The Polestar

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.

My Favorite Benzaiten

Benzaiten UkiyoeAoigaoka Keisei, “Benzaiten Seated on a White Dragon”
Edo Period woodblock print, Metropolitan Museum of Art

This is one of my favorite images of Benzaiten-sama. It is (I believe, though I am not sure) a scene from the famous medieval epic Heike Monogatari. Benzaiten-sama was said to be the patroness of the Heike clan (better known in historical sources as the Taira). Yet she is sometimes said to have withdrawn her support of the Taira due to the hubris of Taira no Kiyomori, the clan patriarch. This in turn led to their defeat by the newly ascendant Minamoto clan, who would establish the first permanent shogunate.

My Polytheism

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I found my polytheism in the suburbs of Tokyo, in a Shinto Shrine to a Buddhist Goddess called Benzaiten-sama. She is better known as the Hindu goddess Saraswati, but She is worshipped across pretty much all of South and Southeast Asia under many names. In Tibet alone She has a myriad of epithets, most famously Yangchenma, “goddess of melodious sound.”

In Japan though, she is Benzaiten-sama. She came across the waters from China and Korea with books and Buddhism, while I came roaring out of the skies jet-lagged and stumbling.

I’d worked with Her for a few months, and already fallen deeply in love, but it was not until I’d stood on the grounds of one of Her many shrines and met fellow believers that I truly understood what that love meant.

My polytheism was born of hospitality for both foreign mortals and foreign gods.

My polytheism is community in diversity

Medicine Buddha

The Medicine Buddha  is a popular figure in Mahayana Buddhism, especially in Tibet and Japan, as well as China. In Sanskrit, his name Bhaișajyaguru, and he features in a sutra entitled Bhaișajya Guru Vaidūrya Prabhā Rāja Sutra, which can be translated as “Medicine King Master and Lapis Lazuli Light.” The title alludes both to his function as a Buddha of healing, and to his trademark association (at least in Tibetan Buddhism) with the color deep blue.

Bhaișajyaguru is said to be a guardian of the Eastern direction, and may actually supplant The Buddha Akshobhya, who is far more commonly said to fill this role. Just like the far more famous Amitabha, he also rules over his own Pure Land, known as Vaidūryanirbhāsa or “Pure Lapis Lazuli.”

In Japan, he was known as Yakushi, and his popularity no doubt was bolstered by the fact that he plays an important role in The Lotus Sutra, which is arguably the most influential Sutra in Japanese Buddhist traditions. (Anyone wanna argue with me on that?) His cult in Japan is very old, dating back to the seventh century. In the late eleventh century, the author of the Sarashina Nikki (a famous literary diary/memoir) wrote of her attachment to a statue of Yakushi that had been made in her size, and her grief at being forced to leave it behind in a move.

Medicine Buddha

 

Blessed

Blessed is My Lady Benzaiten the goddess
For gamblers, whores, and thieves – Blessed are they
Who will call upon My Lady? Liars, the jealous, and me

Benzaiten Ukiyoe 2
Edo period print of a courtesan as Benzaiten-sama. At this time, the goddess was a traditional patroness for courtesans and other sex-workers, as well as “jealous women”, and professional gamblers (the forerunners of today’s yakuza)

A Foxes’ Wedding

In Japan, rain falling from a clear sky is called a “Foxes’ Wedding”

To Inari-Sama

She leaves whispers in the greenwood
Sylvan shadows, silver light
Raindrops falling one by one
It’s a foxes’ wedding today

Twilight trails behind her
Sylvan shadows one by one
She leaves raindrops in the forest
It’s a foxes’ wedding today

Silver light is fading
Trailing rainclouds one by one
She leaves twilight in the mountains
It’s a foxes’ wedding today

Raindrops falling in the greenwood
Silver light in sylvan green
She leaves sorrow in the twilight
It’s a foxes’ wedding tonight