Pagan Dharma Putting the Pagan back into the Dharma

Not "Should" but "How": What do we do?

First, some self-disclosure.

I'm a priest and teacher in a Korean Son Buddhist lineage. In fact, I received authorization as a Son-sa (Zen Master) in this lineage almost exactly one year ago (December, 2011). I've been a "practicing Buddhist" for about 25 years, with some of those years even spent as a monk in a Tibetan Buddhist lineage. I founded the first non-denominational Mahayana distributed learning-based seminary (the Prajna Institute for Buddhist Studies), and along with being its president, I am also a core faculty member. In my "other" academic life, I'm a doctoral candidate in Clinical Psychology, and expect to have that completed (all praise to the pre-doc internship gods) next year-ish.

I mention all this not as some sort of boast, but to give context. So that as we progress in this conversation (which is my hope for what this becomes), you know that I'm not some guy who's read 20 or so books from Barnes & Noble and talks a good game online.

I'm also a pagan. Well, "heathen" to be precise. I'm a member of the Troth and Ár nDraíocht Féin / ADF, and my personal "hearth culture" is Anglo-Saxon.

This brings me to my main point of this (brief) post - I don't know how much value there is in making the "should there be a pagan dharma" or "should there be Pagan Buddhists" argument. I think those could be interesting posts, certainly, but the reality is, there already are "Pagan Buddhists" and "Buddhist Pagans" and a "Pagan Dharma" is already taking shape in their lives.

In one of the early conversations I had with Al regarding this site and his passion for this material, he wrote:

"The question is what differentiates a "pagan dharma" from any ol' dharma. Is it a matter of sensibility? Style? trappings? Drawing from more than one tradition?"

And this, I think, is the question really worth exploring as this conversation continues. Not the "should we" but the "how do we?" The "what does/would/could it look like?" Of course, I have a few ideas on the subject.

My first thought is that praxis, rather than doctrine is the more profitable focus of our attention. Historically speaking, this has worked well for the Dharma. When Buddhism spread to China, Korea, and Vietnam its monasteries were a hodgepodge of schools/lineages/practices/beliefs. You could find "pure land" monks, "esoteric" monks, "Ch'an" monks, "scholar" monks, and on and on all living and practicing together. What made them a community wasn't their doctrine/belief - it was their shared liturgy and vinaya (monks rules of conduct). This practice is even somewhat in effect here in the West, even though Westerners have tended to want a bit more orthodoxy, as opposed to orthopraxy. In any given sangha or "Dharma Center" you'll find hard-line "re-birthers," you'll find atheists and agnostics, and you'll even find a heathen or two - and you may not ever notice, because of the shared practice.

In the pagan world, this is similar to the ADF, where they explicitly welcome and actively endorse a number of "hearth cultures." There's the obligatory Celtic (they are "Druid's" after all), but there's also Norse, Baltic, Gaulic, Roman, etc. They even have folks practicing a "Vedic" hearth. Now, while all of these groups have some similarities (thank you Professor Campbell) - there are still some pretty major differences. So how do they pull it off? A "Core Order of Ritual." That's right - praxis. They have a standard order of liturgy, that's built around the idea that while the culture and deity specifics will change from grove (group) to grove, or person to person, the general structure will remain the same. That means that if my Woden and Thunor loving heart visits the Gaulic Three Cranes Grove - while I'll have no idea who their deities are, I'm still going to understand their ritual, and know what's going on, and will even be able to participate. What's more - through my understanding of the Core Ritual, I'll quickly come to understand a bit about their deities (OH! so you use "so and so" to open the Gates Between Worlds... ).

Another modern and relevant example is the Unitarian Universalist Church - in fact, this body is already home to many (MANY) Pagans, Buddhists, Buddhist Pagans, and Pagan Buddhists. They follow, and in my opinion owe their success to, a similar model to the two previously described. For them, it's not about what you believe - it's about community, and what you do together as a community. Given their history, they do tend towards the mono, as opposed to poly-theistic stance, and from what I gather you can still find UU Congregations that are essentially "Protestant Christian," but you get my drift.

So... what do we do? I suppose the answer could be that Pagan Buddhists just join a group like the ADF or the UU's - and as I've said, many do. However, is that truly satisfying? I can't speak for anyone other than me, but in my experience I still find myself silo-ing off the two areas, externally at least. When I have my "Zen Master" hat on (note - I do not have an actual ZM Hat, however I am not opposed to the idea), I tend to either leave out, or "sneak in" any bit of heathen wisdom I might have, and when discussing among ADF'ers almost always feel as though I need to justify or apologize for any bit of "Zen" I might bring up. Maybe that's just me.

In any case, like I said - we're here. You're out there. Maybe we're not all ADF'ers, or UU's, or OBODS, or whatever... but we are all Pagan Buddhists. What do we do?

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