1-4 of 4 Results

  • Keywords: mythology x
Clear all

Article

Guardian and Protector Deities in Tibetan Buddhism  

Cameron Bailey

Dharma protectors are a critical and indispensable aspect of Tibetan Buddhism, but the full theological, psychological, political, and literary significance of this special class of deity and their cults is still relatively poorly understood and understudied in Western scholarship. Dharma protectors, who in their typically distinctively wrathful appearances embody and transmute negative emotion and terrifying existential realities, constitute a kind of spiritual or daemonic sangha that in their most immediate function is meant to act as an apotropic ward against any and all threats to the human Buddhist community. Further, these beings are often invoked and employed as something like “familiar” or servitor spirits for a range of purposes by Buddhist religious specialists. While there are hundreds if not thousands of different protector deities in the shifting, kaleidoscopic “polytheon” of Tibetan Buddhism, there are a relative few main deities around which Tibetans have historically and continually produced a large body of art, ritual, and narrative literature. The most soteriologically and cosmologically significant protector deities, and consequently often the most popular, are usually figures directly borrowed from Indian Buddhism, such as Mahākāla, a wrathful Buddhist form of the Hindu god Śiva, or they are adaptations of Indian deities, such as the great goddess Śrī Devī and the astrological demon Rāhula. These more “Indian” deities tend to be regarded in Tibetan Buddhism as fully enlightened and are distinguished from native Tibetan deities who are more typically seen as unenlightened or more recently enlightened protectors. The Tibetan mythology of these deities usually takes the form of a conversion narrative, describing how they were born and the events leading up to their becoming (under often quite violent circumstances) guardians of the Buddhist teachings. These Tibetan Buddhist myths, which have largely been neglected by Western scholars, imitate the structures and themes of Indian Buddhist and non-Buddhist Jātaka, Purāṇic, Māravijaya, and Avadāna literary genres, but also often transvalue and subvert them. Thus the “biographies” of these protector deities represent the dark tantric inversions of normative Buddhist hagiography.

Article

Art and Religion in Ancient Greece and Rome  

Robin Osborne and Caroline Vout

One of the challenges shared across cultures and faiths is the intangible, ineffable nature of the divine. One problematic, yet theologically productive, solution to this problem is to embody the divine in sculpture and painting; another is to seek divine aid and attest to divine presence by making votive offerings. In the absence of a sacred text, it was sculptural and graphic representation of the divine that made sanctuaries and temples in Greece and Rome theologically active places. But the need to experience god was not confined to these centers. Greek and Roman gods were everywhere—on coins, gems, drinking vessels, domestic wall paintings. Even when they were not there, their power could be felt in the representation of those who had felt their power. They were as pervasive as they were all seeing. This article examines how this material culture worked to bring gods and mortals into contact. It does so by tackling three major issues: first, it discusses how a wide range of artifacts, monumental and modest, shaped sanctuary space and guided and recorded the worshipper’s interaction with the divine; second, it looks at images of gods themselves and how these affected epiphany, while maintaining a critical gap and insisting on their strangeness; and third, it uses art to rethink the relationship of religion and myth. Although there are some continuities between cultures, the rise of Hellenistic and Roman ruler cults created a new subcategory of gods, creating additional representational challenges. Out of this came Christ, who was god incarnate. We briefly explore how early Christian artists used the problems of anthropomorphism to their spiritual advantage.

Article

Indigenous Religions in Brazil  

Mark Münzel

In the past, Indigenous religions often served as a black box for various scholarly disciplines. For example, they have been seen as an example of psychopathic complexes or for the original primacy of the collective over the individual. With the emergence of the New Age movement, shamanism in particular has become an object of unscientific projection. In the process, on the one hand Indigenous religions were hold in higher esteem, but on the other hand the character of their reflections on time and the nature of the world and, more often than not, very abstract concepts are reduced to happiness. Approaching the issue from the perspective of mythical indigenous narratives has the advantage that Indigenous people, the tellers of these myths, speak for themselves. Of course, when they come into contact with Western scholars (who record their myths) or missionaries (who are also interested in indigenous systems of beliefs), they too naturally absorb outside influences: A clinically pure Indigenous religion, so to speak, is an illusion. Fortunately, myths, whether recorded by Indigenous scholars, or told to researchers who come from outside, are usually not dry factual reports, but literary works, today often aimed at Indigenous children and adolescents, but often enough also as literature for adults—Indigenous religions appear to us in literary guise. Brazil’s Indigenous nations represent a large number of very different cultures and traditions. Since no central authority existed prior to European colonization, and since the state institutions in Brazil that have since been established are not responsible for Indigenous systems of beliefs, these various Indigenous religions have never been unified, even if they have been subject since the early days of colonialism to uniform external influences (above all the Christian mission and the Western school system). To put it bluntly, one could say that the only thing they have in common is that they are different from one another. Still, some broad similarities can be found, and common traits that apply to a larger number, though never all, Indigenous systems of belief, myths, and rituals can be identified. One of these widespread similarities is the idea that humans are an unreal illusion reflecting another world and another time. Another trait is a belief in culture heroes who long ago laid the groundwork for the situation in the 21st century and then left the people to their own devices. The world they built will not last forever, but will one day collapse in on itself in a catastrophe, just as other worlds have collapsed before ours. Ultimately, all relations are unstable, enduring merely for more or less long or short periods of time. The only thing permanent is the change.

Article

The Vajrakīla Tantras  

Martin Boord

Belonging to an esoteric corpus of Buddhist texts known as the teachings of secret mantra (Skt. guhyamantra), the tantras of Vajrakīla have been carefully guarded through the centuries and handed down from teacher to disciple under a strictly ethical code of conduct. Although the texts themselves often seem to advocate a violent and unrestrained lifestyle, under the skillful guidance of a suitably qualified guru, who must be seen by the disciple as none other than the Buddha himself, one who seriously engages in the systematic practice of their profound series of meditations becomes quickly and thoroughly purified in body, speech, and mind. The wrathful deity Vajrakīla is described in all the tantras that bear his name as the manifestation of heroic power for the overthrow of Māra. During times of peace he manifests as Vajrasattva, and his mind abides in tranquility. During times of activity he manifests as “Vajra of Total Destruction” (Skt. *Ativināśanavajra) and, when manifesting as a bodhisattva, he is Vajrapāṇi, “the One with a Vajra in his Hand.” With regard to his name “Vajrakīla”: vajra as a prefix is found everywhere within the Buddhist tantras. Originally meaning “the hard or mighty one” and referring in particular to the thunderbolt as a weapon of Indra, it subsequently became so intimately associated with the development of tantric ideas in Buddhism that the entire system of practice came to be known as the Vajrayāna or Vajra Vehicle. Indeed, as a symbol within the Buddhist tantras it is as pregnant with meaning as the very texts themselves. Characterized as abhedya, “unbreakable,” and acchedya, “indivisible,” the term may be said to represent nothing less than the full enlightenment of the samyaksaṃbuddha, who himself came to be referred to as Vajradhara, “Holder of the Vajra.” The Sanskrit word kīla means “nail,” “peg,” or “spike,” and thus Vajrakīla may be taken to mean “the unassailable spike” or, on a higher level, “(He who is) the nail of supreme enlightenment.” Introduced to Tibet during the 8th century ce, the Buddhist tantras of Vajrakīla were received with great enthusiasm and quickly became established as a vital element in the religious life of the Tibetan empire. Said to encompass every aspect of the ground, path, and goal, the Vajrakīla tantras present a coherent and complete system of spiritual practice that culminates in the attainment of perfect liberation from the round of rebirth. The roots of Kīla mythology, however, may lie buried deep within the pre-Buddhist religion of ancient India where, in the Ṛgveda, the story is told of the god Indra who slew the demon Vṛtra. It is said that, at that time, Indra stabilized the earth and propped up the heavens with a kīla and thus, at the outset, we have clearly discernible indications of a path along which a simple wooden stake might travel so as eventually to become deified as a terrifying god of awesome power, one by whom all demons are vanquished and enlightenment realized for the benefit of the world.