There’s only one True Path to walk. It’s got plenty of roads, with new ones springing up all the time, but really there’s only one. The life path.
Before human consciousness became host to the psychic infection of undead machine consciousness, there were truths that we all knew, because our cultures taught them to us. We’re communal, social, cultural creatures, and we have a steep learning curve. But we’ve also always had a lot of help from our living brethren.
As Winona LaDuke put it, a lot of our greatest teachings come from our relatives. The ones with wings and fins and leaves and fur and exoskeletons. The world is alive, spirit and flesh merged in a beautiful dance, and s(he) has a voice. The machinemind has taught us to be deaf to that voice.
Every “civilized” culture–and by “civilized,” I mean it in the sense of being infected by a deadly psychosis–has cultural memories of a vast span of paleolithic time when we could still hear all the songs and still learn from the nonhumans around us. Sometimes you have to dig deep for those memories.
And sometimes, they smash your head in with a gold-banded cudgel and splatter your brains all over the ground, then insult your ancestors.
The chinese memory of a free life of savagery survives in the story of Sun Wukong, the Beautiful Monkey King. No Confucian worship of parental authority for him–after all, he was born from a stone egg, formed by the abyss. As the indians say, rock and stone are our oldest ancestors.
Wukong looks like a monster to the civilized. He’s got no manners or sense of propriety. He does not willingly submit to the hierarchy, and doesn’t bother with the formalities of the Jade Emperor’s court. He moves freely, by wind and cloud, making friends with spirits and creatures and gods throughout the cosmos.
“Journey to the West” is a famous chinese novel that tells the story of the Monkey King’s rebellion against the heavenly order (they always treated him like a savage ape), his punishment and burial under a mountain, and his torture-inspired conversion to buddhism–Guanyin, the boddhisatva of compassion and mercy, fitted Monkey with a magic headband that when commanded would squeeze his head, crippling him with agonizing pain until he agreed to behave.
Thus converted, Monkey becomes a disciple and bodyguard to an idiotic but pure-hearted monk who is traveling from the East (china) to the West (india, where buddhism originated) to fetch the sacred scriptures that will return harmony to the kingdom.
The monk and Monkey are joined by two other disciples: First, Pig, a former heavenly marshall who “failed to respect the consensual boundaries” of a moon goddess and was transformed to a monster and banished to earth as punishment. Second, Sand, a former heavenly general who broke a sacred crystal goblet and was likewise transformed and banished to earth, where he took up highway robbery and cannibalism as a river monster. And third, the White Dragon, the third son of the Dragon King of the West, who was about to be executed for accidentally destroying one of the Jade Emperor’s jewels, but got a reprieve and conversion, like the rest of the disciples, from Guanyin.
Animism: the believe that the world is full of living spirits, embodies in creatures and environment.
In the animism of Journey to the West, any creature can cultivate their conduct, achieving vast power through taoist alchemy & magic, or buddhist enlightenment. Frequently these creatures then use their power to become petty warlords and tribal chieftains, claiming this mountain or that river as their territory and vigorously defending it. Many become demon kings. Not all of them. But the ones who do are constantly plotting on eating the monk, whose flesh can make them immortal. Invariably they end up smashed, converted, or outsmarted by Monkey and his fellow disciples.
The point is, any living being can become a buddha or a boddhisatva. Even Monkey becomes a buddha upon completion of the quest: Dou Zhang Sheng Fo (鬥戰勝佛), the Buddha Who Prevails Over Struggle–or, as it’s translated in my copy of the story: Victorious Fighting Buddha. By cultivating righteousness, discipline, devotion, and action in accordance with taoist and buddhist principles, regular nonhumans can achieve buddhahood, enlightenment and potentially acquire vast power.
I’ve now officially seen this in action. There’s a buddhist squirrel living in my backyard.
I have a plastic buddha statue which has been sitting at the base of the giant walnut tree in my backyard since I moved into this house over three years ago. The statue is covered in cobwebs and dirt. It’s been baked in the sun and soaked with pouring rain. I’ve given it tobacco and plastic jewels.
There’s been a squirrel living in that tree since who-knows-when. I hear him all the time, chewing the skin off walnuts. Now that there’s no longer a dog in the yard, he makes regular appearances, dashing around the yard, chasing his squirrel homies up and down the tree, and burying nuts.
A couple of weeks ago, I was standing on the back porch when the squirrel came skittering toward me from the back fence. He stopped about midway through the yard, stood upright on his back legs, and put his front paws together in the unmistakable pose of a buddhist disciple. He stayed like that for several moments, completely still, gazing into the mysteries of the cosmos with shining black eyes.
He went back to regular squirrel business, but every couple of minutes he would stop, face me, and make the pose.
Since then, there’s been several times when I’ve seen him sitting on top of the buddha statue’s head, munching away at walnuts and leaving offerings.