Over the millennia humans have been looking at the starry vault of heaven with a sense of wonder and awe. Standing under this starry vault of heaven conjures up in the mind the magnificence and mystery of the universe which we live in. With new images being captured by the many orbiting telescopes around the earth and other bodies in the solar system the wonders from outer space captivate our attention revealing the most unbelievable cosmic events.
The sun is the most predominate object in the heavens and is witnessed everyday seemingly rising in the east and setting in the west. This solar cycle has been repeating itself long before humans could look to the heavens. Today it's common knowledge that the earth travels in an elliptical orbit around the sun while the sunrise and sunset provide a constant source of inspiration and renewal.
But it's in the evening when the sun disappears over the horizon that billions of lights appear in the night sky and this is truly a wondrous sight to behold. If you look very closely at these tiny shimmering lights you will notice that some of them change their position over very short and long periods of time, as well as their color, creating a dynamic symphony of dancing heavenly lights which has been going on since the birth of the universe. With the dawning of humankind names and myths began to be associated with the movements of the starry heaven eventually becoming the shared folklore of indigenous people the world over.
My own relationship to the stars came from my childhood living on the rocky coast of Bass Point in Nahant, Massachusetts while watching the night sky stretch over the Atlantic Ocean. In my undergraduate years I studied astronomy at Ohio University with Dr.Victor Goedicke who was also associated with the Yale University Observatory. It was that initial astronomy course where I learned the names of stars and constellations. In my early school years I was never taught anything about the spiritual significance attributed to stars or the cycles of heavenly bodies. When I was about seventeen years old I happened to read a book by F.S.C. Northrope titled, "The Meeting of East and West". At that time in my life I had no understanding of all those things mentioned existing in the East. Hinduism and Buddhism were not taught to me in secondary school, but after reading Northrope's book the seeds were planted about a world filled with different gods than the one I learned about from my Christian upbringing with Rev. Rosmond MacDonald in a small congregational church in Nahant, Massachusetts. I eventually studied comparative religions with Dr. Robert Wieman also at Ohio University.
The fascination with far away places stayed with me until I came to learn of an exotic culture deep within the jungles of Central America known as the Mayans. I learned that the Mayans had built pyramids and astronomical observatories and developed a sophisticated calendar system to decipher the movement of the stars. My initial introduction to the Mayans came from two books. One was written in 1984 by Dr. Jose Arguelles titled, "The Mayan Factor", and the other was "Tzolkin" by John Major Jenkins written in 1992. Then in 1998 Jenkins released his ground breaking work titled, "MayaCosmogenesis2012.
Jenkins demonstrated, without any doubt in my mind, how the Mayans were attracted to the center of our local Milky Way Galaxy and from this they devised their whole calendric system around the center of the galaxy with an end date of 2012. The Mayans even built their temples, according to Jenkins, in alignment with this galactic center.
For the first time I learned how a whole culture revolved around the stars, which was for me a very enlightening experience. The knowledge I gained from learning how the Mayan culture developed around the galactic center led me to learning how other cultures had also used star references in the development of their temples notably the Egyptians. It was from the British researcher Graham Hancock with his monumental book "Heavens Mirror" that I finally saw how ancient cultures the world over were aware of a deeper meaning of the way our universe works than historians had ever credited these ancient cultures in pre-history.
One discovery about ancient cultures led to another and near the end of the 20th century a follow up book was written by Jenkins titled. "Galactic Alignment". This new awareness of how cultures around the world based their belief systems on star systems and the galactic center started me thinking about why cultures of today entertain absolutely no reference to star systems for the development of a cosmology related to celestial cycles.
When I moved to Southeast Asia in the year 2000 these thoughts of heavenly cycles were still very much on my mind so much so that I even brought many of my books that made mention of how ancient cultures incorporated astronomy into their religious beliefs and temple construction. Becoming emersed in a Buddhist part of the world in Thailand was dramatically different from suburban America. Every where I looked in Thailand a golden temple would be rising above the tree line or set on a hilltop. Thailand was initially for me a very colorful and enriching experience coming directly out of a California lifestyle in the San Francisco Bay area. But then, a very pivotal event occurred for me in 2002 while on a flight between San Francisco and Bangkok, Thailand. Flipping through the in-flight movie channel provided by Japan Air Line I happen to come across a movie produced by Graham Hancock, the same British researcher whose work I had read earlier. In the movie Hancock was demonstrating how a temple in Cambodia was aligned to the constellation Draco. Call it coincidence or fate, but when I saw this film segment on the temple called Angkor Wat I knew then that I was going to make my first pilgrimage to see one of these temples oriented to the stars. At 35,000 feet above sea level I became aware of a stone monument in Southeast Asia built to mirror the heavens just as the great pyramids were built aligned to the star Sirius, and the Mayan pyramids were built to align with the center of the Milky Way galaxy.
Now, after six years of visiting ancient temples in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and India I have come to the understanding that it was indeed India which had influenced all of Southeast Asia's ancient monuments. From those seeds planted so long ago when I was in my late teens reading F.S.C. Northrope to now fifty years later I finally discovered India as the birthplace for the oldest stories for the origins of the universe. It was after realizing this fact that the opening into the Vedic scriptures became a serious avenue of research. It was from reading the translations of the ancient scriptures that I also came to realize that in India, as with the Mayans in Central America, there was a fascination and devotion to the center of the galaxy. For ancient India the center of the galaxy was considered the eye of Brahma and called "Vishnunabhi". For the Mayans the center of the galaxy was the origin of the First Father or "Hu HunabKu". Something was being born out of the center of the galaxy and was incorporated into ritual and temple construction for many civilizations in antiquity. What was it that fascinated these ancient cultures so much about the center of the galaxy?
By doing pilgrimages to various Khmer temples in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand I was able to slowly unlock the secrets used in building these ancient temples. I learned that the quest for immortality was the ultimate goal of the ancients accompanied by rituals and ceremonies that was so necessary to reach the abode of the gods. Insights from many authors contributed to my understanding this quest to journey out among the stars during the time when the rising sun would align itself with the center of the galaxy. What is more amazing is that this solar galactic alignment during the winter solstice occurs once every 26,000 years and we are living in the time of this sacred passage..
This is a time in which we can prepare our souls in much the same way the ancients did to journey to the heavenly abode of the gods. In today's secular world with religious fundamentalism disrupting global social structures preparing ones soul to reach the abode of the gods probably sounds preposterous. However, there are ancient monuments scattered all over this planet which indicate that just a few millennia ago people thought otherwise about their relationship to the starry heavens.
Considering the age of the planet, man's time here is relatively very short. Our current recorded history is a little over 7,000 years, but there are those who believe a very ancient civilization existed on earth well over 12,000 years ago, and the myths that have survived down though the ages was the wisdom that those ancient civilization passed on to us of today. With the discovery of these ancient cultures what is being provided is a deeper understanding of the relationship which existed with the firmament around us and how it influences us.
By making pilgrimages to these ancient temples was a way for me to see and discover the physical dimensions of the temples placed on the earth to mirror the heavens. It was also a way for me to participate in the ancient belief systems by experiencing the movement that is necessary to reach these temples. Many of the temples are in remote places on earth or hard to reach mountaintops. The ancient Khmer temple Vat Phu has a definite relationship with nature providing a clue as to how heaven and earth were united providing a meaningful relationship for the development of the social structures which formed around the mountain named Lingaparvata in the ancient city of New Kuruksetra.
Interestingly enough most of these ancient temples are oriented to the stars and referred to throughout the world as sacred sites. Temples totally in ruin or just a rubble of stone are still referred to as sacred sites. In some way we of the 21st century recognize that the cultures that revolved around these temples had a direct connection to something otherworldly. Perhaps it is felt that the ancients were in touch with the gods.
The gods associated with the Khmer temples were Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. From Mt. Kailasa in the Himalayas Shiva was able to find a home among the jungles and mountaintop of Southeast Asia. My pilgrimages to these temples have brought me closer to the gods of India as well as giving me a deeper understanding of how the Khmer Kings honored the Hindu gods along with with their ancestor spirits at these temples. This book is therefore a compilation of impressions gained from going on pilgrimages in India and Southeast Asia which has brought me closer to understanding the heavens through the magnificent portrayal of the universe in the construction of the temples, and the sacred statuary which is based on the Vedic scriptures. Each temple and sacred site provided a different set of experiences. Some of those experiences were gained from dreams, some from flights of fancy and imagination, but most were gained from direct personal experience.
2012 Sacred Time is about passing through the sacred portal identified as the center of our local Milky Way galaxy and a way to understand how one can go out into the world and experience these sacred sites with their stones pointing to the sky.
Willard Van De Bogart
Banphot Phisai, Thailand
July 27, 2008
2012 Sacred Time: Stones in the sky - cosmologies of Indian temples
Apsaras and Devatas - Photo documentation of female divinities at Angkor Wat.