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Posts Tagged ‘Baghavad Gita’

I have been giving some thought to theology as of late. I know I think about and talk about religion all the time; that’s not what I mean. What I mean is giving thought to my own theology in a constructive way. Something more than “ZOMG I just don’t know what I believe.” The thing is, I am starting to actually figure out what I do believe, and I am starting to think about how to put all of the pieces together. So here goes:

My philosophical foundation is essentially Advaita Vedanta. I have read the Baghavad Gita and the Upanishads and I am blown away by them. When I read from those texts, I feel like I am hearing the voice of God–not “god’ as in a divine being, but GOD, the entire universe, the ultimate divine reality that is all things and is beyond all things. I believe that everything is a part of this ultimate reality, but that in total it is something entirely beyond out conception. Nothing is like God, and so no analogy or metaphor could possibly do God justice. The differences we perceive, the identities we imagine ourselves as having, are all ultimately illusions. The world of sense objects and empirical data is basically an illusion, called maya. On one level, the creation of the universe as we know it was the creation of this illusion of separateness. Maya is practically necessary for us to function, but it is nevertheless illusory, and it can mislead us powerfully.

In the deepest parts of our own consciousness, we are one with everything, even the gods. But we spend most of our time identifying ourselves as the tips of the fingers, as entirely bound in the world of the five senses. When we dream we withdraw into our own consciousness, which is further back but still a world of deceptive distinction. In dreamless sleep we come closer to our essential oneness, which the Hindus call Atman, the Self that is all-self, the ultimate divine reality of Brahman.

From a practical standpoint, however, this knowledge or philosophy doesn’t do much. Maya is powerful, and it is difficult to even be sure of the Atman, much less to be able to fully identify with it. Because we are out on the branches, functioning in the practical maya-divided world of sense and identity, we need to be able to thing in those terms, even when we think about divinity. The Hindu Vedanta thinkers do this, but their gods are culturally alien to me. Krishna, Rama, Vishnu, and Shiva are extremely interesting, sure, but they are not compelling to me the same way that Zeus, Aphrodite, and Odin are. And furthermore, the gods I have had personal contact with are decidedly Western.

So instead of thinking about divinity in terms of Indian myth, I choose to think about it in terms of the mythology that is compelling and accessible to me, and as an American of Western European descent, that basically points the way to three clusters of myth-tradition: the Celtic/Arthurian, the Norse/Germanic, and the Greek/Classical. The former two are the mythologies of my genealogical ancestors, and the latter is the mythology of my cultural ancestors. These three mythologies are extremely powerful to me. Their gods have spoken to me. I believe that their stories point to the ultimate divine truth that unifies and unites all of reality and that fundamentally explains and gives meaning to my existence.

In these mythologies, I find inspiration, wisdom, a guide to behavior, and a tangible connection to divinity. These are the gods that speak to me, and so when I try to connect to the Ultimate, these gods are my mediators. Why do I need mythology and mediator gods? I guess I could theoretically do without them, but practically, that’s not what my brain is hard-wired to do. And I need something practical that can serve as a kind of stepping stone towards the ultimate.

Even so, belief in these mythologies doesn’t fully carve out a path of action, at least spiritually speaking. I need a set of spiritual practices to serve as a vehicle to take me through the triple-lens of these mythologies and ultimately back to the Divine Self that lies behind everything. For that, I think I have chosen Revival Druidry. Revival Druidry is flexible enough to accommodate the theology I have constructed, and it gives me practices that take me places spiritually that I want to go. I intend to start with the AODA’s first-year curriculum, which includes meditation, regular celebration of the seasons and the position of the sun, and care for the environment leading to an increased awareness of my place in the natural world. In addition, I will probably do some extensive work on poetry.

Vedanta is the philosophy, my three chosen mythologies are together the conceptual lens that I use to construct meaning, and Revival Druidry is the way I will put it all into action. At least… that’s the idea.

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In a previous post I talked about my troubles with boxed religion.  My conclusions were somewhat contradictory, but I think they boil down to this: I want to feel like what I am doing is valid and legitimate, and I want some kind of structure to help me know how to practice my spirituality.  I hunger for the divine in a way that necessitates some action, some drawing closer on my part.  Navel-gazing and thinkin’ ’bout gods by itself just isn’t going to do the trick–I need a practical element to my spirituality.

So the question becomes, how do I get those things–practical spirituality and a feeling of legitimacy and validity–without also having to deal with the suffocation, claustrophobia, mental revision, and inevitable shame and embarassment that seem to be inescapable by-products of boxed religion.

One thing I know for relatively certain, is that my personal theology doesn’t appear to match any currently existing and widespread theology, so no complete boxed religion will do–no matter which one I pick I will wind up feeling the need to change what I believe in order ot be orthodox.  I know I shouldn’t, but that’s not the issue.  I will.  So then, where do I get the things I am craving out of religion?  How do I practice a religion that’s out of the box but still stay focused, on track (even if the track meanders and changes), and maybe most importantly for me, feels valid and legitimate?

One possible route that I have been seriously considering is the Ancient Order of Druids in America.  The AODA’s spiritual practices don’t involve a specific theology, although they have theological implications: they are earth-centered, they skew strongly towards some kind of (neo)pagan approach, they are meditative and contemplative, and they tend to favor some ostensibly new age stuff like magic, divination, etcetera.  There appears to be a strong tendency toward Celtic paganism (no surprise there; we’re talking Druidry after all), but with an openness to different “flavors,” even if it means going (shudder) eclectic.

The thing is, I have been interested in the AODA for a long time, but I have recognized that it onvolves in some ways a spiritual skeleton, a kind of box with nothing in it.  While I have no doubt that you could practice Revival Druidry without any further theological baggage, and int he process develop a strong earth-centered green spirituality of your own, I have always felt that I wanted something more to fill the box with.  I wanted some kind of mystical component, a catalyst even, that had specific theological and spiritual implications to flesh out the practical skeleton of the AODA’s approach.  From that perspective, I have everything I need to begin.  Granted, it still means cobbling things together a bit, and I admit that the spiritual experiences I have had do not necessarily point directly toward Druidry (it’s not even one of the implications I mentioned in my last post).  At the same time, Revival Druidry is completely compatible with what I have been doing so far.

So I want to go through a list of advantages and disadvantages of choosing Revival Druidry as a spiritual path.  I will start with the advantages.

First, Druidry is green.  It is earth-centered.  It is a spiritual practice that recognizes the power of the earth, has roots in the living earth, and draws strength form protecting nature and the environment.  I haven’t necessarily shared this before, but I have long felt a spiritual connection to the earth.  I feel recharged (and less crazy) by being outside.  I think there is wisdom and balance to be gained by being more connected to the natural world, and that is an aspect of spiritual existence that I feel compelled to explore.  Maybe I will go into more detail in a future post, but suffice it to say for now that this is important enough for me to make it actually be a big problem with Hellenic Recon Polytheism, which is not connected ot the earth enough for my tastes.

Second, Druidry provides a box, but not a claustrophobic one.  Even though the kind of Druidry I want to practice is connected to an organization, the organization does not claim special authority to dictate to me what I should and should not be doing, and what is acceptable for me to practice.  The is partly due to a general neopagan norm of live and let live, but it also has specific roots for the AODA in Anglican latitudinarianism, as the AODA’s historical roots go back not to ancient druids, but openly and honestly back to the Druid revivalists of several centuries ago, most of whom started out as Anglicans in the midst of a growing trend toward Latitudinarianism–an allowance within Anglicanism to admit diverse theologies but come together in practice.  So Revival Druidry provides direction but is not forceful.  And the Anglican connection, which comes out in a lot of other practices, especially in the AODA’s meditative approach, doesn’t make me cry either.

Third, as a kind of corollary to the second above, Revival Druidry is a big enough box to contain all of the disparate spiritual elements I have swirling around in my head and heart.  It certainly can accomodate all of the different kinds of western mythology that I feel drawn towards–Greek, Celtic, and Norse.  In fact, it is a context that will allow me to move around and through those three diffferent mythic and polytheistic contexts as my personal theology continues to grow, develop, and solidify.  (Hmm–three is a number that is significant and sacred in Druidry) Druidry is also definitely expansive enough to encomepass a cosmology that is based on the Baghavad Gita.  But better still, Revival Druidry’s box is big enough to account for all of the different possible ramifications of my spiritual experiences.  Revival Druidry is compatible with a green, mystical Anglican Christianity if that’s where I ultimately end up (and if I end up Christian, I highly suspect that that’s the kind of Christian I will be), and certainly with the male/female archetypical divinities that I might be dealing with (DruidCraft–the fusion of Revival Druidry and Wicca–is already fairly established and has a major advicate in the form of Philip Carr-Gomm, one of the most important voices in modern Druidry and the head of the British Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids).  Moreover, practicing Revival Druidry in no way excludes the practices that have so far become important in my paganism: prayer, libations, and small sacrifices to the gods.

Fourth, Revival Druidry practice involves things I want to be doing anyway.  Seasonal celebrations, meditation, poetry, music, divination.  It wraps all of these together in a whole, centers it all on environmental spirituality, and interlaces the whole thing with a healthy respect for the gods and a default polytheistic worldview.  There’s a lot of good juju in that box, really.  I might be on to something here after all.

On the other hand, I have some concerns with the AODA as an organization and with Revival Druidry as practice that I feel I need to address and think about.

First, the AODA is an organization that is in the process of rebuilding.  There are not a lot of members, and that means not a lot of community support.  The flip side to this is that it being a part of the movement means being able to help build something with a lot of great potential.  A connected oncern is the place of John Michael Greer at the head of the organization.  Don’t get me wrong-I think Greer is absolutely awesome, a prophetic voice who deserves more attention than he gets.  But is the AODA just Greer’s fan club, or can it be an organization that stands on his two feet without him?  The AODA’s not a personality cult, and Greer doesn’t really play that part, but is it basically the same thing for practical purposes?  Of course, on the other hand, practicing AODA-style Revival Druidry doesn’t actually mean I have to be a part of any organization whatsoever, so the organizational concerns may be a moot point.

Second, I don’t know how comfortable I actually am with the idea of calling myself a “druid.”  I am convinced by Greer’s rationale that, as descendants of the Druid Revival, modern Druids have every right to claim the name–not because they are descended from ancient paleopagan Druids, but because they are descended from mesopagan revivalists who called themselves “Druids.”  The term Druid has been used to refer to revivalists for three hundred years now, and (in Greer’s words) it is easier than calling the movement “British Universalist Post-Anglican Latitudinarian Pantheist Neo-Pythagorean Nature Spirituality.”  Nevertheless, the idea of calling myself a Druid seems, well, kind of silly.  Again, maybe I am making a mountain out of a molehill.  I am in charge of how I label myself, after all.  I can practice Druidry and even join the AODA and call myself whatever I want.  Maybe I would be the most compfortable thinking of myself as a Pagan who practices Druidry, or something like that.  Or maybe thinking of it in terms of “Revival Druid” instead of just “Druid” would seem less ludicrous and more intellectually honest.  Semantic niceties aside, the way I label myself and the way I construct my own identity is really important to me.

Third, Revival Druidry has a lot of New Age ideas built in, and I am suspicious of New Ageism.  I don’t think I really believe in “magick,” or feel like it is an important or even desired part of my spiritual life.  I don’t believe in auras or moving energy around at will.  I think a lot of that stuff is kind of flaky gobbledygook, and by entering a movement full of that kind of thing, I risk being associated with it or being seen myself as a New Ager, or alternately getting frustrated and fed up with what I see as flaky, non-valid spiritual beliefs and practices.  Nevertheless, this is not a concern that is unique to Revival Druidry, but is one that I will face everywhere in the Neo-Pagan world.  Perhaps if I was content to be a hardcore Reconstructionist, or was happy to act and practice in total solitude, I wouldn’t have to worry about it.  But I am not and I don’t necessarily.  So as long as I think of myself in terms of paganism, New Age is always going to be on the radar, whether I am involved with Revival Druidry or not.

Fourth, the big one, is that athough it may be the perfect box for me, it’s still a box.  This is really my problem, not Druidry’s problem, but the chances of me pushing myself towards whatever passes for Orthodoxy in Revival Druid circles despite my contrary beliefs, intuitions, and desired practices, is really high.  Orthodoxy is basically bred into me–I grew up Mormon after all, and it is really hard to root out that kind of thinking, especially when it is more of a knee-jerk inclination anyway.  I naturally lean towards obsessive orthodoxy in whatever I do, regardless of whether it actually makesme happy or bears any kind of fruit in my life.  But this is going to be a problem wherever I go, no matter what direction I decide on, probably even if I make up my own spiritual direction whole-cloth.

So, what does all of this mean?  Honestly, I think my reasons to practice Revival druidry outweigh my reasons not to.  And when it comes down to brass tacks, Druidry is something that has attracted me for a long time.  I have hesitated before, but never because I thought I might be unsatisfied with Druidry.  I either felt held back because of a hesitation to move in any spiritual direction without some kind of mystical catalyst to hang it all on, or I have held back because I thought I might need to set Druidry aside in favor of some other Orthodoxy.  And now both of those reasons have evaporated: I have had a decidedly pagan mystical encounter with the gods, and I have recognized that Revival Druidry will fit almost any spiritual direction I have a reaosnable chance of ultimately settling down on, assuming I can keep my Orthodoxy reflex in check.  In fact, practicing Revival Druidry may wind up being the perfect cure for said reflex, assuming I don’t wind up jerking my knee towards orthodoxy in Druidry itself.

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I am actually writing this post from… the future!

Seriously, in going back and assembling my list of high points along the journey, I realized that there are a couple of spots where important things happened, I didn’t blog about them, and I didn’t go back and explain what happened either. This is one of those spots, so I will try to recap for the sake of historical continuity.  So I am actually writing this post on April 2, 2009 to go back and fill in the blanks, and I am inserting it timewise into the summer of 2008.

In the spring of 2008, I headed east, spiritually speaking. I read a lot of the Baghavad Gita, I watched a lot of Heroes, and my daughter was born. For awhile, I thought that a kind of quasi-Dharmic Hinduism was going to be the path for me. I even went and started a new blog called “Dharma Bum” which I subsequently deleted (after bringing the important posts back here, so they wouldn’t be lost).

My brother came to visit with his wife in April, and he brought a bunch of books about Zen Buddhism, which I had never really considered seriously before. In particular, the book Hardcore Zen struck me as relevant and important. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed that Zen Buddhism was the right path for me–the truths that it espoused were, for the most part, things that I believed to be self-evident truths about the universe. I had some semantic concerns about distinguishing the Hindu Atman from the Buddhist Anatman, but that was more the kind of thing that could produce long, quirky debates later on. Important was the Zen universe was a universe I believed in, and Zen meditation seemed rally helpful to me.

But there was still a nagging feeling that this wasn’t really the right thing for me. Maybe it was jsut my fear of spiritual commitment, I don’t know. But it seemed to me that the problem with Zen was not that i thought it was untrue, but that it did not provide me with things I wanted and needed, spiritually speaking: a culturally relevant context with ritual, compelling mythological framework, professional clergy, etcetera. Although I couldn’t make myself believe that Christianity was true, I still felt an attraction to the Episcopal Church that in my opinion contradicted my Zen inklings.

My brother’s advice was just to pick one, go with it, and see what happens. And eventually that’s what I did.

While studying for final exams last April, I read C. S. Lewis’s Surprised By Joy, which is an amazing book. I was surprised to see how unconventional Lewis’s conversion to Christianity was, and in the end, I started to feel like the Episcopal Church really was the place for me–a place to be, in fact, even if I was not sure about my belief in Christianity.

So when we moved to New York for the summer, we started attending an Episcopal Church in the Village, and I even went to services at Trinity during my lunch hour downtown. It was meaningful and important to me, but there was some critical quality that was just elusive. I read every C. S. Lewis book I could get my hands on, I prayed and did devotions, and I thought of myself as a Christian, a Protestant, and an Anglican.

Maybe the biggest problem was that, concurrent to all of this, I spiralled into what might have been the worst depression I have ever been in. I can’t even describe it beyond saying that it was an absolute nightmare, and finally getting help and eventually climbing out of it has saved my life. My beautiful and sexy wife was there for me in my darkest hours, even when things got scary and that means so much to me. But in a lot of ways, God was distant, and I couldn’t figure out why. I literally cried out to Jesus to deliver me, but things just kept getting darker.

My love affair with Christianity started to enter a period of uncertainty when we came back to Maryland, partly because I was just plain more interested in Led Zeppelin than I was in religion. I still kept Episcopal Christianity in my head as a spiritual placeholder, but even then I wasn’t sure anymore–not because Christianity hadn’t pulled me out of my depression, because for all I know things might have been a lot worse without prayer and devotion, but just because my interest was fading. Again, fear of spiritual commitment? Maybe. But also Christianity honestly just wasn’t punching all of the spiritual buttons I needed to have punched.

Incidentally, I haven’t really felt the need or desire to go back to Zen. It is interesting, and probably, in retrospect, the religion whose truth-claims are the closest to matching reality, but despite being true, it is so stripped down that it actually lacks Truth.

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