Wednesday, April 13, 2005

new pages, new discoveries...

Jeez, but I wish I had several thousand dollars to go to Tibet, don't you?

Yesterday I started a fascinating book called Circling the Sacred Mountain, written by Robert Thurman*, a well-known westerner who was ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk, and by Tad Wise, one of his companions and students. It’s hard to explain, but I’ll give it a shot.

The book begins with Thurman’s brief discussion of how he came to be drawn to Mt. Kailash, Tibet, which in the Buddhist worldview is the most sacred place on earth, and the most powerful. It is said that prayers offered at certain places around the mountain are translated directly into universal energy. This mountain is so holy you don't even climb it. You walk around it. As Thurman became increasingly aware of the need for peace on our planet, he felt drawn more strongly to Kailash and in 1995, finally made the trek.

From the beginning, he intended the trek to be a journey of not only physical steps but also spiritual ones for those who decided to accompany him. I’m not sure how Thurman and Wise came to write the book, but I am frankly delighted by the format they have chosen. Thurman penned the first section, then the reader is introduced to his student, Tad. Tad is… well, let’s just say I can identify better with Tad than with Robert. Tad brings the teachings and experience of the trek to a very human level – he keeps things real. He has his own addictions and imperfections to deal with, but from the moment he heard that Thurman was going to Mt. Kailash, he knew he had to come with him.

So you get Tad Wise narrating the story (so far), alternating with Thurman’s lectures that teach his Buddhist dharma. It’s… well, I just love it. It’s spirituality and adventure in the same book – how could a Sagittarian not love it?

Thurman’s Buddhist name is Tenzin – it means Upholder of Teachings. He starts the journey with a discussion of a Buddhist concept called infinite consequentiality. If I understand this correctly, it’s a logical extension of the belief that as sentient beings, we have made it a good way up the ladder of existence through lots of previous lives, so we are all experiencing the spiritual benefit of being human – and either taking advantage of that benefit or wasting it accordingly.

What I love about this section is that several of Tenzin’s students are having some acclimatization issues. After all, they’ve gone from maybe a couple of thousand feet above sea level to, I don’t know, maybe thirteen thousand feet? And going higher every day. Altitude sickness is a very big issue, and early stages can sometimes manifest in feelings of drunkenness or dizziness. So during these heavy discussions about Buddhist philosophy, you get some of the students laughing hysterically and having to really fight to collect themselves. It’s a hoot. So during one of these heavy-light conversations over lunch, Tenzin is helping to clarify the idea of infinite consequentiality. The core idea of this passage has stayed with me overnight:

“Now, in the idea of infinite consequentiality, everyone has been in your face,
infinitely, already. All of us have been each other’s parents, we’ve been
each other’s lovers, we’ve been each other’s archenemies, we have killed each
other, we have saved each other, we have eaten each other, we have fed ourselves
to each other. We’ve done every conceivable thing to and for each other,
already, many times. So now why do you think this guy – some mysteriously
awful and angry guy – is in your face? And ready to kill you? Well,
could it be you blew him away last time? Suddenly everything you do
reverberates infinitely back to you.”

It really puts a spin on your current relationships, don’t it? If you subscribe to that sort of thing.

When I look back on my spiritual experiments, nothing so far has really quite fit my views. Christianity hasn’t really clicked with me, no matter what church I’ve attended (although let me say that the good folks at the West Coast Baptist Church in Sarasota, FL have nailed the concept of soul, right on the mark), Unitarian views just don’t seem to provide enough guidance, and even Wicca didn’t feel right to me for some reason.

Maybe it was the wrong time. Maybe it’s that I’m sincerely searching now, for some kind of guidance, and not just for myself. This time I need help being a decent human being so that I can help my daughter grow up to be one, too. But what I like about Buddhism (at least from what I’ve read so far) is that it doesn’t seem to exclude any of the faiths I have dabbled in before. There are Christian Buddhists, for whom Jesus Christ is a Bodhisattva, an enlightened one, and the ultimate spiritual mentor. Looking at the life and death of Jesus from a somewhat Buddhist perspective really changes things for me – although it ain’t gonna get me into church.

It certainly changes how I look at the world around me – that’s for sure. And how I look at myself.


Oh. My. God. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the comment from my friend Ebby in Florida about yesterday’s rant, you really should, especially if you’re in a particularly hostile mood. It’s a thing of beauty, and brings to mind the bilious section of my post that I deleted yesterday morning in favor of a less crabby approach to the day’s offering. It’s hilarious. And timely. And totally appropriate. I love you, Ebby. I swear to God I give thanks for you in my life every freaking day, you have no idea.


*For trivia junkies out there, and you know who you are, Robert Thurman is the father of Uma Thurman. Uma, in… er, some language, maybe Hindi? means “mother of the world.” Somehow appropriate/ironic (there really needs to be a word for that concept) for her to play Tarantino’s Bride in the Kill Bill movies, having grown up in a household governed by non-violent Eastern philosophy.


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