Why Do Buddhists
Turn to Shamanism?
Last year, I found out that noted American buddhist teachers, Shinzen Young and Jack Kornfield are also practitioners of shamanism. Today I found out that another secular buddhist, Mr. Stephen Batchelor, also uses shamanic substances, together with buddhist meditation practices.
Stephen Batchelor, once a Tibetan buddhist monk and a tantric practitioner, has for about 20 years now written about his (apparently mostly) negative experiences with tantric buddhism and has been one of the torchbearers of the so called "secular buddhist movement". I commented on his interview a couple of years ago with the title Why I Didn't Quit Guru Yoga?, see here:
Today I learned from the insightla.org-website,
"When Stephen turned sixty, he took a sabbatical from his teaching and turned his attention to solitude, a practice integral to the meditative traditions he has long studied and taught. He aimed to venture more deeply into solitude, discovering its full extent and depth.
The Art of Solitude documents Stephen’s experiences appreciating and making art, drinking peyote and ayahuasca, practicing meditation and participating in retreats, and training himself to keep an open, questioning mind have all contributed to Batchelor’s ability to be simultaneously alone and at ease."
Like Brad's, my attention was caught by Batchelor's use of peyote and ayahuasca. I have no problem with shamanism as tantric buddhism pretty much is a mixture of shamanism and buddhist philosophy (without psychedelics though), and I neither have a problem with shamanic substances such as peyote and ayahuasca. In fact, I took peyote myself last August in Finland, in the presence of Native American medicine man called Rupert Encinas, though it had no effect on me whatsoever. Long story short, I thought the whole event was really light weight compared to buddhist tantric practice. Anyway.
Mr. Encinas also happens to be a long time teacher of Shinzen Young, another noted buddhist teacher from the secular/mindfulness/science influenced meditation scene. Mr. Encinas told me that Shinzen Young had recently done a 4-day Sun Dance ceremony with him. Those who complete Sun Dance practice can become shamans or medicine men themselves within the tradition. Apparently Young's familiarisation with the tradition is quite extensive.
Together with Batchelor and Young, also Jack Kornfield, who is one of the founders of Insight Meditation Society, has made a public testimony about shamanism, see here: http://openheartopenheart.blogspot.com/2019/08/jack-kornfield-and-shinzen-young-on.html
Seeing how one secular- or theravada-buddhist after the other turn to shamanic practices, I can't help wondering why. And in fact, there is another sutrayana buddhist, Culadasa John Yates, who in the Summer of 2019 suggested that perhaps combination of shamanism and buddhism would tap what his practices have left untapped. See full text and sources here: http://openheartopenheart.blogspot.com/2019/08/culadasa-john-yates-sutrayana-doesnt-go.html
Edit: Adding to the list...
- Vanja Palmers (soto zen buddhist) says that after decades of zen-meditation he wanted to repeat impressive experience he had as a teenager on LSD: https://youtu.be/gsJ7Z_t5H_o?t=347
- Vincent Horn, How Psychedelics Improve Your Meditation (And Much More…). "...He found that psychedelics could be used in a similar way to meditation, in order to explore the mind and existence. By setting an intention, and creating an environment similar to meditation, he found he learned some things through psychedelics that his meditative practice hadn’t.Vince says that the visual experience of psychedelics was very different to that of meditation. Psychedelics allowed him to feel connected to his human ancestry, and gave him an ego death experience that shook him more fundamentally than any ego death he’d experienced with meditation. He warns, however, about the power of psychedelics – one experience made him “go crazy” for several days. He would slap a warning label on both psychedelics and meditation, describing them both as trial by fire...: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGA7L1TH1Gc
Warner critisizes psychedelic buddhism
and Vincent Horn based on buddhist precepts:
Is it just because of the lack of merit or lack of inner readiness, why these noted teachers do not turn to mahayana and vajrayana buddhism? Shamanism and buddhism were joined a long time ago so we already have tantric buddhism that has a vast array of lineages, teachings and teachers. Apparently they realise that their chosen paths of buddhism lack something to seek a boost or extra gear from outside buddhism but then, is it because they do not have fortunate karmic connections with lineages and gurus of higher vehicles of buddhism, why they turn to shamanism? Native shamanism seems like a lesser path in comparison to mahayana, not to mention varayana. Or is it simple because of the rigid aspects of Vajrayana buddhism, which is almost all Tibetan, and also mentioned in a critical light by Culadasa because of theocratic features, why these teachers don't feel interested in Tibetan vajrayana? I couldn't blame them if they felt this way because I do too on top of a bunch of other turn offs, but still this trend seems strange.
I am a practitioner and teacher of pragmatic vajrayana buddhism, with a history in zen buddhism, so I know well what kind fo extra gear tantra has to offer to even those who have trained in sutrayana extensively. However, if tantra seems like a turn off and one doesn't want to get involved with empowerments or lamas, I'd recommend looking into Pure Land Buddhism and Buddha Amitabha. In Pure Land Buddhism there are no empowerments, to my knowledge at least, but I'd actually define Amitabha practice a tantric practice and because one turns to Buddha Amitabha for spiritual liberation and knowledge, his presence has the power to tap what in the words of Culadasa, sutrayana leaves "untapped". If I was not a tantric practitioner, with the knowledge and experience I have now, I'd choose Pure Land Buddhism as my path, though with the features of pragmatic dharma.
Thanks for reading. May True Dharma flourish!