The Gods Help Those Who Self-Help: Ji Gong, of the Celestial Bureaucracy; Achievement

This is a day late because WordPress are a bunch of assholes who seem to think that changing their site layout constantly is a good way to attract interest rather than deeply alienating

Bastet’s Tips: Ji Gong was a fairly wealthy young man who joined the Buddhist priesthood. He was known as the Crazy Monk, because of his habits of eating meat and drinking, which were notably forbidden by the monastery, resulting in his being kicked out. Ji Gong, as an itinerant monk, was in the habit of fraternizing with other homeless folks, and would crack a joke, wave his fan, and more often than not, said homeless folks would find their luck turning around. This gave him a reputation that he parleyed into godhood, and I can always respect a man who can go from itinerant wastrel monk to god.

My parents were Taoist. My birth was the result of a prayer given in a Buddhist temple. Such is syncretism that this is not only not odd, but a part of life as I knew it. The religions of China tended to feed on one another heavily, working in combination.

My status as a monk was, in all honesty, probably a sort of payment for that. My parents had been told they would never have descendants. They went from temple to temple, praying for a change. In one of the shrines they visited, a shrine to Mahakasypa, one of the Five Hundred Arhas, a legendary ascetic. There are some- my parents included- who believed I was a reincarnation of him. This shows that, if nothing else, either the wheel of reincarnation or else people possess quite the sense of humor.

I was always an awful monk. Born to wealthy parents, unable to give up the pleasures of flesh and drink, I was certainly not a candidate for godhood, though I heard more than a few remarks that I would make a fine King of Hell. I was thrown out of the monastery, and if you had said what I did to the eldest monk, you would be thrown out too. It proved to be good for me. I was always a better wanderer than anything else

I travelled far and wide, gave many people good luck. Most of the time, this was because I had quick hands, and a sizable inheritance- a coin here or there could do great wonders for the people I met. And yet, I soon found that even when I did not have a coin to discretely slip into the clothes of the poor, good luck would still favor them. The tides of fortune seemed to bend under my smile, and I smiled endlessly on the poor. Good fortune was mine to give, and I saw no reason to hold it back.

Mahakasypa was an ascetic; Who knows? Perhaps I was his reincarnation, and he had wanted one last life of indulgence and excess before he stepped out of the cycle of reincarnation, and brought an end to suffering. For the moment, I have left the possibility of ascension behind; Only humans can ascend to Nirvana, after all, and I am a god- for now. Ordained by Taoism, which shamed Buddhism into recognizing me, which just goes to show that you should always shop around when looking for a career, because people are easily pushed into competition.

As to achievement, I have only one conclusion that I hope you can draw from the story of my life and my philosophy. While I was at times a glutton, slovenly, and a drunkard, I strove always to help those around me. How you act, what sins you commit, are not nearly so important as how you treat those around you. Treat them well, and you will find yourself achieving great things. Treat them poorly, and you will surely come to ruin.

If there’s any justice in this world, that is.

The Gods Help Those Who Self-Help: Xipe Totec; Food

So this is part of a little project I’m working on- a self-help guide from the perspective of various gods, on various subjects. Thought I’d share a little of it while I’m working on the next novel.

Bastet’s Hints: Xipe-Totec is the Aztec god of the life, death, and rebirth cycle. He represents many cycles- children becoming adults, birth, death, and of course, agriculture. His sacrifice- that of the flayed skin- is often considered to represent the old world sloughing off its skin- Think the rains after a long drought, when the ground has become dusty, and the rivers become choked with silt, like the Nile. Then you’ll start to get why someone might conflate a flayed skin and the annual cycle of agriculture! And of course, when the rains have fallen, and it all looks so fresh and new, it certainly reminds one of having just peeled off a sunburn.

There is no survival without sacrifice. This is the ultimate lesson of food. The tradition of vegetarianism is ages old, but even with that ancient tradition, there is still suffering. There is still danger. You must kill for your food, and whether that means taking the life of another human being, slaying an animal, or cutting short the existence of a plant, you are still killing. Even plants, photosynthetic creatures, are parasitizing the sun; able to survive only because it is destroying itself in an endless fury. Plants, animals, humans, gods. We are all only able to survive on this world through the sacrifice of another. You can never forget this, and you can never escape it.

But. That does not mean that life must be brutality, and pain. Sapience brings with it an awareness of the costs that continued survival entails. It also grants greater nobility to that sacrifice. We cannot help that we must prey on others, but we can give meaning to our predations, and as we must prey either way, better that it have a reason. Remember three things as you eat.

First, what was sacrificed for your food. All the countless farmers who have worked and striven. They produce the food that sustains you- and often, they are treated as lower than dirt. It is one of the painful truisms of existence that those who sustain us are seldom exalted by society. The farmer is always the first to suffer the predations of mercenary, politician, and criminal- because everyone needs what they provide. Yet they have bred the seeds and domestic animals that make your food. They have harvested it. They have seen it on its way to your home. They have made sure that you live. The least you owe them is to know these things, to know what it has cost them to keep your civilization from collapsing.

Second, what your food does for you. The human is still, at its heart, an animal. Used to starvation, used to scarcity that does not fundamentally exist for many who are likely to read my words. Gluttony is a crime against your food, your civilization, and yourself; Taking the life of that which might otherwise live, straining the support of your civilization, and damaging your own body because of a misplaced need. This is not to make you feel guilty, or wrong. It is to make you remember what is sacrificed with each bite; what is lost forever. Perhaps your civilization has determined that that which will die will die anyway, and your actions will not change that. But that line of thinking is for those who have already surrendered to fate.

Third, what your food means to you. Enjoy everything you eat. Do not eat mindlessly. Do not eat without thought. Eat when it feels truly good, and do not be afraid to stop. Your kind has fought and scraped and struggled its way to the apex of the food chain, because that is what is worth fighting for. You are a killer; you have no choice but to be. But that does not mean you cannot ennoble that which you eat, and that does not mean that you cannot enjoy what your kind has earned, so long as it comes from joy.

And remember. You, too, will someday die. And when you do, you will feed something, too.