Friday, March 25, 2016

Shamanism and Buddhism, or, can a Shaman be a Buddhist?

While recently on retreat at Birken Forest Monastery,  I reflected on can a Shaman be a Buddhist?  I have had a shamanic practice as a drum-maker and shamanic counselor for more than 30 years, and also have meditated for almost that long.  As my Buddhist practice of samatha or serenity meditation has deepened, I have increasingly wondered if the two paths can be one.  Here are my personal reflections on how Shamanism and Buddhism are similar, and where they differ.

Both Shamanism and Buddhism use the self-discipline of seclusion to focus and train the mind.  Both value renunciation of mindless consumption in the human world, and instead encourage determination, effort and patience to access changes in consciousness.

 Shamanism and Buddhism equally value that truth is in direct experience.  As Ayya Khema states, "Wisdom only comes from the understood experience and from nothing else."

Both spiritual paths give access to unseen realms, and maintain that at a certain level of skill, the practitioner cannot go back to his or her previously mundane consciousness, and wouldn't want to.

In my experience, Shamanism and Buddhism differ in several significant ways. In Shamanism is the view that everything that is--is alive.  While in Buddhism everything that is--is composed of mere elements devoid of self.

Shamanism places the animal and plant realms above the human one because humans are the only people that do not know, while all the other-than-human people do.

Buddhism places the animal realm below the human realm because to be human is to be ethical. Being innocent is not automatically virtuous; one must be capable of violating moral behavior and choose not to.

Perhaps the most pronounced difference is that the practice of Shamanism may lead toward manipulation, the bending of another to one's own will.

The practice of Buddhism leads toward virtuous behavior; moral discipline is the first requirement leading to inner calm.  The Four Divine Abodes (Brahma Vihara) are Loving-Kindness--benevolence towards others; Compassion--motivation to relieve the suffering of others; Sympathetic Joy (Mudita)--happiness at other's good fortune; Equanimity--being undisturbed by phenomena.

Given my understanding of this difference between Shamanism and Buddhism, while a Shaman can be a Buddhist, I'm not sure a Buddhist would want to be a Shaman.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Caring for Shamanic animal allies

So you think you have received a shamanic animal ally, a creature that has come in a drum journey, a dream, in response to your asking for help from the spirit world. Now what?  This question is not about what your ally can do for you, but about what you can do for it.

Begin by believing that your experience and this relationship is real.  As Stephen Harrod Buhner says in Sacred Plant Medicine, the Sacred is REAL. And we become more real when we come to this relationship with respect and humility.

Treat your shamanic ally as you would a human being. Be patient, willing to listen.  Willing to learn about how the creature behaves in this ordinary reality.  Find a way of asking  "What do you eat?" And make sure the answer is not, "You."  How do you make sure?  Avoid or release any being that shows you red eyes or teeth.

Is your ally shy, secretive, a loner in this world?  Leave a gift in a hidden way.  A sprinkle of tobacco on a quiet pool of water.

Is your ally known for its fierce protection?  Make a donation to an organization that protects your ally in this reality.

Toss a few seeds or nuts into hidden places when you walk outside, visit a park, go for a hike.  By feeding the food of your ally, you help keep its predator/prey circle strong  in this world.

Always begin a contact with your ally with a prayer, with the offering of  beautiful breath as song or smoke, Conclude with a prayer for well being by asking your ally, "What do you need that I can do? How may I honor you?"
Don't be lazy.  Do what you are shown.

Monday, March 7, 2016

How to paint a photo-realist painting

It may seem odd to those who appreciate my shamanic paintings, but I think that like an architect, I build a realist painting, rather than paint it.  Although I begin with a photograph which is akin to seeing a finished house, many steps must happen before the space, or the vision, can be occupied,

My first step is to draw a light web of detail, indicating where the major shapes are, and more importantly, how these hook into the shapes already painted and yet to come. 

 I then mix acrylic paints into what I think of as the "base."  Usually a combination of Hooker's Green and Prism Violet. Although this reads as dark grey, it has the ability to shade to the warmth of the violet, or the coolness of the green, depending on what brighter colors are laid over it. 

This painted sketch mostly helps me find my way as I glance between the photograph and the painted forms.  This ability to rapidly "find" the area I am working on is the single most important skill contributing to the success of the painting.  

As the painting progresses, this technique is like a colorless image gradually taking on life and light. Like a house is first a shell of framing timbers, and slowly receives a skin of sheathing.

While I am painting the monochromatic sketch, I am also painting back into the surrounding areas. 
First with pale washes of color which build in intensity and richness.

Every overlaid color washes back into an area already painted with the base color, just as the interior wall treatments and trim layer onto the basic construction of a house. 

Eventually the intensity of form and color become a place worth living in.  So what am I painting?
A painting of this scale and complexity takes me about a year to build, and the construction is not yet complete so you will just have to wait a bit longer for the open house.