[This is a guest post by Patrick McCollum. Reverend Patrick McCollum is an internationally recognized spiritual leader in the Pagan/Earth-Based religions who's work toward human rights, social justice, and equality for all religions and spiritual traditions, transcending cultural, religious, and political barriers. McCollum recently made a historic trip to Thailand, and he shares this report on his experiences there.]
My trip to Thailand and the Island of Java at the invitation of the Dhammakaya Buddhists was very successful. I believe it has opened new doors for us and will lead to both a greater understanding between the Buddhist and Pagan communities and increased mutual respect. With that said, it is also important to note that I am not the only Pagan working with other religions and cultures to create partnerships. There are a number of individuals who have stepped up for this work, and I fully honor them and their dedication. It is my strong belief that building these bridges based on common values allows not only a better understanding of our Pagan traditions by others, but more importantly creates the framework for dialogue and action between us and our new partners to stop the rampant destruction of our planet and to counter ideologies that exploit and commodify our fellow human beings. I would also like to point out that all of my interactions as I do this work, stress the importance of each party maintaining their own individual beliefs and spirituality while at the same time acknowledging the sacredness of the other. All of that said, I would now like to share a few high points of my trip and some of the experiences I had on this incredible journey.
I would first like to say, that I was very well received as a Pagan by the Buddhists in Thailand and that I had many opportunities to share information about our community and practices. My hosts provided a team of wonderful people to assist us and I learned a lot about Buddhist thought and particularly their desire to achieve world peace. I was also privileged to be involved in a huge beautiful ritual with over a hundred and fifty thousand Buddhists from around the world which was very similar to some of the Pagan rituals I’ve participated in, in our own spiritual community. The ritual, which was called Maga Phuja, celebrates the light of the Buddha returning to the world. The celebration started with several thousand chanting monks in saffron robes circling around a huge round domed temple three times, acknowledging each of the four directions and the elements. The temple has one million gold Buddha’s (most of which are dispersed all over the top of the temple’s dome) which reflect the light in all directions in a profound way.
When darkness hit and the full moon began to rise, a sacred flame was kindled in the center of the temple which was progressively used to light a consecutive number of additional flames passed from one person to the next as far as you could see. The growing light radiated out in spiraling waves through 150,000 people until the sky actually glowed with the intensity. For me as a Pagan, it was both awesome and familiar. I also had the wonderful privilege of being one of the 5 people who got to light the initial flame, and watching it travel out from my location in the center to the far reaching fringes, was very powerful and moving.
After the main ritual, I had the opportunity to be interviewed on TV and had several more similar opportunities during my stay in Bangkok. I was also filmed for future use as I spoke about how to achieve world peace. I shared my own personal views that we are all sacred and part of one human family, and that if we all began with that premise, peace was possible. I also shared a story about the thirty year long process of creating a sacred violin that I had made for the purpose of connecting the people of the world through sacred music without any knowledge of how to make a violin. The finished instrument which I’d brought with me on the trip, I explained to the crowd and on TV, was constructed of diverse unconventional sacred materials from different countries relating to different spiritualities. I shared with them the fact, that many qualified violin makers said that the materials and process I was following would not work to create a usable instrument or make a good sound. I pointed out to the audience that the bringing together of such unfamiliar and diverse components, especially when those in power said that there is only one right way to make a violin (and my way wasn’t it), was actually a great analogy for what was required to succeed in the peace process. I then showed them that the face of the violin was carved from a tree that I had talked to in the forest for 6 years before harvesting it, so that it would know its purpose, and that the body was made from a rare wood from Africa that was used to make shamanic drums for the indigenous people, rather than the conventional maple. I pointed out the inlayed Celtic knot work was carved from a willow branch taken from Brigit’s Well in Kildare, Ireland, and I described the varnish which I made from scratch from plants sacred to the Native Americans and Pagans. I told them how I combined olive oil from the Greeks, walnut oil from the Germans, and crushed Bluestone from the megalithic circle at Avebury in Cornwall, to include magic in the end result. I also explained to the Buddhists that I created each aspect of the violin in ritual, and that every step of its construction was seen as a sacred quest to bring peace. And I told them that each time I failed in the process or something broke, I turned to a higher source for guidance on how to repair it or re-envision it. This, I told them, is the formula for World Peace … Acceptance of diversity, recognition of the sacredness of one another and the planet we live on, and the ability to constantly re-envision the process as we move forward, drawing on all of our diverse ways of connecting with a higher power or reason.
And then I played the violin and the sound was beautiful, and everyone was very moved, some were even moved to tears.
I finalized my talk by challenging them to join together in their diversity, and to stretch their world view to accept and explore difference as sacred. And then I pressed them to join together like the violin, joining all of our diverse voices to create something beautiful, like the music from the violin … World Peace.
Besides meeting and interacting with Buddhists in Thailand, I also had the wonderful opportunity to meet and make alliances with Elders from other spiritual communities. I spent time with a Native American Chief/Medicine Man and a Medicine Woman, representing the tribes of Canada, a Hindu Yogi who is very active in interfaith and world peace work in Nepal, and a Kahuna from Hawaii. I was invited by each to participate further in discussions and concrete projects in their communities and ours, and I will travel in the near future to meet with each of them separately.
I also got to work on projects for Children of the Earth, a United Nations NGO that I am affiliated with. Children of the Earth is working toward empowering young people to become the leaders of tomorrow, and has a vision of young people informed by their spirituality working together toward a sustainable planet. I had the honor of traveling with Dr. Nina Meyerhof, founder and President of that organization. COE already has several Pagan youth in leadership roles, and I hope to help more Pagans in the future to become involved in various world peace projects.
My time on the island of Java was also productive. I had the privilege of interacting with another major branch of Buddhism and being allowed to participate in sacred space with several world spiritual leaders and many monks. I got to walk nearly every day through one of the most revered Buddhist temples in the world, and I got to share some of our communities ideas about how to create a better world. In the end, I made many friends, and have been invited to participate further in the future. Again, a door has been opened, and I plan to help create opportunities for more Pagans to participate as we move forward.
In closing I’d like to say, that much of my trip was a powerful spiritual journey for me personally, and I will not share that here. Those who are interested can go to patrickmccollum.org and read my blog. But I had set out with three main goals to accomplish for our community which was the real focus of my trip. My first goal was to have us seen by others as a community with valuable things to contribute to the world. My second goal was to make alliances with other world spiritualities to join together to become a more formidable force for positive change in the world. And my third goal, was to include Pagan ideals into the mix as world leaders strive to construct a plan to achieve world peace and a sustainable planet.
I am hopeful that I accomplished that!