Deliberately burning anything as a ritual act is a beautiful and powerful experience. The power comes from the realisation of impermanence, the allure of the event and the literal transformation that takes place. When the ritual is further overlaid with the desire for release from the past, from pain or from the wretched, it takes on a more spiritual meaning. To think of this as an endpoint for whatever was burnt, is to underestimate its power.
Recently I had the privilege of helping to build the Galaxia Temple at the Burning Man Festival. It took us almost three weeks on site to build it, and many of the crew dedicated weekends and spare time to fabricate many of the parts in the months prior. Less than 5 days after the construction was completed the temple was burnt down. It was a moving, beautiful and remarkable event. The feeling of this extended moment is still strong within me.
I’ll not describe the meaning or significance of the temple in detail. This poem says it well:
Out of the desert grew a ritual,
a participatory moment
Out of the moment grew a need
A need fulfilled by a temple
A place to let go,
The temple became a tradition
It grew from the playa,
from the temporary city,
from the culture
Its methods were ours,
its tradition was ours
It became a part of our city
And a part of us.
You can dig into more detail of the Burning Man temple [here]
One of the interesting aspects of this experience, was the reaction that some people had to the burning of an astonishing beautiful temple only days after completion. A reaction suggesting that the burning was the end for the temple. Instead, I envisage this as merely the beginning of the life of the temple. A temple that would live on in people’s photographs, but more importantly a temple that would live on in people’s memories and hearts. The gravity of this building, and the meaning of it to many people, cannot be overstated. The temple, in people’s recollection, becomes more significant, more beautiful and more powerful. It takes on a new form, new meanings and most significantly is built anew.
I’d go so far to suggest that the very act of burning of the temple bestows it with a greater beauty and power than it would have ever had if it had remained standing. We often take for granted those things that are present. A view, a building, a person, an opportunity. Sometimes it is that that is withheld that has greater power than that which is present. There can be greater meaning in the ephemeral, and longer life.