Sunday, 25 September 2022

Interpreting the Gohonzon (Buddhist Object of Veneration)

The object of veneration in Nichiren Buddhism is the Gohonzon, a sacred mandala which practitioners are encouraged to chant in front of twice a day. Nichiren Buddhism originated in Japan in the 13th century and is now practised worldwide, particularly (when outside of Japan) by members of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI). Members of the SGI receive a Gohonzon when they join the organisation. They then enshrine the Gohonzon in a Butsudan (a small cabinet for housing sacred objects) in their homes.

The images on the Gohonzon consist of beautiful Chinese-Japanese calligraphy representing many things, including important deities. Most of the Gods on the Gohonzon refer to ancient Indian Gods, thus in attempting to understand the nature of these deities I have looked to their Roman equivalents. Given that these deities have a shared Indo-European origin this approach seems suitably viable. Using the interpretatio Romana the major deities represented include Dis Pater (top left), Neptune (top right), Venus / Cupid (centre left), Aurora, Diana, Jupiter, Apollo, (middle centre), Vulcan (centre right), Juno (just below the middle), Ceres (lower left), Mars (left of the lower middle), and Mercury (lower right). 

Nichiren wrote that the Gohonzon “was revealed in the last eight years of the fifty that the Buddha preached in this world”, and states that others, such as T’ien-t’ai (a renowned 6th century Chinese Buddhist), “perceived it in their hearts, but for some reason never put it into words”. In a letter to one of his followers Nichiren wrote that the Lotus Sutra:

"A miracle saving Nichiren's life" by Keishu (early 20th century)
“... itself and the commentaries of T’ien-t’ai and Miao-lo [a renowned 8th century Chinese Buddhist] explicitly state that the Gohonzon will appear after 2000 years have elapsed following the Buddha’s passing, in the first 500 years of the Latter Day of the Law … 
 
I was the first to reveal as the banner of propagation of the Lotus Sutra this great mandala … This mandala is in no way my invention. It is the object of devotion that depicts Shakyamuni Buddha [the original Buddha from northeastern India BCE] ... seated in the treasure tower of Many Treasures Buddha [a celestial Buddha of the east] ...

Thus the five characters of the Lotus Sutra’s title are suspended in the centre, while the four heavenly kings [the Lords who serve the God Shakra / Indra, and protect the four corners of the world] are seated at the four corners of the treasure tower. Shakyamuni, Many Treasures, and the four leaders of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth are side by side at the top ...    

Without exception, all these Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, great sages, and, in general, all the various beings of the two worlds and the eight groups who appear in the Introduction chapter of the Lotus Sutra dwell in this Gohonzon. Illuminated by the light of the five characters of the Mystic Law, they display the dignified attributes that they inherently possess. This is the object of devotion.

This is what is meant when the sutra says “the true aspect of all phenomena” … Therefore, this Gohonzon shall be called the great mandala never before known; it did not appear until more than 2,220 years after the Buddha’s passing. 

A woman who makes offerings to such a Gohonzon invites happiness in this life, and in the next, the Gohonzon will be with her and protect her always. Like a lantern in the dark, like a strong guide and porter on a treacherous mountain path, the Gohonzon will guard and protect you …

Never seek this Gohonzon outside yourself. The Gohonzon exists only within the mortal flesh of us ordinary people who embrace the Lotus Sutra and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo … 

Since Nichiren’s disciples and lay supporters believe solely in the Lotus Sutra, honestly discarding expedient means ... exactly as the Lotus Sutra teaches, they can enter the treasure tower of the Gohonzon. How reassuring! Make every possible effort for the sake of your next life. What is most important is that, by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo alone, you can attain Buddhahood … [from a letter written by Nichiren called The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon]”

Thursday, 24 March 2022

Minor Political Parties in Australia – Aspiring for Change in the Material Realm

Update for the Victorian State election scheduled for 26 November 2022 and the NSW State election scheduled for 25 March 2023 – I have indicated the parties that are currently registered in Victoria and NSW in the list of parties below.

(Only because we live in truly extraordinary times I think it is worth taking a one-off dive into politics – I apologise for the entirely off-topic nature of this post. Note that I updated this post a month after the May 2022 Federal election and then again in August 2022 ahead of the Victorian and NSW State elections.)

A rainy day in Martin Place, Sydney, in the 1910s (by Cazneaux)
In Australian elections the usual state of affairs is for the bulk of the votes to go to the major parties – Labor, Liberal, Nationals and Greens. If you want more of what we have had during the last few decades then vote for them. If you think something is rotten in the state of Denmark and want something different then voting for a minor party is essential – especially in the upper house (Senate / Legislative Council), which is where minor parties are more likely to get elected. In the 2022 Federal election more than 5% of votes were informal – ie, spoilt, very often deliberately, by voters. If all of those people voted for a minor party instead of spoiling their ballot paper we would have a better chance of wrestling power away from the major parties, who are responsible for so many of the follies we see in contemporary Australia, not least the insane property prices in Sydney and Melbourne (which are both in the top ten in the world for least affordable cities).   

Any minor party will do – just put the big four last at the bottom of ballot. Because the ballot paper can be overwhelming here follows an alphabetical breakdown of some of the minor parties who stand a chance of taking a seat in an Australian election. I personally think the left / right paradigm is not fit for purpose but if you want a short cut it seems to me the following breakdown is about right:* 
  • Left = Animal Justice Party and Reason Party (in Vic it is "Fiona Patten's Reason Party").
  • Close to the centre = Sustainable Australia – Stop Overdevelopment / Corruption.
  • Right = Liberal Democratic Party; Shooters, Fishers and Farmers; One Nation. 
Note that in the governmental structure in Australia the head of State is the Monarch (currently that is Queen Elizabeth II), who is represented by the Governor-General at the Federal level and the Governor at the State level – the role is almost entirely ceremonial. The real power is invested in parliament, which normally consists of a lower house (members are voted in at the district level, eg, the electoral seat of Wentworth represents only the suburbs of eastern Sydney) and an upper house (members are voted in via whoever gets the most votes across the State):
  • Federal / Commonwealth parliament = lower house is called the House of Representatives and the upper house is called the Senate.
  • The States of New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia = lower house is called the Legislative Assembly and the upper house is called the Legislative Council.
  • The States of South Australia and Tasmania = lower house is called the House of Assembly and the upper house is called the Legislative Council.
  • The State of Queensland and the Territories of the ACT and NT = only has one house, which is called the Legislative Assembly.

Friday, 18 February 2022

What Does It Mean to Be Free?

Castle of the Duc de Berry by the Limbourg Bros (15th c.)
There is an idea that has emerged in recent years which holds that some Western nations will potentially evolve into societies dominated by billionaire elites and multinational corporations, and governed according to technocratic, rather than truly democratic, principles – thus the predilections of the majority will be relentlessly cowed by whatever “the experts” decree to be the wisest course of action. In a worst-case scenario we will live in an authoritarian, surveillance state, wherein free speech is demonised as nothing more than a despicable ruse to celebrate hate speech, censorship is widespread and widely tolerated (for the greater good), real property is so hideously expensive that large portions of the population never even try to acquire it, and so many people live in what feels like a profaned world devoid of spiritual aspiration that mental illness is commonplace. Due to living in an environment that is in many ways inhospitable to human happiness a great number of people will be reliant on taking prescription medication to ameliorate their consequent depression, anxiety and dysphoria. On the other hand, a smorgasbord of transitory pleasures will perpetually be within reach. Delicious food will be readily available and reasonably cheap – though not always healthful. Clean drinking water, daily hot showers, automatic washing machines, dishwashers and rice cookers will be taken for granted. Our various computers will offer video games, movies and mini-series on tap, a massive variety of music, documentaries and podcasts will be but a click away, and finding new friends and lovers will theoretically have never been easier – if one can manage the trick of transforming the digital to IRL. At this point Tacitus’ observations about the actions of the Governor of Roman Britain in the 1st century CE start to feel potentially relevant:
“Agricola … described his campaign … as ‘keeping a conquered people under control’ … His intention was … [that the native Britons] become accustomed to peace and quiet by the provisions of amenities. Hence he gave … assistance to communities to build temples, market-places, and town houses. He praised those that responded promptly [to Romanisation] and censured the dilatory. As a result they began to compete with one another for his approval, instead of having to be compelled … even our style of dress came into favour and the toga was everywhere to be seen. Gradually, too, they went astray into the allurements of evil ways, colonnades and warm baths and elegant banquets. The Britons … called it ‘civilisation’, although it was a part of their enslavement [Tacitus, Agricola and Germany, Oxford World’s Classics, Ch 18-21].”
Could it be that we are at risk of succumbing to the illusion of good living while in fact being profoundly unfree? In order to explore the possible answer to this question one first needs to understand what slavery actually is, as well as some of the other forms of bondage that have evolved over time.*

Sunday, 28 November 2021

The Virus – A Pagan Sci-Fi

(A fictional short story inspired by the Australian lockdowns of 2021)
Statue of Mercury at Pavlovsk Park
Image by Aleksandrov (Wikimedia Commons)

The television turned itself on because it was time to get up. She lay in bed half-listening to journalists speaking in serious tones about various things, none of it was any more consequential than the faint sound of cars swooshing past on the busy road near her apartment until the voice of one man said sternly “what’s wrong with mandatory vaccinations?” Two men spoke to each other on the television, one was a union leader complaining about “right-wing extremists” hijacking a protest that had happened the day before – he explained that it wasn’t the case that workers were protesting against their own union for not pushing back against a government mandate that all tradies be vaccinated. What had actually happened was professional protestors had turned up and impersonated tradies … even so, the official union position was to support choice. The journalist on the State-run morning show chided the union boss for suggesting that adults should have the right to choose whether or not to be vaccinated.

Sunday, 22 August 2021

The Priests Are in Charge and It Feels Dystopian

"Abbot Armand-Jean le Bouthillier de Rance"
by Hyacinthe Rigaud (17th century)
Earlier this month every Australian was required to fill in the 4 year census. When it came to answering the question in relation to religion the form displays “no religion” as the first choice, because “no religion” was the single most popular answer to this question in the last census – 30.1% of Australians giving this answer in 2016 (followed by Catholic at 22.6% and Anglican at 13.3%; all other religions were at less than 4% each). In theory Australia is a fairly irreligious nation, but in practice the quasi-religion of Scientism is wildly popular. 

Science is the “the systematic study of ... the physical and natural world through observation and experiment” (Oxford Dictionary) – it is a method by which hypotheses can be either plausibly dreamt up or validated. Scientism is an “excessive belief in the power of scientific knowledge” (Oxford), and there now seems to be a large body of people professing to hold such sacred knowledge. They are our “experts” (typically scientists and doctors of one kind or another) who are more than willing to present themselves as the true holders of the only kind of knowledge worth having any faith in. The worst among them are the de facto astrologers and haruspices of our time – these priests of our secular age who tell us they know how to confidently predict, via the magic of modelling, variable and unpredictable things, such as controlling the spread of a highly contagious virus. 

Friday, 12 February 2021

Social Media Blitz

Roman Forum in 2011
Roman Forum in 2011 (image is my own, as used on my Facebook page)
Just a quick post to let you know that I have deleted the Facebook page (called “Neo Polytheist”) associated with this blog, in case you’re wondering where it went. Reason being that I recently deleted just about all of my social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, etc) and I can’t run a Facebook page without a Facebook account. Although social media can be very useful I feel my journey with it has run its course. 

If, for whatever reason, you ever want to get in contact with me please leave a comment at the end of any blogpost, even if it is unrelated to the post itself. I’m very happy to respond to (polite and civilised) comments, questions and observations. 

If you have questions about Roman polytheism and are still on Facebook I recommend joining the group “Cultus Deorum: Religio Romana (original)”, I learnt a lot in this group during my first few years of exploring Roman polytheism and I am very grateful to some of the people I engaged with there. I also quite like the “Roman Religion Reformists Group”.

Monday, 21 December 2020

The Ancestral Diet of the Germanic People

"Julaftonen" by Carl Larsson (1904)
As creatures of evolution we should ideally be consuming a diet consistent with our human biology, which arguably means looking at what our ancestors ate. As someone with predominately Germanic heritage (plus a little bit of Celt) I want to take a look at as many reputable sources as I can to understand what the indigenous diet of the Germanic people is, noting that it will overlap a good deal with the indigenous diet of other Indo-European peoples. 

Before humanity 
Humans are primates belonging to the subgroup known as great apes. Primates are believed to have evolved around 65 million years ago, following the mass extinction event which brought an end to the age of dinosaurs. Apes evolved around 25 million years ago, mostly or exclusively in heavily forested environments. Our primate cousins – monkeys and lesser apes – never really left their homes in the branches and tend to eat mostly leaves and fruit. Other great apes are still animals of the forest but they are bigger and able to roam forest floors. At least 87% of their diet is plant based (especially fruit), supplemented by insects. Chimpanzees, our closest relative, also eat meat. Our lineage separated from the chimpanzee line around 7 million years ago, so it is likely our ancestors have been eating meat (and other parts of animals, such as organs and bone marrow) for millions of years – ie, long before we evolved into modern humans. 

Sunday, 8 November 2020

Why Our Ancestors Were Saner Than We Are Today

"The Ghost of a Flea" by Blake (1810s)
There is a fundamental difference between people today and our ancestors that has emerged, and sped up, over the last few decades. In the past we belonged to our communities and barely comprehended what was happening elsewhere in the world. When Rome’s Vestal flame was extinguished by Christian fanatics in the 390s CE people in India were unaware of this great tragedy and shed no tears. When Islamic invaders swept through India destroying Buddhist monasteries and wiping an ancient religion from its homeland in the 12th century CE the people of Europe knew almost nothing of it. When the last Viking settler died in Greenland in the 15th century only a few Icelanders could have guessed what had happened. 

By contrast today, here in Sydney, it seems nearly everyone I know is too interested in what is happening in far away places. For many, now that Game of Thrones has finished, there is a new Westeros (the USA) to think about. It is as if the Democrats are the Starks and the Republicans are Lannisters. It makes sense for Australians to be interested in US affairs up to a point, eg, Australians should want the US to have a strong military to match a strong alliance. But that is not the focus of so many Australians, because they are too invested in the stories which spit out of their televisions, their webpages and their social media. Their minds are not at home, and by living through stories happening in far away places they’ve launched mental and digital crusades in worlds that are basically illusory. 

Saturday, 26 September 2020

Germanic Pagan Jewellery

The primary symbol of Germanic Paganism today is Thor's hammer, and there are a number of websites where you can buy really stunning Mjolnir pieces to wear, but they tend to be chunky and are clearly intended to be worn primarily by men. The hammer is a symbol of strength so it makes sense that men would want to wear a Mjolnir amulet, but I am no man and so here follows images of feminine jewellery that can be worn with contemporary dress while being evocative of Germanic deities. All of the pictures refer to the websites where you can buy them (as of September 2020). Click on the image to enlarge.

Odin, God of victory, wisdom, eloquence, wandering, death, inspiration and more

Silver pendant based on a 6th century image of a berserker
thevikingdragon.com 

Silver pendant, Valkyrie with horn replica
sonsofvikings.com

Raven feather earrings in oxidised silver by Aurum
aurum.is

Swan feathers ring (swans are associated with Valkyries)
aurum.is


While spears, wolves and ravens are more obvious symbols of Odin, horns are associated with Odin for a number of reasons. Firstly, archeologists have found a number of images of warriors with horned helmets who are thought to be connected to Odin. Secondly, Valkyries are said to bring horns of mead to the warriors of Valhalla, and thirdly, it is said that Odin gained three drinks of the mead of poetry (this is the origin story of the triple horn symbol). With this in mind I think the following high end jewellery from georgjensen.com is subtly Odinic.