Posted in Striding Through the Universe, tattooed buddha

Striding Through the Universe E-Book

I collected some of the articles I wrote for The Tattooed Buddha and put them into an e-book. If you’re interested in paying for something that you can easily get for free, it’s only $1.99.

click the link below

 

 

 

Posted in bodhisattva, Striding Through the Universe, vajrayana

Shambhala Road

I set off on my journey at 4 in the morning, hours before dawn. I was not on a road trip. I was on a pilgrimage. I was not traveling with family or friends, I was taking this journey alone.

I was crossing the empty and desolate plains of western Kansas to enter Colorado. I live on the eastern edge of Kansas, so I would have to cross the entire state. My destination was the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, the final resting place and shrine dedicated to Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. He was the founder of the Shambhala lineage and one of the first people to bring Vajrayana Buddhism to the west. He was the first Tibetan Buddhist teacher to really and truly embrace western culture and teach in that context.

 

Being a devout Buddhist, I decided that’s it’s silly that there’s this great Buddhist holy site 10 hours away and I’ve never been there. I know a few people that have, but I don’t know if they’ve seen the journey as a great pilgrimage, as I see it. My friend Ray Porter, who taught me “The Way of the Bodhisattva,” said that he donated to the stupa project when they were building it, but he’s never taken the trip to see it.

Being a 36 year old man, I decided it was silly that I had never seen a mountain and never gone west of Kansas.

It was a year ago that my marriage ended. Since then I’ve realized that a lot of loneliness sometimes comes with a lot of freedom.

It’s been one year since the end of my marriage. There have been some big struggles but some good times too. I’ve made mistakes along the way but some good choices too. Everything is different now and I am different too.
I drove 1500 miles in a weekend so I could go to the mountains, so I could see a Buddhist holy site, so I could have a big experience to help me put down my emotional baggage.

My plan was to go to Red Feather Lakes, to the Shambhala Mountain Center to see that stupa and maybe hike a little. Then, go sleep in Fort Collins in an Airbnb. Then, travel to Boulder Saturday to explore a little. Then, stay at the Airbnb again and return home Sunday.

I went on 4th of July weekend, knowing I could get home Sunday and rest all day Monday before going back to work.

I wanted to sit and meditate under the rocky mountains.

So, away I went early in the morning. As the sun was rising I was driving through some interesting scenery called the Flint Hills. I saw rolling  hills of beautiful green grass. After that I entered the void that is western Kansas. The only thing that catches your attention driving through western Kansas is the giant metal windmills.

Endless time seemed to pass before I crossed the state line into Colorado. I knew I still had four hours left before I would get to Red Feather Lakes, but I still felt like I had accomplished something by driving across the entire state of Kansas.

Hours later I saw them. They were far away in the distance, so far that I thought they might actually be clouds. They were mountains. A new kind of excitement flowed through me as I continued. I turned onto a dirt road to go up to Red Feather Lakes. Mountains were all around me now. I could hear my little car working harder as the elevation increased. I don’t think little cars like mine are meant to go up in mountains.

It was 3pm when I got there.
I came to Shambhala Road and turned left. I parked my car in a parking lot with many other cars. There were signs marking the path up to the stupa, and flags all the way up the path, so I wouldn’t get lost. I could see it in the distance, poking out from behind the trees. It was majestic and beautiful. It was 108 feet tall. It was a long winding path, so the stupa kept coming into view and disappearing again among the trees. I think I walked a mile or more on this mountain path.

 

 

Eventually I came upon it. I noticed a dark statue standing toward the top, built into it. I walked around the stupa clockwise once, as a sign of respect. There was a spot just outside the door for my shoes, so I left them behind and went inside.

 

There was a shrine room inside. There, sitting in front of a row of cushions, (all gomdens, no zafus) was a giant golden sitting Buddha with a beatific smile on his face. And suddenly I had a beatific smile on my face too.
The floor, walls, and ceilings are covered in intricate sacred designs. My friend Lama Matt told me, “When you’re there, don’t forget to look up.” I did look up and there was a beautiful mandala on the ceiling. And there are little alcoves built into the walls all around, even behind the statue. These had different things in them, pictures of Trungpa, notes on his life, statues of Bodhisattvas. All these alcoves were very interesting.

I sat on a cushion at the feet of the Buddha and looked up at him. I noticed my heart was racing and I felt a little light headed. I wondered if it was from the walk up to the stupa and the high elevation, or if it was because of the sacredness of the stupa and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

My head was spinning as I sat there. Then I felt at peace. I felt oneness with the statue, and the other people around, and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and the mountain. I felt oneness with everything. I felt a dropping away of body and mind. I heard the inconceivable thunderous silence of a mostly empty universe. My sense of self was gone.

I was empty and I was emptiness and everything was bliss.

I had a timeless moment of unconsciousness and I saw the golden eternity. There was no coming or going, there was no one and no path. There was only emptiness. And love. There was love too. I felt like I turned a corner in my spiritual journey. I felt like I had put down a lot of my emotional baggage. I felt light and free.

 

I felt like I was receiving teachings from Trungpa, and also from the earth and the sky. I felt so….connected. And aware.

I had a spiritual experience on Shambhala Mountain. Or maybe it was just the lack of oxygen from going up the mountain too fast. Either way I feel transformed.

After an endless and deep sit, I cam back to my body. I stood, opened the door, and stepped out. The sun was shining brighter, everything was infused with wonder. As I walked down the path, a deer walked right up to me. We stood for a moment, looking at each other. Then it ran off. Animals behave differently when they aren’t being hunted. In Kansas deer get the hell away from you as fast as they can. In Colorado they come up to you.

I made my way down the mountain.

I spent that evening exploring Fort Collins and I spent the entire next day exploring Boulder.

These were wonderful places. I saw a man in an African tribal mask dancing and playing bongos in the middle of downtown Boulder. I went to a jazz festival. They had food trucks, just like festivals here. But there was no unhealthy food. It was all kale shakes and salads and vegan burritos. (here in Kansas city it would be chicken fingers and ribs). That’s probably why everyone I saw in Boulder was fit and thin. That, and the bicycles. There are bike lanes on all the streets and I saw people riding bikes everywhere.

A cute hippy girl tried to sell me a pendant with a secret compartment to hide my stash in. I wondered why I would need such a thing in Colorado.

I expected Boulder to be full of Buddhist temples. I only found three and the only one that really seemed like it got a lot of visitors was the Boulder Shambhala Center. There were two Buddhist stores with Tibet in their names. And there was a new age-y bookstore that had a lot of Buddhist stuff too.

I didn’t travel to Colorado to party, but I did buy pot in a store, just because I could.

Sunday morning I came home.

The drive home was harder than the drive there. As you go from Colorado to Kansas on I-70 the scenery slowly gets less and less interesting. But I made it. I got home in the early afternoon.

I brought a little of the mountain back with me.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Striding Through the Universe, tattooed buddha

Han Shan and the Zen Hermits

Fenggan (left) Hanshan (center) Shide (right)

Camping makes me think of Zen hermits.

I sometimes go and live in a tent for a while. If people are around, they come talk to me. If no one is around, then I spend time with the trees and the grass.

There’s a tradition, especially in China, of Buddhist teachers disappearing into the wilderness. These figures would disappear from society and go live in a cave or a tent or a hut and that’s where they would stay. They would give teachings to potential students who came to visit them. Or, if no one came to visit they would just give teachings to the trees and grass, to the animals and the moon.

Famously, Bodhidharma went and lived in a cave for nine years.

The Sixth Patriarch Huineng—just after he received Dharma Transmission—went to live alone in the woods for a while before he began teaching too.

This tradition also exists outside of the Zen lineage. There are Theravada teachers in places like Thailand who went to live in the forest instead of staying in Buddhist temples. There was a big tradition in Tibetan monks leaving to become forest and mountain yogis for part of their lives.

I could write about many different Buddhist teachers, but I’m going to center on one. His name was Han Shan, which means ‘Cold Mountain.’ That’s not his birth name. In that period it was normal for some Buddhist monks to take the name of the place where they lived, and he lived on a place called Cold Mountain in China, the 700s. We don’t know much about him, but what we do know is an interesting story.

(Note: There is another monk named Han Shan who lived centuries later. These two figures are both interesting and can sometimes get confused. I may write about the other one at a later time.)

Han Shan was a government bureaucrat during the Tang dynasty in China. In that period being a bureaucrat was considered one of the highest professions that one could aspire to. There was a rebellion and he decided to leave. I wonder if the pressure of his job during a tumultuous time was too much—who knows? He went, taking nothing with him, and traveled to the cold mountains, where he decided to live.

He became a hermit and a poet. He would write poetry on rocks and on cave walls—mainly things about nature, such as:

“The path to Han-shan’s place is laughable,

A path, but no sign of cart or horse.

Converging gorges – hard to trace their twists

Jumbled cliffs – unbelievably rugged.

A thousand grasses bend with dew,

A hill of pines hums in the wind.

And now I’ve lost the shortcut home,

Body asking shadow, how do you keep up?”

And this:

“There is a Precious Mountain
Even the Seven Treasures cannot compare
A cold moon rises through the pines
Layer upon layer of bright clouds
How many towering peaks?
How many wandering miles?
The valley streams run clear
Happiness forever! “

His poetry has been studied in much the same way that Zen Koans are studied. He was considered a crazy person by the locals, a wild eccentric, and sometimes spent times living in huts and caves around the mountain. And sometimes he just slept outside.

He was considered an oddball by most, not someone that anyone could really learn teachings from. Eventually he got a student anyway, a man named Shih-Te who went and lived with him. And they traveled around together, just living in the woods, teaching the Dharma to the sun and the moon.

Not much is known about Han Shan because that is his whole story. Over 100 poems were found in various places around Cold Mountain, written in cave walls, carved into trees and written on rocks. People collected them and copied them and they’ve been studied for many years.

His poetry served as the main inspiration for the American poets Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac.

No one really knows what became of Han Shan and his student Shih-Te, but it’s said that they became mythic figures even during their lives. There were those that said that Han Shan was an incarnation of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom and his student Shih-Te was an incarnation of Samantabhadra, the Bodhisattva of Practice.

The tradition of Zen hermits is not the same as it once was. People are less inclined to leave the world behind for a while and be alone in the woods or on mountains. But there are still those that do it.

There’s also a tradition of Zen poetry that was probably in no small part inspired by Han Shan. I wish I were a poet, but I’m not. Zen essays have to be enough for me.

I wonder if I could write this on a cave wall.