One of the founders of the Western Buddhist Order, now known as Triratna, posed a question to readers in his book, Meeting the Buddhas: if your life was a mandala, what would be at the center? Is it your family, your job, your faith…what?
The three years since I began a formal relationship with My Lady Saraswati have gone by very quickly. Yet I feel as though She has always been in my life. I’m fairly certain she actually has, but I’m honestly also convinced that these feelings have more to do with how She has radically reordered my priorities and claimed her place in the center of my life’s mandala.
So. You’re godbothered. What do you do?
- Are you godbothered? I mean, really. Use your discernment and common sense. Is it a god who’s come to call, or is something else going on? These are the main possibilities to consider:
- It is a god. More on this below.
- It’s not a god, but it is some sort of entity that is not-you
- Gods are not the only thing out there, and one can have very intense encounters with entities as seemingly humble as a tree spirit. (I have)
- It’s not not-you
- This one is very tricky. Only you know the inside of your head well enough to make this call. Is that numinous feeling a god’s presence, or is it the side effect of a new medication? (I’ve been there). Keep in mind the Delphic maxim and know thyself.
- So, it is a god. What next?
- Did you ask for this?
- No, I mean literally. Did you ask for a god in your life? If you didn’t and one drops on you like a ton of bricks, you’ve already had your boundaries disrespected.
- Do you want this?
- If you didn’t ask for a divine presence in your life and suddenly find yourself with one, that is an even bigger red flag that the entity in question (god or not) has boundary issues, and possibly other issues as well.
- Are you enjoying this?
- This last question is actually pretty important. It’s not wrong or impious to end a relationship with a deity if it’s making you miserable.
My Lady is called upon as a goddess of wisdom and a patroness of learning by traditions across the world, from India to Japan. She is known not just as Saraswati, but as Yangchenma and Benzaiten-sama. She is a goddess of sense-finding and pattern making, of narrative construction and storytelling. She forces chaos into coherence, and brings meaning to human existence by forcing sound into shapes called words, and carving lines into things called writing. My Lady is a cosmic goddess.
I’ve been stashing ideas in various places for a few months now, trying to assemble them into my own path. It’s been slow going, and messy, because I’m honestly not well-organized by nature. I’m much more comfortable in chaos. Yet oddly, I do love the process of organization. I seek patterns in things, and tend to find them – even in the chaos.
So perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me that the most promising sources for my path-building have not been religious texts or magical primers, but my library science textbooks. This semester’s course on cataloging has stirred me more than anything else to find order within my chaos.
I’ve shared this picture before, and called it my personal Saraswati, without much other explanation. It’s a Sino-Tibetan silkscreen that I got off EBay; I have it hanging over my altar. I’ve become very fond of it. Look at that smile! My Lady’s got everything in this picture: the moon in her hair, little geese at her feet, and of course…the dragon.
While the smile was what sold me on this particular image, the dragon sheltering My Lady with a flower is a wonderful touch. It may not be the heart of the painting, but to borrow an expression from a mentor, it is the pupils in the eyes.
I associate My Lady Saraswati with dragons, serpents, nagas, snakes…all those ophidian creatures that both fascinate and frighten me. They are guardians of treasure and bringers of rain and storm. According to Buddhist lore, it was the nagas who hid the Mahayana sutras until the time came for them to be revealed. And of course one can’t forget Benzaiten-sama’s serpentine associations in Japan…
Saraswati is associated in Hindu lore with the a bird called a hamsa, hence the name of this blog. The identity of the hamsa is somewhat debated. Is it a goose or a swan? Personally I don’t really care. Geese and swans, as well as the other bird Saraswati is associated with – the peacock – are all quite lovely creatures.
Geese get a bad reputation as dimwitted and ill-natured, but this isn’t really correct. They are actually quite intelligent birds, and also very brave. The problem is they are often both too clever and too brave for their own good.
Swans are aesthetically more pleasing than geese, according to popular conception. In fact, I’ve seen this put forward as an argument for the hamsa being a swan and not a goose, rather than anything really solid such as linguistics or biology. Of course, swans (and peacocks too, actually) share a reputation with the geese for being mean and stupid despite their beauty.
I’ve always felt that both swans and geese are suitable to be the hamsa, and along with the peacock they are truly worthy companions for My Lady. They are graceful in flight and on water, and proud when they show their true colors. It is not simply their beauty but their boldness that makes them hers.
Someone new is in my life…I think? I’m not certain, as it could simply be My Lady in another one of her many guises. The entity in question, anyway, is the Sino-Japanese star deity known as Myōken.
Myōken is most often said to be the deity of the polestar, but his identity is quite fluid, hence my confusion. He is known by many other names, and is associated with many other deities in Japanese culture. Japanese polytheism (which is not limited to Shinto by any means) is complex and syncretic, and you can never be sure which deity you’ve got hold of.
I came to My Lady Saraswati via her Japanese persona Benzaiten-sama. Yet Benzaiten-sama is not only Saraswati; she is seen as the Bodhisattva Kannon, the Devi Sri, and various others. Her iconography overlaps with Oinari-sama, Dakiniten, and most importantly here, Myōken. Both Myōken and Benzaiten are associated with dragons and magic jewels, for instance.
Currently, the cultus I give Myōken is limited to observing the actual stars in the sky, and his shrine is a homemade paper talisman taped to the ceiling above My Lady’s shrine. I feel She has called me to the star god for a reason, if only to gain a greater understanding of Her.