Some of the things that Jundo mentioned as part of the "dream" thread gave me the idea to comment on the whole Bodhisattva-celestial beings thing. I think it's rather hilarious by the way that our beloved "I-cut -through-delusion-even-when-I-butter-my-toast-in-the-morning-with-Occam's-razor-Jundo" admitted to having to ask the Shinto priest around, due to his wife's insisting on it. Thank you for being so open and unpretentiously human Jundo!
Now, although I never believed that there were ever any physical picture-book style Gods sitting around on some lonely mountain waiting to blast lonely shepherds with lightning bolts, the notion of such otherworldly beings in general used to be a very important part of my spiritual outlook for a long time.....nowadays I couldn't care less whether they physically exist in some form or another, for a number of reasons.
In the case of bodhisattvas I think that their traditional depiction (including legends etc.) is definitely a very skillful way for a practitioner to focus on different qualities e.g. compassion, wisdom etc......sometimes making it easier to access a certain state of mind, reflect on a particular quality etc.. although the chances of getting attached to one of these figures (other than just employing them as helpful techniques) is in my views extremely high. Most Tibetans e.g. may say their Bodhisattvas are definitely not Gods, but I really doubt the highly intellectual distinctions matter to the joe-average-tibetan when it comes to worshipping them. I remember reading an article written by the Dalai Lama last year, where he makes exactly that point about his own people.
Funnily enough when it comes to giving straightforward advice outside of the realm of the vague and beautiful "love one another...don't kill each other", all those Gods, angels, demons and Bodhisattvas suddenly get stuck in their new-age paperback talk (if it's a good paperback, they'll make it into a holy book or sutra). If there actually are personalized forms of omniscient beings out there somewhere who really wish to help us, why don't they just beam some clean-energy-formula directly into the minds of all scientists?
How can it be, that most of the stuff the humanist movement and people like Voltaire came up with happened outside any of this celestial-beings stuff and yet had a far more profound (and I would say positive) impact on our modern lives than a couple of thousand years worth of mystical-channeling stuff combined?
I can relate to seeing Gods and mythological beings as living symbols and embodiements of the world around us, but really, whatever they are or aren't, they can not sit on the cushion for me. This is where it all happens, right here, right now, wherever that may be.
When our cats are hungry I'll feed them, should a God show up I'm more than happy to make him a cup of tea and share with the Buddha a few precious moments of Miller time (tm). I won't exclude anything or anyone from my practice, the universe is what it is and we humans are far from having it all figured out.
It is this wonderful (and ultimately wrong) notion of "I" that has to do the dirty work, which is why I reserve the right for this "I" to make its own decisions, no matter what the celestial choir may think about it. I won't sacrifice any relatives of mine, even if Maitreya himself demanded it, and I won't cut cats in two, even if that made me the King of all buddhists instantly.
Let's just sit and follow the noble eightfold path. Whatever roadside attractions might show up, let them be what they are, but don't let them steer us away from the road itself.