All is One, All is Different
Christ only created one church, but it has become a very diverse affair. The Buddha only created one sangha, but within it there was plenty of room for specialisms and differences of approach. His leading disciples were all very different characters. Nowadays we have many different “schools”, but it is really all one Dharma. In Japan it is not considered odd to visit a Buddhist temple in the morning and a Shinto one in the afternoon.
The Most Important Choice
There is diversity between humans and even within individuals. That can be a source of richness, joy, stimulation and mutual support, leading to growth, creativity and expansion, or it can become the cause of narrowness, resentment, loneliness, isolation, over-burdening, conflict and fear. This is the choice that we have. The most important thing for humans in this world is to make it the former rather than the latter. How?
This cannot really be achieved by rules and regulations, but a modicum of structure can help. One needs norms that bring people together as well as other co-existing norms that permit them to be apart without fear or shame. There is a place for conviviality and there is a value in solitude. The full life includes both.
The picture is a proposal made for a symbol or flag for Planet Earth (http://www.flagofplanetearth.com/#intro-shift) . Probably all those perfect circles should be a bit more wonky but you get the idea. We may never become a set of such perfect circles, but we should, surely, be able to evolve flexible norms that permit groups to be together and practice in a single way without, thereby, becoming exclusive and rejecting of others, and other norms that enable different groups to practise together from time to time without thinking that they are thereby betraying their own essence.
We Are the Best
Every group probably believes that it is the best group, at least some of the time, or it would not go on being diligent, but it needs to recognise that all the others think that way too and be able to have a laugh about it.
Within Buddhism and similarly in other faith traditions, each teacher has his or her way of packaging and presenting the message and the practices, and different groups revere different scriptures, but all the scriptures ultimately convey the same Dharma. If a teacher is a good teacher then it is worth paying attention and it may be good to become dedicated to him or her, just as a family needs a certain family loyalty, but a healthy family is one that reaches out and connects with others too.
If one wants to immerse oneself in one practice or if one wants to progress through the ranks of the priesthood, then there is practical advantage in staying with one spiritual community in order to have persistent focus, but it is important that we do not let this lead us to a narrow or exclusivist attitude. No individual school has a monopoly of truth and we can all learn from one another.
In Tibet there was a movement that started a hundred years or so ago called rimé. This was a movement aimed at opening up the schools to friendship with one another, mutual recognition and assistance. One result was that it became much easier for people training in Buddhism to have teachers from more than one school. Another was that when people moved from one monastery to another they did not have to retake their vows and start again from the bottom, as it were.
What About Us?
So how is this relevant to us? Although i practise within one school of Buddhism and I have my own particular orientation to world spirituality, I deliberately set up La Ville au Roi (Elsusis) in a pan-spiritual fashion, open to Western spiritual traditions as well as a variety of Eastern ones. Here you can study Taoism, worship Greek goddesses, commune with nature, and say prayers to the Mother of God and the Earth Mother, all on the same day if you want to. This does not mean that we are shallow. It means that we are open and enjoy learning and celebrating the myriad faces of the Dharmakaya.
You can come here and renounce the materialist world and train deeply in spirituality, take vows and become a homeless nun or monk if you want to. You can also come here and have fun meeting some loving people within a broadly spiritual ambiance. We are not narrow or stuffy, but we are serious in what we are trying to do, which is bring peace and sacredness into the world.
Come Over and See Me Sometime
Since we have a variety of schools represented on this web site, not to mention many intelligent and good-hearted, non-aligned people, I hope that there may be scope for some gradual development of co-operative links. We already hold joint services with our friends at Oasis who are primarily Tibetan Buddhist in orientation. There are some members of the network that we visit whenever we can and who visit us when possible. Right at the moment I am somewhat handicapped by my medical condition in this respect, but I pray that I shall recover in due course. When I do, I would like to come and visit you. I would like to encourage members of La Ville au Roi (Eleusis) to reach out to one another and visit each other. Can we develop a spirit of mutual hospitality and welcoming? Can we be the kind of network in which it is not considered odd to message another member and say,
I would be very happy if, as a result of reading this little essay, some of you immediately sent messages of this kind to somebody else on the network and then followed it through with some kind of one-off or on-going contact. That would be a contribution to richness and good in the world.
The goddess Eirene is the patroness of peace. She has a child called Plautos who is the god of richness and prosperity. I hope that Plautos will thrive. He will do so if we make peace with ourselves and one another in this world.
If we visit each other we can become friends, we can learn each other’s attitudes to peace, love, spirituality, travel, and making the world happier. We can do spiritual practices together. We can share stories and experience. We can laugh and enjoy. I hope we can all enjoy one another and create a world of friendship, turning our differences into our collective strength rather than a fearful weakness.
The best way to make friends is to do things together. Travelling together is very good. Life is a shared pilgrimage and this can become more than a metaphor. It might mean crossing a desert together, or it might mean preparing a meal together, or whatever, but shared experience is already a bond.
When two spiritual practitioners from different traditions meet a good question is, “And what do you do?” I was visiting British Columbia once and my host asked me if I would like to visit other Buddhists while I was there. “I would,” I said, so she made some phone calls and soon we were walking across a wind-swept car park on a rather wet day and knocking on a door in a big building. A priest of oriental appearance answered the door. “Hello,” he said, cheerfully, and looked me up and down, “You’re red,” he said, referring to my clothes, “We’re black. Come in.” We entered a small office. There was a shrine on one side. “Let’s start with practice. We can talk after,” he said, pulling up chairs. So there we were not five minutes inside, already sitting in front of the Buddha shrine, our host intoning scriptures and ringing a bell periodically. Some of it I recognised, some I didn’t. After twenty-minutes chanting we all bowed. “Now let’s have tea.” We were soon deep in conversation. “And what do you do?” He asked, wanting to know our practice and ideas. Many things we agreed about. Some we didn’t, but it was interesting to hear a different perspective. We enjoyed each other’s company and in the end went our separate ways all the richer.
I am interested in teaching, but i am just as interested in learning. In any case, all one CAN teach is how to learn better. The essence is sharing. By, once in a while, sharing our experience and receiving the sharing of others we all grow and prosper in spirit.
This essay is my prayer to Eirene for today - may she aid us.