The seven Eternals or Immortals appear in several cultures at different times and usually are claimed by one or the other of religious groups. They roam the world and have a tendency to appear at crucial historical crossroads either singly or all together.
In ancient Iran, the prophet Zarathustra gave a detailed account of the seven Eternals or lesser Ahuras (the one and only God being Ahura Mazda). He aligned them with the seven steps of creation as well as certain characteristics constituting the basis of human interaction. In Zarathustra’s view, these seven beings could be called upon to help like church saints may be called upon by Christians. But his use of the word Ahura for them opened the way for some major misunderstandings as well.
The water was further muddied by Iranian philosophers during the Hellenistic period who tried to align the seven Eternals with the predominant Greek idea of elements making up the world. These writings are usually cited by Christians trying to prove that their religion is original and not a copy of an earlier monotheistic religion.
The Romans in their inimitable way to copy everything and then change it to their liking picked out one of the Eternals, Ahura Mithra (Mithras) to venerate him as a god, a religion widely spread in legions especially in the third and fourth century AD. Mithras was aligned with the creation of the sun, therefore with light shining into the darkness, and his holy day was the 25th of December, a date that might remind one of another holy day incidentally. As you can see on the picture, Mithras is represented with a halo in one representation and with the mitre as worn by the Pope in the others.
Whereas Zarathustra has the seven Eternals created by Ahura Mazda, the Hindu tradition makes them human beings that are made immortal by an act of one of their gods. Each of the Immortals is aligned with an eternal virtue of human behaviour and with an element. One of them is Vyas, the author of the Mahabharata, the eternal scholar and writer, symbolizing the writer as the ultimate visionary.
They make a further appearance in China during the times of Genghis Khan and are represented by Taoist writers as Taoist disciples, albeit some of them are quite lacking in some of the Taoist beliefs of laissez-faire and involve themselves in politics and quite pointed remarks that have been handed down historically. But then, having seen so much human folly over centuries, they are entitled to a certain sarcastic strain, I suppose.
One of the more famous Immortals is named Qui Chuji or Chan Chung at that time and place. He was summoned to the court of Genghis Khan by a letter which still exists, and made his plodding way to the war camp of the conqueror in the Hindu Kush. He met there some Imam accredited to the court to which he made the famous utterance: ‘Why do you travel to Mecca? Don’t you know that God is everywhere?’ He also used his influence at court for some heavy political manipulation, getting involved in assassinations and bribery to further his political aims.
The seven Immortals walk the world to this day. But they should not be confused with the living Buddha’s, the Bodhisattvas who have foregone Nirvana to live another life as teachers and leaders to humanity. One such living Buddha is the Dalai Lama, another would be the Panchen Lama, though the present incumbent in that post is a Chinese impostor put there by the ‘People’s Party’ as more palatable to their own world views.