Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Windhorse

I got a letter from Richard Gere today, asking me to give a donation to the cause of Tibetan Freedom. Included in the letter were some very attractive Tibetan Prayer Flags.

Naturally, I'm sure hundreds of thousands of people got the exact same letter in the mail, but as I was looking at the Prayer Flags, I noticed that they were each decorated with a Windhorse. For the Tibetans this image evokes the notion of a power which is like a swift horse, as swift as the wind, as it flies around the world defeating evil. Prayer Flags are hung by the Tibetans so that the wind will blow through them and carry the prayer into the world, multiplying its power thousands of times.

The Tibetan people are best known now for their Buddhism, but they, like everyone else, began as a people who had a very profound and powerful animistically-based culture, in the central Asian range of shamanic traditions and practices. I have heard their native tradition of shamanism called "Bon" or "Bon-pa", and fortunately for us, it still persists within certain distant corners of the world. The gem-like opulent beauty of Tibetan Buddhism bears all the hallmarks of its powerfully shamanic roots, with many of the ancient spirits and Gods and Goddesses of Tibetan now converted into peaceful and wrathful "Dharma protectors" or deities that protect the Tibetans and serve the causes of Buddhist teachings.

The sight of the "windhorse" is what caught my attention. In the shamanic traditions of many Asian tribes, the notion of a "windhorse" is common enough- and it is always tied in with shamanic practice. Sarangerel, the authoress of two very fascinating books on Siberian Shamanism mentions the term "windhorse" when referring to shamanic power or mystical strength in an active shaman's body. It is no accident that horses are tied to the peoples of Asia and Siberia; the Indo European peoples were probably descendants of Asian peoples, or at least related, and the horse was a central figure in both the societies and mythologies of the Indo Europeans.

It is also no accident that shamans across the world have interacted with the spirit of the Horse when traveling into the Unseen world- the horse in our consensual reality world, and the horse in the inner world are both connected to journeying and travel, and to sturdy companionship in travel. The Indo European peoples who invaded India conquered their way along on horseback, and the same can be said for many of the "mounted peoples" who invaded Europe. That Shamans would seek "spirit horses" to carry them into the Unseen only makes sense. I have heard that some Asian Shamans created poles decorated like horses to assist them in "spirit flight" into the Otherworld.

The "windhorse" would seem to refer to a horse of spirit, or to a power that a shaman or shamaness can interact with to achieve contact with extra-sensory reality. The connection of the wind to the sky, to flight, and the horse to the wind, makes a profound statement- the horse and the Shaman together fly, like the wind. They fly, liberated, into the spirit world.

It only makes sense that the Tibetans would maintain their distant connection with the Windhorse, and with this profound shamanic icon, and have it influence their Buddhist understandings. What makes Tibetan Buddhism, and the other shamanic arts of Tibet so interesting is their primordial connections to the animism that they once believed in and expressed, and which they still do in so many ways.

This brings me to the second point of my letter today; the plight of Tibet. Richard Gere's letter made a short case against the Chinese government, accusing it of many vile wrongs against the religious culture of the Tibetan people, and of genocide, mayhems, and injustices. I didn't need Richard Gere to tell me these things; like most westerners who have studied Tibetan Buddhism, I was well aware of them. The Chinese government- itself a thing of pure concentrated wickedness- is responsible for the crimes that Gere's letter accused them of, and more.

The fact that Tibetan monks go all over the world and teach their Dharma, and that they have slowly infiltrated our popular culture in the west has nothing to do with why so many people feel the need to help them. While their culture is fascinating, and their system of Buddhism is by far one of the most venerable, majestic, and complete technologies of enlightenment available to mankind, the fact remains that they could be the most boring, spiritually disenfranchised people on earth, and the truly sensitive among us would want to help them.

If a person sees the world in the right way, and can experience our subtle and intimate connections with all things, then the "Truth of Involvement" is instantly apparent. When other humans suffer organized injustice and genocide (physical or cultural or both), we all suffer. Many of us sleep so deeply that we hardly recognize the true source of the deep, passive angst that boils in an unknown place in our deep minds, but it is there, and it disquiets us. We look to the distractions that we surround ourselves with to try to settle ourselves, but we never quite manage to do it. And most people who live lives of serial distraction never begin to fathom what causes them to be so unsettled on so deep a level.

Those people who sleep less deeply can sense the world burning, the pains and wrongs that beg to be addressed by those wise enough and sensitive enough... and courageous enough. What can address the pains of the world? Only the Truth about our condition, and people willing to live by it and die for it. The truth is that we are connected, intimately and forever, to one another and to every power in existence, and we have a sacred duty to that connection, a sacred duty to this reality of inter-woven life. We have a duty first and foremost to the Truth, to our awareness of the Truth of our condition and our connection, and second we have a duty to protect life, making it better able to thrive in freedom and peace, as life is born to do.

We are not just in this world; we are this world. When people on the other side of the world are wronged, it is not merely "their problem". It is our problem, in a very real way. When even one strand in the sacred and totally inter-connected web of life trembles, the whole web feels it. We are all affected.

It is certain that many John Q. Average Americans or Europeans may never see a Tibetan, or hear their language, or even give a fig about what happened to Tibet. Those people may live long lives, and die in anonymity somewhere. People may observe them and say "their lives weren't negatively affected by the plight of Tibetans." But I believe that everyone's life is affected by the plight of any people.

Did the world stand by when millions of Jews, Gypsies, Greeks, Russians, homosexuals, and mentally handicapped people were sent to death camps by the Nazis? No, it reacted. Perhaps World War II wasn't primarily about death camps and tyrannical persecution of minorities, but when the war was over, decades were spent hunting down the wicked men behind these horrors and trying to bring them to justice.

To this day we shudder (and rightly so) to think of the holocaust. When those people were sent to death, when those families were torn apart and so much innocence consumed by hatred and madness, the common life of the whole world was violated. And people who don't normally feel the very subtle effect of these things felt it, and they felt it more as the years passed.

As time gives us more perspective on the plight of Tibetans, many of whom were subjected to death, genocide, and atrocity by the greed of the Chinese government, we will begin to feel the loss more. And when we each finally face the clarity of death, and its great moments of truth, and all its naked visions of our true connection to all places and beings, we may feel some regret at the realization that we could have done more. People often do not feel powerful or capable of helping others in this world, but as I said, when even a single strand in the web of life shakes, the whole thing shakes. Each human being, no matter who they are, is a powerful potential center and catalyst of change in the entire web. Sometimes even just caring and desiring the well-being of others can make all the difference; even our intentions tremble the web of life.

The letter I am typing to you right now shakes the web of life, and it affects all who read it in different ways. Maybe my words will help someone that I will never meet; maybe it won't help anyone at all. But it will change the world by making the people who read it have different reactions, some good, some bad, some indifferent.

The Tibetans hang colorful flags with prayers and sacred images inscribed on them, and let the wind race through them and carry them into the world. This letter, which will race through the virtual winds of the internet, is my own Prayer Flag, my own virtual Windhorse, inscribed with my wishes for a more peaceful world, a world of understanding where the Truth of our connection with one another is consciously experienced and honored. I want the Tibetan culture to survive strong and healthy, but then, I want all peoples who suffer injustice to be spared, and I want all indigenous cultures to be kept safe and preserved, so that their wisdom can continue to live and help the world.

Injustice and atrocity can only occur when people become very unconscious of their intimate connection to all other people and all other life. Be aware of this real connection, this very instant, and you will never commit such atrocities. Help others to become aware of it, and they will not. I've ridden my own windhorse into what appeared to me to be an unseen world, spaces deep inside me, and very "far" from me. No vision or understanding I ever had was stronger than my insight into the connection of things, and my desire to place life and the web of life as the primary value for human thinking and action, and to preserve life when I could. This is not just the beginning of wisdom, but, I believe, the end of it, too.

1 comment:

Sara said...

"When people on the other side of the world are wronged, it is not merely "their problem". It is our problem, in a very real way. When even one strand in the sacred and totally inter-connected web of life trembles, the whole web feels it. We are all affected."

Precisely. This is very well put. This understanding is a part of what I call "radical holism," which I have applied particularly to the concept of health in a series of articles I am currently writing. If people are being oppressed anywhere, I cannot call myself a healthy person, as I am a deep part of an interconnected world.

Thanks for articulating this.