Monday, June 20, 2011

Looking to the East

Friends, isn't it true that we are all divided beings? Don't we all have internal conflicts, mixed loyalties, inner contradictions? I have been reflecting on some of my own, and this is leading me to a new course of action. Over the last twenty or more years, I have been a student of Norse, Celtic and Baltic mythology, also of Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism. Born in the USA, I have lived in Iceland and Lithuania, and also in Japan. I see value in the nature-centered spirituality of the Western Pagan traditions, but I am also drawn to the search for higher levels of consciousness and a deeper understanding of the nature of reality in the Eastern traditions. Sometimes the pendulum swings one way for me, and sometimes it swings the other. Just now, the East is calling me.

This is partly because I have been feeling so disenchanted with what I know of American Asatru. I don't mean to stereotype or throw everyone into the same pot under the same lid, but my experiences have led me to believe that what most--not all, but most--American Asatru followers are most concerned and motivated about is preserving an idealized version of European ethnic heritage, reaching back to a fabled time when, in the Republican Senator Trent Lott's words, "we didn't have all these problems" about diversity, multiculturalism and the mixing of races. A nice white Viking society, pure as the driven snow in whichever Germanic country you prefer.

I have been feeling queasy for a long time about how this comes way too close to comfort to the very ugly tradition of racism and white supremacy. Now I just want to get away from this. It's not what I have known as Asatru in Iceland or Sweden or with German Heathens that I have met along the way. This is not to say that there are no racists in those lands, which would be a ridiculous statement, but simply that in those places, I have met a good number of Asatru followers with a clear, analytical, comprehensive understanding of the need to completely renounce anything that approaches racism. For knowing such people, I am grateful. I just wish there were more like them in the USA, but I think American Asatru is on a somewhat different track, certain clear-minded exceptions aside. And of course I don't like the implicit or explicit militarism in much American Asatru, the "worship of the war god" as discussed in past postings.

Celebrating ethnic heritage or playing GI Joe in Viking drag is not the primary thing that I want out of religion or spirituality. I want to feel close to nature and in touch with some kind of absolute reality. Recent contact with members of the Hare Krishna-Krishna Consciousness movement and a branch of Tibetan Buddhism known as Diamond Way have made me think seriously of how these traditions all use methods of mind-stimulation to reach higher states of consciousness where they experience Something that could be called Krishna, or Buddha, or Mind, or what not, but something that gives them peace, joy and clarity. I have always been a piss-poor failure at any kind of meditation, but now I am moved to try again.

Ultimately, I would like to somehow combine these different pathways, perhaps,to put it humorously, chanting "Hare Odin" or visualizing Thor's hammer as the thunderbolt that flashes enlightenment! Or, leaning to my Lithuanian side, maybe it will be "Hare Velnius" and Perkunas as the bringer of enlightenment. Now I am really going to be on the shit list of people who are committed purists, but you know what? I don't care. This kind of mixing and matching may not be to everyone's taste, but as a person torn between East and West, it makes perfect sense to my perfectly divided self. I also know that the past history of religions involves plenty of borrowing and blending, so it's not like I am in the first person in history to have these wicked thoughts and heretical urges.

I would be interested to hear of similar thoughts,experiences or experiments that others have had.

Happy Summer Solstice!


Peregrin said...

Hello and thanks for this interesting post and blog :)

Just a few thoughts. I am certainly not a strict purist myself, but do see the value of tradition and do believe that all authentic traditions have within themselves all we need.

I just sometimes think things are not always obvious. The consciousness transformation so explicit in some eastern traditions is within the western too. The embodied pagan paths offer as much as the eastern, though after a different manner. I am thinking naturally of winter solstice (summer for you) where the light is found at the darkest time. As that shift happens, and we celebrate ritually and bodily, we touch the mystery where dark changes to light. This is enlightenment, if we can take and grasp it.

The difficulty is that much of the pagan mystery cycle has been lost and is hard to recover when we live physical urban lives. Most depth paganism is predicated on a PHYSICAL connection to the land, cycles, food, animals and plants that are part of the myth – not a meditative or ritual connection. It is a different approach.

To me then we need to allow the older pagan myth cycles to transform into new myths for our urban or half urban cultures, weaving and telling stories of our lives and landscapes now. We are very different to ancient pagans. However, the land and the Gods are always calling and we can create new myths and traditions guided by them. These may contain all you find in both eastern and western traditions.

The concept of Thor’s Hammer bringing enlightenment etc, would not be out of place from a Tibetan Buddhist perspective. Tibetan Buddhism incorporated a number of pre-existing Bon and Hindu deities and myths, very earthy and pagan, into the whole structure for achieving enlightenment. If your evolving tradition calls you this way, I think it is valid and real. However, I think we should only evolve and change tradition as it calls us to do so, not from our own personal needs and wants. Otherwise the tradition is not transpersonal in nature and without the depths of established traditions. Just my thoughts. Thanks :)

Maelstrom said...

Thank you! Very thoughtful discussion. I think your point about traditions being collective and transpersonal is a good one. I will have to think more about this!

Brighid (Patricia) said...

This is a much needed conversation. Thank you.

Lux said...

(For those skimming, I get to the point in the third paragraph.)

I think that the fundamental difference between Paganism and Buddhism is what makes them so complementary for me. I find that, in general, Paganism is based on the body, and Buddhism on the mind. With Paganism (particularly reconstructionist paths) we focus on feeling and appreciating physical cycles, on gathering and responding to sensory stimuli. Most of my experience with various Pagan paths have categorized them very much within the realm of ecstatic religions.

Buddhism, on the other hand, espouses a weak sort of Cartesian dualism. It says that while the sensations of the body are "real" in a physical sense, they are really illusory and transitory; rather than creating ascended states through performance, it seeks to eliminate the body entirely. The practice of meditation shuts off the body, leaving (hopefully) the mind to encounter whatever reality there is on its own terms, unfiltered by biology.

Western social progression since the Age of Enlightenment (heh) has been very much in favor of the brain side of the duality. Our lives increasingly emphasize mental tasks over physical ones (admittedly primarily for the leisure class, but that's another issue entirely). It seems quite natural to me, then, that our religious focus is turning away from such physical devotions to more intellectual ones, and I think that Buddhism, as (from what I've seen) the most abstract and intellectual of the major religions fills that gap nicely.

What I find most compelling as someone who has a body and rather enjoys it, however, is synthesis of the two ideas. Vedic cultures have long known that mental devotions for many people can be heightened with physical applications-- that's why hatha yoga and mudras were originally developed. Buddhism avoids these much more than the other Vedic religions, being primarily concerned with the liberation of the mind and separation from physicality, but for me at least (someone who is, alas, not yet enlightened), I find that pagan practice adds a useful complement to my metaphysical toolkit, a set of rituals to complement my Buddhist cosmology and morality. It is in this way that though I am nominally atheistic (like most Buddhists outside of esoteric practice, I acknowledge the [potential] existence of gods but find no reason to worship them), I find the practices of theoretically theistic pagan ritual practice as useful as, say, zazen in the pursuit of gnosis.

(Shameless self-promotion: My blog "The Jeweled Lotus is going to be my place for meditations on syncretic Buddho-pagan practice.)

Peregrin said...

Hello Lux,

While I can easily follow your argument here, every single Buddhist I know would probably disagree.

I think it is too easy a call to say Paganism based on the body, Buddhism based on the mind. As both classical (and some Neo-Paganism)and Buddhism would assert, the self is based on fusion of both body and mind.

All Buddhist practices start with the body - refraining from certain bodily activities, posture, breath, prostrations.

Buddhism does not deny the body; it just seeks to apprehend the body, and all phenomena from a place of truth. Part of this, as you say, is the remove as much as possible the filter of biology. However, Buddhism is actually far, far more interested in removing the filter of mentality, as it is our mental patterns and assumptions that hinder our apprehension of reality.

Buddhism may be mental focused in some parts of the modern Thervaden west, but is certainly not in the east. I doubt there is a more earthy, pragamtic, body aware practice than Tibetan Vajrayana.

Thanks :)

Seeing Eye Chick said...

You wouldn't be the first Maelstrom. There is so much I would say but I prefer to do that in an e-mail.

Maelstrom said...

Seeing-Eyed,if you want to communicate by email, send another response with your email address. I will receive it but not post it on the blog, and then send you my own email address. From your past contributions to this blog, I have some idea of your perspective, but would like to hear more.

dscarron said...


I wish you happiness and fulfillment in your venture.

I suspect if I saw in Asatru the above then I might jump ship too.

But since I haven't, ever, then I'm still Asatru.

Wes Thu Hal
David Carron

Hawthorn said...

Hi- I have been pagan for well over 20yrs. Sometimes more practicing than not. And the pagan path has changed dramatically since I started. there are all sorts of splinters, and recon groups and new traditions and its seems (like many groups mainstream and not) that everyone wants to be "right" sometimes to the point of extremism.

I have never found one tradition that is the be all and end all for me. I love ritual, I love tradition but face it most of paganism and its paths (maybe all of them) are reconstructed and with traditions of hazy origin. Some far more hazy than others.

For that reason I have been and am still very eclectic. For me the path is to the Goddess/God, spirit, universe or quantum physics or whatever pantheon one chooses. I work with what works for me but in the end I can always relate it back to my pagan framework. I have bounced around in putting my practice together and have been looked down upon because of that I dont have a "true" path. But their nature change and evolve. I have embraced both eastern and western practices, old and new traditions and rituals. I think we need to go where we are called. Any path that encourages the use of blinders or a dogma of separatism is as bad as any mainstream religious dogma that preaches hellfire and brimstone sins as far as I am concerned.

In the end it is about union and I will go where the spirit leads to find that.

Maelstrom said...

Thanks, Hawthorn. Very interesting to hear of your eclectic experiences over a long span of time. Good luck to you in future "impure" wanderings!

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