The Miracle of the Masks

DSCN5872A Letter from Mekare about the Tara Mask Project

How can words explain the mystery? That is always the question when attempting such a thing. And that is certainly true in the story of the making of a set of masks for the 21 Praises of Tara. What an incredible journey it has been. And it continues.

All over the world mask dance rituals have been conduits power and blessing. Magical and mystical, the roots of mask dancing are

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Oka’s brother demonstrates the power and presence of the mask.

ancient.  The mask is a tool of shape shifting, power, and a portal into another world. A mask powerfully enables a dancer to embody the energy of another being. Most people first think of a mask as a way to conceal, but in actuality masks are tools of deep transformation, offering the dancer a unique way of transcending usual states of consciousness and entering a profound spiritual state.

I began my life’s journey with masks in 1996 in Bali, in the studio of Ida Bagus Anom.  A direct transmission from a mask flooded through my being and I have never been the same since. As Anom says, “The relationship between a dancer and the mask is infinite”.

I am on the path of the infinite, in relationship with the magic of the mask. By 2002 I was performing solo masked dance ritual pieces and exploring the myriad of ways in which healing, awareness, and empowerment can happen through mask dancing.

When Prema asked me to go to Bali to find and work with a mask maker to create masks for Tara to be danced at the Tara Dance Monlam, I was immediately excited. This project combined three of my great loves ~ masks, Bali and Tara. Tara Dhatu sponsored, I returned to beloved Bali in March 2015.

Less than 48 hours after arriving I ventured to Mas, the village of the woodcarvers. I had decided not to contact any of the mask makers to make appointments quite yet for I knew that I was just meant to wander that day, get reacquainted with Bali, and remember the magic that happened for me there many years ago. I was to open to experience, not plan anything. As I wandered through the village, reveling in just being back in Bali, breathing deeply, I said prayers to Tara to guide me to exactly where I needed to be, to meet exactly who I needed to meet.

Suddenly, I felt called to turn around and walk back the way I came.  This seemed a bit unusual, but I followed that feeling. I crossed the street, wandered in and out of a few shops. I was walking past a man standing on a terrace in front of a shop of wooden sculptures. I could see no masks inside the shop.  But the man…. I felt I knew him…. he was so compelling to me….. he looked image2familiar…. soul familiar…. so very beautiful. I turned to look at him and we smiled. He gestured for me to enter. And I did.

It was an open airy room with carved sculptures, no masks.  But I did not want to leave. We kept smiling at each other. There was a feeling in the air I will never be able to put into words. I suddenly turned to him and said “I feel like I know you” And he said he felt the same way about me. We began to speak of life and death, art and magic. Suddenly, I asked his name. He replied, “Oka”.

“Oka, the mask maker?” I replied, totally surprised in delight. “Yes” and he smiled into my eyes.  “Oka!! I am Mekare, the woman who contacted you about the masks for Tara!” Months ago Prema had connected with an American woman who lived in Bali and worked with some mask makers. She had introduced Prema to Oka. Prema had him make a mask as a sample and mail it to me. I knew immediately, when I saw that mask, that I could work with him.

He stared and grinned. I stared and grinned. And then we hugged a big hug and burst into joyous laughter. It was a most magical moment. We know each other. Somehow. From somewhere. From sometime. And we were meant to meet again now. As one of my bee sisters would say, “we had an appointment with destiny.”

Oka told me that he had been carving and suddenly felt compelled to walk outside for a break. I told him I had suddenly felt compelled to turn around and cross the street.  We burst into DSCN4189laughter and hugged again.  And then he invited me to come into the inner courtyard and sit with him on his carving mat. That spot quickly became my favorite place in Bali.

We spoke of our personal journeys with the mask.  We spoke of our relationship with Tara.  He had carved a beautiful sculpture of Tara many years ago and she had touched him. He said it was when he was “oh so very young.” And then he told me about the wood that had just “come”.

Sacred masks in Bali are made with the wood of the Pule tree.  Many of the sacred aspects of the mask are breathed into the mask by the spirit of Pule.  A few days prior to my arrival in Bali, in a huge wind, a large Pule tree fell and the master mask makers of Mas received its holy wood. Oka now had the wood he needed to carve many masks. Before that tree fell, he did not have enough to make the masks of Tara.

It is considered very auspicious when a tree falls without the hand of man, offering itself. The image1wind had blessed us all.  I smiled at him. “It is said that Tara rides the wind, Oka. The wind is her element!”  He took my hands and said…. “Together we will make these masks, you and I and Tara and the spirit of the wood!”

I returned often to Oka’s carving mat giving him the teachings of each Tara. Oka had asked if I had pictures of each of the Taras. I explained that most of the thangkas and paintings of the Taras all had the same Buddha face, but that in our dance we embodied the expressions of the qualities and we wanted these expressions on the masks.

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He asked how he would know these expressions. I replied, “With this!” and gestured to my face and my body. “I will transmit them to you!”  We both grinned.  Those days were truly some of the happiest of my life. I would give the teaching of a specific Tara and dance her energy and expression, then we would talk about the essence of that quality.  Our lively discussions explored elements of Tibetan Buddhism and elements of Balinese Hindu/Animism and the journey of the human soul. It was a remarkable time. We then made simple rustic sketches of expressions with notations and the mantra.

It was a week before Balinese New Year, Nyepi. Oka said he would begin carving after the New Year. The excitement was palpable!

Sacred masks in Bali are created with extreme care and awareness. From a block of holy wood emerges the face of the deity. Masks go through many stages of carving and sanding, and then many layers of paint are applied. For high holy masks such as the Barong, the process takes several months of carving and painting and the mask is painted with over 40 layers of paint. When the masks are complete, a beautiful and powerful ritual of cleansing and blessing is performed. In this ceremony the deity is invited to fully enter the mask. The mask becomes the “mouthpiece of the deity in the world”. It is extraordinary.

Eight of the masks of Tara have now been completed and others are in different stages of carving. DSCF4961Because of Oka’s mission of goodwill to Australia, we were not able to continue our work during the time the Tara Dhatu pilgrims were in Bali.

Oka and I are committed to completing this project. The energy of Tara is still vibrating in the creative process.  I asked Oka what he needed from me the most and he told me to continue sending him energy from my daily Tara practice to empower and bless our creation. And to return soon to Bali to work with him to fine-tune the expressions during the final carving stage and assist in selecting the nuanced colors to paint each of the masks.

There have been so many people involved in the creation of these masks, from Buddhist practitioners with many years experience to those who had never heard of Tara before. There have been many changes over the years, many delays, many interesting tales, twists, and turns. And most of all much much magic.  In the words of dear Budi, a wonderful young Balinese man who was my driver, translator, protector and friend, who quickly became what I call my “international executive assistant”, a young man who learned more about Tara than most ever will by being by mask2my side through one adventure after another… whenever a major delay happened… He would smile at me and say “Do not worry. It is all in Tara’s time.”

In this world in which we live, during these most challenging and profound times of change and evolution, it is more important than ever to support each other, to support the wisdom teachings, the creative arts, and the evolution and enlightenment of all beings. To acknowledge each and every being with love and tenderness, to offer refuge and inspiration, to bless and empower all.

From my heart I send you a sip of magic from this most amazing Tara cup, for her magicDSCF4963 and her light are flowing with great strength into these masks and into all who are involved in their creation in any way.  Fourteen more masks are to be completed, making a full set of twenty-two (Central Tara and Her 21 Emanations), twenty-two faces of the Buddha Tara.

We need to raise $7000 in order to complete this project. To Contribute to supporting the Tara Dhatu Tara Mask Project

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Send an email to   info@taradhato.org   informing us that your donation is for the Masks of Tara.

With love and a litany of gratitude

Mekare

 

I would like to thank, first and foremost, the Buddha Tara, for her immense wisdom, compassion, and power. It is for Her that these masks are made.

Gratitude to Prema Dasara for her very being, her wisdom, her dance, and for her commitment to bringing the teachings of Tara ever more into this world in profoundly beautiful and creative ways.

Many thanks to Tara dancer Lena Grace and the amazing mask maker Lauren Raine who contributed so much energy, expertise, and love to the evolving vision of the masks of Tara.

Thank you – Suksma – Terima Kasih – to the extraordinary and precious Balinese mask makers Ida Bagus Oka and Ida Bagus Anom. I bow to your hearts and the skill of your art. You inspire me with every breath you take.

Gratitude to my personal deity yoga dance teachers on the inner plane… His Holiness the Karmapa, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, Yeshe Tsogyal, the Bee Mistress, and the Dakini.

And to Dayu, Budi, Made, SuSanti, Komang, Ricka, Putra, Choc-in, Sally, Linda, and Sika  ~ my Balinese family, who throughout this work have been protectors, creative assistants, mentors, and most of all beloved friends.

And gratitude for YOU… all of you, each and every one.  You know who you are.

Om Tare Tutare Ture Soha