We are in a small public park in the Peleosti district, overlooking a skyline dominated by the dome of the Chogyan Temple of Tofa, the Luck Goddess. Occupying the majority of the picture plane, however, is a close-up depiction of what is known as a dimadini—a “bird temple.”
Although Chogya is the official state religion, all faiths are tolerated within the empire, provided they do not proselytize. The ban on seeking converts was put in place by the empress Nanèh, whose reign saw the beginning of a deliberate turning inward for the empire. It is an injunction that presents a particular challenge for the few surviving adherents of the Liùkeh religion. Followers of this ancient creed believe that the qualitative conditions of the life into which they will be reincarnated after death is determined by how well they accomplish a specific set of religious duties, including securing a certain amount of converts to the faith. Liùkhites have found an ingenious way around this problem, however, one that takes advantage of the vagueness of the definition of conversion as presented in their sacred texts. Unlike the Chogyans, who believe the transmigration of the soul to occur only between human lives, the Liùkeh faith also countenances the possibility of humans reincarnating into animals, and vice versa. Since animals are thus included in the ever-turning wheel of existence, it makes sense to think that they too might take an interest in the cultivation of their eternal souls. Liùkhites have therefore set about proselytizing to animals, the hope being that the animal converts will later be reincarnated as human beings. These newly born men and women, it is thought, will then be predisposed to eventually spontaneously converting to the Liùkeh faith. Once this happens, they will in turn work to win more animal followers. And so on it will go, until the day that Liùkhism is the religion not only of all human beings, but of all living creatures on Earth.
In Sensuka, the Liùkhites’ conversion efforts are largely directed at birds, for which they build intricately carved miniature wooden temples. These structures are then suspended from the boughs of trees and filled with seeds, so as to entice the birds inside. The two men sitting cross-legged on a carpet and looking up intently at the dimadini are two Liùkhite devotees. They have been appointed with the task of determining exactly how many individual birds attend this place of worship on a regular basis. These they will then enumerate as official converts. To those amused Sensukans who point out that the birds are clearly only visiting the dimadini for the seeds, the Liùkhites reply that religion must always endeavor to meet individuals on their own terms.