[dropcap]My[/dropcap] dharma friend, Catherine Paul, recently visited Kakadu in the Northern Territory. Visiting this protected wilderness area, she felt the full benefit of her years as a member of the full-time practising sangha at the Lerab Ling retreat centre in the south of France. She posted this on Facebook :
According to Tantric Buddhism, everywhere in this world and all the phenomena that exist outside ourselves have a corresponding existence within our body. Walking into wild places far beyond cars and curated campsites takes a lot of effort but it’s here that I more easily experience the truth of this. May everyone have the opportunity to enter wild places beyond the comfort zone where anything can happen. #whatbuddhistsdo#vajrayana #buddhist #wilderness
As my own blog posts have revealed, my principal engagement with the valuing of wilderness came not through the environment movement, but through my life in Papua New Guinea and work with the Aboriginal elder, Tjilpi Bob Randall on the one hand, and my spiritual journeys into ways of knowing in the experiential methods of Tibetan Buddhism, on the other. At the same time, my postgraduate studies in science and technology studies introduced me to the feminist critique of the ‘masculinity’ of the scientific rationalist project, its objectification of nature and its binary approach to understanding the nature of reality.
Catherine and I attended the same three year retreat at Lerab Ling, and undertook the same intensive practices in the Tantric Buddhist tradition. Each of us experience these in our own way, but for both of us we have had the direct, visceral experience of this inner-outer experience of relationship with the natural world. I think this has enabled us to break through the cultural conditioning of rationalist objectification that has become the wallpaper of Western culture. It is similar to the way in which the environmental philosopher, Freya Mathews, has found this through Daoism. For the challenge is how to break through the invisible bubble of the foundations of our own culture’s way of constructing reality and ways of knowing that reality—the field of epistemology. The very intellectual sophistication of western culture and its hegemonic success in global economic power and media makes this very difficult.
I think it is why so many of us want to visit places like Kakadu, and especially Uluru and Kata Tjuta in the Central Desert—where the vibratory strength of Aboriginal culture is strong enough to infiltrate our sensibilities in mysterious ways that we do not quite understand.
One of the unique features of Tibetan Buddhism is that it includes all the vehicles of the different types of dharma: the Theravada tradition that is characteristic of Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Burma; the Mahayana tradition of Vietnam, China Korea and Japan, and the Vajrayana (Tantric) tradition that flourished fully in Tibet. Typically in the Tibetan tradition, you begin with the calm abiding and insight vipashyana meditation mindfulness and loving kindness methods of the Theravada tradition. We saw the benefit of this approach to working with our minds in the recent behaviour of the young Thai boys and their coach trapped for so many days in total darkness and without food in an underground cavern that was flooding with monsoonal rains. In the Mahayana tradition, methods that work with the use of mantra and visualisation are harnessed to complement this basic training in mindfulness, and loving kindness practices are extended into Lojong, the training in limitless compassion for all beings. The Tibetan tradition further develops these methods of mantra and visualisation in what is called the higher inner yoga practices and the direct methods of the Dzogchen tradition.
Like Aboriginal culture, it is difficult to talk about these practices, as they require initiations of secrecy. As Tjilpi Randall explained to me, in terms of Aboriginal initiations, the reasons for the secrecy from the non-initiated is: “It is not something that you talk about (gossip) because it is meant to transform your very being. That knowledge you gain about the Dreaming is sacred-secret.” This is the same reason for secrecy in Tibetan Buddhism.
Bob also had a way of talking about what Tibetan Buddhism calls the tendrel, the invisible energetic thread of interdependence of the phenomenal world. Bob drew on the metaphor of the spider’s web.
The spider knows, by the vibrations, when there is an insect hitting it, even right at the far end of the web, and whether it is safe to approach. These vibrations are coming and going with everything around us all the time. The spider also knows, by the vibrations, if there is something out there that is caught which is dangerous. So it knows not to go near it, or to circle around it and hope it breaks free. In this way the spider doesn’t get himself killed by the rough actions of whatever it is that he has caught in his web. It is the same with us. We have to learn to feel the vibrations… We should tune ourselves to that.
Spending time with Bob, I saw that this was how he dealt with people both white and Aboriginal. He didn’t listen to what they said. He listened for the vibration, for what was in their heart to see if it matched what they said.