(Priests of Nature)
Andrew Peers was born to an Irish mother and grew up in Nottingham, England. A punk rocker in his teens, he later spent over 20 years in Trappist monasteries in England, Ireland and the Netherlands. He gained a degree in law and has studied theology and philosophy. He is ex-chair of the MID (Monastic Interreligious Dialogue) for the Dutch-speaking region (including Flanders) and participated in the 10th Spiritual Exchange visit to Japan in 2005. He has more than 25 years of experience in sitting practice in the Hinayana and Mahayana schools of Buddhism, and has for the past 10 years been active in the Dutch sangha of Maha Karuna Chan. In 2011 he left for America and Ireland and recently returned to the Low Countries qualified to give instruction in meditation in a Vajryana lineage as a
Celtic Buddhist priest. He is now living in the large old presbytery in the village of Baak, the Netherlands.Andrew Peers writes articles on spirituality, gives meditation retreats and is finishing his first book.
The Order of the Longing Look has grown out of this path through the three
great vehicles (yanas) of Buddhism, whilst not abandoning the spiritual
roots of the Christian and pre-Christian West.
Celtic BuddhismSeated at a heavy wooden table in front of the old presbytery window, I canlook out and away from the village onto green fields and stately mature oaktrees. It is autumn and their leaves are turning yellow and orange. Thisvillage in Gelderland lies in an area particularly associated with oaks.Observing the quiet change in the season and silently tuning in to itsrhythm, is, broadly speaking, what is understood as 'Celtic' in CelticBuddhism. It is the felt connection to the natural world as it continuallymoves on, a way of simply learning to move with it, even to celebrate it asthe dance of transience in the mandala of nature.The Celts in their day did not generally live into ripe old age but thisdid not make them fatalistic or depressed. Their culture and art testify tothis. They were warriors familiar with the struggle to survive, with thethreat of enemies and war, and their songs and legends have a brassy,bragging heroic tone of a people proud of their banditry and in love withtheir own eloquence. For them, life and death were interwoven, with many'thin places' between the two. They were spread throughout Western Europeand lived once here too among the old oaks of Gelderland.I am reminded of the time when, still a Trappist monk living in NorthernIreland, I went to the abbey shop one day and was confronted in theentrance passage by a poster on the wall showing about twenty gargoyle-likefaces. "The River Gods of Ireland" it proclaimed. How on earth, I thoughtto myself then, could a poster like that be hanging in the shop of a RomanCatholic abbey? And who do those faces belong to, where do they live?The late Chogyam Trungpa, an influential Tibetan Buddhist teacher ofmeditation and founder of Celtic Buddhism, saw these local energies andgods as the western equivalent of the gods of the native Tibetan religioncalled Bon. In the rivers and in the air, they are associated with specialplaces in nature. In Tibet, the more war-like gods go by the name ofdralas. The word 'drala' is connected to ‘deity’ and signifiessimultaneously both a natural force operating in the phenomenal world, andan aspect of our own pure awareness. Trungpa was deeply saddened by theloss of the great drala traditions of Europe. In this tradition, thespiritual path is portrayed as a field of battle where pitfalls are thekind of threats that the Celtic heroes met in their epic contests: thepoison of arrogance, the trap of doubt, the ambush of hope and the arrow ofuncertainty. Here the enemy is the ego and its projections. The greatestweapon is openness, it is endless patience that has immediate effects andvictory is the victory over war and aggression. Celtic tribes were warriortribes and it is this basic attitude of daring that Celtic Buddhism firstand foremost seeks to rekindle with regard to spiritual development inmodern life today. Life is still short enough, and a pro-activewarrior-like bravery can serve it best.Working with spiritual realities of another order introduces the shamanicaspect of Celtic Buddhism. The shaman in the tribes of the Celts was knownas a druid. The name ‘druid' has been translated ‘knower of the oak’ and itis said that apprenticeship to a druid could take as long as 20 years. Aquestion that surfaces in my mind on this sunny autumn morning, as I lookout at these impressive oaks, is: what exactly took so long?Druidism today has often been stereotyped and pigeon-holed, dismissed asthe hobby-like fantasy of eccentrics. But what was passed on orally fromteacher to student at the time of the druids, is a still living spiritualreality accessible. As a worthy guide, the druid was able to put aside fearand show his or her being to the student in complete openness. Such aradical act of bravery contained within it the possibility of inducing asudden gap in the student’s usual way of thinking at a place that might becalled the 'thin place' of the mind, where the Spirit suddenly coughs andinterrupts the thinking process. The result is the knowledge of unknowing,a sublime knowledge that is true knowing. It is the knowledge of life anddeath set against the backdrop of an invincible light within, potentiallycatalyzing a radical change of mindset, even of vocabulary. This wisdom isthe basis of society and traditions in the East but Buddhist monks werealready visitors to pre-Christian Celtic Europe, just as the druids andCeltic peoples are known to have journeyed at least as far as Greece.Zen Buddhist schools even today use riddles and stories as devices to jarmonks out of their usual dualistic thinking. One such riddle is called 'TheOak tree in the Garden':*A monk asked Master Chao Chou, "What is the meaning of the Patriarch'scoming to the West?" Chao Chou replied, "The oak tree in the garden." Themonk later asked the same question again, and Chao Chou replied with thesame answer, adding with force, "Look at it!"*Celtic Buddhism employs this ancient oral tradition to teach thespecifically *druidic* way of looking and seeing, making it possible tolook past form to reality and to establish a non-dualistic interpretationof the world. To look in a new way is also to think about the world in anew way, and about the human being's place in it. But this apparently newway of seeing is in fact an old forgotten way that was core to thespirituality of Celtic peoples, and to the wisdom held by the druids.Whilst they sought to share this with all, to know it personally requiresthe discipline of practice and the bravery of a warrior committed to thespiritual path. It requires the confrontational intimacy inherent in acorrect teacher-student relationship. Seeing the world from a place beyondthe world, beyond transience, all beings are dralas. We can sally forth tomeet them and work with them as ‘enlightened warriors’, or we can choose toremain ignorant, projecting our own shadow onto everything. But patientlylearning silence and looking deeply into the rhythm of nature, life anddeath need not hold us in the grip of fear. In these modern mobile times,in which the descendants of the Celts have spread far and wide across theglobe, the oak tree remains accessible and unchanging, its roots reachingdown into the soft fertile soil of our collective memory, the non-dualisticmind. The mind-stream of Chogyam Trungpa still transmits to us from beyondthe grave, and can take us beyond the fear of it.Andrew "Bish" Peers