Showing posts with label Exploring World Religions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Exploring World Religions. Show all posts

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Baldur – The God of Truth and Light

Baldur 1
Balder, one of the most handsome of gods was born to Frigg and Odin who was considered to be the god of joy, purity, innocence, beauty, reconciliation and a god of truth and light. He was loved by all gods and men alike and was the best among all gods. Being of good character, he was friendly, eloquent and wise and was also very knowledgeable in healing herbs which made him favorite among the people of Midgard.

He lived in a palace called Breidabik along with his wife Nanna the daughter of Nep and their son Forseti, the god of justice. According to some belief, it was said that no lie could pass through the walls of his palace, which was the home of the god of truth. Most of the stories of Baldur are related to his death and he would often dream about his death so much so that Frigg extracted an oath from every force of nature, object and creature, everything in the nine worlds, that they would never harm Baldur her son, with all agreeing that they would not cause any kind of harm to him since he was loved by everyone.

Baldur 2
Thereafter the gods decided to test his vulnerability by throwing pebbles at him which would bounce back without hurting him in honor of its oath taken. Huge weapons were also used which included Thor’s axes which all returned without causing any harm to Baldur and thinking him to be invincible, the gods entertained themselves by targeting him for knife throwing and archery.

Loki who seemed to be jealous of Baldur tried tricking him by changing his appearance as a witch and asked Frigg if there was anything that could harm the god of light. Frigg unaware of the disguise informed that there was one thing, a small tree in the west called the mistletoe. According to her, at the time of extracting the oath, she thought that it was too small to harm her son. Loki immediately headed for the west to get hold of the mistletoe and tricked Baldur’s blind brother, Hod in throwing the mistletoe dart at Baldur. Hod guided by Loki and unaware of his plan aimed the dart at Baldur which pierced through his heart and Baldur fell down dead.

Baldur 3
While all the gods mourned the death of Baldur, Odin sent along his other son Hermod to Hel, the goddess of death in order to plead for the return of Baldur who agreed to do so on condition that everything in the world, whether dead or alive should weep for him. All wept except for Loki who refused to do so and Baldur had to remain in the underworld. The gods after dressing him in crimson shade placed him on the funeral pyre aboard his ship, `Ringhorn’, which was the largest in the world. They also laid the body of his wife Nanna who being heartbroken also died after him. His horse and his treasures were also placed on the ship and the pyre was set on fire with the ship sent to sea by the giantess Hyrrokin.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

En no Gyōja

En no Gyōja 1
The legendary founder of the Japanese religion, Shugendo when translated means `path of training to achieve spiritual powers’, which is an important Kami Buddha combination sect that blends pre Buddhist mountain worship known as Kannabi Shinko. Their practitioners are known by various names such as Shugenja, Shugyosha, Keza and Yamabushi and these terms are translated into English as ascetic monk or mountain priest.

As a rule, this sect emphasizes on physical endurance as a path to enlightenment where the practitioners perform fasting, seclusion meditation, recite sutras, magical spells and also engage themselves in feats of endurance like standing or sitting under cold mountain waterfalls or in snow. The devotees also have a particular practice of setting up wood or stones markers leaving a trail of their mystical journey up the mountain.

They also need to follow a procedure on entering into any sacred mountain space, where each stage consists of a specific mudra, a hand gesture with religious meaning, mantra, a sacred verbal incantation and waka which is a classical Japanese poem. The honored sage of this sect is En no Gyoja who is also known as En no Ozunu, Ozuno, En no Shokaku and En no Ubasoku where Gyoja means ascetic and En no Gyoja means En the Ascetic.

En no Gyōja 3
Ubasoku according to the Japanese form of Sanskrit upasaka means an adult male lay practitioner or a devotee or a Buddhist layman who is recognized as a father of Shugendo. He is given the title of Shinben Dabosatu which means Miraculous Great Bodhisattva which was bestowed in 1799 to him by the Emperor Kokaku during his reign in 1771 – 1840. En no Gyoja was born in 634 and is honored as a mountain saint and a bodhisattva with several supernatural powers attributed to him. This holy man was a mountain ascetic during the 7th century and like most of the Shinto Buddhist syncretism, his legend is a puzzle with folklore.

As per the Nihon Ryoiki, En no Gyoja was born in Katsuragi Mountains of Nara Prefecture, hailing from the Kamo clan, the family of Kamo-no-E-no-Kimi and his clan had lived for many years in the mountainous regions for generation which was a verdant region with a variety of medicinal plants.

It is believed that he gained wide knowledge of these medicinal plants and also maintained a garden in that area but was forced to give it up in 675 AD during which he had gained a high reputation of a healer. After his father’s death, En no Gyoja prayed that his mother would be bestowed with another child since his intention was to depart to the mountains to pursue his practice and she subsequently gave birth to a son who was named Tsukiwakamaru and he returned to the Katsuragi Mountains at the age of 32 to continue with his ascetic practice. According to the legends, he practiced under the protection of the animals living in the mountains where he discovered valuables deposits of silver and mercury in these mountains.

As per Shugendo legends, in 699, he was wrongly accused by one of his jealous disciple, Karakuni no Muraji Hirotari for evil sorcery and was sent into exile to Itoshima island during the reign of Emperor Monmu. This angered him towards the god of Mt. Katsuragi also known as Hitokoto nushi no Kami and to punish the god he cast spells and confined the deity to the bottom of the valley. Hirokoto nushi in his turn showed his displeasure by possessing Hirotari who lodged a complaint in the capital which lead to him to his exile.

During his exile, it is believed that he changed into a mountain wizard and flew to the kingdom of Silla towards the Korean peninsula and met Dosho, a Japanese Bhuddhist monk. This monk had travelled to China in order to study Buddhism and founded Hosso secto of Nara Buddhism on his return. Though Gyoja’s great abilities remain unknown, he had made a peace treaty with Hiruzen Sarutobi during the Third Shinobi World War and had developed an unusual technique which was capable of destroying an entire village and the Third Hokage proclaimed a kinjutsu due to its power.

En no Gyōja 2
He had two students, one named Hato who was brilliant with remarkable skills in ninjutsu while the second was his very own granddaughter Hotaru. Gyoja blamed himself for the downfall of his clan and made it his duty to restore the clan back to glory but his advanced age hindered him. Before his death, seeing how much his dream meant to him, his granddaughter begged him to seal the kinjutsu in her so that she could continue with his dream.

Being skillful in fuinjutsu he devised a way to seal the clan’s kinjutsu in his granddaughter to safely remove it. Great reverence for En no Gyoja grew as mountain asceticism progressed and Shugendo religion took shape making him its founder. Moreover since he had visions of Zao Gongen deity, her belief also flourished along with veneration of Gyoja and he is linked to sacred mountains all over Japan.

According to some, the final years of Gyoja is a mixture of uncertainty which states that he did not die in 700 but returned to Mount Katsurag when he was pardoned in 701. Here, he captured Hitokoto nushi no Kami and tied him with arrowroot vine and locked him at the bottom of the valley and sometime later returned to the Japanese mountain where he attained Nirvana or probably crossed China.

Others presumed that he was released in 702 after which he either became immortal and flew away or migrated to China with his mother. It is reported that during his lifetime, he traveled widely and established Shugendo sanctuaries in various locations which included Omine mountain range, Mount Kinpusen, Mount Mino, lkoma mountains on the border of Osaka and Nara prefectures and Izu in Japan. Towards 1872, the Shugendu sect got banned as a superstitious belief and the sites became Shinto shrine, losing its heritage or branching off to either Tendai or Shingon Buddhism though Mount Haguro retained a small Buddhist presence and successfully maintained its Shugendo religion.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Exploring World Religions -3

Part. III Exploring World Religions

Existentialism: Movement in 20th century philosophy, theology and literature, based on the view that the people are entirely free and therefore responsible for what they make of themselves. With this responsibility comes anguish or dread. One of the most influential existentialist philosophers was the French thinker and writer Jean Paul Sartre, who summed up his views in the maxim, “Existence precedes essence”- that is, humans spring up in the world undefined and without a fixed nature or ‘essence’. There is no divine plan, nor any fixed values, by which they can guide themselves; they are ‘condemned to be free’.

Exorcism: The casting out of demons or evil spirits believed to have ‘possessed’ a person or place. Among the ancient Israelites, mental conditions such as schizophrenia and epilepsy were often considered to be a sign of demonic possession and were treated by ritual exorcism. Jesus Christ performed many exorcisms, and in the early Church there was a standard office of Exorcist. Exorcisms are still occasionally performed by Roman Catholic and some Protestant Churches

Iconoclasm: Rejection or destruction of religious images, often on the grounds that they are forbidden by the second commandment. In the 8th and 9th centuries many images and icons were destroyed with the blessing of the pope. During the Reformation, however, the Roman Catholic Church itself became a victim of iconoclasm, and lost many religious images. The world ‘iconoclasm’ comes from Greek words for ‘image breaking’.

Paganism: Term first used by early Christians to describe the beliefs of all non Christians. The world comes from the Latin for ‘country –dweller’. These days it is usually applied to beliefs that are not part of a world religion such as Christianity Judaism, Buddhism or Islam.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Exploring World Religions -2

Part. II Exploring World Religions

Hinduism: Indian religion that aims at liberating the spirit from the material world through the purification of desires and the surpassing of personal identity. Hindu writings go back to around 1200B, but there is no single founder, scared text or set of doctrines. Instead, emphasis is placed on right living, or dharma, and spiritual development throughout life. Although some Hindus believe in one God and some in none, most worship a number of deities, of who the most important are Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. All Hindus, however share karma and reincarnation. There are about 500 million Hindus in the world. Traditionally, Hinduism was linked to the Indian caste system, a rigid social hierarchy which governs every aspect of an individual’s life, from birth to death.

Idealism: In philosophy, any view that the material world is in some way dependent on the mind that perceives it. Idealist thinkers do not necessarily deny that material objects exist, but claim that they cannot be known to exist independently of the human mind. Berkeley, Hegel, and Kant were all idealist thinkers. Idealism is opposed by Realism and materialism.

Materialism: In philosophy, the position that nothing exists except physical objects and forces that are perceptible and measurable. Materials deny the existence of spirit, soul or mind as a separate type of reality, and they look for physical explanations of all phenomena- for example, by explaining thoughts or emotions in terms of chemical reactions in the brain.

Marxism is a form of materialism in which almost every aspect of culture is seen in terms of economic forces.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Exploring World Religions -1

Part. I Exploring World Religions

Apocalyse: Type of Jewish and Christian scriptures which claims to reveal secrets, especially concerning the future, and which generally gives hope to persecuted groups. The best known of these is St. John’s Book of Revelation in the New Testament, which prophesies the end of the world. The world comes from the Greek for “unveiling”.

Figuratively, an apocalypse is any cataclysmic event marked by violence and destruction, as in the title of the Vietnam War filmApocalypse Now.

Symbol of Atheism

Atheism: non belief in, or denial of the existence of a god or gods. Reasons for atheism vary from the view that the world is so full of injustice and suffering that it cannot be governed by a benevolent deity, to scientific arguments that the idea of a creator does not help to explain existence of the Universe. Many Greek philosophers were atheists, although this could be dangerous Socrates was forced to take poison because of his atheistic teachings. The Roman pagans accused the early Christians of Atheism, since they denied the traditional gods. Atheism was long suppressed in Christian Europe and North America but it was not a criminal offence.

Dalai Lama: Traditional ruler and Buddhist spiritual leader in Tibet and Mongolia, believed by his followers to be the reborn Bodhisattva. The current Dalai Lama, forced into exile in India after the Chinese suppression of Tibetan nationalism in 1959, continues to work for the freedom of Tibet.

Dogma: Unproved, often unprovable, theory or doctrine which has to be accepted as true without question. The term is often applied to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, which are pronounced on by the pope and which all Catholics are bound to accept.