Sunday, July 27, 2008

Buddhism in New Orleans

Po boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Altered States
Saint Expedite Where Are You?
Kumi Maitreya was an avatar and the last incarnation of the Buddha. If you believe it, it is so.
If you are not aware of whom Kumi was, you are not aware of a slice of New Orleans history that most grownups wish you to ignore. I say that because it was the grownups that had the most trouble with the Maitreyans. Then as now, grownups rule the world.
Incidentally, my spell check just wanted me to change Maitreyans to Martians, truly I have a grown up spell check.
Anyway, Kumi Maitreya was an ordinary Moss St. housewife here, named Geraldine Hooper, when somehow she achieved a state of spiritual enlightenment. Believe what you will; but, she formed a tribe of young followers from the fringes of society that for a time was in charge of the French Quarter. She could, and did, look within people’s souls and tell them the sound of their vibration and give it back to them as their one true name. Names like Ravi, Eldra, Elfren, Amzie, Angelica, Kutami, Dorje (yours truly), and Abraxsas.
She taught that since the Universe was infinite, everywhere (including ourselves) was, in fact, The Center of the Universe. And where exactly would God live? Exactly, in The Center of the Universe, which meant that God lived inside of all of us. Taking that thought a little further, we come to the conclusion that our bodies are temples, we are all ministers and our homes are churches. This latter conclusion had something to do with the law not being able to bust churches just because our ‘sacrament’ was a substance that was illegal in the grownup world (namely, LSD). It all made sense to me.
And so for a time, The French Quarter streets rang with the sounds of “OIA!” (pronounced OH EE AH!!) which is the sound of a positive vibration; and, the symbol of the Cardinal Cross was seen everywhere.
Kumi also taught us that war was wrong, that the Government was in fact our servants and that each of us should have an altar in our living spaces. That still makes sense to me. There was also a lot of drumming and dancing, if I recall correctly.
I have, and have had, altars at the many places that I have called home, call it a hangover from the old days. My altar is the last thing I look at before entering the asylum (the outside world) and my altar greets me when I am successfully able to make it back home from the outside world (where the crazy people live).
My altar is two and a half feet wide and goes up to a nine foot ceiling, it consists of seven levels, each level full is of holy (as I see them) articles.
On the top level is a portrait of Saint Expedite by local artist Shmeula that I bought at Grace Note, a small but perfect shop at nine hundred Royal St. The portrait depicts an aura-ed African American male with the caption “Please Help Us Immediately!”
According to legend (which as we know is not fact) St. Expedite is a New Orleans saint. It seems that we were having trouble, in the early days, getting statuary in from Europe to our fast growing number of churches being built here. Someone over there stamped one of the crates EXPEDITE, and when it was opened here, they naturally thought that it was the name of the saint. The statue is in the Our Lady Of Guadalupe Church on Rampart and Conti Street, which also houses the Shrine Of St. Jude (patron saint of lost causes).
Also on my altar are many pictures of various saints, the fender of a bike once stolen from me, three Mexican kewpie dolls named Lupe, Rosa and Pilar, silver quarters, a figurine of Batman that I found face down on Bourbon Street, dollar bills that I have made wishes on and a book titled ‘The Making Of Black Revolutionaries’ by James Forman.
There’s also a rubber snake, a sheet of stamps with the face of Audrey Hepburn on them, a photo of my dog Trudy who died, a box of marionette clown heads and a full nativity scene using everything but holy statuettes. A bottle with holy water in it (plucked from the trash), a ceramic Mayan god, tarot cards, The Book of Runes and a video made by the Dali Lama.
A Zippo lighter, a pocketknife, candles, incense, joss paper, alcohol, hot pepper sauce, photos of friends and the obituary of a close working companion. A SouthEast Asian broom, a bingo card, a head of garlic, rosaries and crucifixes. I’ve got a bottle of Holt’s Chill Tonic, the eyes of Buddha, playing cards, alligators, elephants, sea shells, safety pins, a Pabst Blue Ribbon bottle opener and a PBR tap pull. There’s also a hula dancer, some ververte weed, an empty bottle of cologne that my daughter gave me at fourteen that I saved the last of it until she married this year at twenty seven and a bear shaped container with about an inch of golden syrup that I greet each day upon reentering (“hi honey, I’m home!”). Am I superstitious? I don’t think so, a little excessive maybe, but not superstitious (did I mention the voodoo doll?).
Maitreyans believe that freedom and joy are essential components of daily life and that it is important to live a perfect life right now, not some time in the future. So what became of the Maitreyans? Well, you may call it the struggle of good against evil and you might say that, as Maitreyans, we got our asses kicked.
What remains of the Maitreyans, I don’t know. I’ve only connected with a handful in the last five or six years. I guess they’re out there somewhere. Kumi has gone on to whatever she was meant to do in her next life (if she didn’t make it to nirvana). And I sit at a keyboard wondering how I spent that many years high on life and why we couldn’t make more of a go of it. I guess once you’ve created that many centers of the Universe; it would be hard to get them to stick together. OIA!

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