Tolkien wrote that Círdan the Shipwright “saw further and deeper than any other in Middle-earth” despite being a minor, incidental character in both The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings. The important role that Círdan plays in Tolkien’s secondary universe can be understood by looking at him as a bodhisattva in a Buddhist tradition. Círdan’s role throughout the Three Ages of Middle-earth chronicled by Tolkien was to come to the aid of others, to reduce their suffering, and particularly to help facilitate their sailing to the “Blessed Lands” in the West (which can be seen as a metaphor for seeking light, or enlightenment), while he himself remains behind to continue to serve others on that path. Tolkien’s statement that it was Círdan—and not one of the more prominent, powerful, and celebrated characters such as Elrond or Galadriel—who sees further and deeper is a profound statement of the value that Tolkien placed on compassion and service to others; on being, in the words of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, a bodhisattva who practices the insight that brings us to the other shore.
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Mythcon 52: The Mythic, the Fantastic, and the Alien
Albuquerque, New Mexico; July 29 - August 1, 2022