This is the last of five Mythological Spotlights that was originally a Deific Masks page.
Shiva is a very complex deity. He is usually the destroyer of the universe, though also sometimes considered a creator in some sects, and he is also a deity of the powers of liberation. He holds the trident of divine power, the drum of cosmic vibration, and the flame of destruction. He also wears the beautiful goddess of the Ganges river in his locks of hair. Despite his nature as a destroyer and a generally wild deity, he is known for being respectful, friendly, kind, loyal, and protective to his devotees, which probably explains a lot of his popularity as a deity. He also upholds cosmic balance and has the power to bring opposites together. As Mahadeva he is associated with the powers of the heavens and cosmos, one of the most powerful, if not the highest, of the Hindu pantheon of deities. Shiva is also represented as a Lord of Music (Vinadhara), and a Lord of the Dance. As Pashupati he is the lord of animals. In his capacity as the destroyer, Shiva destroys clutter to make way for space, harmony, and serenity.
It has been speculated that a seal found in Mohenjo-daro, an ancient settlement located in what is now Pakistan, depicts an early version of the Vedic deity Rudra, who went on to become the modern Hindu deity Shiva. The deity in question and its seal was named Pashupati, after one of Shiva’s epithets (which means “Lord of Animals”), and shown with the horns of a water buffalo, sitting in a yogic pose, and surrounded by animals. However, for many, Shiva originated as the Vedic deity Rudra. Funny enough, it is said that in Vedic times, an epithet given to Rudra and other deities was Siva (which means “The Auspicious One”), which would become the name of the modern Shiva.
Rudra himself was a lord of storms, wind, and the hunt, and was considered a dangerous and frightening deity, the embodiment of unpredictable and wild nature (which might have made his Siva epithet bitterly ironic). The Rigveda praises Rudra as one of the mightiest deities, if not the mightiest. His sons were a group of storm deities known as the Maruts, who were violent young warriors that attended to the weather deity Indra. Rudra was also feared to cause diseases to people and cattle with his arrows, but it was also believed he was capable of healing people as well. He was mainly appeased and worshiped out of fear rather than devotion, due to his mostly malevolent and unpredictable nature, and was often associated desolate and distant places.
Rudra’s depiction started to change when he became identified as Shiva, the destroyer of the universe and liberator of souls, which likely began with a body of Indian texts known as the Upanishads. One of these texts, the Shvetashvatara Upanishad, is notable for is focus on Rudra and Shiva. In fact, it’s the first text where Shiva is definitely used as an epithet for Rudra; the wild, fierce, destructive, and borderline-malevolent deity Rudra started also being considered a kind and benign deity. Over time, Rudra and Shiva became viewed as one and the same deity, and in the time of another body of texts known as the Puranas, the notion of a trinity of deities (that of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer) emerged and Shiva’s role within it was: he was the destroyer and regeneration of the universe, the deity of transformation, and a liberator of souls. However, it was and still is often the case that one or two members of the trinity were favored more than the other. Vishnu and Shiva were always more popular and were treated as the Supreme Being by different sects of Hinduism. There are some who believe Shiva is the supreme being, and Vishnu and Brahma (among other deities) are merely aspects of him, while others believe Vishnu is the supreme being and Shiva is just his supreme guru and the ruler of the material world. Two sects represent each position respectively, and have often taken to vilifying each other and even demonizing their patron gods as liars. Even to this day most people prefer one of them over the other or both, but the deity Brahma never attained same kind of prominence. This may be partly to do with a myth in which Shiva cursed Brahma to never be worshiped. Some say it was because Brahma mated with a goddess named Shatarupa, which was considered incestuous because Brahma had created her and so she was considered to be his daughter. Today, Shiva is one of the most widely worshiped deities in Hinduism and is considered to be benevolent and just as well as destructive, and he is also worshiped in many forms and under many names. Many myths show him to be more powerful than almost all other deities, if not all other deities, and the devas tend to call on either him or Vishnu for aid. The only deity shown to be possibly more powerful than Shiva is his wife, Parvati, whenever she is angered or takes on terrfyingly wrathful forms such as Kali (whose dance of bloodlust almost destroyed the universe before Shiva lay himself beneath her feat as a mattress).
In Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, Shiva is manifested as the deity Mahakala, a wrathful protective deity (particularly one classed as Dharmapala or “protector of Dharma”) charged with defending practitioners, schools, and teachings of the Buddhist faith. In Buddhist lore, Mahakala is considered a wrathful manifestation of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Mahakala arrived to Japan from China (where he was also considered a protective deity) and become a household deity of fortune and farmers, associated with prosperity, and was named Daikokuten. Despite his happy and benign personality, Daikokuten could also assume a wrathful form with six arms and three heads, referred to as Sanmen Daikokuten. Shiva himself also made his way to Japan as one of twelve devas who guard the eight directions, the sun, the moon, up, and down. He is known in Japanese esoteric Buddhism as Ishanaten or Daijizaiten, and he was believed to protect the northeast direction and live in the sixth heaven (the heaven of the world of desire). He is also believed to have been subjugated by Gozanze Myo-O, one of the Five Wisdom Kings, before becoming a Buddhist deity. There is also a myth from medieval times which stated that Japan itself was the domicile of Daijizaiten, who was thought to be its cosmic ruler and the inventor of the Chinese writing script. In the same myth, Vishnu (Bichuten) was the cosmic ruler of China and the creator of the Kharosthi script, while Brahma (Bonten) was the cosmic ruler of India and the creator of its script.
Shiva’s complexity has made him a hugely successful deity in the Hindu mythos. He has been able to capture multiple mythological connotations that render him a particularly universal deity within Hinduism. His association with asceticism has also led him to be taken as a totem of Hindu orthopraxy in that he represents the state to which the yogis aspire to, that which they seek to become through the attainment of God-realization. His dark side through Mahakala lends itself nicely to the Tantric framework and the resultant transmutation into Japan seems to have made him something of a chthonic god. As such, the universality of Shiva is a strength that allows him to travel throughout the East.
This is one of five Mythological Spotlights that were originally Deific Mask pages. In fact, this one could be thought of as a merger of two, as it includes content from the former “Ashura” page.
Varuna is the Vedic Indian deity of water, which ties him to the sea, rivers, rain, and the creatures that live and swim in the water, along with the planet Neptune. And yet Varuna is more than just a water deity. He is the builder of order, but he is also linked with the primeval chaos that has, for generations, been associated with the sea and represented by the water creatures Varuna is associated with, such as the dragon, the crocodile, and the fantastical sea creature known as Makara. Varuna is also a nocturnal deity, being very much linked with the night. He was once the supreme god of the Vedic pantheon, but over time was supplanted by the more brash thunder god Indra and as of now he is not an especially popular deity.
In the early part of the Vedic age of Indian religion, Varuna was exalted as the supreme deity and ruler of the pantheon of deities. He was the builder and keeper of cosmic order and law, which was traditionally referred to as Rta. In the ancient Vedic religion, Rta was an abstract concept that referred to the order by the sun and moon move, and the seasons proceed, but it also referred to moral or religious law and the order of ritual sacrifice. Even the deities were subject to Rta, and no one, not even Varuna, had direct command over Rta, but Varuna was the chief deity charged with its perseverance. He was also seen the ruler of the primeval, undifferentiated chaos. He was the chief of a group of solar deities known as the Adityas, so named because they were the offspring of the Aditi, the mother of deities. While many of the deities where associated with natural forces, Varuna was more concerned with moral/social affairs, ethics, laws, and the way the cosmos is governed, though this is not to say Varuna didn’t have his own attachments to nature. His brother Mitra was associated daylight, particularly the morning sun, while Varuna was more associated with the night (which is ironic considering he was the leader of a group of solar deities). Mitra was also the keeper of social order in some way in his capacity as the deity of oaths and contracts, and he and Varuna were paired together as Mitra-Varuna. Varuna was also twinned with Indra during the new year, when they worked together to re-establish order. Varuna was also described as omniscient, as catching liars in his snares, and as watching the world and the movements of humans through the stars in the sky. He was even said to grant his devotees wisdom, particularly insight into the natural order of the cosmos, such wisdom was referred to as “medhira”. He was even the subject of rituals in which he is invoked for the forgiveness of transgressions. Varuna was also referred to as “Father Asura” in the Rig Veda, and as an omniscient and all-enveloping deity he seems to have been originally treated as a sky deity.
Despite Varuna’s role in the Vedic religion and his status as the ruler of the heavens, Indra, the brash deity of weather, storms, and war, sometimes had more prominence in the Rig Veda and was even seen as more powerful than Varuna. Varuna also seemed to be more important when the laws of the physical and moral world were contemplated, but was not a strongly popular deity. Later in the Vedic period, Varuna was ousted from his original position, and Indra replaced him as the ruler of the heavens and the pantheon of deities. In later mythology, Indra even stole Varuna’s role as the governor of the cosmos after defeating Vritra for stealing the world’s water. Varuna became a water deity and took on a new role as the deity of oceans and rivers and the lord of the cosmic waters. He was also a deity of the night, the keeper of the souls of the drowned, and a lord of the underworld and the dead (a position shared by Yama, the lord of the departed). This Varuna was said to grant immortality, was attended by the nagas (serpents), and was seen as a guardian of the west direction. He was identified by some as the ruler of the nagas. He was even said to punish mortals who didn’t keep their word by capturing them with his noose and hanging them. His mount, or vahana (vehicle), was Makara, a kind of sea creature that had the attributes of many animals. Makara represented a chaotic state that order arises from, which may have implied that Varuna still had associations with cosmic order.
Towards the end of the Vedic period, Varuna’s reputation began to change in another way. In the early part of the Vedic period, the term Asura simply referred to might and strength, specifically that of a deity or person. But eventually, Asura began to refer to a class of deities separate from the devas, and eventually the devas were seen as good, while the asuras were seen as evil. Varuna was one of the Vedic deities who fell under the category of Asura, so were the likes of Agni, Mitra, and Soma, but these deities also joined the ranks of the devas. Despite joining the devas, however, Varuna was still seen as a sinister deity, probably due to his association with death and being feared as a severe punisher of mortals. Eventually, Varuna would be forgotten almost entirely in India, as he and many of the other Vedic deities became eclipsed by the rise of Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and the Devi, and he became even less popular if he was even worshiped at all. Despite his lack of popularity, however, Varuna is currently worshiped by the Sindhi people, who identify him as Jhulelal. Varuna also appears in Indian astrology where he is associated with the planet Neptune, Varuna and Neptune both being sea deities after all, though this would be a modern connection since the planet Neptune was not recognized by the ancients.
Unlike some Hindu deities who get incarnated in Buddhist lore, Varuna does not have a lot of presence in Buddhism and is hardly mentioned. He certainly wasn’t very popular in China. I have read that in Tibet, Varuna appears as the ruler of nagas in the form of Apalala Nagarajah, and is treated as a lord of weather, but I can’t find a lot of information about Apalala Nagarajah, and whoever this deity is he seems to be an obscure deity and may have been considered a minor deity. Varuna himself may have been depicted as his own deity in Tibet, but from what I have read he was likely treated as a minor deity. Varuna does appear in Japanese Buddhism as Suiten, a deva of water much like the late Vedic incarnation of Varuna. Suiten is one of 12 devas who protect the eight directions, up and down, and the sun and moon, and he is specificially the guardian of west direction. However, Suiten does not enjoy a lot of popularity in Japanese Buddhism, though in Japan this might be due to the presence of more popular water deities such as Suijin (aka Mizu no Kamisama), who is known as a benevolent water goddess, and Benzaiten, who is actually the Japanese Buddhist incarnation of the Hindu goddess Saraswati. I’d also like to mention that Varuna’s mount Makara is also incarnated in Japan as a creature known as the Shachihoko, a creature depicted as a fish with the head of a tiger or a dragon. Fun fact: the name Shachihoko literally means “killer whale”. The Shachihoko was frequently utilized as a roof ornament found on castles, tower gates, and the homes of samurai during the Edo period, and the creature was thought to bestow protection against fire and have the power to control rain. In Japanese art, the Shachihoko also sometimes substitutes the dragon in paintings of Ryuzu Kannon, a form of the hugely popular bodhisattva and goddess of mercy Kannon (the Japanese form of Guanyin, another name of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara) who usually rides on the back of a dragon or sea turtle. The theme behind Ryuzu Kannon paintings that feature Shachihoko are usually inspired by the Chinese legend of carp swimming towards the Dragon Gate and becoming dragons. Here’s an interesting fact: in Japan, the dragon (there called Ryu) is closely associated with water, and though it directly originates from the Chinese dragon, they are related to the Indian serpent beings known as Nagas, whom Varuna was sometimes identified as ruling.
During the Meiji Restoration, when the emperor Meiji issued a decree ordering the separation of Buddhist and Shinto practices, Varuna (as Suiten) became identified with the god Amenominakanushi, the primeval kami that preceded creation and all other kami/gods. Consequently, Varuna is worshipped as Amenominakanushi at Suitengu, a temple located in the Chuo ward of Tokyo. Interestingly enough, Amenominakanushi is thought to embody a duality based on gender, male and female.
Varuna and Ahura Mazda
You may remember that in India, Asura became bad and demonic while Deva became good and heavenly. In Iran, Asura became Ahura, and referred to godly entities and to the supreme deity of Zoroastrianism, Ahura Mazda, while Deva became Daeva and were seen as evil spirits. In fact, in Iran, Indra became a demon who opposed the concept of truth, though not the leader of evil spirits (that role goes to Angra Mainyu). Varuna, on the other hand, got a very big break and became identified with Ahura Mazda, the deity associated with order, justice, light, and truth. The original Varuna was Father Asura, the Asura par excellence and chief of the Asuras, and he was the wise one, who bestowed medhira, wisdom (particularly of the order of the cosmos) The word “medhira” became “mazda”, and asura became ahura, and Varuna, as Asura Medhira, became Ahura Mazda. It should be noted that the Ahura Mazda of Zoroastrianism shares important characteristics with the original Varuna; he is the deity charged with upholding order and justice, like Varuna, he is the deity associated with the cosmic principle of order, like Varuna (though in Zoroastrianism it is Ahura Mazda who creates this principle), he is exalted as the wise one, like Varuna, and he is exalted as the supreme deity and the ruler of the heavens and cosmos, which Varuna originally was. Ahura Mazda was also identified with Mitra and the composite deity Mitra-Varuna, although Mitra became his own divinity in Iran known as Mithra, and he was a divinity of contracts and oaths, judicial protector of truth, and guardian of cattle.
It is worth establishing that, in the earliest period of the Vedic religion, Asura was an adjective meaning “mighty” and “powerful”. Many deities were given this adjective and variants such as “asurya” (meaning strength) and “asuratva” (meaning mightiness), some deities more so than others. Indra, the weather deity, was described as “asura” nine times, as granting or possessing asurya five times, and as possessing asuratva once. At one time, Indra’s actions are described as “asuryani” (meaning powerful), which add up to sixteen descriptions in total. Agni, the fire deity, is described as asura twelve times, as son of an asura once, and as possessing asurya twice, which also totals fifteen descriptions. Varuna, the deity of the waters and cosmic order, is described as asura ten times, and as possessing asurya four times, which totals fourteen descriptions. Mitra, the deity of friendship and contracts, is described as asura four times, and as possessing asurya four times, totaling eight descriptions. Rudra, the feared storm deity, is described as asura six times, as bestowing asurya once, and possessing asurya once. Dyaus, the sky deity, is described as asura six times. Soma, the lunar deity, is described as asura three times, as bestowing asurya once, and as possessing asurya once. Savitr, a deity of the sun before sunrise, is described as asura four times, and is particularly described as a kind leader. Surya, the solar deity, is described as asura three times. Parjanya, a rain deity, receives the same amount of honors as Surya. Vayu, the wind deity, is described as asura once, and once as possessing asurya. Apam Napat, a creation deity, is described once as possessing asurya. Sarasvati, a river goddess, was described as asura once. Ushas, the dawn goddess, is described once as possessing asuratva. The more times a deity was described as asura, or as possessing or bestowing asurya or asuratva, the mightier and more powerful a deity was believed to be. Indra, for instance, was likely the most powerful deity of the Vedic religion. And it wasn’t just deities that got called asura, as sometimes humans were called asura in the Rig Veda. Two generous kings are described as asura, as are some priests, and there is a hymn for requesting a son who is asura.
Varuna and Vairocana?
A fascinating potential link between Varuna and the buddha Vairocana has been explored in The Symbolism of the Stupa by Adrian Snodgrass and Craig J. Reynolds. A key connection seems to be lie in Varuna’s noose or rope, his binding the cosmos with his power of maya, his casting a net over the surface of the waters. This serves as a hypostasis for the concept of the creation of the cosmos through the spreading out of a pneumatic net. Varuna with his noose binds those who violate Rta, the universal Law, and his role in relation to his rope is typically seen in the lens of punishment. This is shared by other gods such as Yama, the ruler of the underworld who is called the noose-bearer and the binder of all men in his capacity as the king of death, Nirrti, a dark goddess who binds those intended for destruction, and even Ganesha, whose noose restrains the incalcitrant and leads the worthy. In the case of Vairocana, Vairocana embodies the concept of a net of cosmic order in his aspect as the Body of Principle. Vairocana abides at the hub of the World Wheel, receptacle of all cosmic order, which mirrors Varuna’s status in some hymns as the “Great Yaksa” at the center of the world.
In addition, as Suiten, Varuna became identifiable with Suijin, a kami found in Shinto tradition. Worth noting is how Suijin is not simply a name for a deity but also a generic term for a number of water deities as well as spirits and creatures, typically those associated with lakes, ponds, springs or well. These spirits are associated with mythological creatures such as dragons and kappa, as well as real animals such as fish, eels, turtles and snakes – and it’s no coincidence that both dragons and turtles are associated with Varuna. The name Suijin is even given to Fudo Myo-O, one of the mighty Five Wisdom Kings (or Vidyaraja), because of the way he is associated with waterfalls. Fudo Myo-O also, like Varuna, holds a rope or noose in his left hand, which he uses to capture demons, evil spirits and even gods who stand in the way of the Buddhist practitioner and his path towards enlightenment. It is here too that we come back to Vairocana, known in Japan as Dainichi Nyorai. Fudo Myo-O is the wrathful manifestation of Dainichi Nyorai, representative of his anger against injustice, ignorance and evil.
Varuna of the serpents
In The Symbolism of the Stupa we see Varuna related to the serpent Asura Vritra through both names sharing the same root “vr”, which means “to surround”, “to cover”, “to restrain” or “to check”. Both Varuna and Vritra have the seven rivers flow from their mouths, and so the two share a motif in different contexts connected to serpents and water. We can also note that Varuna’s connection to the serpent is actually quite old. Varuna has often been seen as the king of the nagas, a race of serpentine beings found in Hindu and Buddhist mythology, and this may in part have been drawn from his domain over the oceans, which were the dwelling place of the nagas. As a consequence of this association, Varuna himself is sometimes referred to as a naga, which may explain why some claim that he was worshipped as a snake. In the Atharva Veda Varuna is apparently referred to as a viper, and some believe that he was assimilated into the myth of Vritra. In Buddhist myth, Varuna is treated as a nagaraja, a king of the nagas. Varuna also becomes associated with snakes in Japan through Suijin, which is not simply a name for a deity but also a generic term for a number of water deities as well as spirits and creatures, typically those associated with lakes, ponds, springs or well. These spirits are associated with mythological creatures such as dragons and kappa, as well as real animals such as fish, eels, turtles and snakes – and it’s no coincidence that both dragons and turtles are associated with Varuna.
Varuna is a manifestly more complex mythological character than most treatises regarding his role in Vedic religion make him out to be. Most Hindus no doubt know him as simply a water god who is treated as inferior not only to Indra but also to Rama, avatar of Vishnu, yet Varuna, the ancient lawgiver of celestial and chthonic oceans, may yet be seen where most do not know him in world culture. In Iran, it seems, he has become the supreme lawgiver of the Zoroastrian faith. In Japan, it seems, he may yet be echoed as the most important Buddha of the Shingon sect. Few gods are like Varuna in their multiplicity of characteristics, and it is rare for us to find an archetype of a supreme being that seems dark and set against the anointed heavenly gods, even if it could be said he was once one himself one of them, and indeed that he becomes the supreme being of light. Certainly quite a transformation.
In March last year, the Conservative MP Suella Braverman was under fire for stating that “as Conservatives, we are engaged in a battle against Cultural Marxism”, leading to accusations of anti-semitism. Cultural Marxism is basically a conspiracy theory that alleges that “left-wing” ideologues and academics are taking over national institutions in order to subvert the nation by undermining its supposed ideological and cultural foundations. The reason she was accused of being anti-semitic for promoting this idea is because the idea has its origins in the Nazi idea of Kulturbolshevismus (or, quite literally, “Cultural Bolshevism”), which was a term the Nazis used to refer to modernist culture and art which they deemed to be degenerate and therefore a destructive Jewish influence, and its early proponents from the late 1980s to 1990s included people like William Lind, who for some reason felt compelled to note that the Frankfurt School’s membership was “to a man, Jewish”, not to mention the fact that the connection between Cultural Marxism and Kulturbolshevismus is often barely hidden by its proponents (for example, the alt-right wiki Metapedia used to publicly refer to Cultural Bolshevism as another name for Cultural Marxism, only to later change the article to remove all references to Cultural Bolshevism, presumably to hide any connections to Nazism). Although this does not entail that Suella Braverman is an anti-semite by itself, given that there are many people who believe in the Cultural Marxism theory who merely associate it with progressivism and modern “left-liberal” tendencies with no knowledge of its connections to Nazi ideology (perhaps Suella Braverman is one of them), the fact remains that Cultural Marxism is an idea that does have anti-semitic connotations and premises not least because of its Nazi origins.
But why am I talking about all of this? Because it turns out this same Suella Braverman was recently revealed to be a member of a “controversial Buddhist sect” – and by “controversial sect”, we literally just mean a cult. The cult in question is known as the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, otherwise known as the Triratna Buddhist Community (or just Triratna). This sect was created in 1967 by a man named Dennis P. E. Lingwood, also known as Sangharakshita (a Sanskrit name that was given to him in 1949 by Buddhist monks), after he spent many years of his life in India, where Triratna members claim he grasped the full doctrinal essence of Buddhism and where Sangharakshita claimed he spent most of his days as a wandering asectic. Triratna was one of the fastest growing “new religious movements” in the UK, and claims to be the only real vanguard of Buddhism in the Western world. To this end they sometimes bill themselves as Western Buddhists, attack Asian schools of Buddhism as “merely ethnic” and therefore somehow inauthentic (despite apparently claiming to be linked to said Asian traditions), and claim that their local Buddhist centres are the only official ones (for instance, they call their Birmingham branch “The Birmingham Buddhist Centre”).
There are numerous distinctions between the doctrine of Triratna and that of other Buddhist sects. For starters, the aim of Triratna meditation is to transform the individual into a “higher being”, whereas the aim of almost every other form of Buddhist meditation is to achieve nirvana through the realization of the ontological reality of sunyata (emptiness) in all things, in accordance with Buddhist teachings. The idea of becoming a higher being through mediation is not itself outside of Buddhist teachings, but the aim appears to be “to become a higher type of being than you were before you began practising it”, which doesn’t seem to have much relevance to the core of Buddhist doctrine, and it seems to be drawn more from the philosophy Friedrich Nietzsche than Buddhism, and it’s worth noting that Nietzsche was apparently one of Sangharakshita’s favorite philosophers, and that the Triratna sect itself made numerous efforts to reconcile Nietzschean philosophy with Buddhism, such as in Sagaramati’s “Nietzsche and Buddhism”. There is also a codified sexism within the sect, based on Sangharakshita’s belief that “angels are to men as men are to women”, which seems to suggest that men are superior to women. In fact, Sangharakshita believed women to be less capable of spiritual evolutuion and enlightenment than men due them being lower in his “Hierarchy of Being” than men. Although there may have been some sexism in early Buddhism, there is no “Hierarchy of Being” in Buddhist doctrine. Furthermore, while the Triratna sect uses the ostensible existence of “a strong women’s wing” as proof of not having a sexist attitude towards women, consider for a moment that even other traditionally patriarchal religions, such as Islam, Christianity and Hinduism, don’t have “women’s wings” within their sects. Indeed, why the need to separate women and men in this way in any religion, if not for the purpose of constructing a strict gender segregation within your movement that doesn’t even exist within traditional Buddhist monasticism.
But the most striking distinction found within Triratna, the thing which sets it apart from all other forms of Buddhism, is the sect’s attitude towards the family and in particular towards heterosexuality and homosexuality. Whereas the old Buddhist texts and philosophers established the honoring and establishment of the traditional family unit as a foundation of Buddhist virtue, the Triratna sect despises the nuclear family, its founder and members believe the nuclear family to be a profound source of artificial social conditioning and even child abuse, as well as believing that heterosexuality (or heterosexual relationships) traps humans in the animal state. Sangharakshita even went so far as to say that the nuclear family and people who live in nuclear families are enemies of the spiritual community who need to be destroyed. His solution, therefore, was the establishment of homosexual (or “single sex”) communities as the basis for a new society, on the grounds that he believed that such communities were the best way of counteracting conditioning and thus paving the way for enlightenment. And in true cultish fashion, he advises heterosexual people to avoid contact with their heterosexual partners, and the sect even advises members to cheat on their partners by having sex with mutiple strangers in order to destroy their sense of attachment. The justification for all of this comes from Sangharakshita’s belief that heterosexual behaviour is nothing more than the result of social conditioning, and that social conditioning acts as an impediment to enlightenment. He tries to stress that both homosexuality and heterosexualtiy are equally the result of social conditioning, but this is simply a cop-out that falls on its face when you consider that he and the Triratna sect seem to hate heterosexual relationships in particular, the fact that they advise that heterosexuals cheat on their partners but not homosexuals, the fact that they favour the establishment of “single sex” communities against heterosexual communities, and the fact that homosexual sex is widely encouraged by the sect’s inner circle.
And here we come to the main reason why the Triratna sect has been in the news, both in the past and now in the present – under the aegis of Triratna doctrine regarding heterosexuality and the family as an obstacle to enlightenment, Sangharakshita sexually abused several young men within his inner circle through the use of psychological suggestion supported by religious pressure. Men such as Mark Dunlop, whom Sangharakshita seduced and manipulated into having sex with him by convincing him that many men, including him, were actually bisexual (and thus compatible with homosexual sexual activities) but were unable to admit that to themselves because of social conditioning. Dunlop is certainly not the only case, not least considering that a report produced by Triratna members (of all people) contains many accounts of sex crimes carried out by Sangharakshita and his coteries. Sangharakshita preys on young men by convincing them that they are nothing more than a mess of social conditionings, ironically conditioning the young men under the guise of trying to break their social conditioning (we used to call this brainwashing), and from there convince them that their heterosexuality is nothing but a result of this conditioning, and that in order to fight this conditioning they must participate in homosexual sex even if they were not actually homosexually inclined. After this, the next step is to convince them that it is possible to transcend mundanity through a type of homosexual sex that involves a male Triratna member and a “mitra” (a word meaning “friend”, in this case they claim it refers to someone who has contact with the group or something) – in other words, a male Triratna member having sex with a male “friend” for whom they have sexual urges. This doctrine creates the set-up for sexual abuse that is lubricated through brainwashing and psychological conditioning.
And if that’s not bad enough, the Triratna sect also encourages the indoctrination of children. In fact, not only do they try to push their ideas about the evils of heterosexuality and the virtues of having sex with “mitras” as a way of fighting social conditioning and attachment to adults, they also try to push it on teenagers. In 1996, they listed “avoiding over-identifying with one’s sexuality” as a major principle of Buddhism. When you know nothing about Triratna, this seems vague and sounds like you could apply it anywhere else, but when you remember that Triratna encourages adultery and enforced homosexual sex as a means of overcoming attachment to heterosexuality, it becomes clear that this is Triratna trying to subtly convince kids to accept their doctrine on sexuality so that they too might become amenable to the abusive sexual practices of its leadership.
All of this makes me wonder what exactly Suella Braverman, a conservative MP who says that her party is engaged in a war against “Cultural Marxism”, is doing in such a sect. There is nothing conservative about many of the Triratna sect’s most distinctive beliefs, other than maybe Sangharakshita’s contempt for feminism. In fact, the sheer contempt for the Triratna sect towards heterosexuality and the nuclear family is completely antithetical to what we would recognize as socially conservative politics, whose ostensible aims include precisely the preservation of the nuclear family rather than its destruction. If anything much of Triratna’s beliefs on sex resemble exactly the thing that we would expect “Cultural Marxists” to believe, given that they are supposed to be advocating for the destruction of the nuclear family and the delegitimization of heterosexuality for the purposes of making society more pliable for communist takeover (which is, of course, an absurd premise). But I suppose if we take into account Cultural Marxism being a fascist idea, I could take note of how Triratna’s doctrine about spiritual evolution had been compared to Julius Evola’s The Doctrine of Awakening.
So we have a strange incidence in which a Conservative MP is found to be a member of a Triratna sect, which is pretty much just a front for Sangharakshita’s predatory sexual desires, which are then carried out by the sect at large through its doctrine and practices. As the Attorney General of England and Wales, she has an important position in the current cabinet as the main legal advisor to the government. That potentially means Triratna gains some influence over the government’s decision-making, at least depending on the extent of her involvement with the sect. We could have in our midst a situation similar to South Korea, wherein the then-head of state Park Geun-hye was involved with a weird shamanistic cult known as Yeongseygo (or The Eternal Life Church) and through this the cult gained an influence over the government tbrough bribery and intruige.
Ever since I first got into the Shin Megami Tensei game series I have been captivated by the world-building the game series had, the way that the mythos of the world was integrated in the game’s story-world was incredible, like nothing I would see in other games. One particularly fascinating thing was the Law and Chaos dynamic, and in this regard, the fact that the Chaos forces were represented not just by Lucifer and his coterie of fallen angels, but also a religious sect that appears to resemble esoteric Buddhist monks and from there an assortment of Buddhist (as well as Hindu and Shinto) gods. The first game alone gives us the Four Heavenly Kings, Yama, Mahakala, Kali, Shiva, Agni, Oumononushi, and several other oriental gods in the Chaos faction, the leader appears to be a figure named Asura (or Asura King), based on the Asuras of Hindu and Buddhist myth, the Gaians resemble Buddhist monks and their healing spots have rows of fearsome Buddhist gods lining the backrows and esoteric Buddhist symbolism hanging around (the Siddham version of the Aum being a symbol of Japanese esoteric Buddhism, borrowed from Hinduism of course).
If you’re at all out of the loop as to the Law and Chaos dynamic, I’ll fill you in. Law and Chaos in Shin Megami Tensei refer to two axes of alignment that represent key ideological differences between factions – this is often reduced to one side being big fans of YHVH and the other being big fans of Lucifer, due to the fact that they are key figures on each side, but it’s often broader than that. Law in this sense typically represents the side that values order over freedom, and in this case the order is divine in nature, ordained by YHVH in context, and the manifestation of this order can be seen in the Thousand Year Kingdom, wherein those who adhere themselves to the will of God are allowed to live in peace and harmony and the rest are left to the wastes. Chaos, by contrast, is defined by the valuing of personal freedom to the point that the only limit to that freedom is contingent on the ability of one individual to overpower another, and to that end the outcome is a might makes right society which also happens to involve co-existence with demons and “the gods of old”, seemingly in a state of true harmony with nature. Quite naturally you’re probably wondering, just as I did, what this has to do with the lore of things like Buddhism and Shintoism. Surely Buddhism in particular has nothing to do with things like Social Darwinism, so what’s the deal? I’ve fascinated myself with that question for a long time, and I believe I may have finally found the answer.
Through the Tumblr blog Stealing Knowledge, which, despite my not being a member of Tumblr, I have followed loyally for years and still do today, I found an interview of Kazuma Kaneko that was originally recorded in the book Shin Megami Tensei: Demon’s Bible. Here he appears to be talking about the third game in the series, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, and somewhere in this interview he seems to explain the reason why the Chaos faction in the games is so aesthetically tied up with Eastern religion despite representing the demonic enemies of Christianity (such as Lucifer, Belial, Beelzebub, Astaroth etc). Below is the relevant extract:
I got the feeling that Shin Megami Tensei III is really appreciating Japanese culture.
KK: Yeah. First of all, Shin Megami Tensei was sort of a hodgepodge, but Shin Megami Tensei II had Law as the theme. However, I didn’t want to show a simple gothic Christian setting, but a monastic image, full of things both too dazzling and grotesque.
The Messiah Church, you mean?
KK: We gave that world an extravagant setting, Book of Revelation style. And yet, they say that no matter how much time passes, the Messiah still won’t show up, so the angels decided to make their own. The Messiah as an artificial human was the theme.
On the other hand, Chaos is Oriental, right?
KK: Well, yeah, in a way. In the end, there is the Messiah Church, strictly maintaining European culture. That is why having Law as the theme gives off that constrictive feeling that makes the story flow smoothly. Since II was like this, we had already decided the next title would obviously be based on Chaos, and in contrast with the European atmosphere appeared the Oriental one, or better said, Buddhist or Vajrayana, which probably strengthened the Japanese atmosphere. Nevertheless, the idol of Chaos is Lucifer. To me it feels like establishing the importance of free will. I wanted to create a world setting where one would respect will and would have a good look at themselves.
Now even though this interview is talking about the third game, we can see here that the reason for Chaos being so connected with Eastern lore and mythos in the series more generally seems to be an aesthetic choice, rather than a reflection of any kind of philosophy. This indeed makes sense when you consider, just as the interview points out, the contrast between the Chaos factions and the Law factions in their overall aesthetic. If you look at the first game for instance, the Messians and the Gaians are represented respectively by Christians who gather in Western-style cathedrals and red-robed Buddhist monks who venerate images of fearsome protector deities and Buddhas. Many of the bosses representing the Law faction are usually various angels from Christian angelology (except for the Hindu god Vishnu for some reason), while many of the bosses representing the Chaos faction, when they aren’t demons from Christian demonology (such as Beelzebub, Astaroth, or Lilith), they tend to be gods and demons from Eastern mythologies, such as the Hindu god Yama, the demon Ravana and his son Indrajit, Niou (a type of Buddhist protector also known as Kongorikishi), the Four Heavenly Kings, and indeed the commanding general of the Chaos forces is an unspecified king of the Asuras, the enemies of the Devas from Hindu mythology. In the second game this is different, with Christian demonology being more emphasized in the Chaos faction this time, but you do still see the Gaians with much the same aesthetic they have in the last game, and for some reason you find the Buddhist entities Virochana (or Dainichi Nyorai, who happens to be the central Buddha of Shingon Buddhism), Atavaka, and the Twelve Heavenly Generals in different parts of the Abyss. In the third game, they look after something called the Miroku Scripture (named for Miroku Bosatsu, the Japanese name for the bodhisattva Maitreya), the contents of which echo several Buddhist concepts. The fourth game (and its direct sequel) features a Cult of Gaia that still resembles Buddhist monks, their headquarters is located within the Tsukiji Honganji, which is a famous Buddhist temple in Tokyo noteable for its unique architecture, and in the game’s version of that temple you find a statue of a goddess-like figure, resembling Mem Aleph from Strange Journey, but whose visage itself also resembles statues of the Reclining Buddha, which is the Buddha posing in the Parinirvana poisition (the symbolic representation of someone who has died after having attained nirvana in life), such as the famous Reclining Buddha found in the Wat Pho Temple in Bangkok, Thailand (not to mention rays of light that resemble the aureoles of the Buddhas at Sanjusangendo in Japan). The same game also features two optional DLC bosses, each aligned to Law or Chaos, and the Chaos-aligned boss is a strange-looking Sanat Kumara – although a Theosophical being, his name may have been associated with the Hindu god Kartikeya, and his characteristics sort of echo the god’s. And of course, throughout the games you can even have whole clans (or “races”) or demons in the Chaos alignment that seem to be dominated by characters from the Eastern mythos, such as the Kishin race, the Dragon race, the Tenma race and its successor the Fury race, the Brute race and the Kunitsukami race.
There very clearly is a strong Buddhist aesthetic to the Chaos factions, and I’ve always loved the powerful cocktail that it presents when we consider the Chaos factions as a whole. But, despite this, there doesn’t seem to be too much of a link between this aesthetic and the philosophy. As Eirikr noted in his post on Stealing Knowledge, the main connection seems to be that the Gaians represent a perversion of Buddhist teaching, or at least many different sinister and esoteric aspects of it, which is why throughout the games the Gaians seem to look quite a bit like traditional Japanese Buddhist monks. And if you think about it, it ultimately makes sense, as many of the beliefs attributed to them are ultimately out of step with the basics of Buddhist doctrine. There’s a belief in free will uber alles that wouldn’t make sense in a doctrine that is based in Paticcasamuppada (dependent-origination) and Sunyata (emptiness), and the might makes right ethos (the attitude that the strong should get to rule over the weak with no restrictions other than the ability of someone else to fight them) that permeates their doctrine would be at odds with the most basic aspects of Buddhist compassion and Metta (or loving-kindess).
In my experience, however, despite the fact in a baseline sense the Gaians do represent the perversion of Buddhist teaching, it is not as though some of the basic points of Buddhism, including enlightenment and even compassion, cannot be bent towards malevolent ends. Years ago, while in college, I would go up to the neighbouring university campus, specifically to the library, in order to read books about religion. One of the books I encountered was the Blackwell Companion to Religion and Violence. In the section concerning Buddhism I encountered a reference to the idea of “compassionate killing”, which is apparently a concept found within some Mahayana Buddhist scriptures. Indeed, in Tantric Buddhism in particular, there are many justifications for ritual violence, though typically this is within the context of exorcizing “demons” and not so much killing human beings. But we cannot forget either the history of Buddhism in Japan, Zen Buddhism in particular, from which the Japanese imperial state often found ways of justifying militarism and imperialistic violence – the doctrine of Issatsu Tashō (“killing one to save the many”) is one example of the ways that Japanese Zen Buddhists in the 20th century sought to justify military aggression as the necessary precursor to the implementation of the work of the dharma throughout Asia. From what I understand, it is even possible for some Buddhists to, through the logic of sunyata and compassion, justify the elimination of the universe as the best way to eliminate suffering. Not that this is the angle that the Chaos factions typically take, of course (in the fourth game, for instance, destroying the universe is framed as an alternative to embracing either Law or Chaos), but you can see that it is definitely possible for Buddhism to become a means by which arrive at such a conclusion. Not to mention, when Eirikr mentions that the Gaians take the Buddhist goal of enlightenment to be a selfish pursuit, there are people who talk about how Mahayana Buddhists criticize Theravada Buddhists (the orthodox school of Buddhism as far as I understand it) for having a selfish conception of enlightenment, limited to the individual attaining enlightenment and leaving samsara without the commitment to emancipate all beings – indeed, the distinction between Samyaksambuddha (the Buddha who strives to cultivate buddhahood in all beings) and the Pratyekabuddha (the “lone buddha”) seems to be a product of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy and does not originate in Theravada Buddhism. So although the Gaians are a perversion of Buddhist doctrine in that many of their often individualistic beliefs don’t make sense when meshed with core Buddhist doctrine, it is definitely possible to draw conclusions from aspects of Buddhism similar to what the Gaians would do, and at that, derive interpretations of the doctrine that could be characterized as extremist.
But of course, the theme of extremist perversion also brings us nicely to Christianity, because the Order of Messiah, the typical representatives of the Law faction, represent their own perversion of existing religious teaching, in this case Christianity. The god of the Messians is YHVH, who is most decidedly a representation of the God of the Old Testament, to the point that the Satan of this game series is based on the Old Testament version of Satan, which was basically just an angel who prosecuted and tormented humans on God’s behalf. Such a conception of God sometimes conflicts with the nature of the New Testament, whose conception of God inherited many doctrines from not only Platonism but also Stoicism, the latter of which is based on a pantheistic view of God (namely that God is the material universe itself). What we get out of Law is ultimately a form of Christianity that leans more towards the Old Testament and Jewish doctrine, with the heavenly hierarchy of YHVH, despite the presence of Christian angelology, ultimately Judaic in character. If we account for the fact that, throughout the SMT games, the theme of the Messiah is universal in its expression via its protagonists, this would mean that in the Neutral playthroughs your opposition to both the forces of Law, represented by the Old Testament God YHVH and his hierarchy, and the forces of Chaos, represented by Lucifer and his demons, echoes Jesus insofar as he sought out not only to do battle with the enemies of God via the demons but also, although not overturning the law, spread a new doctrine by which the old form of Judaism would be cast aside, and through his resurrection making the divinity of God fully accessible to mankind in a way that it simply wasn’t in the original Jewish doctrine. Incidentally, in my view this easily explains the absence of Jesus in all of the SMT games. And in the second game, we see the Messians, with the help of the Four Archangels (well, three of them really), creating a fake version of YHVH and trying to create an artificial messiah in order to bring about God’s kingdom on Earth, which is definitely outside the scope of what the Bible or any Christian would have taught. In the same game, the real YHVH is protected in his lair not only by Satan but also by three entities representing names of God, all of them Judaic – Sabaoath, Shaddai (or El Shaddai), and Elohim – incidentally, you don’t fight any of these entities on the Law path. There’s also the fact that, throughout the games, one of the most prominent angels is Metatron, an angel who doesn’t feature too prominently in Christian canon but is very important in Jewish mythology, where he is listed as the highest of angels, as well the fact that, since Strange Journey, another Jewish angel, Mastema, becomes more prominent, arguably taking over from the role Satan had in the second game and in some ways even supplanting the Four Archangels (except in the fourth game). So you have an ostenisbly Christian faction that is otherwise based on Old Testament doctrine, with an arguably fundamentalist character.
All in all, I now know that the aesthetic attachment between Eastern religion and the forces of Chaos is predominantly an aesthetic choice, designed to differentiate the Law and Chaos alongside West vs East lines – this is is not always consistently the case as shown in the fourth game. In many ways I guess had overthrought it all that time ago, but at the same time, my fascination clearly hasn’t died, and as I get more and more into Taoism, which in Japan got thoroughly mixed with both Shinto and esoteric Buddhism, I remember the way it contradicts Confucianism with the emphasis on Hundun and Wu, in contradiction to the Confucian emphasis on Heaven. And then we remember that Heaven puts Christianity and Confucianism in common, and in some ways an exception to doctrines like Buddhism and Taoism, which lack this emphasis.
The Japanese doomsday cult known as Aum Shinrikyo has been back in the news this month, with the execution of its leader Chizuo Matsumoto (a.k.a. Shoko Asahara) on July 6th and his successors now fighting for his ashes to be scattered into the Pacific Ocean. I have covered weird religious phenomenon before, let alone from Japan, but I’m surprised to have never covered this particular cult on my website despite their infamy. Here, I hope to rectify this by providing a basic outline of their beliefs, the atrocities the cult committed, and some reasons why some people still fall into this cult well into the 2010s.
Aum Shinrikyo began in 1984 as essentially a yoga club, at the time going by the name of Aum Shinsen no Kai. Three years later, Matsumoto changed the group’s name to Aum Shinrikyo, and two years after that the group was officially recognized as a religious organization/corporation under Japanese law. By this time, Chizuo Matsumoto changed his name from his birth name to Shoko Asahara. It is said that, between 1984 and 1987, Matsumoto appeared in various spiritualist and occult magazines claiming to be capable of levitation, established a publishing firm named Chōnōryoku no Kaihatsuhō to distribute his teachings to a wider audience, and claimed to have encounters with supernatural beings, including the Hindu deity Shiva, informing him of his divine mission.
The doctrine of Aum Shinrikyo can best be summarized as an apocalyptic form of Buddhism mixed with doctrines from Christianity, Hinduism and New Age belief systems, centered of course around the personality cult of Chizuo Matsumoto. One of the main aspects of the doctrine is its interpretation of the Vajrayana Buddhist doctrine of powa, or phowa. In Vajrayana Buddhism, Powa refers to a specific ritual performed on behalf of the deceased by a Lama or a guru in order to transfer the consciousness of the deceased into a spiritual location known as a “pure land”, the abode of a Buddha or bodhisattva. This ritual is performed in order to aid the deceased in his or her journey towards spiritual liberation. In Aum Shinrikyo, however, Powa refers to the act of killing someone on behalf of Chizou Matsumoto or Aum Shinrikyo in order to stop them from accumulating negative karma through their opposition to Aum Shinrikyo or by acting in a way that undermines their interests. For example, when in 1989 a member named Taguchi Shuji decided to leave the movement after the accidental death of another member named Majima Terayuki and threatened to go public about Terayuki’s death, Chizuo Matsumoto ordered that Shuji be killed in order to protect Aum Shinrikyo’s reputation. It was believed that had Shuji informed public about the death of Terayuki within Aum Shinrikyo, Shuji would acrue eons worth of bad karma and suffer countless negative reincarnations as a result. By killing him, in accordance with the perversely interpreted doctrine of Powa, his soul could be saved from such a fate while protecting the organization. This interpretation of Powa would also go on to serve as a justification for the atrocities that were to be enacted from then on.
Matsumoto and adherents of Aum Shinrikyo also believed that the end of the world was coming imminently, with “materialism” running rampant and people having forgotten how to practice Buddhism. In East Asian forms of Buddhism, the history of Buddhism is divided into three stages: The Former Day of the Law, The Middle Day of the Law, and The Latter Day of the Law. For convenience we will use their Japanese names – Shobo, Zoho, and Mappo respectively. Shobo refers to the age of the true dharma, where said dharma was practiced by the disciples of the Buddha and flourished as such, Zoho refers to the age of copied dharma, dharma that resembles the true dharma but does not accurately reflected, and Mappo refers to the age of degenerated dharma, wherein the essence of dharma is forgotten and thus cannot be upheld properly. The concept also dovetails nicely with the Hindu concept of the Four Yugas, in which after the Satya Yuga (basically the golden age) Man strays further from God until finally Man reaches the Kali Yuga, the time in which Man is farthest from God. Typically it is held that the Mappo age is to be abolished and the Shobo age restored by Maitreya, the Buddha who is yet to be. For Aum Shinrikyo though, the duty of restoring the Shobo age falls upon them. Chizuo Matsumoto technically gave himself the role of Maitreya through his claiming to be Jesus Christ in the flesh. This of course fits into the theme of holy war, a war between the saved and the unsaved, between those who believed in Aum Shinrikyo and those outside of the cult who were held to be trapped in materialistic urges and bad karma, an idea that very much echoes the sentiments found within the Book of Revelation concerning holy war between the believers and the non-believers. Indeed Matsumoto would eventually begin referring to the concept of Armageddon by name in the run up to the sarin gas attack committed in 1995, even believing that America wanted to hasten the arrival of this event by triggering World War 3 with Japan (in true religious conspiracy theorist character).
Another notable feature is that, besides Matsumoto himself being the messiah, there is a central deity within this sect, namely Shiva, the Hindu deity of destruction, recreation and transformation. Indeed, some say Matsumoto’s messianic title refers not to him being Jesus Christ, but an incarnation of Shiva. While Hindu sects venerate Shiva as a positive figure, representing not simply destruction, let alone necessary destruction, but also the rebirth of the universe and the transformation into new forms, thereby natural and positive change, as well as a creative force in the cosmos, not to mention also venerating him as the Godhead who does battle with demons and sometimes performs self-sacrificial acts to protect the universe from premature destruction, the Aum Shinrikyo veneration of Shiva most likely stems from an obsession with the deity’s destructive aspects, dovetailing with their theme of apocalyptic salvation, destroying the world in order to “save” it. It is said that Aum Shinrikyo had a secret chapel containing a large statue of Shiva, inaccessible to all but the chosen few within the cult.
One very interesting aspect of the cult is its incorporation of bizarre paranormal technology. Members of the cult would wear headsets that connected electrodes to their heads. The idea behind this device was supposedly to allow devotees to telepathically communicate with their guru Chizuo Matsumoto by having them receive his brainwaves or synchronize their own electrical impulses with them. Another piece of technology they made was an electronic device known as an “astral teleporter”, which would purportedly pick up vibrations from Matsumoto’s meditations while he recites his mantra and transmit them to his disciples. That’s not even getting into their development of chemical weapons, and their liaisons with international networks for the purposes of acquiring them and other weapons of mass destruction.
Over the years, the cult became infamous for the various crimes and atrocities they have committed, most notably in 1995 where the cult unleashed sarin gas in a Tokyo subway, killing thirteen people and injuring many more. Following this attack, police uncovered evidence of the cult’s laboratories dedicated to producing drugs and chemical weapons. Prior to the attack, the cult perpetrated a number murders on people who opposed the cult as well as cult members who they perceived as a threat. Known victims included lawyer Tsutumi Sakamoto, along with his wife and son, fellow cultist Taguchi Shuji, another fellow cultist Tadahito Hamaguchi, and notary Kiyoshi Kariya, who died under their confinement. In the years after the 1995 sarin gas attack, the Aum Shinrikyo cult would split off into two spin-off cults – Aleph, not to be confused with yours truly, and Hikari no Wa, the latter of whom claims to want to shed the influence of the old Aum Shinrikyo and its leader. As of July 6th, Chizuo Matsumoto and six other cultists have been executed by the Japanese government for the atrocity committed in 1995, with another six still awaiting execution.
Despite the cult’s infamy, particularly following the sarin attack in 1995, the cult continued to attract membership well into the present decade. Apparently by 2016 the cult gained thousands of new members from, of all places, Russia, as evidenced by the arrests of new cult members from Russia, as well as Belarus, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. It seems that Aum Shinrikyo had set up operations in Russia shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, by which time The Japan Times reckons the cult acquired blueprints for their sarin gas attack from Russia. Russian experts suspect that the appeal of the cult is similar to that of New Age movements and even that of ISIS for young Muslims prone to radicalization – that is, those who join Aum Shinrikyo do so because they see in Chizuo Matsumoto a source of unified truth and in his cult a source of brotherhood, in much the same way some people ultimately see absolute truth and fellowship in other violent religious extremist movements (like ISIS or one of those American Christian militias). In 2016, the Russian government banned the Aum Shinrikyo cult from being practiced because it was, unsurprisingly, seen as a terrorist organization. I can only assume that this decision was made by the Russian state upon its discovery of Russian followers of the cult, lending itself to fears of a religious terror cell operating in Russia.
In Japan, Aum Shinrikyo’s spin-off cult Aleph has attracted numerous young followers despite the atrocities committed by Aum Shinrikyo. For example, in the case of an anonymous man one Kuchikomi writes for Japan Today:
Mr S was in junior high school when the sarin affair exploded on the national consciousness. He recalls being more interested than appalled, and anyway, all that was a long time ago. If anything, the connection to so dramatic an episode made his present experience all the more titillating. Moreover, he says, by then he’d spent some 40,000 yen on the training, and he was unwilling to admit that it was money down the drain.
And so he graduated into hard-core Aleph training, heavy on recorded sermons by Aum guru Shoko Asahara, currently on death row.
His awakening, when at last it came, was a strange one. It was in response to an Aleph teaching to the effect that a man who has sexual relations cannot attain enlightenment. Strange, thought Mr S – Asahara has children. “Yes,” he was told, “but the Master is no ordinary man.”
To the surprise of just about anyone, including myself who missed this development entirely when it came up, Aum Shinrikyo has been been growing in the twenty years since the sarin gas attack of 1995, with new generations in Japan developing a perverse fascination with the cult for various reasons including the good looks of some of the cult members, the absurdity of their cultish activities, the sense among sympathizers that their murderous acts were motivated not out of malice but out of obedience to their guru, and broad empathy with the cult and its leader for standing against a society that frustrates them.
That last part needs to be looked at rather carefully, especially given how apparently Aum Shinrikyo literature is known for emphasizing contempt for contemporary society. The fact that such a reprehensible cult known to the public for committing atrocities, ones that have had a significant negative impact on the national consciousness of Japan, can still attract a number of converts to me says something about the widespread alienation within Japanese society. I mean think about it: this is the country that actually has its own word for working yourself to death, itself testament to a horrendous work culture where you just tough it out until you die. A country known for its notoriously high suicide rates. A country where one bad day might turn you into a complete and total shut-in. A country whose social attitudes are defined by deference to authority or the social group above almost anything else including the individual. And to top it all off, like many East Asian cultures, the elder generations are never to be put at fault on pain of violating long-embedded Confucian virtue towards respecting your elders, and criticizing authority in general is considered anathema in Japanese society, so everything bad about Japan can be shafted to the younger generation (admittedly not too dissimilar to attitude baby boomers have towards millennials here in the West), who are socially and economically powerless.
The more you learn about Japanese society, the more you understand how profoundly dysfunctional it is. This is especially relevant when dealing with young converts of the cult. If you have a society that a generation of people has come to see is against, they might well go off towards anything that can stand against it. For some of these people, it seems, the Aum Shinrikyo cult is one avenue by which to actively resist the social order because it appeals to their alienation and the sense of a lack of purpose, or they just fall in love with criminals because they see them as attractive bad boys. Like with a lot of cults, people facing alienation and other social ills will often gravitate towards whatever suits them best, including totalitarian cults. Just ask anyone who’s ever been in groups like the Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, Yahweh Nation, ACMTC or Scientology.
On the whole, damn, I can’t believe I didn’t cover this subject much sooner. Learning about the cult has definitely yielded some surprises on my part. A perverted Buddhist doctrine fighting to bring about the end of days, believing this will save the souls of the mass dead from accumulating bad karma, in the name of a self-proclaimed reincarnation of Jesus Christ, and to that end amassing and developing weapons of mass destruction, mind controlling drugs and paranormal technologies, and killing those who oppose them or don’t believe in them, and now potentially hiding out in Europe after the arrest of their leader and other cultists. In a sane world, this would be the stuff of movies, video games and thriller novels, and I guess manga as well (this is Japan after all). To be honest, I’ll be disappointed if Chizuo Matsumoto’s execution is the last we hear from them, considering the cells that are likely hiding outside of Japan.
In Buddhist tradition, Maitreya is the Buddha of the future and the prophesied successor to Siddhartha Gautama. It’s believed that he will incarnate at some point in the future, specifically a time where the Buddhist teachings will have been completely forgotten, at which time he will achieve enlightenment and spread the Buddhist teachings in their pure and unaltered form. Maitreya is generally seen as a messianic figure who will save humanity and lead them into a new age of enlightenment and peace.
I suppose I should begin by answering the central question: are Mithras and Maitreya related? The name Maitreya is derived from the Sanskrit word “maitri” (meaning “loving-kindness”), and that word is said to be derived from the noun “mitra” (meaning “friend”). That noun is associated with the Vedic deity Mitra, whom you may remember is a deity associated with friendship and the Vedic Indian predecessor of both the Iranian Mithra and the Roman Mithras. This idea is at the center of the specultion that the Buddhist Maitreya was based on Mitra or Mithra. However, apart from the apparent connection between their names, the two entities seem largely unrelated, and any connection between them seems to be a stretch, entirely extrapolated from the connection between their names.
Maitreya’s first appearance is in a text called the Cakkavatti Sutta, in which Siddartha Gautama speaks of the future time wherein the Dharma (or Buddhist teachings) will have been completely forgotten. In this state, it is said that mankind will war with itself, a few people will take shelter in the wilderness, and the majority of mankind will be slaughtered while the few that remain will emerge out of their shelters to seek a virtuous life. Gautama states that at this time a future Buddha will be born among them, eventually attain enlightenment, and have a Sangha (community of ordained monks and nuns) numbering in the thousands. It is believed that Maitreya currently resides in the inner court of the Tushita heaven – the heavenly realm of contentment. This realm was also believed to be the domicile of Siddartha Gautama before his incarnation as the historical Buddha, and it is believed that Maitreya will descend from this realm at the time of his incarnation in order to assume his role as the next Buddha. It is also believed that the proper time of Maitreya’s incarnation on Earth would not come to pass for millions of years, and that he will remain in the Tushita realm for all that time until then, when he would be needed.
At this point, it seems obvious that the two entities have pretty much nothing to do with each other. Maitreya’s principal role is to appear at a time where Buddhist teachings are forgotten in the world and spread the teachings to those who will listen. He shares no roles and no attributes with Mitra, Mithra, or Mithras. Even the idea of one of those deities bringing salvation seems shaky, or is at least different from the role that Maitreya is said to play. He’s just a future Buddha, not a deity of justice, covenants, friendship, or light – let alone the Sun (in Buddhism, the solar Buddha is Vairocana).
You may or may not recognize a statue of a fat Buddha who is depicted as smiling, laughing, and full of joy. That Buddha is named Budai – commonly identified as the Laughing Buddha – a popular Chinese Buddhist icon sometimes revered in the name of wealth, and having the power. He is also considered an incarnation of Maitreya. This identification seems to have spawned from tales of a Ch’an (Zen) monk known as Pu Tai. Pu Tai wondered around his native province of Zhejiang where he begged for food, gave advice and tought those who cared to listen, and collected many things to put in his sack. He had no home to call his own and no temple in which to find sanctuary, but he was always in a cheerful mood. He was also purported to be very good at telling people’s fortunes and predicting the weather. When he was about to die, his last words were said to be “Maitreya, the true Maitreya, has billions of incarnations. Often he is shown to people all the time; other times they do not recognize him”, and this is said to be the source of his identification with Maitreya.
In China, Maitreya has also served as the inspiration for various messianic rebellions conducted against the imperial government by followers of a revolutionary interpretation of the Maitreya prophecy. During the Sui dynasty, three different people proclaimed themselves (or were proclaimed by their followers) as Maitreya Buddha and led insurrections against the dynasty between 610 and 613 CE, but all three were vanquished by the imperial government. Similar declarations of the arrival of the new Buddha and rebellions inspired by Maitreya would emerge in dynasties afterwards, right up to the Qing Dynasty. One notable player in these rebellions was a sect called White Lotus, an unorthodox Buddhist sect who rebelled against the Yuan and Qing dynasties in the name of Maitreya as well as the “Manichaean King of Light”. There were also similar rebellions inspired by the arrival of a “new Buddha” before the Sui dynasty, including one rebellion known as the Mahayana Rebellion, whose leader was a monk who managed to convince his followers that they would become bodhisattvas by killing a certain number of enemies. Because Maitreya’s incarnation wasn’t supposed to happen for millions of years, it can be safely assumed that the rebellious sects had reinterpreted the Maitreya prophecy which was more conducive to the mentality and goal of revolution against the imperial government.
In Japan, Maitreya is known as Miroku Bosatsu and he assumes much the same role as he does outside of Japan. Miroku Bosatsu is also considered one of the most prominent and beloved bodhisattvas in Japanese Buddhism, alongside other beloved icons such as Jizo Bosatsu, who vowed to remain on Earth to do good deeds until Miroku’s incarnation. At one point Miroku also became very popular in Shingon Buddhism, which believes that Miroku Bosatsu will become a Buddha and appear on Earth to save those who have not yet attained enlightenment in order to bring universal salvation. The sect was founded by a monk named Kukai, who travelled to China in order study and impart esoteric Buddhist teachings. There are some legends about Kukai that state that he is was reborn in the Tushita realm and is with Miroku or waiting upon him, or that he is not actually dead and is waiting for Miroku on Mount Koya in an eternal state of samadhi. Budai also appears in Japanese Buddhism as Hotei, who is identified as a deity of contentment and happiness, the guardian of children, the patron of bartenders, and one of the Seven Lucky Gods.
Outside of Asia, Maitreya is referred to in the teachings of Theosophy, where he is believed to be a high-ranking member of a hidden spiritual hierarchy whose function is to assist humanity in its evolution. In this hierarchy, he is said to hold the “Office of the World Teacher”. Helena Blavatsky linked the arrival of Maitreya with the return of Jesus of Nazareth, along with the arrival of other “ascended masters”. In the early 20th century, a Theosophist named Charles W. Leadbeater declared that Maitreya and Jesus were the exact same person, that said person lived somewhere in the Himalayas, and that his coming was imminent. In 1909, Leadbeater discovered a young Jiddu Krishnamurti, whom he regarded as a vehicle for Maitreya to reveal himself through. With that idea in mind, Krishnamurti was trained for that purpose, and the Order of the Star in the East was created to prepare the world for Maitreya’s arrival. Krishnamurti became the head of this organization until 1929, when he dissolved it. In 1975, a man named Benjamin Creme claimed to have received telepathic communications from Maitreya and that Maitreya revealed that his return to Earth would be earlier than the year 2025. He later claimed Maitreya had already incarnated on Earth and had been living in the Himalayas as of 1977 before moving to London where he lived in secrecy. He made all sorts of claims regarding Maitreya, none of which have proven true, and he since become a source of ridicule because of it.
There have been individuals other than the various leaders of messianic insurrections in China who claimed to be Maitreya incarnate, or are believed to be so. L Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, once claimed that he was Maitreya – or rather Metteya. Claude Vorilhon, also known as Rael, was also believed to be Maitreya. Samael Aun Weor seems to refer to himself as an avatar of Kalki – the tenth avatar of Vishnu – whom he identifies with Maitreya, and Maitreya Buddha Samael seems to be a title he accepts for himself, though he interprets the title of Buddha to refer to one’s own state of having achieved self-realization or “Christification”. There is also a man who appeared in Nairobi, Kenya in 1988, who was referred to as Maitreya – people in the area also referred to him as Jesus Christ, while Benjamin Creme seemed to comment that the man was in fact Maitreya (who was viewed as being the same as Jesus). Even more bizarre, some people have even claimed that Maitreya is actually the Antichrist. Today, these people usually consist of the same type of conspiracy theorists who have claimed that every US president since Ronald Reagan is the Antichrist. So, go figure I guess.
Maitreya seems to be another one of those savior figures that people tend to cling to, but also one of those savior figures that seem to have inspired strong belief in him, even to the point of messianic delusion – much like how far belief in Jesus of Nazareth has been shown to go. Given Maitreya’s role as a figure who would appear on Earth at some point, it’s not hard to see why he would be compared with figures such as Jesus. However, as I have already written, Maitreya isn’t really related to the same deities that people have claimed he is.
Recently I feel motivated to conduct more detailed study of occult books, particularly Michael W. Ford’s books on Luciferianism and Luciferian magick. Lately I have been feeling like I could benefit from some study on ritual in order to produce greater results in the realm of magick and achieve the results that I intend to produce.
Some of the books I plan to look at include the following:
Adversarial Light: Magick of the Nephilim by Michael W. Ford
Bible of the Adversary by Michael W. Ford
Luciferian Witchcraft by Michael W. Ford
Adamu: Luciferian Tantra and Sex Magick by Michael W. Ford
Liber HVHI by Michael W. Ford
The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey
The Satanic Rituals by Anton LaVey
The Seven Faces of Darkness by Don Webb
The Ford books will be studied in a certain order beginning with Adversarial Light and ending with Liber HVHI. I also plan to look into a few books on Hindu Tantra, Buddhist Tantra, Japanese esoteric Buddhism, and ritual pertaining to all three of those areas where I can find them, unless some of the listed books from Michael W. Ford cover the bases from Eastern lore. That, and I can always use more Satanism books, and not just LaVey’s books either.
I have already been reading at most three of the books (Seven Faces of Darkness, a little bit of Adversarial Light, and another little bit of Bible of the Adversary), and perhaps I could read more. I’ve read some interesting things so far, and I plan to take notes along the way. To be honest, I may have to crystallize my magical direction from all this and generate a more refined and defined system that’s still true to my desires and nature, only better at getting what I want out magick.
I watched a video from Thomas LeRoy, who you may recognize as the founder of a Left Hand Path organization known as the Sect of the Horned God, and in the video he talked about how he felt the Hindu deity Shiva was the best representation of the Left Hand Path in general. He feels that Shiva represents the consciousness of the individual (which he equates to the concept of Atman), in contrast to Vishnu’s connection with the consciousness of the universe (which he identifies as the concept of Brahman), and as the traditions of the Left Hand Path highly stress the importance of the consciousness of the individual, .
If you want, you can see the full video below.
In a sense, Atman referring to the individual consciousness can be a way of interpreting the concept of Atman, but while Atman is viewed as referring to the essential self, in Hindu tradition that same essential self is viewed as identical with Brahman, the consciousness of the universe. Shiva being the lord of individual consciousness in a Left Hand Path context is still an interesting way to elevate the individual consciousness and its importance in a Hindu context, and it definitely keeps Shiva interesting. In fact, it might be part of why my interest in him has stuck.
This interpretation also brings to my mind a Buddhist myth concerning Shiva. Shiva does appear in the Buddhist tradition as Mahakala, but that’s not his only iteration within Buddhist lore. There’s a story in Buddhist scriptures where Shiva appears as Maheshvara (one of his names which he often goes by) and is defeated by a bodhisattva named Vajrapani. In the story, the cosmic Buddha Vairocana wants to construct a mandala and requests Vajrapani to generate his adamantine family in order to do so, but Vajrapani refuses to cooperate with Vairocana because of Maheshvara “deluding beings with deceitful doctrines and engaging in criminal activity”. In response Vajrapani’s complaint, Vairocana permits him to bring Maheshvara and his entourage to Mount Meru in order to force them to comply with the doctrines of the Buddha Gautama. Vajrapani uses a mantra to drag Maheshvara and company to Mount Meru, and orders all of them submit to the Buddhist teachings, to which all of them comply except Maheshvara, who refers to Vajrapani as a “pathetic tree spirit”. The two challenge each other in magical combat, and after a series of battles Maheshvara eventually defeated by Vajrapani, and along with his wife Uma (clearly a reference to the goddess Parvati) he is tread upon by Vajrapani after his defeat. After Vajrapani’s victory, all of Maheshvara’s entourage submit to the teachings of Buddhism and become a part of Vairocana’s mandala, except for Maheshvara, who is killed, but he is reborn in another realm as a Buddha named Bhasmesvara Nirghosa, who is described as “Soundless Lord of Ashes”.
In Japanese Buddhism, there is a similar myth centering around Gozanze Myo-O (aka Trailokyavijaya), one of the Five Wisdom Kings (a powerful group of wrathful emanations of the Five Buddhas of Wisdom, intended to represent the overcoming of passions and all threats to the Buddhist faith). In Japan, Gozanze Myo-O is the one who subjugates Maheshvara (known in Japan as Daijizaiten) and his wife Uma, thus they are depicted as trampled beneath Gozanze Myo-O’s feet in representations of him. But rather than killing Maheshvara, as Vajrapani did, Gozanze Myo-O converts him and Uma into protectors of the Buddhist faith.
The story of Maheshvara’s defeat and/or subjugation is obviously a way of illustrating the purported superiority of Buddhism next to Hinduism, and thus the superiority of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas over the Hindu pantheon of deities, but I feel that if we are to consider Shiva as a deity representing individuated consciousness, then beings like Vajrapani and Gozanze Myo-O, in the act of killing or subjugating Maheshvara, become the destroyers of individuated consciousness. This of course ties in to the fact that the goal of Buddhist practice is, ultimately, the extinction of individuated consciousness.
It’s a shame too, because I don’t really look at beings like these the same way after thinking about it that way. The wrathful beings of Buddhist come across to me as expressions of powerful will and strength, so it is a shame when that becomes directed against individuated consciousness in support of religious doctrine.
This is the first of a new kind of post that I call a Mythological Spotlight, so let me explain how this is going to work. Mythological Spotlights are posts that are devoted to mythological figures, almost always deities or demons. Mythological Spotlights will be similar to the Deity Pages, except the Description section before the History may be much shorter will focus more on the general description of the mythological figure, whereas my opinion of the figure will probably appear after the History section. Mythological Spotlights will be posted infrequently rather than in a regular pattern unless I have a strong motivation to do so, though it may or may not occur that I post the first few Spotlights once a week since I have a few candidates in mind.
Anyways, let’s begin with Dairokuten Maou.
In Japanese Buddhism, Dairokuten Maou is the personification of delusion and the demonic ruler of the sixth heaven. The sixth heaven refers to the realm known as Takejizai-Ten, the realm of Free Enjoyment of Transformations by Others, and is the sixth heaven of the realm of the devas, one of the six desire realms into which reincarnation is said to be possible. Dairokuten Maou is said to make free use of things created by others for his own pleasure, and his role is said to prevent conscious beings from escaping from the cycle of metempsychosis or Samsara by tempting them towards worldly life, desires, and goals while tempting them away from Buddhist teachings. He is said to have innumerable minions under his service and enjoys sapping life force from others. Nichiren Buddhism identifies Dairokuten Maou as the heavenly devil and classes him as one of four devils that afflict practitioners and obstruct Buddhist practice, the other three being the devil of the five components of life (or the five aggregates or skandas), the devil of earthly desires, and the devil of death.
Dairokuten Maou seems to be the Japanese iteration of a being named Mara, who is sometimes referred to as “the Evil One”. Mara is seen as a personification of distraction from the spiritual life and from pursuit of enlightenment, as well as unskillfulness and spiritual death. In fact, his name seems to be a reference to death itself. Usually Mara is a representation of internal vices and impulses that lie within the mind, rather than an external demon. In the story of how the Buddha achieved enlightenment, Mara tried to distract Siddhartha Gautama with temptations in order to prevent him from achieving enlightenment. Like Dairokuten Maou, Mara was also said to distract people from practicing the Buddhist teachings with temptations.
It was also said that Mara referred to four obstructive forces: Skandha-Mara, Klesa-Mara, Mrtyu-Mara, and Devaputra-Mara. Skanhda-Mara is said to be the embodimenet of the five skandhas, or aggregates of existence: form, feeling, perception, formations, and consciousness. Klesa-Mara is said to be the embodiment of attachment to “unskillful” and negative emotions, and the patterns that pertain to them. Mrtyu-Mara is said to be the embodiment of death and the fear of death and impermanence, also known as the Lord of Death (not to be confused with Yama). Devaputra-Mara is said to be the embodiment of great attachment and craving, particularly for pleasure, and is also referred to as a child of the gods. Some refer to Devaputra-Mara as the literal Mara. These four Maras seem to be the basis of the four devils described in Nichiren Buddhism.
Dairokuten Maou was also a nickname attributed to Nobunaga Oda, a daimyo (fuedal lord) who conquered a third of Japan until his death at Honnō-ji in 1582. Nobunaga actually adopted the title for himself, and this seems to have started after Nobunaga was sent a message from rival warlord Shingen Takeda, who proclaimed himself Tendai Zasu-Shamon Shingen (protector of the Tendai sect and its leader) in a letter sent in response to him burning down Enryaku-ji, which was based in Mt. Hiei and was also the headquarters of the Tendai sect of Buddhism (and still is today). In response, Nobunaga boasted that he was the Demon King of the Sixth Heaven, and he continued to do so in missives sent to his enemies (according to his confidant, the Portugese Jesuit missionary Luis Frois). Presumably, this was done to try and inspire fear in his enemies and discourage them from opposing him, but to this day Nobunaga is often depicted as villainous and even an actual demon king, and this has not always been down to him adopting the title of Demon King of the Sixth Heaven for himself. Nobunaga had been infamous for his brutality and cruelty and for committing various atrocities. One example is how, after his campaign against the Azai and Asakura factions, he apparently took the skulls of his rival Nagamasa Azai, his father Hisamasa Azai, and Yoshikuge Asakura, and made them into cups for drinking sake out of. Another is how he burned Buddhist temples, such as Enryaku-ji which was home to warrior monks who were independent and allied with the Azai and Asakura factions, and killed even innocent people in the siege of Mt. Hiei. Such actions were likely done in order to strike fear into his enemies and discourage them from opposing him.
Nobunaga was not always known for being cruel or villainous, however. He is also remembered as being one of the three unifiers of Japan during the Sengoku period that lasted from 1467 to 1603 CE, a time where many fuedal lords fought each other for land and influence and the influence of the Ashikaga Shogunate that governed the land had declined. For better or worse, Nobunaga’s actions set the foundation for the end of this period of civil war, and after his death, the land would eventually be united by one of his successors, Ieyasu Tokugawa. He is also remembered for changing the way war was fought in Japan with the introduction of firearms, and for modernizing the economy. Yet, many works of fiction to this day, particularly works of anime that lean to towards fantasy and action, depict Nobunaga as supernaturally villainous, and chances are when you’re in Japan and you think Nobunaga Oda, you’re also thinking of the Demon King of the Sixth Heaven.
In my opinion, Dairokuten Maou seems to be the closest thing in Buddhist theology to the Christian interpretation of Satan: a being who personifies delusion, temptation, and/or evil, a being with innumerable minions serving under him, and a being who leads humans away from a given religion (in this case Buddhism) and its teachings as well as obstructing religious practice. But, unlike the Christian Satan who resides in Hell, Dairokuten Maou resides in a heavenly realm, and unlike the Christian Satan who is attested to have fallen from heaven where he was once an angel, Dairokuten Maou pretty much remained in the heavenly realm he occupies and there’s no information that attests to him ever having fallen from any sort of heavenly realm and being in the good graces of any particular deity or deities. At any rate, Dairokuten Maou is an interesting character, and his attachment to a historical figure (in this case Nobunaga Oda) seems to make him all the more so because of the prospect of a powerful heavenly demon getting himself involving in a war on Earth, even if it was never anything literal.
Karma is a concept common in Eastern religions and culture, but is interpreted very differently here in the West by many people. Our understanding of karma is largely based on the Hindu and Buddhist concepts of karma, so these are the concepts I’ll focus on here. When most people think of karma, they tend to think of something like this:
But in reality, the concept of karma has nothing to do with this sort of thing in its actual context. People like to think that karma means you “get what you deserve” in this life through some force in the cosmos, possibly because it suits their desire for vengeance without them actually claiming their vengeance for themselves, but that’s not what karma is.
In the West we tend to think of karma as the invisible moral force of reward and punishment, but in the Hindu context karma refers to the action or deeds of a person. In fact, the word karma literally means “action”, “deed”, or “work”, referring to the actions or deeds of a person, and any reward or punishment would thus refer to the result of said actions. However, karma is tied to the concept of reincarnation in which the soul enters a new physical form after death, which means your actions in this life are more or less tied to the next life. In this sense, karma in Hinduism tends to play out more like this:
In addition, Hindu belief stresses that there is only one Self, but instead of the individuated self there’s a single consciousness or Self tying all life together. This means all life is connected, and every individual is not only part of all others but also part of the divine consciousness of the universe, in fact but a piece of this consciousness, thus the goal of Hindu spirituality is for each piece to reunite with this single underlying consciousness, often identified as either God or by the concept of Atman (this itself tends to depend on what school of Hindu thought you answer to). It also means that it’s not you being reborn in a new body, but rather Atman. It also means that the bad things can happen to other people as a result of one person’s karma, which is horrible. In fact, this was one of the ways that people tried to explain the tsunami that happened in Southeast Asia near the end of 2004, and it may sound glib but it’s not an unreasonable interpretation of Hindu belief. Either way, I feel that since your consciousness is not your own in Hindu belief and since reincarnation entails someone or something else inheriting the fruits of your past actions, someone or something else is going to get screwed over by your actions, which is just illogical and wrong.
It works much the same in the Buddhist faith, except that in Buddhism there is neither a single divine consciousness nor individuated consciousness. Reincarnation is still based on karma or actions, but karma was also defined by Siddhartha Gautama as intention itself. This means that even mental action, the thought or impulse to perform physical and verbal actions and that influences such actions, can affect the next life. In broad terms, it also means that even a good action motivated by personal desire can be impure and lead to an impure rebirth, and the highest states of being, along with enlightenment itself, hinge on selflessness, which is stupid.
In general, karma just means actions, but it’s funny how even though the concept of karma entails actions rather than a justice system designed to reward or punish them, the theme surrounding the concept of karma in many religions seems to be that your actions will be punished after this life rather than within, and I can’t seem to agree with the idea that the cosmos dispenses any sort of reward or punishment for actions that, if reincarnation is to be believed, you are no longer technically responsible for. And the thing is, if Hinduism and Buddhism are to be believed, you either don’t have an individuated consciousness, or your consciousness is not your own anyway, so how the hell are you responsible for actions that aren’t even yours either way?
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