A friend from Slovenia and I used to share many moments on Skype exchanging views and opinions on the Siddha Margam. Last Saturday he shared information on the existence of a similar and parallel faith in China and Ireland. From our 'satsang' as he usually calls it and reading the articles and links he sent me later, I was amazed to discover Daoist immortals, Xian, the Sanskrit equivalent being ṛṣi (rishi) and Irish 'Aes sídhe' just like the likes of Tamil Siddhas.
It was interesting to note in an extract from the book "Outer Chapters" of the ZHUANGZI, a parable that mentions a conversation between the "Cloud Chief" and "Big Concealment"
Cloud Chief: "Heavenly Master, it has been hard indeed for me to meet with you — I beg one word of instruction!"
Big Concealment: "Well, then — mind‑nourishment!"Big Concealment continues:
"You have only to rest in inaction and things will transform themselves. Smash your form and body, spit out hearing and eyesight, forget you are a thing among other things, and you may join in great unity with the deep and boundless. Undo the mind, slough off spirit, be blank and soulless, and the ten thousand things one by one will return to the root — return to the root and not know why. Dark and undifferentiated chaos — to the end of life none will depart from it. But if you try to know it, you have already departed from it. Do not ask what its name is, do not try to observe its form. Things will live naturally end of themselves."
Cloud Chief: "The Heavenly Master has favored me with this Virtue, instructed me in this Silence. All my life I have been looking for it, and now at last I have it!"Cloud Chief bowed his head twice, stood up, took his leave, and went away. (Chapter 11, tr. Burton Watson 1968:122-3, Source from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/)
In the above said book, a description of a "sagely person" is given,
The true sage is a quail at rest, a little fledgling at its meal, a bird in flight who leaves no trail behind. When the world has the Way, he joins in the chorus with all other things. When the world is without the Way, he nurses his Virtue and retires in leisure. And after a thousand years, should he weary of the world, he will leave it and ascend to the immortals, riding on those white clouds all the way up to the village of God. (Chapter 12, tr. Watson 1968:130, Source from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/)It is mentioned that a "divine person", “By concentrating his spirit, he can protect creatures from sickness and plague and make the harvest plentiful.” (Chapter 1, tr. Watson 1968:33)
This reminds me of how Agathiyar came in disguise to feed Kuberan’s subjects when his kingdom was facing famine and hardship and how Agathiyar healed Kuberan’s dreaded leprosy with food. Its wonderful too to realize God work miracles through his disciples as in the case of Nandanar. Nandanar who was a slave to a rich land owner very much wanted to see the presiding deity at Chidambaram at least once in his life time. His life long wish was granted by his employer after much and many years of pleading, but with a ridiculous condition laid. Nandanar was to plough the land, plant and harvest the padi yield all by himself before he was allowed to go to Chidambaram. Nandanar was shocked as to how he was going to achieve the unthinkable feat. He told the Lord that his wish to see Him at Thillai was not going to materialize in his life time. He fainted in the fields thinking about the extend of the fields and the land that he had to toil on. The next morning he was awakened to the hue and cry of the villagers. Nandanar awoke to be greeted by his employer and all the villagers who had gathered in the fields and seemed to be in great excitement. Then it dawned on Nandanar that the fields had been worked on, the padi yield harvested and piled up overnight. Nandanar was saved by the Lord. He was ‘released’ by his employer to go meet his Lord at Chidambaram.
A similarity is also seen in the mode of travel of these saints to the kingdom of God. Wang Qiao, a son of King Ling of Zhou (r. 571–545 BCE), is said to have “flown away on a giant white bird, became an immortal and was never again seen”, quite alike Sundarar who was provided with a white elephant for his journey back to the kingdom of God. King Cheraman Perumal, of Tiruvarur followed Sundarar shortly on his horse.
The spiritual journey “into the realms of gods and immortals” is beautifully revealed in the following poem from the "Yuan You" ("Far-off Journey") Source from Wikipedia.
My spirit darted forth and did not return to me,
And my body, left tenantless, grew withered and lifeless.
Then I looked into myself to strengthen my resolution,
And sought to learn from where the primal spirit issues.
In emptiness and silence I found serenity;
In tranquil inaction I gained true satisfaction.
I heard how once Red Pine had washed the world's dust off:
I would model myself on the pattern he had left me.
I honoured the wondrous powers of the Pure Ones,
And those of past ages who had become Immortals.
They departed in the flux of change and vanished from men's sight,
Leaving a famous name that endures after them.(tr. Hawkes 1985:194)
There is similarity too in the abodes of these sages. My guru Supramania Swami of Thiruvannamalai once told me the reason he had placed a gunny sack to cover a window that opened to the view of the majestic and mystical Arunachala hill. Swami could not see the 'fiery hill' no more he said. He also added that he saw Siddhas roaming the hills. Ramana was said to have stepped into a kingdom within Arunachala hill only to have ordered his aids to close the entrance to the cave. In the Jeeva Nadi revelations to the Nadi guru of Chennai, Agathiyar had mentioned Siddhas dwelling within the reaches of the earth’s mantel. Muthukumara Swamigal of Courtallam too has mentioned in an interview to ZeeTamil network's Nambinal Nambungal crew that Siddhas dwell under the snake’s den where he was gifted with the Jeeva Nadha Brahma Suvadi.
From Wikipedia, we learn further about the abode of the immortals in a conversation between the rulers Tang of the Shang Dynasty and Ji of the Xia Dynasty.
To the East of the Gulf of Chih-li, who knows how many thousands and millions of miles, there is a deep ravine, a valley truly without bottom; and its bottomless underneath is named "The Entry to the Void". The waters of the eight corners and the nine regions, the stream of the Milky Way, all pour into it, but it neither shrinks nor grows. Within it there are five mountains, called Tai-yü, Yüan-chiao, Fang-hu, Ying-chou and P'eng-Iai. These mountains are thirty thousand miles high, and as many miles round; the tablelands on their summits extend for nine thousand miles. It is seventy thousand miles from one mountain to the next, but they are considered close neighbours.
The towers and terraces upon them are all gold and jade, the beasts and birds are all unsullied white; trees of pearl and garnet always grow densely, flowering and bearing fruit which is always luscious, and those who eat of it never grow old and die. The men who dwell there are all of the race of immortal sages, who fly, too many to be counted, to and from one mountain to another in a day and a night.
Yet the bases of the five mountains used to rest on nothing; they were always rising and falling, going and returning, with the ebb and flow of the tide, and never for a moment stood firm. The immortals found this troublesome, and complained about it to God. God was afraid that they would drift to the far West and he would lose the home of his sages. So he commanded Yü-ch'iang to make fifteen giant turtles carry the five mountains on their lifted heads, taking turns in three watches, each sixty thousand years long; and for the first time the mountains stood firm and did not move.
But there was a giant from the kingdom of the Dragon Earl, who came to the place of the five mountains in no more than a few strides. In one throw he hooked six of the turtles in a bunch, hurried back to his country carrying them together on his back, and scorched their bones to tell fortunes by the cracks. Thereupon two of the mountains, Tai-yü and Yüan-chiao, drifted to the far North and sank in the great sea; the immortals who were carried away numbered many millions. God was very angry, and reduced by degrees the size of the Dragon Earl's kingdom and the height of his subjects. At the time of Fu-hsi and Shen-nung, the people of this country were still several hundred feet high.' (tr. Graham 1960:97–8)
For further reading see, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xian_%28Taoism%29 and http://taoism.about.com/od/taoismglossaryd/g/Dongtian.htm
Across the continent, in Ireland, we are introduced to the “Aos sí or Aes sídhe",
Aos sí or Aes sídhe, an Irish term for a supernatural race in Irish mythology and Scottish mythology, said to live underground in fairy mounds, across the western sea, or in an invisible world that coexists with the world of humans. This world is described in the Book of Invasions (recorded in the Book of Leinster) as a parallel universe in which the Aos sí walk amongst the living. They are variously said to be the ancestors, the spirits of nature, or goddesses and gods. Source from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,