A bunch of us were gathered there in the dimly lit studio with the beats pulsating in the background and we were just talking about whatever came to mind. We got into the ideas about a future event and how it might expand the community in a small town such as this, where it seemed folks were not entirely enthusiastic about getting out to a dance venue that didn’t serve alcohol. By day the space we were inhabiting was a Yoga & Pilates studio and by night, once a month, the space was transformed into a barefoot dance, coordinated in the attempt to build community. No alcohol or drugs allowed and no shoes. It felt like a familiar atmosphere to me now that I’d been dancing in a similar community for many years. I had a bit of passion for it and I’d experienced many blissful moments dancing with friends and family over the years in Northampton, MA. They had a community dance that had been going on for thirty years or so that was still hopping. But the dance was only a part of my life and I still longed for something more fulfilling and constant. I took a break from the brainstorming and went to get some tea that’d been home made by one of the coordinators. Home made chai and masala tea. I could scream hippy here but I won’t – because I myself would be somewhat guilty of that label….That’s when I saw the flyer on the wall.
A picture of a Tibetan Lama wearing red and gold colored robes caught my attention. I’d spent time with monks in the late nineties and they had touched my heart very deeply at that time. Since then I’ve had a soft spot for Tibetan Buddhism. The flyer was about an event that was happening in a few weeks with a Tibetan Lama that happened to be from the very same lineage as the monks I’d met many years before so I became more focused on the flyer and decided to write it all down. I signed up for the event a few days later and went to meet this Lama. Since then my world has changed drastically. I went for help with my spiritual life and my health and I knew that I had to do some hard work to understand how to change and grow. So I asked for a personal meeting with the Bon Lama. After the talk, some people could come back the next day and sit with him and ask for spiritual guidance. I was one of those lucky enough to get a slot with him so I drove up to the house after driving for an hour to get there. I was greeted briefly by the woman who coordinated the entire event. This was where she had her acupuncture practice. I was asked to remove my shoes. I was a little nervous. I went in and the Lama was sitting in a chair and he asked me to come in. I felt a little nervous I noticed, maybe even a bit vulnerable. I stepped into the space and a man sitting on some pillows wearing vibrant Red and Yellow robes was sitting there awaiting my entry. He asked me “How can I help?” I fell silent for a minute. Not sure what I said that day because it maybe wasn’t as important as I’d have liked to believe. But I was very touched and moved by the whole event. Very moved. It was a deep calling for me that had awakened that day and this was not my first encounter with the Bon Monks. It seemed to have gotten into my heart in a way I couldn’t grasp. Which later I found was a bit symbolic in a way. What I think I learned that day was not some secret that the Lama told me but it was the recognition of something I already knew deep down. I was somehow drawn to learn more and so I pursued other events and teachings with the same lineage of monks.
I started to take this meditation business more seriously after meeting this monk. I had done a Vipassana ten day silent reatreat and I’d gone to meet gurus of various traditions and I had even studied with two Chinese Masters who taught Tai Chi, Kung-fu, and Qigong. They were all instrumental in a sort of coming aware. After meeting the Buddhist monk I’d spend an hour or two each day if possible meditating because it felt the benefits immediately. It was Dzogchen. Tibetan Buddhism’s Highest teaching of all and it’s been a very powerful practice in a very short time for me and it was not too difficult to learn the basics. The Tibetan culture was destroyed methodologically by the Chinese Government making it very challenging for these ancient traditions to remain intact. The man I met was from the Yung Drung Bon Tradition which might have disappeared if it weren’t for those who risked their lives to salvage the texts and records from several thousands of years of spiritual teachings. The Yung Drung Bon is one of the smaller spiritual traditions of the world and is called a Buddhist religion now. Though Yung Drung Bon is thought to pre-date Buddhism in Tibet it has recently been announced as the fifth school of Tibetan Buddhism by the Dalai Lama. So much confusion has come to light about whether or not the Bon tradition is Buddhism or not. When the Dalai Lama said that Bon was Buddhism many Bon scholars came forth and explained that Bon was not Buddhism. Then when people heard about Yung Drung Bon not being Buddhism, apparently other scholars argued that Bon was Buddhism. The detailed answer was not very clear for everyone but most scholars talk about the Bon Tradition as Tibet’s first religion dating back some 14-18,000 years ago.
Whatever the case the Yung Drung Bon Tradition is similarly steeped in the rituals and ceremonies they have used for thousands of years and it has survived until today in several places in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and India. It was ultimately founded by and enlightened Bodhisattva name Tonpa Shenrab who taught the ways of a Buddha to the ancient Bonpo practitioners who at that time were still using animal sacrifice and more “Shaman-like” rituals and ceremonies within their practice. While many Tibetans confused this old Bon with the newer Yung Drung Bon there is the clear distinction in the enlightened teachings that were not evident previously. Many Tibetans have had to flee Tibet to avoid persecution, and the Indian Government has offered them land upon which to construct their Monasteries – allowing them to rebuild and start again. Sadly the losses the Tibetan people have had to endure is far beyond what the typical uninformed westerner can grasp. I see folks with their bumper stickers “Free Tibet” and I wonder “what do they really know about the story?” …In visiting India and a Bonpo Monastery I saw first hand the heart of the people there. I feel like I still hardly grasp what these people have been through.
Finding this Dzogchen practice has been like coming home after some long trip I’d been away on. I feel like every time I meditate I experience that a little more strongly. I never believed in re-incarnation fully until I met His Holiness Menri Trizin the spiritual leader of the Yung Drung Bon Tradition. Somehow I knew after meeting him that it was real. As I grow more focused on my practice I seem to notice that everything I ever sought after in my life was deeply flawed and it began to change for me. People ask me if I’m a Buddhist and I generally do not identify as one, but I practice more than some of those that do call themselves Buddhists. Dzogchen is generally non-sectarian. What’s important for me now, is I can speak about my life as part of this journey to come to a deeper sense of awareness of what I already sort of knew. I’m still a flawed human being with the same struggles as everyone else, but as I step out on to the dance floor of my life now, I see what the dance has all been for. I can share all my life experiences and relate them to how I’ve come here to the now. It seems to me my life has been reduced to those things I did to find the path back to my true self..or should I say no self…. It may sound corny coming from a guy like me who was hanging out in the bars at age 16 and playing in heavy metal bands. Tattoos and long hair and this notion that I was some kind of rock star in my head. It’s like Noah Levine and Dharma Punx – but it’s my life and it’s not Punk. Ultimately I came to realize that we’re all mortal and life is slowly ebbing out of us as we age to transition into the next phase of existence whatever that may be. So each day feels like a gift and I want to really embody life to its fullest extent. How can I do that if I live a life of attachment to outcomes, or attachment to who I think I should be, or where I should be?
All my life I believed I needed to do something more to be successful, I needed a girlfriend, or to get married, I needed a good career, and to buy a house and to have children. Where did these ideas come from? Well As I move forward here in time, I aim to continue the break down those stories a little more. I have a great amount of skills. I have suffered some too, so I have experience being at the bottom of the barrel of this human experience. At the lowest points. I’ve learned what it is to be chronically ill for the long term and to begin to rebuild from that. I’ve been through so much and held many ideas along the way – and all have led me back to my inner world and a contemplative practice that informs me that the story of self identity is problematic for me……I aim now to continue to dance, explore art and music, chant mantras, and love the world and all its inhabitants as best as I can without attaching these things to my sense of self and well being. Thanks to the Yung Drung Bon Tradition for the gift of the present moment. Imagine an entire race of people exiled from their homeland teaching me – a privileged white American man – how to be more compassionate and awake. How paradoxical and at the same time stunningly beautiful….Cheers.