Bardo One (Birth, Life & Death): Part 1
It is customary to begin such a work with a salutation in high honor with what is commonly known as the Trikaya, or the three bodies of the Buddha. Traditionally they are referred to as the Dharmakaya (Absolute body), the Sambhogakaya (Visionary body), and the Nirmanakaya (transformation [oftentimes carnal] body). However from the unique position of the Lankavatarian perspective, these have been finely tuned with added nuances:
Homage to the Unoriginated Dharmakaya: Absolute Truth Body; the wordless Teaching, Buddhadharma: Inner-Promulgation of the Truth Body; the Self-aware Mystical-Spiritual Power (Body of Tathagata) embodying the Truth as a Movement of Pure-Mind Revelation: Bodhikaya
When we were born into this present lifespan, essentially the death process was initiated. We die little by little each day; in this sense we were and are “born” to “die”. This apparent desire realm (the human notch on the rope of the six rings of rebirth) can oftentimes ruthlessly reveal the transiency behind unfolding imagery that can frustrate the awareness apparatus that innately seeks re-unification with the dharmatā—or the inner-luminative-essence that is freed from the chains of all forms of perception. What happens though in Bardo Realm One, the dharmatā becomes ordinary dharmas—an endless array of passing imagery (phenomena) until it becomes transformed into its luminative-self again in the Bardo of dharmatā. Experience (within Bardo Realm One) becomes the channel through which the awareness apparatus is primed into one day extraordinarily perceiving (through the power of bodhi) its rightful and primordial position as awareness principle; this can be analogously depicted as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, undertaking all kinds of experiences and trials and tribulations along the journey down the yellow brick road before awakening from the dream (which can also parallel the individuation that occurs in the Bardo of Dreams) and returning to her true primordial home.
Self-Actualization through Generative Agencies
In this Bardo Realm of Birth, Life and Re-Death (indeed, reaching a new omega point that actualizes as re-constituting the field of elementals that concretize into material-forms) the awareness apparatus=the human person, (the collection of the aggregated skandhic elements) or the generative agency through which the awareness principle begins to mediate (through a succession of transitional events) its Recollective journey homewards to the Element of Truth (Dharmadhatu). In this sense, the human agency analogously functions like the meditational deities (e.g., the five Primordial Buddhas) we will encounter in the Bardo Realm of Meditation and Deep Samadhi. What follows next is this “chronological” Recollective process through the generative agency of this writer…
From whatever past karmic alliances and associations, my spirit (and its awareness apparatus) this go-round was somehow aligned to be a priest. In point of fact, being a priest and having an interest in Zen Buddhism is not an anomaly: witness the life of Trappist Monk and priest, Thomas Merton; or the fine scholars of Buddhology like Fr. Etienne Lamotte and Heinrich Dumoulin, S.J. Firstly, the one common question that always pops into people’s minds is, “Why did you become a priest?” Actually, the question didn’t even occur to me until I started out on a personal odyssey at the age of 21—way back in the late spring of 1979, when I moved to South Florida from the Northeast on a whim with a friend. It was during that time of new beginnings, in the strange and exotic setting of South Florida that my inner-self (dormant bodhi seed) truly began to awaken; in particular with the sense of inner-hearing (Dhammasota’s soundless sound in Buddhism). Within traditional Catholicism, it’s customary that someone needs to experience some form of divine “calling” from God before becoming a priest. The calling occurred to me one sultry summer afternoon in the form of a book that somehow popped out at me on a shelf of books I was perusing in college. The book’s title was, “The Dark Night of the Soul”, by St. John of the Cross. St. John of the Cross is one of the church’s greatest mystics, and his apophatic theology of the “via negativa”—nada, nada, nada, nothing else but the indwelling presence of God, which is like a darkness to the senses—truly enraptured my spirit. It was like the mystic flavor of these pages opened a new chapter in my life as I became more aware of the “inner-needs” of others, (Karunic bodhicitta) and no longer focusing on myself alone. Being the young, idealistic 21 year-old that I was at the time, this Carmelite Saint seemed to be beckoning me to pursue the religious life—and so, what better way than to serve God as a priest. I did some inquiring and contemplating for the next three years and afterwards returned home to the Northeast and entered seminary in the fall of the early 1980’s.
My seminary years for the Diocesan Priesthood were full of much idealistic vigor and determination to become formed into a good priest. Those years also offered me the opportunity to share some of my creative talent as a violinist; so from time to time would accompany another seminarian (a pianist), and one of the priest-professors (also a violinist) to various homes in the area, wherein we would indulge in a healthy dose of Bach—in particular his Double Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor.
My deacon year (the year before being ordained a priest) was spent in a parish in upstate NY. It was a most unusual year; it was 1987—the year considered to be that of the Harmonic Convergence. Some people in the parish were involved in Clown Ministry, and so they asked me if I could involve them in some way in the parish. So, I intuitively came up with a script that involved using clowns during Lent in a presentation of the Stations of the Cross—it was called, “The Stations of the Cross in the Company of Clowns”. Now, this was unheard of—using “Clowns” in such a somber setting as the Stations of the Cross??? But, it worked! It was very reverently done—something along the lines of an Emmitt Kelly clown character, a down and out fellow whose life becomes transformed as “a spirit” appears to him with a lighted candleabra and leads him through the stations in the darkened church. Well, this initial presentation began with 4 people—three clowns and the spirit—but, over the years it has developed into a full-fledged ministry, involving mimes as well as clowns, and incorporates people of all ages and temperaments—it’s now in its 26th year! I had long stepped back from the ministry, but a community of people themselves—known as The Clown Ministry Associates, formed from all these amazing people over the years—has kept this presentation alive and vibrant as they journey from church to church throughout the season of Lent.
Priesthood during the 1990’s
During the 1990’s, my creative-side flourished immensely. I wrote and produced a mini-musical involving the clown ministry entitled, “The Waiting”—a little story about the real meaning of the season of Advent. Also I wrote a major musical endeavor entitled “A Clown in Harlequin’s Court,” whose inspiration was based on the struggle of catholic women religious at the time to have a greater voice in the life of the church. I’m an advocate for women priests, which in the present state of affairs within Catholicism is not acceptable; the musical, written in 1996, takes place during the High Middle-Ages and has as its foundation a historical actuality: the cathedrals were the major center of religious devotion and practice—vast throngs of people were packed inside to hear the Word of God proclaimed, and so there was an overflow of people and many had to stand outside, not having the opportunity of hearing the Word proclaimed. Outside the cathedral, actors—in the guise of Harlequins and various assorted mimes, would literally “act-out” the action of the gospel being proclaimed inside, empowering the crowds on the outside to also benefit from the action happening inside. The musical takes as its theme this backdrop and grows into a drama between two groups of protagonists—the Harlequins who have the “divine status” of proclaiming the Word of God in this fashion…and the Clowns—the newcomers on the block who want to get-in on the act! The main characters are a male Harlequin—the leader of the Harlequins…and a female clown—whose desire to be able to proclaim God’s word, too, becomes the champion of the downtrodden clowns. Never was able to put this play into production during the ‘90’s…but with the advent of new music technology and time spent with a buddy of mine who co-wrote the music, we were able to get this play into production in the summer of 2007; we actually got two parish communities involved since this was a major-size cast and the three-hour production was a major hit of the summer!
Being an associate priest assigned to a parish proved to be a most challenging enterprise. Long gone was the youthful, idealistic, spirit of that young seminarian as the reality of life in the RC Church began to sink in. Let me preface the following by saying that this is not meant to ridicule or demean the religious practices of Catholics, but that for “my own spiritual development and evolution”, these practices fall far short of the inner-journey of self-transformation; by and large the catholic faithful are content with just the rudimentary trappings (exoteric) of any form of spirituality—e.g., daily mass-attendees praying the rosary, wherein the mournful-droning refrain… “To you do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears!”… essentially becomes the hallmark for many of what this life is about—just getting by day by day and hoping for the best since one’s life is primarily dirt—indeed, the refrain during the distribution of ashes on Ash Wednesday is, “Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” The other option for the priest to say on Ash Wednesday is, “Turn away from sin and believe the good news…or simply, repent and believe the good news.” Essentially, sin means separation—in essence, separation from our divine union with the godhead; even from the early days with John of the Cross, I’ve always been led to focus on, what I consider to be a crucial component of faith—union with the Divine Will and Spirit. What the major religions are steeped in is Duality—and herein always lay my ongoing frustration. Truthfully, it’s been a struggle never being on the same page as the general catholic populace, one that basically stays with the formalized—outward (exoteric)—trappings of Catholicism while the inward-journey is never even remotely considered; have always preached from time to time on the need for inner-transformation—for union—but , sadly, to no avail as this experience is always superseded by exclusive outer and materialistic demands…TBC