As a 31 year practitioner of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, I have heard it said over and over again that “there are no gods in Buddhism” while at the same time reading scripture which discusses the Buddhist deities. The SGI Library Online refers to heavenly gods and benevolent deities thusly: “Buddhist gods, protective gods, tutelary gods, guardian deities, etc. The gods that protect the correct Buddhist teaching and its practitioners. Gods who function to protect the people and their land and bring good fortune to both. Heavenly gods and benevolent deities is a generic term for the Buddhist pantheon that includes Brahma, Shakra, the four heavenly kings, the Sun Goddess, the gods of the sun and moon, and other deities. Many of these gods and deities were traditionally revered in India, China, and Japan. They became part of Buddhist thought as Buddhism flourished in those areas. Rather than primary objects of belief or devotion, Buddhism tends to view them as functioning to support and protect the Buddha, the Law, or Buddhist teachings, and practitioners.” I have always accepted that the Buddhist gods, or “shoten zenjin” could be anything, anyone, anywhere. They are activated by our practice of Buddhism.
Because Nichiren was born in medieval Japan, and his education was monastic-based, and because Japan was not a country heavily influenced by “northern thoughts,” he referred to the shoten zenjin using the classical names from China and India. It makes sense to me that my shoten zenjin, thereby, would be those protective functions of which I am aware and have studied.
That is not to say I pray for a god to bestow blessings upon me. In the book “True Devotion to Mary” it is said that Mary offers believer’s prayers to God on a silver platter. Sweet. Seems a bit indirect to me. The God of Abraham is the one true God to many. I consider Him a shoten zenjin–and one that would be more active in my life if I practiced an Abrahamic faith. I do not. I’m Buddhist. Buddhists don’t have gods. Strangely, I do. I have deep relationships with the Norse gods. Odin, Loki, Freyja, et al. Since I was ten years old I knew that “sometimes we choose our gods and sometimes they choose us.” The Norse gods are my personal protective functions of the universe. I can hear them, and have on occasion, seen them. It doesn’t seem odd to me in light that anything can act as a shoten zenjin in terms of Buddhist faith. A stoplight. An untied shoe. Missing keys. All acts set in motion to achieve the various levels of protection we need from day to day. Why not Odin? Is he a myth? Well, there are certainly myths in which he plays a part. But Hindu mythology is “active” and those gods are revered to this day. Odin is a universal spirit and god (I like to think of him as a “Q” only without the television special fx), no less effective or special than those mentioned by Nichiren.
Someone might scream “devil worship!” here. Not being Abrahamic, I don’t see that as an issue. Odin encourages me–and quite aggressively, to chant. Loki, too. They expect me to live up to my vow to practice Nam myoho renge kyo, and kick my ass when I slack off. Let me tell you, getting Odin’s astral boot in my rear end when in trance of dream is not pleasant. He wants me to be strong, and reminds me that my strength derives from my practice of Buddhism. Thereby, Odin is a “good friend in faith” because he both encourages and challenges me to chant, recite the sutra and teach others to do the same to the best of my ability. How can a spirit who encourages me thusly be “devilish?” He can’t be. It is my own lazy nature and karmic trends that are the devils in my life. My daimoku (chanting/prayer) and ichinen (determination) are my weapons against apathy, and my abilities as a spirit worker and channel or even a “seithkona” are my cloak of invincibility. Hail Odin and pass me my prayer book and beads… ****to be continued