It was in the 1980s, while living in Asia, that I started assembling my own home shrine much like those I found in the homes of the Hindus, Taoists and Buddhists, with whom I Ived. I have seen similar, multi-figured Catholic shrines in Mexico. I enjoyed the shrine’s colors and symbols. The humble bows and gestures of supplicants were beautiful.
Yet how was I, a nonbeliever, to have a shrine? It was easy: I liked the idea of having a visual reminder of the principles I hold dear. So I began my shrine with only the Nepalese Bodhisattva Tara. Then two years later I added the Hindu god Shiva. Five years ago I added Shakyamuni Buddha in the center. And the next year, Tara was the guardian of my I-Ching coins. Ganesh’s pictures had always been in my living space also.
Though I certainly do not believe these statues represent actual spirits/deities, for me they represent different aspects of the mind — aspects of reality.
- Tara has always represented the softer side of reality for me — surrender, forgiveness, trust, compassion.
- Shiva symbolizes the harder side of reality — effort, discipline, discerning wisdom, justice, destruction to make place for the new. I have long loved the way these two symbols capture these various aspects of our minds.
- The Buddha hints at the unobtainable balancing between these two via skillful means: softness and hardness.
- I also keep images of Ganesh around, for his playfulness (see my post on the little lad). Playfulness is a huge aspect of my personality — keeping in check all those silly ideals, abstractions and principles!
- Finally, the I-Ching coins because I believe wisdom often escapes our discursive reasoning.
I occasionally bow to these statues in silence while remembering to go through my day with playful compassion, discernment and balance. It is an outwardly religious appearing gesture, much like our family prayer where we say “itadakimasu” before eating, but as you can see, I claim the form, minus the spooks.
Do I do this ritual for good luck, maybe that is part of it, but I don’t care, I hold it all lightly.
Several Christians have noted these in my house and been bothered enough to never return. But some Atheists may also see it as weird. I can laugh with them all of course, even when I value them highly. If only they could laugh too.