(second photo: Tom Merton)
Okay, regarding my most recent previous post, “Robin Hood of Peace & Writing”, here are the first of some follow-up notes:
Writing shrine, domestic altars:
Yes, I tend to have “little altars everywhere”—various votive shrines or puja-stans—here & there in my house-&-studio/office. How about you? Do you keep a domestic altar, or possibly more than one? One of my household mini-shrines adjoins the desk where I do some of my writing—my writing desk-&-shrine, if you will. Dedicated to the impulses of creative intelligence (spiritual energies and presences) associated with writing, it ensconces a number of images of various human &/or celestial “wisdom beings.” And yes, I have an image of General Guan Yu who sometimes is ensconced there as a patron saint (or guiding spirit immortal, or god if you will), of writing and writers.
Yes, I acknowledge the weird irony and potentially somewhat uncomfortable contradiction of being a life-long peacenik, war-resister, conscientious objector, student of non-violence (and Vietnam-era underground railroad [peace train] conductor) who also honours the spirit of an historic warrior general as one of his patron saints/guardian angels. According to legend, after death Guan Yu’s spirit paid a visit to a noted Buddhist master and asked to be instructed in the Dharma. After receiving and duly practicing the instructions of the master, the spirit of the erstwhile Daoist general eventually attained liberation.
Of course, I don’t feel that anyone’s violent and deadly acts of war are absolved simply because they were undertaken, as in the case of figures like Guan Yu and the legendary Robin Hood, in the cause of justice and peace and carried out with selfless compassion, noble courage, and also a merry sense of humor.
However, I do believe that any and all not-yet sprouted seeds of karmic compensatory suffering can be roasted in the fire of spiritual practice (Daoist, Buddhist, or otherwise), provided such practice is effective and extensive enough, whether completed in this life or in the postmortem purgatorial or paradisiacal realms. So, weird as it may be, I find in the legend and patronage of General Guan Yu a certain amount of inspiration toward my own continued dedication to writing and other practices undertaken — at least in part, in my own case — for the sake of cultivating inner peace and world peace.
General Guan Yu painted by Gao Qipei
Guan Yu is just one of many “guardian angel” protector spirits I honour as “patrons saints” of writing and literature. And there are also many others, traditional and non-traditional, in my personal pantheon who are patron “gods” or “saints” — of art and artists, or of teachers and education, of nature and eco-activists, of pilgrims and sacred wanderers, of married householder yogis, etc. Even with various tables and shelves in my home dedicated to altar space, there is not room to enshrine images of all these protective beings all at once. So I periodically rotate their various images, while generally striving to be always receptive and appreciative toward the presence and guidance of all of such beings.
Of course I have no certain knowledge if General Guan Yu was a genuinely decent and heroic person during his Earthly life (he is said to have died circa 220 AD/CE). Indeed, it seems unlikely that there is any reliable contemporaneous extant record of his historical existence outside of folkloric legend; he may be purely a fictional character. And, even assuming he is historical, I would certainly have no idea if, as the legends have it, following his death as a Daoist outlaw general he took up intensive Buddhist meditative practice as a disembodied spirit and attained liberation, thus becoming an enlightened angel, Daoist immortal, Buddhist bodhisattva, or whatever other status his postmortem karmic/dharmic condition might entail.
Do I believe such possibilities and categories of being are real? Oh, naturally. Of course. But it’s also important to keep in mind that as the Vedas (and several other traditional spiritual teachings) declare,
“All the devas (gods, goddesses, angels, ascended saints, etc) are within you.”
According to the ancient Vedic teachings, the entirety of the objective macrocosm (all the heavenly spirit realms together with the gross physical universe) is not only parallel and co-extensive with the microcosm (the subjective reality of human consciousness and physical individual bodily existence), but each is contained in the other as the other. Not only are all the gods within you, according to the Vedas, so is the entire universe or cosmos; everything is within you, as you are also within everything. Thus,
“Everything is everywhere,”
as the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Anaximander said; moreover,
“Every thing is everything, and everything is every thing,”
as my teacher, the modern Vedic sage Maharishi said. Everything is contained in every thing; everything, including every “wisdom being” (whether historical or heavenly, or “merely folkloric / archetypal”) is in your own body and your mind; all reality is contained within the objective reality of your own bodily existence and within the subjective reality of your own mind (your conditioned self and its true underlying, unconditioned nature as the ego-transcending infinite self-less Self — boundless unmanifest pure Being (Being-ness), or pure consciousness.