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Mar 02
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California, Arizona, Featured Stories
Opening Communication with Other Authentic Spiritual Traditions

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche with Chief Gerald Red Elk
Image courtesy of theshamansdoor.com

Spiritual traditions provide the ground that fosters genuine human community. They bond us deeply in a common view of the world and our relationship to it. As Buddhists, we have experienced this first-hand in the sangha, or community, in which we take refuge on a daily basis. Beyond being merely an ingredient needed for our personal liberation, the sangha provides an environment where deep spiritual principles come to life beyond our personal concerns – extending our realization beyond ourselves and making our practice relevant to the world at large. The more we immerse ourselves in practicing and studying the teachings of our tradition, the more deeply we are able to connect with other practitioners at an intuitive heart level free from complications and doubt. This brings the teachings into reality and amplifies the effect of our individual practice. This symbiotic relationship between individual tradition holder and community is true of any authentic spiritual tradition. It is a major ingredient in what Shambhalians call enlightened society.

But as bodhisattva practitioners, we are also both drawn and pushed to look beyond our little “spiritual group” to a larger vision: How can we bring the deep wisdom and living relationship with the sacred world we have unearthed to the larger community of all beings – and particularly the other humans that surround us on this planet?


Temples at Wutai Shan
Image courtesy of world-mysteries.com

As the forces of commerce and technological development drive the speed of modern life to a frantic pace, materialism increasingly threatens the spiritual and communal life of all our brothers and sisters on this planet. Individually and communally, we humans are scrambling to make enough money to survive. In meeting the demands of modern life, we find it increasingly difficult to eke out a little time each day to maintain our spiritual practices, nurture our families, and foster deep connections with our neighbors and friends. And for all of us, the sacred vision for what it means to be human is constantly being dragged down by the consensus reality projected in advertising and the media. For many people, our sense of community has almost totally become the lives we vicariously live through TV shows and movies.

For those old enough to remember, the reality of today is markedly different than that of only 40 years ago when Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche planted the first serious roots of Buddhism in the West. The ability of marketers to influence our innermost desires has become much more powerful. Concurrently, we are becoming increasingly alienated from our neighbors and communities, finding it more difficult to fully open and trust each other. Over the past hundreds of years, our civilization has been gradually losing a sense of the sacred living world that surrounds us. Buddhists call this the dark age, and in these uncertain times, we need spirituality and community – not just with those in our personal spiritual traditions, but with those in other traditions as well – more than ever before. But like Tower of Babel survivors, we have a hard time understanding each other – often getting caught up in the differences between our languages and missing the common sacred outlook that composes the heart of our traditions.


Amaterasu Omikami
Image courtesy of thegoddessnetwork.net

Across the world there are still many relatively untouched indigenous spiritual traditions – traditions that have sustained ancient human wisdom of how to maintain deep relationships with each other and the sacred world to the present day. Many are much, much older than western history recounts. As an example, the Hopi tradition recounts 500,000 years in their historical records, spanning several world ages of human growth and destruction. Most of these traditions have such small, unmoneyed communities that they do not even make it onto our collective cultural radar. There are numerous traditions around the world that “modern man” has summarily dismissed as “primitive” without a second thought. If anything, we study them for anthropological research, like studying cute animals in a zoo, blanketly discounting their wisdom and traditions as primitive myths and superstitions. Almost all of these traditions function at odds with our technological “advances” and our modern view that the world is composed of mere resources for personal exploitation, convenience and profit.

With the rapid spread of modern techno-society, the world’s original traditions are all threatened with extinction. Many of these traditions carry knowledge of extraordinary healing traditions – millennial-old wisdom of how to heal the individual and community both spiritually and physically. Along with the traditions, these jewels of wisdom are also threatened. For these traditions to survive, they need greater help than any can provide themselves.

Many years ago, when the indigenous peoples of North America found themselves being pushed off their ancestral land by European settlers arriving in droves to create a new freer life, leaders of the five nations composing the Iroquois Confederacy each brought an arrow to a sacred gathering. Binding these arrows together, they vowed to find their common ground, to stop fighting with one another, and to unite against a common enemy. This profound move enabled them to protect their spiritual traditions and way of life up to the present day.

It is time for the authentic traditions of this world to make a similar bond of support and cooperation, instead of each just focusing on its on survival.


Thomas Merton
Image courtesy of monasticdialog.com

Trungpa Rinpoche’s Great Vision
Many will remember Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s determination to gather the sacred relationships, wisdom, and living essences of the world’s authentic traditions, and to give them a home under the Shambhala banner. He had a vision of making living relationships with the sacred deities and traditions of this world, and inviting them to support us in creating an enlightened society. Before he came to the West, he had profound meetings with the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, which resulted in the Christian-Buddhist (-Jewish) dialogs held at Naropa University. In his 1983 trip to Japan, he invited Amaterasu Omikami – the indigenous Japanese goddess of the Sun – to come live at the Kami Shrine at SMC. At the 1979 Kalapa Assembly, he was asked if there still might be Chinese dralas present, to which he replied, “There are lots of them, all of the emperors and all of the deities of Mount Wu Tai Shan. There are lots of them, absolutely lots of them…. I think they will be the first to agree with us, the first to come along and join us.” In 2007, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche made a pilgrimage to Wutai Shan, which is also seen as the abode of Manjushri. Trungpa Rinpoche also talked of his dream of going to Mount Sinai to ask the great Western deity Jehovah for his support in our efforts to create an enlightened society on this earth. And he once gave a talk to a gathering of a western secret society, where he talked to them about basic goodness and the importance of maintaining their traditions. In presenting the Shambhala teachings, he preserved many aspects of the indigenous tradition of Tibet, including the teachings on lungta, drala, werma, and wangtang.


Little Joe Gomez
Image courtesy of bhagavandas.com

In addition to His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa’s prophecy-fulfilling visit to the Hopi, Trungpa Rinpoche had some notable mind-meetings with elders from North American indigenous traditions. In the early 1970’s he met Little Joe Gomez, head of the North American Peyote Church, for whom he felt a great affinity, recognizing in him a very high-level realization. In the 1980’s, he had a historic meeting with the Oglala Sioux shaman-chief, Gerald Red Elk, at the Magyal Pomra Encampment Grounds at SMC. After being together for about 40 minutes, Trungpa Rinpoche said, “I think we can work together. It is very magical.” Receiving a copy of Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior from the Druk Sakyong, Red Elk said, “The sacred path of the warrior, this is what we believe in. The honor is there. The honor is there.” Trungpa Rinpoche later commented, “He understood the whole book, just from the cover.”

I find myself both saddened and inspired in remembering Trungpa Rinpoche’s great vision for caring for the authentic traditions of this world. I am one of many Shambhalians who have had profound encounters with healers from other indigenous traditions, and I know they have a great deal to offer in curing the ills of our society. Remembering Trungpa Rinpoche’s tender love for the jewels of this world inspires me to do whatever I can to encourage our sangha to fulfill these heartfelt aspirations. We need to begin encountering and reaching a non-superficial understanding with other authentic traditions. This will involving moving beyond a new-agey all-religions-are-one mish-mash as well as getting over our snapshot opinions that we know what a tradition is up to just by the words they use. And we will be profoundly challenged to overcome our spiritual arrogance, thinking our tradition and the realization of our teachers is superior to all others. But like the tribes of the Iroquois, we need to find a common ground, to protect each other, and to support each other in keeping deep, authentic spirituality alive in our traditions.

But where do we start?

The InterSpiritual Conference
In 2007, the Sacred Fire Community held their first Interspiritual Conference, bringing together elders, lineage holders, healers, and accomplished practitioners from many traditions – Dagara, Onandaga, Hawaiian, Bon, Hindu, Sufi, and Huichol. Among the many panel discussions that have become so popular in mainstream meditation programs, this was truly a unique event. They invited the Sakyong, who sent President Reoch to represent the Shambhala tradition. Held in a ritually empowered space, each presenter had time to offer experiential teachings from his or her lineage and to have unstructured time with those in attendance. We had presentations of music from those who carried musical lineages, and gathered around the fire to hear Chief Oren Lyons, faithkeeper of the Onandaga nation and newly appointed board member of the Bioneers, introduce us to the deities inhabiting the land around which we were sitting (which used to be Onandaga land). Far from being merely speakers, many of the presenters were empowered shamanic healers in their respective lineages. Over the course of the conference, we all began to have glimpses of a natural common ground – if not in similarities of the traditions themselves – in the earthy spirit, humor, sadness and joy that accompanies serious students of any authentic tradition.


Comet over Joshua Tree
Image courtesy of joshua.tree.national-park.com

The second conference will be held March 12 – 15 of this year at Joshua Tree Retreat Conference and Wellness Center in Southern California. Shambhala has once again been asked to participate, and President Reoch asked senior teacher Dan Hessey to represent our community. This year they have added lineage holders in the Mayan and Ute indigenous traditions of the Americas.

I think Shambhalians will find this conference both heart-warming and profound, challenging and humorous. I hope those with a genuine interest will find the time to attend. There were only five Shambhalians in attendance at the first conference, and I often wished more of us were there to witness this powerful meeting of lineages.

For more information, visit the InterSpiritual Conference web site: http://www.interspiritualconference.com

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2 responses to “ Opening Communication with Other Authentic Spiritual Traditions ”
  1. phyllis segura
    Feb 25, 2010
    Reply

    Hello, I seem to recall, with regard to your Jehovah comment, that it was NOT Jehovah he was wanting to contact. In fact there is no lapse in my recall that it was not. I had this conversation personally. It was though a wrathful deity in the area, whose name he did not then know. I believe it was this wrathful deity who might have been, and still at it, causing the discord in the area. It was not JHVH. We still don’t know the name. We sought the name. Perhaps we are in the area of the Unnameable. It would have been a great trip to go there with him to discover and assuage the ills brought on thusly. It fires my imagination, but, alas, not my skills. Who will do this? and when? I do not doubt that you might have heard him say it was Jehovah.

  2. Gentle Warrior – thank you for this. Co-emergence everywhere. Breath of fresh air. Some of us confident and inspired opened the flower – African diasporic connections. And more than our don’t know mind knows happens
    globally trusting and embracing life joyfully. An example – http://www.unesco.org Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity – protecting and sustaining living traditions, their unique diversity, continuity, CREATIVITY
    languages, rituals, music and performance arts, shamanic healing traditions, medicine etc etc – lists
    indigenous traditions all over the globe. Editors of Shambhala
    Times should check this out – source for themes in the magazine. Making the invisible ‘visible’. Lineage
    holders in some of these traditions live in remote corners of planet earth – Vanutu Island sand drawings – a symbolic system like calligraphy [an initiatory pratice] [South
    Pacific] Shamanic Healers from Bolivia; Manding teaching Masks in the Casamance [Senegal] – a cycle of transmission occuring every 60 years. Phyllis Galembo’s ‘Sacred Shrines from Benin to Bahia honoring Orishas
    representing the elements – earth, air, fire, water, space in infinite combinations – Oya, Shango, Yemanja, Oshun etc. Mbari traditions of the Igbo. Ifa divination traditions of the Yoruba. The Nomadic exhibition – Gregory Colbert’s ‘Ashes and Snow’ [intimate relationship with other species]. Martial Arts of Capoeria [Brazil]. Lots of sources. Think ‘relevance’, Openess. In appreciation.
    Ashe Ashe Ashe. A Sacred World. Manifest.


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