Recently I was looking at the website of a prominent Pagan teacher. The biographical information included, of course, how many years this teacher had studied in their tradition, along with what other spiritual systems they had studied. Said teacher is about the same age as I am, and I found myself thinking, not for the first time, “Oh, I wish I had studied something for the past twenty or thirty years, I wish I had that much experience on one path, I wish I had those credentials.”
Then something clicked over in my brain, and I thought about what I have spent the last twenty-plus years doing. I’ve been exploring and practicing Zen and Tibetan Buddhism for the last five years. I’ve gained First Degree in the Ancient Order of Druids in America. I trained in the New Hermetics with Jason Augustus Newcomb and reached Advanced Adept. I’ve read extensively about Feri, Reclaiming, and British Traditional Wicca. I’ve been a practicing Anglican who was not just an active member of a parish but an Associate of a religious order. I’ve engaged in prayer, ritual, magic, music, and writing as spiritual practices. If all that’s not experience, what is?
I’ve learned something from every tradition and practice I’ve explored. And the most important thing I have learned, something that’s only now crystallizing for me, is that while my practices may change, my Path does not. (Yes, Path-with-a-capital-P.) My Path, the Path, is to seek complete freedom and happiness for myself so that I can help all other beings to do the same thing. Western magic calls this the way of the Adept; Buddhism calls it the path of the Bodhisattva. Enlightenment is not perfect until all are enlightened. Freedom is not perfect until all are free. Freedom and happiness are tainted if they are gained at the expense of others’ suffering. The apparent paradox is that to help others most effectively, you have to work on yourself first; you have to put on your own oxygen mask before you can help your panicking neighbor with their mask. And then, together, you might be able to stop the plane from going down.
I think perhaps this is what Victor Anderson meant when he said, “Work for Self, and you will see that Self is everywhere.” You cannot genuinely help yourself without helping others; you cannot serve others without benefiting yourself. Speaking of Zen teaching, John Daido Loori wrote, “What is left when you get rid of the self? Everything. The ten thousand things. It’s just that you are no longer separate from them.”
That is my path. Perhaps it has always been my path, even before I had the Buddhist concepts to help me articulate it. As for my practice, that is going to be the New Hermetics, for the foreseeable future. Jason is offering a considerably revised and upgraded version of the supervised course, at a generous discount to those like myself who completed the original version under his tutelage. This opportunity has come along just when I’ve been at a low ebb, wondering how to make Buddhism work for me when my access to teachers and a sangha is so limited, wondering why I can’t make Druidry work any more (for more on this from a different angle, see the most recent post in my druid blog). My chief goal for this revised course of study is to bring to bear everything else I’ve learned and find a container for it within Neo-Hermetic magical practice.
Today is Imbolc, celebrated by many as the feast of Brigid, goddess and saint, lady of fire and water. My acupuncturist tells me that in Chinese tradition as in Celtic, today and not 25 March is the first day of spring. Last night we had freezing rain that has left the streets dangerously slick; my husband fell twice returning from a rise-and-shine yoga class that turned out to have been cancelled. I decided a couple of years ago that it was not Brigid I felt close to, but Dana or Danu, the ancestral Celtic goddess who is both the rivers of the earth and the river of stars in the night sky, the mother goddess whose milk names our galaxy. Her light descending wakes an energy in the land that runs through melting waters and rises into receptive souls. I’ve come to syncretize Dana with Nut and Nuit, with Sophia, and with Prajnaparamita, the primal transcendent wisdom who is the mother of all buddhas, and whose mantra concludes the Heart Sutra:
Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha
Gone, gone, gone beyond, utterly gone beyond, hail wisdom the goer.