Vale Miss Kitt

The gay blogosphere has gone into a meltdown over the death of Eartha Kitt today.
Not since the passing of Judy Garland have we witnessed the death of such a monumental gay icon - a woman whose personal style and personal courage made her a shining example to all.
Miss Kitt's voice and presence were utterly unique, but there has been abundant press coverage about her amazing life and career. She was the original sex-kitten, and her unique looks made her stand out from the crowd, proving once and for all that you don't have to be conventionally beautiful to be sexy.
I was introduced to Eartha as a young man at college by a dear friend who had lifted one of her early LPs from her father's record collection. We would stay up all night thrilled at Eartha singing some of her signature tunes, and purring and ululating her way through standards such as My Heart Belongs to Daddy. Naturally, the standout favourite was always I Wanna Be Evil, and many a spontaneous drunken drag show was launched by the introduction of this torchsong onto the party playlist.
She was unique, she was out there, and she was utterly convinced of her own beauty.
You had style, Miss Kitt, and the angels in heaven are celebrating your arrival this evening.
They play the harps, and you purr.


Amitabha Buddha (the central figure) flanked by Kuan Yin and Mahasthamaprapta in a typical Pure land Buddhist configuration (I call it the "Buddhist Trinity). A small shrine inside Dai Giac temple in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Around 80% of the Buddhist temples in Vietnam claim to be Pure Land, which means they advocate the worship of Amitabha Buddha and the recitation of his name.

This school of Buddhism is perhaps the most prevalent throughout East Asia. In Japan, for example, this is the most common form of Buddhism, having been popularised in that country by a figure called Shonin Shinran, who, during a period of religious and social turmoil, taught that faith in Amitabha and the recitation of his name were all that was necessary to gain a fortunate rebirth.*  

Through reciting the Buddha's name and keeping his image and qualities constantly in mind we can hope to be re-born in Amitabha's Western Pure Land, where conditions are perfect for the practise of a proper life, and eventual reincarnation as a Buddha.

Buddha Recitation is certainly one of the most common forms of religious practise in Vietnam, and it is what all those beautiful prayer beads and bracelets are for. People also commonly recite the name of Kwan Yin as a form of prayer and meditation.

Statues of Amitabha are less common. Most prayer halls feature a large statue of Sakyamuni Buddha, and smaller statues to Kwan Yin and Ksitigarbha, the protector of the dead. And while they advocate Buddha recitation as an efficacious form of devotion for the laity, most temples recite and study the Lotus Sutra, as this is viewed as the pinnacle of Mahayana Buddhist wisdom, and as the one sutra that transcends all sectarian divides.

The Pure Land School has its own core texts, but few temples in Ho Chi Minh City recite them.

Amitabha is frequently depicted standing, with a hand stretched out in a gesture of welcome and blessing. And while he is rarely seen in prayer halls, you can see from these pics that he sometimes inspires the construction of mega-statues.

The idea of Pure Land is that the image of Amitabha is itself an aid to prayer - his name, his image and the visualisation of the perfect paradise in which he lives can all contribute to the eventual enlightenment of the serious devotee.

* Bays, Jan Chozen (2002) Jizo Bodhisattva, Tuttle

Walter Mason is leading a writing tour of Vietnam in April 2019 with Better Read Tours


I have written about monks before, I'm certain.
Monks have always held a fascination for me, owing perhaps to my early exposure to Hindu yogis.
I have spent much of my adult life in the company of Buddhist monastics, and in recent years have come to know both Catholic and Hindu monks well.
I am certain that there is a karmic link there somewhere, as my compulsion to be in a monastic setting is always so strong.
Being in Vietnam I spend most of my days in temple porches drinking tea with monks, admiring their orchids and bonsais and discussing, as best I can, some of the finer points of religious philosophy.
Once upon a time I wanted to be a monk, desperately. But with age that compulsion has faded somewhat, just as everyone said it would.
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