By Daniel Scharpenburg
*I’m doing a series of autobiographical posts, regarding what led to the path of a Buddhist priest. I hope you enjoy these posts. I’ll be talking about myself a lot, which isn’t really normal for me.*
I Could Have Been A Shaman
When I was a kid I had a mystical experience.
Actually I can remember it at age three. I might have had more experiences, but those really set me on a path.
Not that that’s really important, but sometimes when I’m meditating—when I’m having trouble sitting still—there’s a trick I can do. I can just try to recall those events and put my mind back into exactly those states. It works every time.
But, I’ll go back to the beginning.
I was born with epilepsy. As a child I had to take medication or I would have seizures in which I would lose all control of myself and fall on the floor. I never remembered these seizures, by the way.
Around the age of seven I think, I got better. Some people have childhood epilepsy that goes away and some continue to have it all their lives. So, I haven’t been medicated for it since then.
But, when I was 19, I acquired pneumonia, and had to go to the hospital for four days and while I was there I had seizures three times. The doctors said that something like a really high fever could cause me to have seizures, even though I wasn’t technically epileptic anymore. It didn’t seem significant at the time, but that’s when the path that led me to meditation practice started—at age 19. That’s when I started really getting serious about exploring.
Anyway, why would any of this matter?
I’m glad you asked.
Something occurred to me. I know a lot of people who practice Buddhism and other similar spiritual paths. I like that I have met them and I enjoy spending time with them a lot. But it occurred to me that a vast majority of them aren’t like me.
Spirituality is not a passing interest for me. The mystical path is a huge part of my life. I’m spending a whole lot of my free time either meditating in different styles or studying. Most of what I’m studying is Buddhism, but I’m exploring other mystical paths as well.
So, I was wondering. Am I a ‘devout Buddhist’? Is that even a thing?
I don’t have faith, not in the same way that fundamentalists do. Doubt is a virtue in Buddhism. I don’t engage in so much study and practice because I feel like I’m supposed to. I do it because I like to.
I started calling myself a Buddhist Mystic because just calling myself a Buddhist didn’t really explain things enough.
Anyway, to tie this altogether, I was reading an article about Shamanism by Terrence Mckenna. He was writing about how Shamans were found in ancient societies. Epilepsy was one of the ways.
He said this:
“In archaic societies where shamanism is a thriving institution, the signs are fairly easy to recognize: oddness or uniqueness in an individual. Epilepsy is often a signature in preliterate societies, or survival of an unusual ordeal in an unexpected way. For instance, people who are struck by lightning and live are thought to make excellent shamans. People who nearly die of a disease and fight their way back to health after weeks and weeks of an indeterminate zone are thought to have strength of soul. Among aspiring shamans there must be some sign of inner strength or a hypersensitivity to trance states.”
So, if I had been born in one of these ancient societies, then when my epilepsy had emerged, I might have been trained to be a shaman. Maybe I should have been.
Shamans are practically universal in ancient religions. They pre-date priests. It’s one who is said to have feet in both worlds—the world of men and the world of spirits. Or the worlds of form and void—samsara and nirvana.
A shaman was one who would gain insight by entering trance states.
So, where am I going with this?
I started calling myself a mystic because I thought Buddhist just didn’t say enough. A mystic is a spiritual seeker, one who is looking for oneness or transcendence.
I had some of these transcendent experiences as a kid, just like the Buddha did before his Enlightenment. That might be why his story really inspired me in the first place.
It makes me wonder if I’m more prone to transcendent experiences than most people are because of who I am; if my love for meditation and other spiritual practices is because of who I am too.
My Zen teacher said he thinks I probably generated good karma in a prior life and that gives me a good grasp of the Dharma. (I’m not sold on the idea of past lives, so I take that with a grain of salt.)
Maybe that’s not correct.
Maybe I have a good grasp of the Dharma because my mind was opened when I was a kid by epileptic seizures. I suspect that’s what the shamans would say if they were here.
Editor: Dana Gornall