I read a book recently called What Makes You Not a Buddhist by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse. The subject of the book is the “four seals” of Buddhism:
All compounded things are impermanent; all emotions are pain; all things have no inherent existence; nirvana is beyond concepts.
I had heard of the book while practising the lam rim at a study retreat, at a time when I was considering ordination ~ reading the book was part of my investigation into whether I actually wanted to be a Buddhist. The teachers at the retreat recommended the book as a good introduction to what a student should understand before they consider even taking refuge.
So I read the book with fervour and very much enjoyed Khyentse’s style ~ so much so that I eventually travelled up to Sydney to watch him speak at a day-long teaching that was more reminiscent of a rock concert than it was of any teaching I had ever attended before. He was very funny, and he managed to convey a lot of insights that were valuable without talking directly about Buddhism very much.
He remains one of my favourite Buddhist teachers, but there was something in the introduction to the book that has just now popped into mind and caused me to question the value of asking the question, “What makes me not a Buddhist?”
No wait … it wasn’t in the introduction to that book ~ it was in another book that was discussing the same concepts, the four seals. Anyway,
wherever I read it, the author was drawing on the same notion: that to be a “card-carrying” Buddhist, one needs to agree with or understand the essence of the four seals.
Based on the current state of my research/understanding, this includes me. I believe I understand and agree with each of these four principles.
These principles, however, are not exclusive to Buddhism ~ they are principles understood by mystical traditions everywhere … or perhaps almost everywhere. If we agree with or understand these principles, we are not necessarily Buddhist, but to identify as a Buddhist we need to agree with these principles.
I understand that doctrine is a valueable guide in the search for truth, but this feels a bit too-dogmatic to me, especially now, but even a little bit back then. I was willing to let the dogma-feel slide, because I was (and still am, sometimes), eager to feel like part of a group that shares the same beliefs ~ it’s comforting, no?
But just now when I was doing something other than actively thinking about truth (I was doing a sort of zentagle, a form of art therapy … and waiting for Centrelink to take me off hold … 1:02:51 hours so far ;/
I was doodling and it came to mind that if we want to call ourselves a “card-carrying” Buddhist, we need to look at that:
the mystical path is a search for our true identity, our true nature ~ in Buddhism it is taught that what we believe to be our identity, our self, is an illusion: our identity is comprised of such elements as, say, male, thirty-four years old, brunette, dread-locked, quite handsome but a bit lopsided 🙂 Other elements include our cultural affiliations: Australian, public-school educated, progressive and a little bit Buddhist.
It’s that term “card-carrying” that caught my attention while I was doodling. A card-carrying member of a club has easy access: show the card; people trust you won’t get drunk and trash the place; they let you in. To say that understanding the four seals makes you a card-carrying Buddhist just renders the whole purpose of understanding these truths irrelevant, because these concepts are also an illusion. Yes? No?
Something I remember now from the Khyentse book is that the conclusion, maybe even the final line of the book, is the statement that if you realise enlightenment and still think you’re a Buddhist, there could be a problem, you know what I mean?
I really appreciated that Khyentse concluded his book with that sentiment. I want to be accepted as part of a group as much as the next bloke, but if we look around and cling too much to various labels to know whether we are or are not making progress along the spiritual path … well, that’s a lot different from just straight-up knowing we are on the path without having to identify as a Buddhist or a Gnostic or a shaman or a Hindu or whatever.
I think it’s realy important to remember this. What do you think?
What makes us not Buddhists/shamans/whatever is what makes us mystics, I reckon.
~ ~ ~
featured image: gildedlilycharms
I am beginning to learn, through research and experience, just how important our body is to our mental, emotional and psychological wellbeing, and what follows from this is the importance of diet.
I call it dieta because: 1) that extra a, from the Spanish, seems to lift the seriousness from the idea of dieting; 2) I picked up the word watching a documentary about shamanism, and the main motivating force behind diet for me is to have a cleaner body so I can be more in touch with what’s going on internally (in terms of digestion, but also and moreso in terms of emotions and psychic movements … pun intended 😉
I also think of all this as more like a yogic diet than just a diet diet, because that for me carries connotations of this being more about dietary choices that I hope will persist over a lifetime rather than about a few austerities I will observe temporarily as though my life were nothing more than a series of passing fads.
One of my early bosses (who was an alcoholic and chain smoker) used to say (ironically), ‘My body is a temple.’ I never really understood what this meant, but since then I have had some divine/mystical experiences that were the consquence of clean-eating and dedicated spiritual practices, so I know the body~mind partnership is capable of some truly transcendental stuff (holy shit), and I really want to begin to honour that some more.
I have also begun to notice that my general wellbeing is profoundly influenced by what I do and do not put into my body.
At the time of this writing I am 34, born 1983 in the Australian outer suburbs. Since that time the basic food pyramid has been turned on its head and, among other correlates, the gut~brain connection has been researched up the wazoo. We now know there are neurons in the heart and gut, not just the brain, and people are starting to use ‘second brain’ to refer to the gut.
When I was learning how to eat, it was mostly through mimicry in the suburbs, and my diet was (relatively) fine for the last 30 years or so, but I put that down to having been blessed with a profoundly strong constitution (physical and psychological), which is now beginning to show signs of wear and tear:
for a long time I was able to get away with eating a halfway-healthy diet, even though that included indiscrimate consumption of meat and other animal products, processed foods like commercial bread, plus wanton amounts of dairy and sugar, not to mention the various poisons of alcohol, commercial tobacco, caffeine and the hydroponic ‘biker bud’ I found myself smoking, which constitutes something of a segue to a sidenote:
It’s been 34 years since I started learning how to eat and feed myself, and it’s been about 19 years since I started scoring and smoking ganja. This was in the mid~late-90s and the Australian suburbs … skip forward to 2015 in c://maine (Castlemaine, VIC), which is essentially an outer suburb of Melbourne, where I asked my friend and dealer where our ganja was coming from ~ bikers, he said.
This was the year I first began to realise that maybe I was suffering depression and that the anxiety I was feeling maybe wasn’t normal. It was also the year I had my first major spiritual emergency. It was around then I started to realise that something needed to change if I wanted to ever feel like contentment, satisfaction, meaning and purpose were conditions I might feel frequently and consistently, and that something was gonna hafta to be me.
This tangent is getting a bit out of hand, when the only really important point is that the profound suffering (mixed with moments of transcendental joy and awe) that characterised that year were catalytic in promoting a search that lead to two realisations:
1) what I had absorbed about diet was no longer serving me, and food production had most likely changed radically in the preceding 30 years, but more (or less) importantly, 2) drug production had most likely changed radically in the last 20 years as well.
In the suburbs of the 90s I was probably smoking mostly homegrown or maybe some hydro that someone had come across. Now that I think about it, I do remember that ‘hydro’ was kind of a big deal back then, a new thing that was only just beginning to reach new levels of accessibility.
Skip forward again to c://maine, where the buzz was bush bud: whereas my buddies at high school would get excited because they had found some hydro that would get us really ‘whacked’, my friends in c://maine would get (mildly) excited when they came across some homegrown that would give us a nice, easy-going high.
So, things/times have changed, and the point of this long-winded tangent is that many factors influence our mental health, not just drug (ab)use: food, for example, is just another vehicle for chemicals that effect our mental states via the gut~brain, and as Dennis McKenna says anyway, “All experience is a drug experience” [12:33]:
Whether it’s mediated by our own [endogenous] drugs, or whether it’s mediated by substances that we ingest that are found in plants, cognition, consciousness, the working of the brain, it’s all a chemically mediated process. Life itself is a drug experience.
Apart from wanting to bust the myth that ‘marijuana causes depression’, I want to experiment with and illuminate experience and ideas around how everything we put into our bodies (including information) may cause depression (et al) if we are not wise about our choices.
The most illuminating experience I have had so far, experimenting with eliminating grains, is that both times I did this I suffered extreme bouts of insomnia. [12:36] I learned / was reminded of my own experience that eating grains has a profoundly soporific effect on the body, a great enabler of sleep.
It took me two of these experiments and a not-uncanny encounter with a friend to learn, from her, that if we want to just straight-up drop grains from our life, we need to be sure we have melatonin supplements, along with other herbal sleep supplements like valerian and hops, which I have now bought for any future experiments.
For these reasons and myriad others I am not yet aware of, I am documenting here the nature and contents of the dieta I am experimenting with, the details of which can be found on the sub-page, Dieta Detailia. [1:39]
I just finished experimenting with my first shamanic journey, and [at 9:39am] I feel very relaxed and at peace, which is a distinct difference from the depression and anxiety I’ve been feeling for the last however long it’s been since I felt normal. I feel like doing yoga again, for the first time in ages. I don’t feel like reading or otherwise using the mind to distract myself from the painful reality that consensus reality is painful sometimes. I feel like blogging though ~ I feel like expressing myself. The instructions I read for the journey include finding some way of expressing the experience. So here goes.
I set up in bed with a headband for an eye mask and some lavender oil for the relaxation feels. I started by trying to think of an ‘anchor place’ and eventually settled on a campsite I found at the beginning of my Canberra–Brisbane cycle tour last year, a truly idyllic place that could as easily have been a setting in The Lord of the Rings as it was an old creek bed somewhere between Canberra and Yass on a dirt track called Horseshoe Road. With my phone on airplane mode I used the Prana Breath app to do the “Box Breath” recommended in the same instructions (a 4:4:4:4 inhale:retain:exhale:sustain ratio).
(This is what I talk about when I talk about “technoshamanism” … for me it has nothing to do with raves and smacky ‘ecstasy’ pills.)
After seven minutes of this I was ready to slow my breathing pace down a bit when I pressed play on the drumming track I had downloaded. I cruised along with the simple beat, feeling my body as it moved with a naturally rising and falling breath, but before long I felt like keeping pace with the drum beats and I was breathing fast again, remembering the rapid-breathing used in holotropic (and other types of) breathwork sessions, and I started to feel tingling sensations throughout my body, stronger than the tingling I am familiar with from breathwork.
Intrigued, I slowed my breath down and the tingling went away. The pace of the beat could not have been faster than the pranayama ratio of the Box Breath, yet I was experiencing
what I suppose are symptoms of hyperventilation these tingles and an increased body temperature only minutes into the drumming track, so I’m guessing the drums combined with the breathing had a distinct physiological effect.
I don’t mean to over-analyse it too much, but that’s what I was doing during the journey anyway, so reporting on that is valid here too: I have an over-analytic mind as it is, and I haven’t been doing any mindfulness practice at all for months, so it’s not surprising that my mind would be racing to keep up with these new experiences, skeptically writing them off as merely symptoms of hyperventilation.
I suppose that when I become more accustomed to journeying and if I combine the practice with a regular mindfulness meditation, I will be able to let go of my conscious reasoning more and enter deeper into the unconscious.
Another interesting element of the experience is that the lavender oil on my skin smelled remarkable reminiscent of three olfactory hallucinations I have experienced during breathwork and love-making, which I have generally referred to as experiencing the ‘scent of the buddha’, a phrase/concept borrowed from the teachings of Osho …
… I can’t go into the details of those hallucinations right now, and it is enough to say that
I am only now beginning to learn that we can hallucinate with our noses as well as with our eyes and other sense organs. I mean, I have had the above experience of these, but I am just now beginning to learn that these are verified elements of hallucination. I’m wary of the term ‘hallucination’, and it would perhaps be better to say that I ‘imagined’ the scent of the buddha during my earlier experiences,
but anyway, the scent of the lavender oil on my skin today was the same as those imaginary smells of my three earlier experiences.
Those three times I was almost certain there were no essential oils involved (the first two times were with therapists who might have been using oils ~ the third time was with a lover who definitely wasn’t, and neither was I), so I had pencilled them up as hallucinatory or mystical or divine or something.
Now that I’ve experienced the exact same smell when I know for sure that I was using lavender oil, I feel uncertain about my former conviction that oils were not used in the first two instances.
Basically, this olfactory element amounts to another experience that challenges the reliability of the senses, which was a major theme of the insights I had during my spiritual emergency in January 2017.
Ultimately though, the most resounding element of the experiment was how it changed my state of mind from being anxious and tired to being relaxed and energised ~ it was like a super-charged meditation! Actually it was more akin to being yoga drunk ~ I don’t think I’ve ever emerged from a seated meditation session feeling as profoundly transformed out of stress into relaxation. Maybe the purpose of shamanic journeying is not to relax, but surely relaxation is a fundamental pre-requisite of successful shamanic journeying, the same as it is for good meditation and yoga.
So there you have it ~ my first brain dump about my first experiment with shamanic journeying.