Posts Tagged ‘Buddha’

As stressed in previous posts on the topic, Burning Man is whatever you make of it. It is a place to lose yourself and find new selves amongst the dust and ashes. Some people go for the music and dancing, a few brave souls are there to fight in the Thunderdome, others go for spiritual reasons. I go for a mixture of the above and the below. This post is going to be about finding spirituality in the dust of the Black Rock playa. This year’s Caravansary is going to be ripe with opportunities for growth, as long as you are open to them. To begin I would like to borrow from Ron Feldman, Ph.D., a religious scholar and writer I met at a previous Burning Man. Quoting from his piece Sleeping in the Dust at Burning Man,

“The Talmud says, ‘Three things are a foretaste of the world-that-is-coming: Sabbath, sunshine, and sexual intercourse’ (Talmud Berakhot 57b). In various ways, all three of these tastes of the messianic era are to be had at Burning Man, the weeklong festival that takes place in late August near Reno, Nevada.”

Burning Man definitely has the sunshine covered. Not just the sun, but also the moon. Both sun and moonrise are very dramatic on the playa due to the natural geographic features, it tends to extend twilight a bit and give things and otherworldly light. The surreal feeling is only made more intense by the ritualistic howling at the moon upon nightfall, a time honored Burning Man tradition increasingly forgotten. As the sun and moon are both important symbol for numerous faiths and spiritual practices this is a major plus no matter what your beliefs are. Sexual intercourse has its own important role in spirituality, most notably in tantric meditation and yoga practices. It would seem, after reading Ron’s piece, that all of Burning Man itself is a Sabbath, a separate place in time and space for the sacred to happen, outside of the everyday world. The Playa isn’t just a Sabbath for Jews and other followers of the Abrahamic faiths, it’s a sacred place for everyone of all faiths or lack there of (it can also be a great place to find your faith, in self or something higher than).

I was raised as a Nichiren Buddhist, but now I primarily identify as someone poly-spiritual, embracing many faiths. A major component of my current spirituality is the belief that spontaneity and serendipity work together to bring us omens and gifts from the universe (possibly through quantum entanglement on the sub-atomic level…a topic for another post). My first burn I camped with a coffee camp, one morning while serving coffee I happened to meet three people from a Nichiren Buddhist camp. Burning Man is a crucible for serendipity, it loves to bring people together who need to meet. Last Burn I met two brothers I grew up with from my time as a Nichiren Buddhist, we haven’t talked in years and  they just happened to camp across the road from my friends. That small thing, a choice in a camp site, has now rekindled a friendship.

Another major component of my spirituality these days is alchemy, and there is a whole village dedicated to it, Sacred Spaces. This camp hosts classes on alchemy, yoga, tantra, sacred dance, and more. The alchemy village also has some pretty awesome music going on every night, generally with a bit more of a tribal sound than the generic wubwub dubstep you hear broadly across the Burn.  I am definitely a fan.

So whether you are out there for the music, out there for the Sabbath, or just to talk to people about God Burning Man has a place for you. The Playa is a big enough desert for everyone to coexist without even needing a bumper sticker to tell them so. And really, we’re better off for it. The world could do with less Priuses driving around sporting more bumper stickers than the number failed Nader presidential campaigns. Burning Man is certainly great for the lack of cars, which also adds to the spiritual element. Everywhere you go out there feels like a pilgrimage, especially in a bad dust storm. You are living in the present, in the scene, without barriers like cars or cellphones to keep you distracted. Nothing cultivates a deep sense of spirituality faster than dwelling in these Zen moments where you are connected to what is happening around you.

For many westerners that may be as close as we ever get to meditating in our daily lives. Burning Man can be a time to meditate on life in very active ways, it all is a matter of what you welcome and allow into you while there. You will certainly be welcoming a barrage of dust onto your person and into your being; otherwise it will be a rough Burn. Speaking as someone very OCD about dirt, it is easier than you think to be at one with the dust. Embrace it, do a dust angel in it, do whatever you need to be okay with it. Like in Dune, know that the dust permeates all things out there, you will sleep in it, eat it, and breath it.

You will become the dust. The phrase “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” comes to mind. We all will become dust together, Burning Man just serves to bring the transient nature of all things to the surface of our consciousness through the physical act of burning things. Once Burned the Man, Temple, and other art pieces are gone forever; just like the artists who made them will be gone to dust in time. Just like the cities they hailed from, and our very planet on a long enough time scale. Like mediation, this idea of all things coming to an end may be hard for westerners to handle. Many of them come from a religion that tells them their soul is eternal and will live on in Heaven, or they may embrace a materialistic culture that teaches them to ignore death to consume more in the present. The Sabbath at Burning Man helps undo these wrongs that have been done to the collective human conscious.

Stay tuned for another upcoming post on spirituality at Burning Man, reviewing the book The Electric Jesus.

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Continuing where yesterday’s blog leftoff, here are some famous examples of stories, myths, historical and religious figures who conform to the archetype of the Hero’s Journey.

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT: The first 6 are all historical/religious but then I go on to movies/books and I’d hate to ruin a plot for you without warning you first.  Specifically, I discuss Stranger In A Strange Land, The Lord Of The Rings, and Fullmetal Alchemist.

Heracles with Cerberus.

1. Hercules/Heracles – Hercules is the Roman adaptation of the Greek hero Heracles, son of the god Zeus and a mortal woman, making him a demi-god. Heracles is most known for twelve trials he had to endure, one of which was going to the underworld to capture Hades three headed dog Cerberus. Going to the underworld of Hades is a figurative death Heracles passes through in order to best his labors and recover his sanity while achieving immortality. The purpose was not becoming immortal, that was merely a side perk, the main goal was atoning for slaughtering his children after he was driven mad by Hera.

Baby Achilles takes a bath in the River Styx.

2. Achilles – Another Greek hero, Achilles was also demigod like Hercules. Instead of being immortal like Heracles, Achilles was invulnerable to harm everywhere on his body other than his heel, creating the metaphor Achilles heel. His mother baptized him in the river Styx, the river of the underworld, which granted him immunity to harm everywhere except his heel, where she held him. Ultimately he died in the Trojan War, that grand battle to bring home the beautiful Helen of Troy to her native Sparta. Many warriors fought in this battle, some died; the cunning Odysseus, both Ajax the Great and Ajax the Lesser to name a few of the best known. Of all the many heroes mentioned in Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey, the only one better known than Achilles is Odysseus himself who is a main character in both books. Achilles has gained eternal glory through his death for himself but more importantly for Greece.

Jesus Christ, Superstar!

3. Jesus – Jesus Christ was potentially a real person who lived in ancient Mesopotamia, born in 1 anno domini (AD). There is much dispute over whether Jesus was real or is myth, and the belief that he is the son of God. I believe he was a real man, likely not a pale Anglo white man. He was a religious philosopher of sorts and also had a stripe for politics, this won him few friends with the Romans who just loved crucifixion. Jesus preached a new way of doing things and shook things up in the social order which annoyed those in power. Jesus is said to be the son of God, the product of a miraculous birth, sent to earth to be killed to man’s sins, only to be reborn and go to Heaven. The story of Jesus is a perfect telling of the major steps in the Hero’s Journey.

Buddha under the Bodhi Tree.

4. Buddha – Buddha was a real flesh and blood man before attaining enlightenment, a prince from the Himalayan foothills named Siddhārtha Gautama. Unlike Jesus, there is no dispute about his existence, merely differences in opinion on the nature of his divinity and enlightenment. Buddha means “enlightened one,” and contrary to the beliefs of some there is not one Buddha but countless. Anyone can become a Buddha, an enlightened one, given the right environmental factors. For Siddhārtha, he needed to meditate under the sacred fig tree, now called a Bodhi tree in honor of the enlightenment achieved beneath its boughs, like a religious Sir Isaac Newton. Buddha does not physically die during his Hero’s Journey, but his ego is allowed to die. The death of the ego is a central to many Buddhist sects and The Buddha was the first to demonstrate how this can be done and why it is desirable. That was The Buddha’s glory.

President John F. Kennedy

5. John F. Kennedy – President John F. Kennedy was America’s youngest President until Obama, our first non-Protestant President, and a brilliant statesman/playboy. He was a real American hero on many levels who did a lot to advance civil rights and was an early advocate for wave-powered electricity, just to same some of his glorious exploits. He was tragically assassinated during his first term.

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr

6. Martin Luther King Jr. – Like JFK, Martin Luther King was assassinated for shaking up the present day politics. MLK and Malcolm X both occupied crucial roles in the civil rights movement, aided in a political capacity from JFK. Martin Luther King was a preacher who was instrumental to the success of the American civil rights movement, most known for his legendary I Have A Dream speech.

Rodin’s “”Caryatid Fallen Under her Stone,” a central piece of the allegory in the book, and an allegory for Mike himself.

7. Michael Valentine Smith – Mike is the main character in Stranger In A Strange Land, perhaps the most famous novel by Robert Heinlein. Mike is about as blatant a Jesus allegory as one can be without the Church coming after them for copyright infringement. A Muslim character even eludes to him being The Prophet reborn. While one can read a Jesus allegory in Stranger there is much more to the story than that. In the end of the book, Mike is martyred, not on a cross but in his own way and that is his death on the Hero’s Journey. But as anyone who has truly grokked the book knows Mike cannot really die, no one ever really dies as long as something has grokked them.

Gandalf, The Grey

8. Gandalf – In the Lord of the Rings there are several heroes who die but the one who best embodies the Hero’s Journey is the wizard Gandalf the Grey. Gandalf fights the Balrog in Morea and in the process is killed only to be reborn as the more powerful Gandalf The White. His death empowers him to further glory along his Hero’s Journey. Other heroes also die along the way, physical deaths, spiritual deaths, and perhaps even some deaths of ego.

Ed and Alphonse Elric.

9. Alphonse Elric/Edward Elric – In the anime Full Metal Alchemist both brothers experience various deaths along their journey, in both series and in the movie as well. Alphonse actually dies before the series even begins but his soul is brought back to the living world at the expense of his brother’s arm which is Ed’s first death, from there it continues until you wonder how either character keeps sane. Before all of that, the death that portends all others is that of their mother, her death is the catalyst that literally makes our heroes into the men they are destined to become.