By Aindriú Peers
There are many kinds of Buddhism.
To list a few: Indian Buddhism, Chinese Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Japanese Buddhism, Vietnamese Buddhism and Korean Buddhism—all types and schools of Buddhism. There seems to be nowhere-never Buddhism-Buddhism, “just Buddhism,” or pure Buddhism.
What does this actually mean?
It means that the teaching of the Buddha is always packaged in the culture it finds itself in. It never comes in “naked;” it is always clothed in the humanity it has come from. Indians explore Buddha’s teaching in the context of being Indian in India, Chinese interpret his teaching according to Chinese culture, and so on.
Buddhism is always dressed in the pants it arrives in. If it is to be accepted by a new culture, it will necessarily (though it take many generations) be dis-robed either partially or wholly of its former attire, and re-clothed in the scarf and socks of the new hosts. It’s like some species of cultural cross-dresser or your hippy partner.
When it comes to the Celtic culture, the Buddha’s message will inevitably be weaved into (or not) the already existing Celtic culture.
It will take on an own distinctive style. The Celts have long cherished their ancient ways with nature and although “Celtic” is a generic academic term, its values nonetheless resonate in the blood, like a song in the heart or the ache of homesickness. There is even a Gaelic word for this: Dùthchas—the place where you belong. This is a melancholic and lyrical identity; ask any Irishman or Scot.
All these cultural trappings may be discarded on the way to enlightenment. Yet to support the journey into emptiness beyond form, they offer encouragement—a feeling of home. The teachings of the Buddha lead to the eternal present, yet we mortals first need some handrails. We feel we cannot be in emptiness forever, and must quickly return to Mother Earth and get on with stuff.
One single authentic experience of emptiness is enough to tattoo us with the mark of enlightenment, dress us in the tartan of the practice clan, to take up the shield of longing and the spear of intention. Donning the armour of defenselessness, cramming on the helmet of insight, we rally to the war trumpets, the long high trumpets of the Celts with their ends shaped like the head of a wild boar.
Secretly running the energy of irreverence, humour and self-depreciation, arms tattooed with dragons, we dare cattle raid other wisdom traditions.
For some westerners Buddhism is resignation and rather boring, even an escape.
It is deemed too serious and too complicated. Celtic conditioning has fierce loyalty to its people, to its own. Christianity then hijacked “pagan” traditions and excluded the wild. On first inspection, the Buddhism of today might still seem mere transplantation, but at least it is here and that is good.
Buddhism doesn’t run away from the mind like Christianity. And Celtic Buddhism is proactive, skirmishing, throwing down a defiant gauntlet at the feet of precarity. This fiery cursing approach is very much the Celtic in Celtic Buddhism, as is its shamanic knowledge.
Gradually the archetypes buried in the soil of the western mind are being released by ancient Buddhist know-how. New perspectives are rooting in the western mind, awakening it from its slumber. This is becoming more than the simple copycatting of our eastern brothers and sisters. Buddhism cannot be truly integrated into the western psyche until it releases it from its own “churchy” prison.
As it says in the Udana scriptures, the awakened state is the unconditioned state, free from grasping.
Only when we experience for ourselves this vision of this mind, do we venerate the oneness of all cultures. We can appreciate each for its own uniqueness without comparing. Each expression has its own richness and value, most especially for those natives in whom that culture has matured, and therefore deserves respect.
Buddhism is a collaborator with each and every society, even its advocate and ally.
It seeks its best self, its true dignity, as it does of every individual. In the case of the Celts, this might be a free and fearless take on life. Modern practitioners get permission to be their happy fucked-up selves and to start from there (not from somewhere else where they are not, or in the Far East somewhere).
Celtic warriors face life fearlessly, daring to test out the boundaries.
They become berserkers on the battlefield of truth, prepared to die with sword in hand for Valhalla or Tír na nÓg. This pride is proper. Arrogance arrogates to itself something not owned. Buddhism affirms that there is nothing lacking in us, never was and never will be, and that heaven already exists in everyone as their proper identity.
So in a world where people are trying to dissolve many differences in form, it may help to playfully maintain a strong cultural identity, from which a person can spring into the emptiness beyond form. From this vantage point high above all battlefields we see our oneness in love.
After all, Buddhism finally transcends Buddha, its own message and all cultures. As little Shunryu Suzuki once said, “Before you become a Buddhist, you think there are Buddhists and non-Buddhists. After you become a Buddhist, you realize that everyone is already a Buddhist, even the bugs.”
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