced form the 9”-12”H full size bronze to a 3.5”H. 2’ and 1” bronze. The smallest sizes we are able to offer in solid gold. The detail that is retained is truly amazing.
We’ve assembled these small bronzes on a marble display platter for some of our distributors. All of these statues are available individually on the Masa Rasa Studios website.
• We also finished producing our version of Sri Yantra, the ancient Hindu symbol of the cosmos used in ritual worship, a revered and sacred mystical diagram of the inner and outer Universe. Sri Yantra loosely translates as ‘revered and sacred diagram.’ It is composed of nine interlocking triangles ( I think Pythagorus had one of these in his school) symbolizing the interplay of God, or the Divine Masculine (Shiva), and the Goddess, the Divine Feminine (Shakti). We offer Sri Yantra in four sizes, (not pictured is the 1” size) and with optional gold plating. Sri Yantra - Wifi for the spirit, aesthetics for the soul, bronze resonance for the mind.
MAHAN - The Great One
• Our latest offering is a murti of Bhagavan Nityaananda entitled ‘Mahan’, which means ‘Great One.’ This piece is much larger than our previous murtis at 15”H, and perhaps three times the volume. We have not yet cast this in bronze because, well, it’s very expensive, and we’re hoping the first couple of sales will help finance that process. To that end we are offering 30% discount off the $5450 retail price tag to the first three buyers.
Mahan is most likely our final sculpture in honor of Bhagavan Nityananda, with the exception of creating life size enlargements, which we hope to do. Fortunately, enlargements are something the people at Artworks are experts at. Our edition of this piece will be limited to twelve bronzes.
• We want to bring your attention to the artistic work of Leo Dale and his wonderful music. This last year he has produced several videos of sacred chants and instrumentals, performing all instruments and vocals, as well as the video work. One of these videos, Om Namo Bhagavate Nityanandaya, has our Young Nityananda murti as the main visual, beautifully lit and recorded by Leo. Forty minutes of meditation that you can listen to here. Please enjoy . . .
• Finally, one of the biggest changes in this past year is that Ganapati is now an ordained monk !!! . . . a swami in the Saraswati order. Yes, Ganapati is now Swami Ganeshananda, a yogi of many talents, having taken the vows of sanyas in Ganeshpuri earlier this year. He now has less hair and a new orange wardrobe. As a result of many trips to Ganeshpuri, Swamiji, or Swami G, is in the process of establishing an online store for imports from India. Incense, malas, shawls, oils, asanas, and all the fine accouterments of meditation ambiance, which will be linked to Masa Rasa Studios. We’ll have the website information available later this month. He also is exploring the possibility of building a temple for meditation and gathering in the Bay Area, dedicated to Bhagavan Nityananda and Swami Muktananda . . . open to all. A fine place to install enlargements of Mahan and Babaraj. Swami G is a great cook, maybe chai and dosas will be on the menu!
• That’s the latest from Masa Rasa Studios. Feel free to write us with any comments or suggestions you may have. You can find us on FaceBook at https://www.facebook.com/masarasastudios/
We want to say an especially warm “thank you” to all of you who have purchased our work over the last couple of years. When people send emails expressing the joy and gratitude they feel at having received their murti and what that means to them . . . well, it’s music to our ears. It’s why we do as we do.
Artist in residence at Masa Rasa Studios