World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts
Editor, Andrew Wilson
The world's religions testify to the existence of a host of spiritual beings, occupying the various realms in the spiritual world. The good and beneficent spiritual beings are for Christians the angels and departed saints, for Mahayana Buddhists the great Bodhisattvas, and for Shintoists the Kami. Indian religions speak of devas and devis, the Thirty-three, gandharvas or celestial musicians, and diverse other classes of spiritual beings. Chinese religion has among its ranks of gods the Yellow Emperor, the Jade Emperor, Lord Scripture Glory (Wen Chang), and countless personal spirits such as the spirit of the hearth. In Native American religions the spiritual benefactors are forces active in the natural world: viz., the Thunders, Mother Corn, sacred Stones, the Winds, Eagle, Sun, and Moon.
In the monotheistic religions, and in religions with an impersonal and utterly transcendent conception of Absolute Reality, these spiritual benefactors, no matter how exalted, are regarded as subordinate to Ultimate Reality. Yet since the Ultimate Reality is often inaccessible to humans, the higher spiritual beings are frequently revered as intermediaries. Gabriel, an angel, is the intermediary of divine revelation in Islam and the Latter-day Saints. For Buddhists, Bodhisattvas personify aspects of Ultimate Reality in ways that can be more easily apprehended by human beings who are too dull to grasp the perfect wisdom of Emptiness. In the primal religions, in Shinto, and in Taoism the spirits of nature, the heavenly beings, and the most prominent ancestors constitute the fellowship of spiritual beings that together cause the movements of heaven and earth.
These spiritual beings have power. In many traditions the gods, goddesses, and benevolent spirits of nature dispense blessings to the human world and keep their devotees from harm. Therefore, it is requisite in many traditions that they be worshipped and supplied with offerings. We also include traditions about making offerings for ancestors and relatives who have passed on. These offerings ease their way into the next world and give them additional spiritual merit.
O gods! All your names are to be revered, saluted and adored; all of you who have sprung from heaven and earth, listen here to my invocation.
Hinduism. Rig Veda 10.63.2
I [the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra] relieve the distress of the beings of all evil realms, and equally bestow happiness on them. I continue to do so through the lapse of boundless kalpas, and in the extent of the ten quarters of the universe. The benefits of all are eternal, and omnipresent.
Buddhism. Gandavyuha Sutra
The Lord Scripture Glory says, "For seventeen generations I have been incarnated as a high mandarin, and I have never oppressed my people nor maltreated my subordinates. I have helped them in misfortune; I have rescued them from poverty; I have taken compassion on their orphans; I have forgiven their transgressions; I have extensively practiced secret virtue which is attuned to Heaven above. If you are able to keep your hearts as I have kept mine, Heaven will surely bestow upon you blessings."
Taoism. Tract of the Quiet Way
Parvati, on seeing her son Ganesha resuscitated, embraced him joyously and clothed him with new garments and ornaments. After kissing his face, she said, "O Ganesha, you have had great distress since your very birth. You are blessed and contented now. You will receive worship before all the gods. You will be free from distress. Vermilion is on your face now. Hence you will be worshipped with vermilion by all men always.
"All achievements certainly accrue to him who performs your worship with flowers, sandal paste, scents, auspicious food offerings, waving of lights, betel leaves, charitable gifts, circumambulations, and obeisance. All kinds of obstacles will certainly perish."
Rig Veda 10.63.2: Cf. Rig Veda 1.164.46, p. 59, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.9.1, p. 81. Gandavyuha Sutra: The great bodhisattvas, who are worshipped in popular Buddhism, embody and symbolize different aspects of the Buddha. Samantabhadra, which means Universally Good, is the embodiment of the Buddha's vows and practices. Manjusri embodies the Buddha's wisdom. Avalokitesvara (Chinese: Kuan Yin) embodies the Buddha's compassion for beings in distress. See also the famous hymn to Kuan Yin in Lotus Sutra 25, pp. 566f. Tract of the Quiet Way: In popular Taoism the great officials and emperors of old have ascended to heaven and become blessed spirits. Lord Scripture Glory (Wen Chang) is one of the chief Taoist deities.
Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu declared in unison, "O great gods, just as we three are worshipped in all the three worlds, so also Ganesha shall be worshipped by all of you. He is the remover of all obstacles and the bestower of the fruits of all rites."
Hinduism. Shiva Purana, Rudrasamhita 18
Are they [the angels] not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?
Christianity. Bible, Hebrews 1.14
The work of the Holy Spirit is the phenomena which have been working to harmonize the spiritual world and the human world through love.
Unification Church. Sun Myung Moon, 5-1-81
Those who have said, "Our Lord is God," then have gone straight, upon them the angels descend, saying, "Fear not, neither sorrow; rejoice in Paradise that you were promised. We are your friends in the present life and in the world to come; therein you shall have all that your souls desire..."
Islam. Qur'an 41.30-31
If a man perform a religious precept, one angel is assigned to him; if he perform two precepts, two angels are assigned to him; if he perform all the precepts, many angels are assigned to him; as it is said, "For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all thy ways" (Psalm 91.11). Who are these angels? They are his guardians from the harmful spirits; as it is said, "A thousand shall fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand" (Psalm 91.7).
Judaism. Midrash, Tanhuma Numbers 19
Now the Lord had shown to me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;
And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said, "These I will make my rulers"; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said to me, "Abraham, you are one of them; you were chosen before you were born."
And there stood one among them who was like unto God [Jesus Christ], and he said to those who were with him, "We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth on which these may dwell;
"And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things that the Lord their God shall command them...."
And the Lord said, "Let us go down." And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the gods, formed the heavens and the earth.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Pearl of Great Price, Abraham 3.22-4.1
Shiva Purana, Rudrasamhita 18: Ganesha is depicted with an elephant head and a human body. His worship is popular among contemporary Hindus. In this, his foundation legend, Ganesha had been decapitated in battle, and to restore him to life the head of an elephant was affixed to his body. He is given blessings and is offered to humanity to be worshipped as 'the remover of all obstacles'--a role suitable to the symbolism of an elephant. Hebrews 1.14: Cf. Qur'an 21.19-22, p. 84; Michi-no-Shiori, p. 84; Hebrews 13.1, p. 991. Many Christians revere the saints: chief among them Mary, the mother of Jesus--cf. The Rosary, p. 834--from whom emanate grace for the people of the world. Sun Myung Moon, 5-1-81: Cf. Acts 2.1-18, p. 577; Romans 8.26-27, p. 648. Qur'an 41.30-31: Cf. Qur'an 13.10-11, p. 190; 50.17-19, p. 347. Tanhuma Numbers 19: Cf. Midrash, Psalms 17.8, p. 312; Abot 4.13, p. 338; Psalm 91.1-13, Tract of the Quiet Way, p. 1009.
Sansang suira! There are eight peaks within the inner mountain, And thirteen famous places in the outer mountain. Within these famous mountains and the great heavens of all Buddhas, The great altar of the nation is protected by the great generals. Was not the general Chae Yong one of them? The famous general of Korea, Who was favored by his people....
Oh, I am the great mountain god. If I sit down, I cover three thousand li [the entire land of Korea]. If I stand up, I stretch over ninety thousand li [the whole world]. If I look down with my clear mirror, I can observe ten thousand li. Oh, I am the great mountain god. What can you offer to satisfy me? Is the whole pig covered with a red cloth enough? Is the bundle of three different colored silks enough? Offer many rich silks to me. Oh, you, the husband and wife of this home. Do you remember who gives you the food that sustains you? Who gave you a home? Who gave you wealth? Who gave you long life? I, the Sansang, gave you blessings and aid in times of need.
Korean Shamanism. Invocation of the Mountain Spirit
Pearl of Great Price, Abraham 3.22-4.1: In the teaching of the Latter-Day Saints, all people pre-existed as spirits and as gods, and they participated with God in the creation of the world. The text goes on to review the contents of Genesis 1, pp. 126f, but with 'the gods' acting at each stage of creation. Shaman's Invocation: Sansang is the Mountain God. As the mountain is a symbol of strength and power, Sansang is also the god of great generals, and is personified by the famous general Chae Yong of the Silla dynasty. The Mountain Spirit is also often symbolized by a tiger, who in legend inhabits the mountain recesses. The shamaness (mudang) who invokes Sansang by singing this song wears a general's costume and a hat with tiger's fur, and holds flags and a sword. Sansang is one of twelve spirits which are invoked in turn during the shamanist ritual, which is called a kut.
I looked at the moss-covered stones. Some of them seemed to have the features of a man, but they could not answer me. Then I had a dream, and in my dream one of these small, round stones appeared to me and told me that the maker of all was Wakan Tanka, and that in order to honor him I must honor his works in nature. The stone said that by my search I had shown myself worthy of super- natural help. It said that if I were curing a sick person I might ask its assistance, and that all the forces of nature would help me work a cure.... Some believe that these stones descend with the lightning, but I believe they are on the ground and are projected downwards by the bolt. In all my life I have been faithful to the sacred stones. I have lived according to their requirements, and they have helped me in all my troubles. I have tried to qualify myself as well as possible to handle these sacred stones. I know that I am not worthy to speak [directly] to Wakan Tanka, so I make my requests of these stones and they are my intermediaries.
Native American Religions Sioux Tradition
"The path of the hekura is visible, luminous; there arises from it something like a fiery breath that makes the air heavy and almost unbreathable. One does not see the hekura, one feels the wind they raise when they move. During the hunt from which I just returned, I scattered the hekura who were in me."
"Ordinary men are unable to recognize them. Yet the wind tells us that they are there."
"I see them only at night, when I close my eyes."
"One can see them only then."
"Their paths become luminous for me. I am sleeping; they approach and summon me to answer them. They suddenly wake me by shaking my arm or pulling on my ankle."
"Those who are not truly shamans do not hear them. He who is really a shaman hears a kind of buzzing, 'bouu...' during his sleep, and this song echoes, rebounding off the celestial vault. He opens his eyes and says to himself, 'I am going to see them now!' The parrotlets sing, 'bre, bre, bre...,' he knows that it is they. A cool breeze then glides along his legs..."
"I saw the hekura walk on a rotten branch; I was passing right underneath."
"Indeed, it was they; but they were not friendly toward you. The strong odors of the smoking grill, the smell of singed hair, of scorched meat near the fire, all this drives them off. Yet they did seem inclined to approach you."
"They give off a heady perfume; it comes from the dyes and the magic plants they carry with them. Suddenly, I stopped smelling these aromas, my nostrils no longer perceived them."
Sioux Tradition: Cf. Dakota Tradition on Wakan Tanka, p. 83; Cree Round Dance, p. 55; Cheyenne Song, p. 294; Zuni Song, pp. 295f.; Gros Ventres Tradition of the Pipe Child, p. 247.
"Therefore when one is at the end of the initiation, it is advisable not to hunt. If a flock of toucans takes flight and one of them lands near you, then all the others immediately follow suit. Be sure not to frighten them: stare at them fixedly and continue on your way; you be sure that they are hekura. Of course, there are those you drove away during the hunt; but don't be overly concerned, I foresee that those were not the good ones. The others remain, who came into your breast while you were lying in your hammock. Those are truly yours, they are in you."
Native American Religions. Yanomami Shaman's Instruction (Brazil)
"Ah, the spirits of my ancestors have looked down from heaven, watching over and helping me. The hosts of evil have now been subdued one and all, and we are without enemy or misfortune. Let us now therefore give worship to the heavenly deities, vowing to abide by the teachings of our imperial ancestors." With that, Emperor Jimmu prepared places of worship in the mountains of Tomi... and thus performed worship to the imperial ancestors and to the heavenly deities.
Shinto. Nihon Shoki 3
The light which these souls [of departed saints] radiate is responsible for the progress of the world and the advancement of its peoples. They are like leaven which leavens the world of being, and constitute the animating force through which the arts and wonders of the world are made manifest.... These souls and symbols of detachment have provided, and will continue to provide, the supreme moving impulse in the world of being.
Baha'i Faith. Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah 81
The spirit that eats a man's offering, pays him back with life.
African Traditional Religions. Proverb
Yanomami Shaman's Instruction: This is a conversation between an experienced shaman and his apprentice. Note how the shaman is trained to become sensitive to faint odors, sounds, and touch which indicate the presence of spirits. More of this instruction is given on p. 528. Nihon Shoki 3: In Shinto, there is little difference between the kami and the spirits of ancestors, deceased emperors, great saints, and heroes. All are worthy of worship; all merge into the common spirit of divinity which guides Japan; see One Hundred Poems on the Jeweled Spear, p. 780-. Cf. Book of Ritual 184.108.40.206.6-9, p. 856, describing how ancestors are revered and worshipped in China. Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah 81: Cf. Qur'an 4.69, p. 357. In Hebrews 11.1-12.2, pp. 754f., the saints are described as a cloud of witnesses urging on the faithful.
The man who ignores Ogun will clear his farm with his bare hands.
African Traditional Religions. Yoruba Proverb (Nigeria)
Our ancestors the emperors of old governed the realm by first paying worship to the kami with reverence and awe. Widely worshipping the kami of mountain and river, they thereby had natural concourse with heaven and earth. For this reason, summer and winter also turned in their season, and the works of creation were in harmony.
Shinto. Nihon Shoki 22
In whatsoever place the prudent man shall make his home, Let him support the virtuous ones who live the holy life.
To all the devas dwelling there let him make offerings. Thus honored, they will honor him; revered, they'll him revere.
As a mother gives compassion to the child she has borne, Whom the devas compassion give ever see good luck.
Buddhism. Digha Nikaya ii.88
Ala, come and drink and eat the kola nut.
Chukwu, come and drink and eat the kola nut.
Ancestors, come and drink and eat kola nut. I was told by a man of Ngbwidi, one named Ehirim, that a man of Agunese had stolen his yams; and so I summoned the priests of Ala and Aro holders and elders in order that we might inquire into the matter. I called them, even as my father, who was priest of Njoku before me, used to do.
If any of these men, who have come to try the case, deal falsely in the matter, or if the accuser or accused or any person called to give evidence tells falsehood, then do you, Ala, Chukwu, Njoku, Ancestors, and Ofo, deal with that man.
African Traditional Religions. Igbo Invocation at a Trial (Nigeria)
Yoruba Proverb: Ogun is the god of iron, and hence of all tools, weapons, and machines. His worship is very popular in Yoruba religion today. Nihon Shoki 22: The kami indwell the whole of life, and the divine can be seen within all the manifestations of nature--the mountains, the streams, the forests, etc. Hence respect for nature and respect for the gods are one in the same; see Urabe-no-Kanekuni, p. 293. Cf. Book of Ritual 220.127.116.11.6-9, p. 856. Digha Nikaya ii.88: Cf. Anguttara Nikaya iii.368, p. 304; Precious Garland 249-50, p. 301; Hebrews 13.1, p. 991. Igbo Invocation at a Trial: Ala is the earth goddess, Chukwu is the Igbo name for God, the Creator; and Njoku is the yam deity. The Ofo and Aro are ritual sticks of wood or iron, specially consecrated, that create a channel for the spirits to operate in this world. Through their mediation, the gods can ferret out an evil-doer or a person who gives false testimony and punish him with misfortune. Cf. Igbo Consecration of the Ofo, p. 769.
"War-bundle owners, I greet you. Ye elders, I am about to pour tobacco for the spirits.
"Hearken Earthmaker, our father, I am about to offer you a handful of tobacco. My ancestor so-and-so concentrated his mind upon you. The fire- places with which you blessed him, the small amount of life you granted to him, all, four times the blessings that you bestowed upon my ancestor, I ask of you directly. May I have no troubles in life.
"Chief of the Thunderbirds, who lives in the west, you strengthened my grandfather. I am about to offer you a handful of tobacco. The food, the pair of deer you gave him for his fireplaces, that I ask of you directly. May you accept this tobacco from me and may I not meet with troubles.
"Great Black Hawk, you also blessed my grandfather. I am about to offer you tobacco. Whatever food you blessed him with that I ask you directly. May I not meet with troubles.
"You [night spirits] on the other side, who live in the east, who walk in darkness, I am about to offer you tobacco to smoke. Whatever you blessed my ancestor with, I ask of you. If you smoke this tobacco I will never be a weakling.
"Disease-giver, you who live in the south; you who look like a man; who art invulnerable; who on one side of your body present death and on the other life, you blessed my ancestor in the daytime, in broad daylight. You blessed him with food and told him that he would never fail in anything. You promised to avoid his home. You placed animals before him that he might easily obtain food. I offer you tobacco that you may smoke it, and that I may not be troubled by anything.
"To you, Sun, Light-wanderer, I make an offering of tobacco....
"To you, Grandmother Moon, who blessed my grandfather with food, I am about to make an offering of tobacco....
"To you, too, South Wind, I offer a handful of tobacco....
"For you, Grandmother Earth, I will also pour tobacco....
"To you, Pair of Eagles, to whom my ancestor prayed, I offer tobacco....
"Hearken, all ye spirits to whom my ancestor prayed; to all of you I offer tobacco. My ancestor gave a feast to all those who had blessed him. Bestow upon us once again all the blessings you gave our ancestor, that we may not become weaklings. I greet you all."
Native American Religion. Winnebago Invocation at the Sweat Lodge
Winnebago Invocation: Cf. Dakota Testimony on Wakan Tanka, p. 83; Zuni Song, pp. 295f.; Sioux Vision Quest, pp. 847f.; A Winnebago Father's Precepts, pp, 947f. On the origin of tobacco as a sacred mediator to the beneficent spirits, see Sioux Tradition of the Sacred Pipe, pp. 852f.
Outside the walls they stand, at the crossways and outside doors, to their own home returning. But when a plenteous meal is spread, of food and drink, no man remembers them [the dead]. Such is the way of things.
Wherefore do those who have pity on their kin make offerings due, of choice food and drink at seasonable times, saying, "Be this a gift to kinsmen, may our kinsmen be well pleased with it!" Then do those earth-bound [ghosts], kinsmen, gather there where a plenteous meal is spread of food and drink, and fail not to render thanks, saying, "Long live our kinsmen, thanks to whom we have this gift! To us this offering is made; not without fruit are they who give!"
For [in ghostland] no cattle-keeping, no ploughing of fields is seen. There is no trading there, as on earth, no trafficking with gold. We ghosts that have departed there exist on what is given here. Even as water gathered on high ground flows down into the marsh, so are offerings given here on earth of service to the ghosts....
Of a truth, wailing and grief and all manner of lamentation avail not anything. It helps not the ghosts that kinsmen stand lamenting thus.
Moreover, [if] this gift of charity is bestowed on the Order, it is bound to be of service [to the ghosts] for a long, long time.
Thus this duty done to kinsmen has been declared: unto the ghosts it is no mean offering of worship; unto the Brethren of the Order it is strength conferred; unto yourselves no small merit has been won.
Buddhism. Khuddaka Patha, Tirokudda-sutta
There was a shrine to the water goddess in the village of Ch'ing Ch'i, and her image that was placed there was so nicely carved that it looked like a real goddess of splendid beauty. The villagers made her the guardian of the district and paid her great respect.
It was the second month of the year when the pear blossoms on the grounds were very pretty, that a party of young students was passing by and admired the flowers. One of them lifted the curtain that was hung before the image of the goddess and exclaimed, "How lovely she is! If she were alive I would make her my mistress!"
His friends were shocked, but he laughed at their scruples, saying that spirits and gods have no reality; that it is well enough for the people to believe in and fear them, because such superstition made them more amenable. He then composed a libelous poem and wrote it on the wall, but his friends did not say anything more, knowing the uselessness of their advice.
After this they all went to the examination hall, and stayed in the Wen Chang Dormitory. One evening the Lord Scripture Glory (Wen Chang) appeared to them in a dream, and they were greatly afraid to be in the presence of his august majesty. He had a roll on his table and declared to them, "As you know well, any student who is guilty of trifling with women is excluded from the list. Even a plain, ordinary woman should be respected by you; how much more this is true of a holy goddess, you all must know. According to a report I have received it seems there is one of your number who has insulted the goddess of Ch'ing Ch'i." Having ascertained the name of the offender, the Lord cancelled it from the list, adding that this was done because the man was guilty of wronging a woman.
Tirokudda-sutta: Cf. Doctrine and Covenants 128.18, p. 517.
When the students met the following morning, they learned that each had the same dream during the night. Yet the offender himself was obdurate and said, "What has the Lord of Literature to do with such trifles? What harm can an image of clay do to me?"
He entered the examination cell, and having written down his seven essays with unusual vigor and brilliancy, felt assured of his final success. But when the night was far advanced, there appeared before him the goddess of water with her attendants. She censured him for both his grave offence and impertinence, and then ordered her maids to strike him with their sticks until the student lost his mind and destroyed all of his papers. When he was carried out of the cell in the morning, he was unconscious, and soon died.
Taoism. Treatise on Response and Retribution, Appended Tales
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