This is a reflection on my travel pantheon. Skip this if you are an atheist or if you think that your religion is the one and only.
Life is a miracle in so many ways. And for millennia people have created gods and religions to help them bridge the gap between what can be grasped and what remains unexplainable. And quite regularly gods and religions have been tossed, condemned, buried, forgotten and replaced.
I am not religious. But I appreciate the miracle and the mysteries of life. And I can relate to the desire to be comforted by god(s) or religion. I appreciate the various attempts of religion as an expression of particular times and places more than anything. I find many of them fascinating, a few of them appalling, and the occasional one despicable – particularly the ones that are used to rally people into acts of violence.
But despite my distance to religion, I have always asked a few gods to join me on my trips. I talk to them, pray to them, and acknowledge them as the higher power I cannot define any better. They are my pantheon; preferably a nice multi-religious mix. Some have come with me for a good long time and after all, you don’t have to believe in them to enjoy their company, right?
St. Christopher :
A picture of St. Christopher – the man who was asked to carry a child across the river – hung over my parents’ couch for many years. The child turned out to be Christ and so heavy with the worries and the burdens of this world, that the muscular strong-man almost drowned under the weight of the child. He was referred to as the Christ-Carrier or Christopher from then on out. He supposedly died in the 3rd Century as a martyr but there are no historical records of him. Most likely he was a composite of a pagan predecessor and folklore. Forever, has he been evoked in protection by travelers, particularly in cases of storms and difficult weather. My brother’s name is Christoph and so St. Christopher seemed always a good choice honoring the Christian upbringing I had and connecting to my family. I hope that he will join me again.
Ever since I studied Buddhism and Buddhist art in graduate school, I have had two favorites: Manjusri and Bhaisajyaguru. Manjusri is the Bodhisattva (a being who has reached enlightenment but forgoes Nirvana in order to help mankind) of wisdom and knowledge who holds the book of knowledge in one hand and a sword with which he will cut through ignorance in the other; an obvious choice for any educator. During most of my time at work he is my companion. A wonderful wooden sculpture of him sits in my WCC office. But when I am on the road, I turn to Bhaisajyaguru instead. If you read the vows he made when he attained enlightenment, you will see why. Of course, there is no historical evidence of any of the Bodhisattvas or Buddhas, with the one exception of the historical Buddha Sakyamuni. Who needs it? Buddhism is not about gods or faith – it is about a reflection of your needs on the road to enlightenment. And much of Bhaisajyaguru’s vows reflect what I need and even more what many of the people need who I will encounter. I don’t need to be reborn as a man though… (see 8). I told him that before. I hope that he will be with me again on this trip.
To illuminate the world with radiance, enabling anyone to become a Buddha.
To awaken the minds of sentient beings through his light of lapis lazuli.
To provide the sentient beings with whatever material needs they require.
To correct heretical views and inspire beings toward the path of the Bodhisattva.
To help beings follow moral precepts, even if they failed before.
To heal beings born with deformities, illness or other physical sufferings.
To help relieve the destitute and the sick.
To help women who wish to be reborn as men achieve their desired rebirth.
To help heal mental afflictions and delusions.
To help the oppressed be free from suffering.
To relieve those who suffer from terrible hunger and thirst.
To help clothe those who are destitute and suffering from cold and mosquitoes.
Who would not know the darling elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesh, son of Siva and Parvati. Legends are numerous to explain his appearance. Here is one: Siva in a rage cut off the head of his own son, after he returned from a long absence. The son did not recognize him as his father and Siva did not even know he had a son… Parvati complained until Siva restored his son’s life with the head of the first animal that passed by, an elephant. You have to hand it to the Hindus – their stories are fun.
Ganesh is regarded as the Lord of Beginnings and the Lord of Obstacles, better the remover of obstacles and not least the Lord of Intellect and Wisdom. What a powerhouse! I hope he won’t be too busy to remove a few obstacles for me on this trip and will come along to accompany me as he has before.