Daai-Hak-Tin [大黑天] : The Spirit behind the Dark Gods of Hong Kong Streets

Around ten years ago, in a time when I was lost between different parishes, between good and evil, between the spirit and the matter, between Jesus and Shiva, and between Cronus and Dionysus, my godson and son of my sister, genuinely asked me that simple but hardly answerable question: “c’est quoi, ta religion?” or, if I translate his words: “what’s your religion?” I have never been able to answer it, even during the time I spent in Jesuit communities, so certain I was to not be certain. The only assurance and mental security I had at that time was the fact that I couldn’t answer this question. I have never been an atheist and I still believe atheism is practically impossible since defining the concept of “god” takes more than a life to solve, which fatefully brings any individual to accepting the mysterious fact that he cannot be sure of the non-existence of anything. And that “spark of infinite” which is burning and tearing us apart from within, will never let us in peace with the question about a potential sacred presence – call it what you like. So, no, I cannot be an atheist. But I didn’t want to use labels and words to define what I could believe in. And things have not really changed since then. Only the cultural and sociological background have moved. But the main question remains until today.

© T. Peter – Reuters

When I looked at this picture taken by news photographer T. Peter for Reuters, I realise that this has been the symbol of the year that we have just buried yesterday. This, in a way, could be called: The Top Picture of 2019. And it summarises pretty much the whole political and human challenge that people encountered in Hong Kong in the course of the year. What I am going to write is not a political pledge. I have lived long enough and seen enough places to know that the definite choice of any party is the best way to lose all intelligence on the world, as it works in its complex realities. However, as a human animal, I am still easily dazzled by divine actions when I encounter them. And what happened this year in Hong Kong has something to do with divine action.

What can people see on this picture? Or, should I say: what can people contemplate? Two young protesters, running, barely touching the ground beneath their white soles, upon which a strong black sporty uniform has been spread. We barely feel the tension in the movement as the long flexible and elegant move is stretching out in the middle of this random outdoor area, but we can’t miss the romantic medieval style weapons that drag us down in a fantasy dimension. Yes, don’t hide it: there is obviously something powerful and sensual in the move, but this is not only about the material world. Another hand is behind this epiphany. A dark hand, pulling strings like Dionysus pulls human strings under his puppet master’s hands.

Buddhism has recreated Dionysus-Shiva in the person of Mahakala. From the Himalaya’s Vajrayana, the lord can be translated into Chinese Mahayana as 大黑天 (Daai-Hak-Tin in Cantonese pronunciation), which literally means: the Big Black Heaven (i.e God), a wrathful incarnation of the divine. I couldn’t avoid the natural colour conjunction with the Hong Kong protesters’ black uniform and the traditional colour of anarchism. Aren’t we talking about an avatar of Bacchus? the lord of freedom and of madness?

These last years, I have been trying to stop shying away from answering this question: “c’est quoi, ta religion?” Will I be one day capable of defining my belief in a responsible way? This Big Black Heaven uniform arrives on time to force me to think about a humble conclusion. What symbol could I choose to unify such diverse tendencies as: political compassion and masochistic social fantasies, human respect and desire for universal freedom, tradition and rebellion, madness and love, violence and mercy? all at the same time? What symbol, if not 大黑天, the Big Black Heaven?

There. Today is the 1st of January and my wish this year is to be able to answer this question: “c’est quoi, ta religion?” And, if I have enough pride, I might be able to give the following response: it is the religion of the Big Black Heaven, the one who violently pulls strings of human puppets into madness, to force them to conquer their own freedom and even higher, the Beauty itself. I, for sure, will bow only before these gods.


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