Most of my emails and phone calls in 2020 have ended with urging “Stay safe. Stay well.” So I end the year with the fervent call to all “Stay safe. Stay well.”
Since the pandemic shutdown in March, I have been doing breathing meditation more regularly and for longer periods. For Christmas, my oldest daughter Bibi sent me Mexican veladoras candles. This Fall I had started to sweeten my sits by lighting a small candle in the round stone base that Gale’s daughter Megan gave me a few years ago. I had asked Bibi for the veladoras this year to add more color and light to my practice. The four veladoras that she sent did not include the typical Virgin of Guadalupe. There was another Blessed Virgin, a St. Anthony of Padua, and a Guardian Angel. The most unique for a boy raised in New England was the Seven African Powers (between the two Buddhas on the right of the picture). Apparently Las Siete Potencias Africanas originated as Yoruba spirits and morphed into Santeria deities. I had not realized that Santeria is practiced in Mexico, but that’s more my cultural myopia than anything else. The Guardian Angel veladora is placed behind the Japanese bodhisattva Jizo, who accompanies us in the transition from one life to the next. An appropriate cultural parallel.
This is the kind of post and practice that would send my militantly atheist late wife up the wall. Mostly because she feared that people would think that I had lost my senses with such benighted religious practices. Let me assure Laura, or since I agree with her that she died eleven years ago, and left no spirit or afterlife, let me pay respect to her memory and her beliefs. I do not actually believe that any of these bodhisattvas, spirits, or deities actually exist. Nor do I worship them as having any power in this world.
But, unlike Laura, I was raised in a very religious, practicing Catholic family. Although, as I’ve said before, religion was very much an intellectual practice for me, I still find refuge in the images, candles, and incense of my youth. As I look from the Blue Medicine Buddha on the far left of the picture to the figures of the Bodhisattva of Compassion Avalokitesvara and their* emanation Guanyin on the far right, as my mind focuses on these images, it focuses on my urgent intention that all of you stay safe and stay well. From my lips emerges, not the Gregorian chant of my youth, but one of the lines from the Ahinna Sutta (AN 4.67) that I have mentioned before.
May all creatures,
all breathing things,
— each & every one —
meet with good fortune.
May none of them come to any evil.
Chanting these lines in Pali gives comfort.
*This ancient figure was gender non-binary long before the term came into use.