Glenn H. Mullin is curator of “Flying Mystics of Tibetan Buddhism,” an exhibit at the Oglethorpe University Museum, in Atlanta, Georgia, through August 8, 2004. He recently spoke to Tricycle about the curious phenomenon of airborne monks.
“I wanted to do an exhibit about the flying mystics who are celebrated in Indo-Tibetan art and literature, because I wanted to honor the West’s early and more magical encounters with Tibet. Most of my own dharma teachers were born and trained in Tibet, and were utterly convinced that accomplished humans can fly.
However, it seems to me that over the past decade, a contemporary conservative fad has claimed that the idea of Indo-Tibetan flying mystics is just a Western fantasy. Quite to the contrary. We have 2,500 years of Asian historical literature testifying to the reality of human flight. People didn’t have cameras to record these events, but they could paint and they could write. Tantric Buddhism has most to offer in the realm of the body-mind relationship. This is its great secret, and one that offers amazing possibilities for benefiting the world. It is the understanding of this relationship that makes possible, amongst many other things, the ability of physical flight through mystical power.”
Image: Detail from nineteenth-century Tibetan thangka depicting Maitreya, the future Buddha, and Asanga, the fourth-century founder of the Mind Only School of Buddhist philosophy, flying to the Tushita Heaven. Courtesy of the Collection of Shelley and Donald Rubin