It was 4 years ago this month that I began the Tea & Chanting Sangha at The Sacred Well.
Our little sangha (I like to think of it as our dharma pagan coven) has spent the past four years meeting on the last Tuesday of each month just as the shop closes. I prepare an herbal tea for us to drink that is seasonal and magically appropriate to the chant we will be doing, I offer a brief explanation of the mantra for the night, then we chant the mantra 108 times and have a short dharma talk. This model has provided many of us with some wonderful moments of inner peace, flashes of insight, removal of pain & obstacles, and ecstatic experiences of heartfelt devotion over the years.
This year, we are going to embrace a new model that really excites me! I have spent the past several years of my dharma path studying resource materials, receiving various initiations and empowerments, reading a lot, speaking with other practitioners, and working on some material that is uniquely suited to dharma pagans, built upon the complementary wisdom and methods of vajrayana buddhism and neo-paganism. By bringing elements of both paths together, I have designed a sadhana that is unique to our sangha, and specifically-suited to buddhist-leaning dharma pagans.
Now, one thing to note right away is that Tibetan Buddhism on the whole meshes very well with other Traditions. Its adaptability and relate-ability in a wide variety of contexts is evident in how much it has grown as a spiritual path, and how far its precepts have ventured into the world, even among non-Tibetans and non-Buddhists. HH Dalai Lama is a globally-recognized leader and inspiring teacher to many, even people who would not otherwise consider themselves Buddhist at all. While there are some hard-liners out there who insist that any dharma path must be "pure" and almost-biblically-faithful to the letter of the lineage, the historical record does not bear out that kind of insistence on religious purity for most people in ancient or modern Tibet. In Tibet itself, for most of the history of Buddhism there, many different lineages co-exist and practitioners (especially in rural areas) might have teachers from various different lineages from whom they receive information and initiations. They then often blend these practices into household religions, similar to how some eclectic and family trads might develop in american neo-paganism.
In our sangha's new practice, I have used a fairly common neo-pagan ritual structure as the container for a Tibetan sadhana that is comprised of various different mantras, offerings, enactments, gestures, and prayers of aspiration. By providing a specifically neo-pagan context for these ritual elements, I can demonstrate the similarities between Tibetan tantric meditation and neo-pagan ritual in ways that will be visible and understandable to both experienced and new practitioners of either path. I can also make sure to speak from the locus of my own experience, approaching the dharma honestly as a pagan rather than boxing myself in as a strict Buddhist, which I am not. I can honor the guardians of the dharma and offer myself as a sincere practitioner before them, showing up with my authentic truth and the type of devotion I bring. This has always worked well for me. In both my work with pagan deities and my work with buddhism, if I come upon territory that is not meant for me, the dharma guardians just kind of let me know, "hey kid, this is a private party." then I can step back, no harm done, no hard feelings.
This ritual is currently in 12 parts, with room for other segments to be added over time or plugged in and out as needed for specific situations. There are Outer, Inner, and Secret meanings for all of the practices in the sadhana, which will be revealed through our discussions and activations of the ritual over time. This year, the first year of this developing practice, we will work with the Outer meanings, primarily. I will teach one aspect of the sadhana each month, then sangha members may take that short piece home and practice it for the month, building and adding on to the ritual as we go along. By year end, everyone will know, by heart, a ritual almost entirely in tibetan that can be done in three different ways, using the same material: 1) with full orchestration and all bells & whistles in a day-long practice, 2) in a concise form that will take about 40-50 minutes as a daily, weekly, or monthly practice, or 3) in an instant form that can spontaneously generate a field of protective, healthful, helpful, creative, loving energy at a moment's notice for a daily or on-the-spot practice.
The purpose of this sadhana is to activate and sustain a current of gentle, powerful, benevolent, creative energy. once we have carved the open channel for this steady flow, we direct it toward the benefit of all beings, without exception. We are employing this practice to arouse the Buddha-nature within each of us us that is moved by compassion, a deep motivation toward the alleviation of suffering, and desire to cultivate natural liberation through one's daily activities. This practice is ideal for those who are householders, or who cannot make time for long retreats away from their families or work, or for whom prolonged periods of sitting in silence are not possible, spiritually productive, or fulfilling. The ritual engages the direct experience of each practitioner as both the teacher and the lesson, placing emphasis on both joy and suffering as instructive in the realms of cyclic existence.
Curiosity piqued? Local to the Bay Area? Come to Tea & Chanting this Tuesday at 8 PM at The Sacred Well if you would like to start the journey with us. Or drop in any month after this (always the 4th Tuesday), and catch up as you like. However, if you are at a distance, or if Tuesdays are impossible for you and you would like to join me in a monthly online Google Hangout version of Tea & Chanting, let me know and I'll set one up so that others may participate in this working with our sangha at a distance.
As with all of my pagan dharma work, there is no fee for this activity, but donations are always accepted and appreciated to help with the cost of the tea.
In the work I have done to create this sadhana, I have drawn inspiration and wisdom from private conversations and the book Tantric Thelema by Sam Webster, as well as resources and texts I have studied in the company of many different teachers, visiting lamas, and gurus at places like the Gyuto Vajrayana Center, Orygen Dorje Den, and Dzogchen Community West. May all of my teachers experience long, healthy lives, great support for their good works, the continuation thereof unto necessity's end, and the most blessed form of whatever rebirth they so choose.