“Nothing ever exists entirely alone. Everything is in relation to everything else.”[i]
For years I struggled looking for alignment between a practice rooted with what my teacher Enkyo O’Hara, roshi called “living a life of zen”[ii] which for me was a commitment to daily meditation, sutra and scripture study, lay vows, and keeping refuge in a lifestyle grounded in this eight fold path: right views, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration, and a longing towards magic, mythic phenomenon.I had a narrative in my mind that Buddhist practice was a stripped bare practice, with an aesthetic that in the commitment to non attachment resisted anything that could be translated as “all acts of love and pleasure.” That all began to change as I came to better understand the sutras of Buddhist teachings, and that life wasn’t a zero sum game. That in the vast language of the Diamond Sutra for example was Prajñāpāramitā, the great mother (one of her many aspects) in the center of a compelling lesson about the cosmic law of dharma, supreme wisdom, and the coalescence of enlightenment.
As study begat more study, and wisdom traditions expanded across many teachers, I began to see a wider scope of what could be possible. And, what became more clear was an interdependence between that deep core guiding value (the Buddhism/Mindfulness) and the natural understanding the divine (Goddess, Earth, Magic).
Myself and others call this dharma pagan.
Dharma paganism is a unique crossroads of Buddhist and Pagan teachings where “free will and mind training meet magical and mythic phenomena. Together they coalesce in impactful ways, as they are vast, fluid, and mutable”[iii]. Intrinsically dharma paganism empowers the practitioner toward lived truths, experiences, and interpretation. They are sisters, united in ways more common than I think most of us realize.
Certainly practitioners of early Tibetan Buddhism and Tantra knew they were magical, but somewhere we got lost from that lineage. Dharma Paganism is about reconnecting to that.
The dharma and magick have inspired vast collections of sutras and sacred works, alongside intense debate. Both offer much-needed practical and spiritual remedies for common problems. Together they provide the experience of transcending the lesser states via work on the inner planes, and thereby manifesting a refined view of the world.
So what is dharma? The dharma is the primary order of all phenomena. Dharma is known by many names from force, mana, magick, power, tao, or wyrd. Dharma is a way of understanding universal law: that which flows in, among, around and through us – as above and so below – breath to heart, heart to mind, mind to body.
As dharma pagans, it is our purpose to work in alignment with this order, allowing the dharma to move freely- making space for it to lead. “It is spaciousness, breath, spark, flow, and root. It is every being and no being at all. It is the ground from which all surfaces and into which all dissolves. It might be called the Mother of the Universe.”[iv]
On Devotion and Practice
The beauty of dharma paganism is that it’s situated for every person who is seeking to expand their current practice. This is because in dharma paganism all deities are self-arisen from within the true teacher, or “great perfection” that reflects back to you. Relationship with deity is deeply intimate, through the practice of deity devotion, the practitioner’s devotion empowers the deity and in turn the deity empowers the practitioner. It is a reciprocity of “bringing to life” where by we are not separate form them, and they are not separate from us, a continuous stream of dharma manifesting between devotee and deity.
Dharma pagans come to experience deity as non-dual, meaning that the sense of limiting westernized concepts of gender binary are nonexistent. Instead we move beyond that polarity and into the liberation that all energies and experiences manifest within the constant change the dharma toward the flow and freedom to experience relationships with ourselves and the divine. This fluidity allows the dharma pagan to know all deity in the most unrestricted sense, whether working with one or multiple, or across pantheons.
Dharma paganism resists a central story of origin, or creation myth. Instead, every story and even no stories are on the field of dharma because everything is right now. Now is the holy moment.This ‘now’ moment is an inclusive one, without religious intolerance and where all paths lead back to wisdom. Where science is held as sutra to be contemplated along side wisdom from the ancient sources. In the dharma pagan walk, wisdom is found in all experiences, both internal and external, from all situations, from every incident, from every source.
What makes dharma paganism unique is that there is no guru. Instead, each student comes into their own practice with their inner teacher, guides, and allies, and with the divine and experience through devotion. It is from this connection that we build relationships that sustain us in the process and application of deeper experiences.
Instead of a guru – student structure, we endeavor to create peer-based relationships in which each person honors a relational reciprocity and builds a personal path of development. The teacher is also the student, and empowers the student as the teacher. Both always seek that which dwells within, constantly searching, and working together.
It is in this spirit of interdependence that dharma pagans train the mind and train our magical abilities toward supreme states of consciousness. And, from this co-arising of dharma and magic, we manifest our truest potential as magic makers, healers, perceptive mirrors, and agents of radical love.
Dharma paganism empowers the individual and collective experience, drawing upon many sources, wisdom traditions and facets of dharma and paganism that lead to the middle way. These are the precepts that we mutually follow, living and performing our practices for the benefit of all beings:
4 Noble Truths
All beings in the body of existence share in common the experience of suffering.
Suffering occurs when our primordially clear state becomes clouded with attachment, aversion, and indifference.
Even when the circumstances of suffering are great, we can find relief in the dharma.
We find relief from suffering in the cultivation of the Noble Eightfold Path, taking inspiration from the example of others who have done the same with beneficial results.
Noble Eightfold Path
Right View: Knowing thyself, know the nature of existence.
Right Intention: Harm none is only the beginning. Go further. Aspire and act to be beneficial.
Right Speech: Our thoughts become our words, which become our actions, which become reality. Be mindful of what you think, speak, or write into being.
Right Action: Observe, train, and conduct the movements of the physical body, rather than allowing misconduct to overtake you.
Right Livelihood: There is no profit in another’s pain.
Right Effort: Choose and mount your endeavors and relationships selectively and considerately, neither overstepping nor falling short of your commitments.
Right Mindfulness: Crystal-clear awareness is the moment-by-moment choice to be present.
Right Concentration: Abide in the natural state of clarity, presence, and kindly attentiveness at all times.
The 4 Immeasurables
We willingly generate lovingkindness, or feelings of hospitality and friendliness, toward other beings.
We willingly generate compassion, a sincere intent to help and support others, alleviating their suffering.
We willingly generate joy in their joy when their suffering is relieved.
We willingly generate equanimity, balancing our happiness at another’s relief with awareness of the need for further practical action.
In columns to come, I will explore the intersection of dharma and paganism, and how it connects us back to our true nature, manifests in times of uncertainty, and more deeply connects us to nature and the divine. I look forward to you comments and thoughts below.
[i] Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (San Fransisco: Harpers, 1998).
[ii] P.E. O’Hara (Village Zendo), Why Zen [Audio podcast] (September 10, 2007): Retrieved.
[iii] Dharmapagan www.dharmapagan.org. (April 15, 2017)
[v] Sharon Salzberg, Loving Kindness (Boston: Shambhala Classics, 2002).
[vi] Zsuzsanna Budapest, We All Come From The Goddess.
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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.