Back in 2014 Britain’s first Lama, Lama Gelongmo Zangmo, created a media sensation when she proclaimed that Scotland’s good ol’ Nessie was in actuality a Naga, as found in both Hinduism and Buddhism.
“Zangmo’s position as a Caucasian woman who has achieved the rank of lama is virtually unprecedented in Tibetan tradition. The adaptation of a local Tibetan practice works to situate her as an authentic participant within the sphere of Tibetan culture. In fact, by taming a local naga she is acting somewhat like a modern-day Padmasambhava.” So writes scholars Joseph P. Laycock and Natasha L. Mikles in their excellent article, Is Nessie a Naga?: Buddhism in the West and Emerging Strategies of Importation. This blog will unravel significant text-excerpts from the article, particularly with how it is relevant to the nature of our site here at Unborn Mind Zen.
Zangmo’s efforts to incorporate Nessie into a Buddhist Cosmology is a significant advancement in the universality of embracing a timeless mythos that defies any parochial definitions. The authors of the article convey how this transcends the narrow Western-intellectual approach (a form of “Protestantized” Buddhism) to Buddhism that has left it spiritually bankrupt, even to this very day within secular Buddhism.
That a white convert such as Zangmo can openly discuss and enact offerings to supernatural beings as part of her practice suggests that Western Buddhists are embracing a much wider range of traditionally Asian Buddhist practices and are no longer concerned with conforming to a Protestant-based dichotomy of “heathenry” and “true religion.” Having moved past this concern, Western Buddhists are free to incorporate a much broader range of discourses and traditions into their practice. This in turn opens up new strategies for Buddhism to compete in the Western spiritual marketplace….as a Western convert to Buddhism, she has imposed new meaning onto a familiar landscape by “Buddhicizing” a local monster. This suggests that similar transformative moves can be expected as a globalized world continues to transplant religious traditions from one continent to another…( Joseph P. Laycock and Natasha L. Mikles)
This is the context of the article which communicates quite nicely with our efforts here at Unborn Mind Zen. Our own unique variety of Zen/Ch’an Buddhism includes an inspired contemporary interpretation of the Buddhist notions and meditation techniques concerning the Unborn Mind (spearheaded by Ch’an Teacher Tozen), accompanied with a well-researched exegesis that is in league with the Sutra-tradition; as well as a developing mythos that includes in singular fashion sundry mystical teachings, a Lankavatarian Liturgy, consisting in devotion to the Five Dhyani Buddhas, the Divine Liturgy of Vajrasattva, and by praying and meditating with the Divine Office of Our Lady of the Void. We are clearly in league with what the article asserts:
This in turn opens up new strategies for bringing Buddhism to the West, as demonstrated by recreating Buddhist cosmology within the Scottish Highlands. We can anticipate similar innovations in which Western Buddhists embrace the very things Buddhist apologists have traditionally downplayed––cosmology, ritual, and sacred presences. (Joseph P. Laycock and Natasha L. Mikles)
This counteracts what the article describes as a myopically-centered secular Buddhism and Zen that is infatuated with meditation techniques that are exclusively concerned with so-called “personal development”, while at the same time by and large rejecting “Pure Land traditions or traditions of esoteric Buddhism, which place greater emphasis on ritual and revealed knowledge.”
Returning now to the “mysterious and anomalous” creatures such as Nessie and the Nagas, they have throughout the millennium fascinated many into speculating further upon those mysteries that the rational mind will never be able to fathom.
Although speculative, this data suggests that those interested in monsters or who otherwise have a “craving for the mysterious” are likely to be religiously unaffiliated and may be amenable to considering new religious traditions. (Joseph P. Laycock and Natasha L. Mikles)
This reminds me of an episode when I was a youngster who was very much into “monsters” and the mysterious. A catholic-priest visited our home one day while I was in the basement playing the LP record, “Famous Monsters Speak”. The priest shouted down into the basement to get my attention since I wasn’t in any way prone to go back upstairs for a visit with him, “What matters more than God?!” Well for a young adolescent growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, monsters were more normative and by far preferable over “boring priests and church services”!
“By folding Nessie into the Buddhist cosmology, Zangmo gently asserts Buddhism’s ability to account for mysteries that other religious traditions cannot.” Authentic “Mystical Buddhism” is far more concerned with the Transcendent and lessor-so with the mundane antics of personal-development over and above, and thus canceling out, Supernal Truths.
Lama Gelongma Zangmo’s transformation of Nessie—the famous Loch Ness Monster—into a Buddhist naga suggests that our models of Buddhism in the West may need to be updated. In stark contrast to the “Protestantized” model of import Buddhism that emphasizes rationalism and meditation, Zangmo’s ritual praxis suggests that Buddhists in the West are increasingly unconcerned with Protestant expectations of “true religion.” This in turn opens up new strategies for bringing Buddhism to the West, as demonstrated by recreating Buddhist cosmology within the Scottish Highlands. We can anticipate similar innovations in which Western Buddhists embrace the very things Buddhist apologists have traditionally downplayed––cosmology, ritual, and sacred presences. (Joseph P. Laycock and Natasha L. Mikles)
In conclusion, the article does indeed heighten the sensitivity of a need for new models of Buddhism in the West. Models that are not exclusively set in anthropomorphic stone, but are transcendentally-based and are more in-tune with the mysterious [Realities] of Buddhist Cosmogenesis in Light of the Buddhadharma.