There is a story told about a crow who attempts to put out a forest fire by carrying beakfulls of water from a lake to the fire. It is a story in praise of action, however small, in the face of challenge. Let this writing be a beakfull of water on the fire of destruction we all face.
In our era of profound change small things may yet turn the tide of the destruction of our world. We as practitioners of the supreme art and science of magick have added responsibility to act. In the Hermetic tradition this is explicit since we are means whereby the Living World acts upon itself. We are the neural plexies, the eyes, ears and hands of the intelligence that informs the Cosmos. Yet if we do not act continuously to remediate suffering and if we are not finely tuned to that suffering and the intelligence that can end it, we may lose the world we live on. Out of compassion for us, the Being out of which we arise provides all the necessary resources to succeed - and yet will also permit us to fail, even if that means the death of all that lives on this third rock from the Sun. The choice is ours.
How shall we fortify ourselves for the great task we are already engaged in? How shall we evolve sufficiently to save our world from destruction? How can we make every action count however small a beakfull, towards this necessary goal? In my office as priest of Hermes I travel among magickal folk of many cultures and traditions. During my time among the Tibetan Buddhists I discovered that they have found methods to do these things. As a priest of the God of Thieves, I have stolen their methods as medicine and food for our people, that we may be better able to do our work. This essay gives three methods whereby we can accomplish what the Tibetans call "good at the beginning, good in the middle, and good at the end."
Three ways of achieving this good are Taking Refuge, Generating Boddhichitta, and Dedicating Merit. There are innumerable methods for accomplishing these, but many are not suited to our Pagan way. What follows are practices that I and the community of Pagans I have been working with have used for the last several years in our rituals. Many guests to our rites are unfamiliar with these practices, but we have found that this is not an impediment to their understanding the process or receiving the benefit of it.
Many Pagans ground before rituals to get centered and ready to attend and invoke. We often reach into the Earth below us and draw up Her energy into our bodies. Sometimes we have this energy fountain up through the core of our bodies to pour down around us. Sometimes we also draw upon the Sky and mingle these energies in our bodies.
Taking Refuge is similar in approach and effect, but with two crucial differences. First, Taking Refuge invokes the Enlightened Teacher(s). In the Vajrayana level of Tibetan Buddhism this would mean the person teaching you the rituals and methods of the path, which typically involves vows of commitment and secrecy. Yet, while this teacher is a person whom the student has met physically, the Teacher invoked in Refuge is a Fully Realized Being (code-named "Buddha") who is projected upon the physical teacher (even if that teacher makes no claims of enlightenment about themselves). In the process of Taking Refuge one invokes and then unites with the Enlightened being, becoming of the same nature. Thus it is said that if one views the teacher as an ordinary person, the attainment is that of an ordinary person; if one views the teacher as a Buddha, the attainment is that of a Buddha; and if one views the teacher as a small dog, the attainment is that of a small dog.
Union with the projection of Enlightened Nature is only possible because that Enlightened Nature already lies within us. This is true, in part, due to the non-dual nature of existence, which assures that if Enlightenment exists anywhere it must also exist here. However, this is the weaker argument. The stronger argument is the omnipresence of Buddha-nature (Tathatagharba). Buddha-nature is not some isolatable quality, but is inherent in Being itself, the ground out of which all phenomena arise: people, plants, atoms, deities, planets, universes. Buddha-nature is the drive in all things to live, love, learn, grow, and become fully awake. It is already fully awake in all things, though we don't always realize it due to the obscurations of distracting karmas. Those who have realized it are the Buddhas of the past; those who realize it now are the Buddhas of the present; and those who have not yet realized this are the Buddhas of the future. Yet all are already Buddhas. The being who is perfectly awake, purified of all obstacles and spontaneously compassionate towards all that suffers, is the perfect Teacher who ceaselessly guides all that is not aware of its own Buddha-nature towards that realization. The perfect Teacher is not a reifiable being, but a function of Being. This is what we invoke when Taking Refuge.
Since this teacher is in and of the ground that all arises from, Taking Refuge is a kind of grounding. It is a grounding not just to the planet, but to that which the planet grounds. It is a grounding to all-embracing space and the intelligence and awareness thereof.
As profound as this is in meaning, the method is very simple. At the beginning of ritual, sound three times the syllable "Ah." While doing this visualize the letter "A" (or alternatively a small white sphere) at your heart. In this instance, as in many cultures, the A or sphere represents the formless ground out of which creation emerges.
During the first sounding, visualize white light streaming out from the A or sphere in all directions. Feel the energy flowing out. This is the call to the Buddha-nature in all beings, including the Buddhas, asking for their attention and aid.
While we sound the second "Ah," they all join us and shine light/energy back to us from the A in their hearts. The light floods our bodies and dissolves our obstacles, awakening us to our own inherent Buddha-nature.
With the third and final "Ah," we and they send out a wave of light/energy from the A at our hearts to all beings everywhere, everywhen, dissolving their obstacles, awakening them to their own inherent Buddha-nature and healing their suffering.
When I sound the first "Ah," a small Buddha becomes visible in the heart OF everything about me, including the molecules of air in the room. The Buddhas turn to look towards me with compassionate eyes and a glowing A in their hearts.
When I sound the second "Ah," my body is filled with brilliant prismatic light dissolving my form into purity and kindling deep bliss.
With the third "Ah," I visualize everyone I know who is hurting being relieved from their hurt, and all the people in the news at war or in pain ending their conflicts and being healed.
Starting ritual from this state is what the Tibetans call "good at the beginning."
There is a thread running through many Pagan rituals, often implicit, that the ritual serves to advance us spiritually. The Tibetan Buddhists make this explicit in all their rituals. They take it further by binding the motivation to seek ultimate spiritual attainment (code-named "Enlightenment") to the benefit of all beings. The practitioner seeks enlightenment not merely to be able to escape suffering themselves, but to be able to use the power gained by achieving enlightenment to help all other beings to the same state. This act of generosity is precious in that it benefits many as well as being the only way to attain the supreme realization. It has the added benefit of tying any act or ritual to the thrust of evolution while adding the energy of the ritual to the momentum driving the practitioner towards enlightenment.
There is a particular form of Generating Boddhichitta used in the Dzog-Chen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism that is particularly suited for Pagans. It stresses the already-enlightened nature of all beings and makes a commitment to viewing all things in that light. It is a short verse that is said three or more times after Taking Refuge and before beginning the main part of the rite. It is also an attitude to be carried through the entire ritual: "All is pure and present and has always been so; to this realization I commit myself: pure and total presence."
This method focuses on the fruit of practice, the realization of the purity and immediate presence of all beings, as the driving force of the practice. When said and intended, practitioners become instantly aware of the extent to which they do not actually perceive all phenomenon as pure and present. This contrast generates a powerful thrust towards the realization of that state which can then be used in the subsequent ritual practice. By recognizing that this state of purity and presence applies to all beings, the force that is generated includes the motivation to bring all beings to this same awareness.
Maintaining this state throughout ritual is, in part, what the Tibetans call "good in the middle."
Distributing or Dedicating the Merit
The last practice given here is a method for concluding ritual so that it has the maximum impact in the world. It also clears the energy of the practitioners in a manner similar to how we Pagans may touch the Earth at the end of our rites, but this way preserves the effect and purpose of the rite, rather than simply discharging excess energy.
In PAGAN rituals, when we have done worthwhile invocation we have properly exalted our consciousness and perhaps even achieved union with a deity or beyond. If we did not have SUCH a firm grasp on our selfhood, this would have no deleterious effect. However, our egos tend to come along for the ride and get rather puffed up for having been, however temporarily, the Goddess or the God. The ego has its place as the major domo of the mind, but when it is inflated it can get out of hand.
If there is an excess of energy about, the ego will want to discharge that energy, an urge similar to the desire for orgasm (but not always so sweetly inclined). It can ground that energy through the subtle or coarse conflicts that are present in any group situation. But the ego is not attached to negative expression. It could also ground itself through elation or play. This can be most pleasant, but it is still a loss of the full potential effect of the energy raised in the ritual.
Even if the energy has been discharged in such a way that extremes of self-absorbed emotional discharge are avoided, there yet remains the subtle after-effect on the ego for having been such a vast and powerful being as a deity. The sense of self importance brought about in our invocations dulls our compassionate acceptance of others and leads us into errors of judgment that can cause harm and dissension. In short, it makes flaming egoists out of us. We all know people who act this way. There are times when we do it ourselves. How many witch wars, magickal battles, foolish feuds or simple snits have we all witnessed? The ways in which we don't get along are some of our favorite topics of conversation. Our history and the history of the cultures we build our religion upon show many times when our internal strife has made us vulnerable, even to our destruction.
Tibetan Buddhists who practice in much the same manner we Pagans do have run into similar problems. They developed the practice of distributing the benefit of ritual to deal with it.
The good news is that there is a carrot to match this stick, for along with the omnipresent Buddha-nature guiding all beings, we all have the desire for happiness and satisfaction. This drive has a ubiquitous momentum that can be worked with or against, but cannot be ignored. By dedicating the benefit of our actions, particularly our rituals and magick, to the benefit of all beings that they might attain to happiness and satisfaction (Enlightenment), we are tying our magicks into the great stream of evolution, the predominant thrust and momentum in the Universe. When dedicated to this noble end, our magicks will be carried along with it to their successful conclusion.
Placing the benefit of actions into the evolutionary stream is like placing money in a perfect bank where it can not be lost, harmed or destroyed. Once that benefit is given to all beings it will continually have effect on everyone, including ourselves. It can not be destroyed by any later negative actions we might perform. It simply adds to the thrust in Being towards the eventual enlightenment of all beings.
One might wonder that if we give away the benefits of our actions, we will not receive the benefits of our labor. But we give the benefits up to all beings and each of us part of that all. We are dedicating the benefit to ourselves along with everyone else. Ending ritual in this state is what the Tibetans call "good at the end."
In my community we do this in two ways. We learned the Great Ball of Merit method from Joanna Macy. At the end of a ritual or practice we ask the question, "Have we done some good here today?" As we answer, "Yes," we turn our attention to the benefit we hope to cause in the ritual. "Then let us share this good with all other beings."
We then become aware of and gather up the energy of the good we have done, sweeping it into a mound in the center of the circle. It often has distinct qualities of stickiness, fluffiness or density. The energy is then packed into a ball by everyone. Then we get our hands underneath the ball. Starting with a low tone and building to a high pitch, we raise up the ball until we together fling it into the sky above us. Someone will say, "Feel it rain down on all beings everywhere. " We all feel the touch of the good energy run down us like a warm rain and visualize it pouring over everything else benefiting them, too. We also sometimes simply speak words of dedication. This verse has the added benefit of being a prayer for all practitioners:
"May the benefit of this act and all acts be dedicated to the complete liberation and supreme enlightenment of all beings everywhere, pervading space and time. So mote it be.
"May the benefits of practice, ours and others', come to fruition, ultimately and immediately, and we remain in the state of Presence-Ah!"
Presence here is the same as in the Boddhichitta verse and this final "Ah" is the same as the third of the Refuge practice, given above.
I hope these practices will be of benefit to you. Please try them several times. They require some repetition to get used to and to have effect. In working them will their true nature become clear.
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