I found this lovely statue at Ross.
Yes, Ross: Dress for Less.
I mean, can you believe it? A Buddhist temple guardian.
Seriously, you can find cutesy angels, rabbits, and all sorts of Western ephemera at Ross, but I found a Buddhist temple guardian.
It was labeled "demon" or "Chinese demon" on the tag, but it's not. This is funny to me, because that's historically what happens to divinities foreign to Western religions, in contrast to Eastern religions, which tend to absorb the gods of other cultures into service (this temple guardian was probably a god in his own right before his believers converted to Buddhism).
To be fair, not all gods are turned into devils by belief systems such as Christianity--they can be converted, too, into saints (look at how Mary is revered almost to the exclusion of Jesus by some Catholics).
I've also noted that in Buddhist stories, when the righteous encounter demons, they fight and the demons are subdued and then given the option to convert to Buddhism (or be destroyed). They usually convert to Buddhism. It's a kind of "come to Jesus" moment, innit?
But you ever notice that in contemporary Western (usually Christian-influenced) stories, redemption and salvation isn't really the goal? It's the complete destruction of the evil other who will never see the light. Think about all those big explosions you see at the end of Hollywood movies where the villain gets it. There's an idea of the good, the bad, and the unforgiven. What about the mislead and ignorant?
Right, so where was I? (Procrastinating my homework.)
This guardian is actually one of two. I couldn't find the other one and I'm still searching (at Ross). It's been a couple of years or more. Anyway, one of his names is "Ah." Notice the mouth and how it forms this vowel?
The other of the pair is also known as "Mm." His mouth is closed.
Together, they form the holy sound, "Aum" or "Om," which you can hear in the beginning of the Battlestar Galactica main title theme I posted some days ago. The idea is that one is sound and the other is silence, and the two form a containing whole.
In other words, they guard.
Placed at the front of Buddhist temples, their fiercesome aspect is said to scare away evil spirits and protect the Dharma (the Buddhist teachings) and its practitioners.
In other words, they guard against the ego.
Wow. At Ross. Seriously.