Monday, November 30, 2009

Bodhisattvas, Buddhist gods and saints

Buddhism originally started out as a philosophy, a reaction to the Hindu caste system where you were born into your station in life and there was no way out except by being reincarnated. Buddha found a way out, by helping people achieve Nirvana and avoid the endless cycle of reincarnation. He offered people a way out, a way past suffering, a way to peace. He was a man, that the people made into a god, and his virtues became gods themselves, embodied in the Bodhisattvas (they are also just called Buddhas). Not all buddhists worship the Buddha, some see him as a teacher. Not all buddhists worship the bodhisattvas, some see them as teachers, some see them as ideals to meditate upon or emulate, and the others see them as like unto gods. All bodhisattvas are good and helpful towards mankind. Some look like demons, and they are called wrathful, but they are still there to help.


As Buddhism spread throughout Asia, it merged with the local religions and old gods became new bodhisattvas, while some bodhisattvas changed and become other kinds of gods and goddesses. This sounds a bit like what happened with Christianity, and indeed some buddhists of the past were very agressive and destructive in their conversions, but this is where the spread of Buddhism and the spread of Christanity differ, you can be a buddhist and still be part of another religion. This is why many Asians are buddhist and follow the Chinese folk religion, or Shinto or whatever their local religions are. Buddhism calmed down and merged with the people, it didn't try to dominate and control, like Christianity did and still does.


Western Pagans believe in reincarnation. Some believe that we reincarnate into any living thing, other that we only reincarnate as humans. It's up to you what you believe, but I like the idea of Nirvana, as a final way out of endless incarnations. Some people just grow tired of life, as if all the eons are weighing them down. Many of the historical pagans of Europe did not believe in reincarnation. The Egyptians were judged by Osiris and if they passed, they went to paradise (which looked like a nicer version of their life on Earth, they loved life so much they made it their afterlife) the Greeks and Romans went to Hades, the Norse went to Valhalla or Hel, etc... So this idea of reincarnation was brought over from Asia and merged with modern western pagan ideals, this is already a form of Oriental Wicca then.

Here are some of the Bodhisatvas.

Vajrapani: some call him the embodiment of power or might, he is righteous wrath and the guarian of the dharma. He carries a vajra/dorje, a thunderbolt and his skin is dark blue. When he is calm, he appears as a human buddha, but when he is wrathful, he appears as an angry bull headed, blue skinned man, wearing a tigerskin, with a corona of flames surrounding him. He is thought to have originally been the Hindu god of storms, Indra.


Manjushri: the embodiment of wisdom and knowledge, especially spiritual and divine knowledge. He appears as a yellow skinned man, usually holding a flaming sword, which he uses to cut ignorance away with, and either a lotus blossom or a vase.


Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezi): the embodiment of compassion. He emanated from the Buddhas tears, as he cried for the plight of all sentient beings. When Buddhism came to China, he was merged with a goddes to form Kuan Yin, the goddess of compassion, she who hears the cries of the world. He appears as a white skinned man(the color white, not the race of people) sometimes with multiple arms and/or multiple heads.



Medicine Buddha (Bhaisajyaguru): his job is to protect sentient beings from sicknesses, mental, physical and spiritual. He also actively attempts to eradicate what he calls the "three poisons", the three things that make us most ill, which are attachment, hatred and ignorance. To overcome sickness, people would recite his mantra. He appears as a dark blue man, often wearing red or orange robes. He is often attended by two other bodhisattvas, Suryaprabha, the bodhisattva of the sun, and Candraprabha, the bodhisattva of the moon.


Budai (Hotei): this is the well known Bodhisattva in the West and is often confused for Buddha, he is commonly called the "Fat Buddha," or the "Laughing Buddha." He is the embodiment of contentment, as he is a poor monk, but is always happy and laughing and content with what he has in his life. He was a Chinese monk and was brought into the buddhist pantheon later. He is often merged with the Maitrya (future buddha to come.) Rub his belly for luck when you see a statue of him. He is also a Taoist god, and appears in China and Japan as one of the 7 gods of luck.


Mahakala: the king of wrathful Bodhisattvas, he is like Ganesha, in that he removes all obstacles in your life, but he especially removes obstacles to your spiritual life. He runs the universe and controls time, at the end of time he will swallow up the universe and then will himself be devoured by his consort, the goddess Kali. He appears as a black skinned man (the color, not the race of people,) with a boars face and tusks (or a bulls face, with tusks,) wearing a crown of 5 skulls, and has anywhere from 2 t0 6 arms.

Yama: the Hindu god of death, is also part of the Buddhist pantheon. He judges where the dead will go, Nirvana, rebirth or to hell. He supervises the hells, places where people who defy karma go when they die, to be punished before their next incarnations. He is a wrathful deity and is the guardian of spiritual practice. He sends old age, disease, calamities and other punishments out into the world as a warning to behave. He appears as a man, sometimes dark blue in color, with either a wrathful ogre-like face or a bulls head, wearing a crown of skulls or a Chinese crown with the hanji for "king" on it. He has two servants, called "Horse-face" and "Ox-head," whom are the guardians of hell.



Tara: is a female bodhisattva, and a goddess. She appears in 21 different forms with different colors, powers and attributes. As Tara, she is the embodiment of achievement and success. She is called the "mother of liberation" and also the "mother of the buddhas." She is the yogic partner of the Bodhisattvas, calming the wrathful bodhisattvas and doing the dance of live and death. She was originally a Hindu mother goddess, maybe a form of Parvati or Uma, but is now the goddess of Tibet.

Her are a few of her forms:
  • Green Tara: enlightened activity



  • White Tara: compassion, long life, healing serenity (I have also seen her as death)


  • Red Tara: wrathful, helps bring good things


  • Black Tara: power, might


  • Yellow Tara: wealth, properity


  • Blue Tara: transmutes anger

It would be quite easy to bring the Bodhisattvas into your life. You don't need to be Buddhist to use them, or even use their rituals. If you want more wisdom in your life or more spiritual knowledge, then get and image of Manjushri and focus on him. If you need help controling that anger and righteous wrath of yours, get Vajrapani. Ask them to help you and that is all you need to do. You can meditate and recite their mantras, but those are just tools of focus, do what you normally do to focus and they will hear you. Their job is to help people and so they will, whether you are buddhist or not. Most of the Buddhists I met overseas, would keep an image of the Buddha or bodhisattva they felt the closest too and meditate in front of it, burn incense too it and at times leave and offering, maybe of fruit. flowers or rice.


As I stated in an earlier entry, I have already added the Medicine Buddha to my eclectic pantheon. I also like the wrathful buddha Mahakala, after my sojourn in Mongolia. I guess as a guy I am attracted to the idea of using wrath to make peace, similar to the King Arthur idea of using might to make right. As always, it is up to you what you decide to use for your personal spiritual life, but since pagans are still under attack by the Christians, I feel that having divine guardians of spirituality by my side really help.

1 comment:

Lesha said...

Thanks so much for this insight - as a returning practitioner who digressed into eastern religions, I feel drawn towards bringing the Asian once into my practice.