How I became a Buddhist

- Jigme Kunzang

When I was growing up, I spent a good deal of my time reading about the occult, witchcraft and magic. I always harbored the dream that someday I would be initiated into a coven of Witches. I actually was initiated about ten years ago here in California. For about ten years, I was relatively content with the Craft as my primary spiritual identification. About two or so years ago, this began to change.

Just about four years ago, I became seriously involved with a man who was to become my life partner and spouse. He was, as was I, an initiate of the Craft, but was also a Vajrayana Buddhist, and had studied under both Nyingma and Kagyu masters. I stayed clear of Buddhism, having always thought that it was a negative path that sought to renounce the world and to retreat from worldly pleasures. What I had learned of the meditative techniques of Vajrayana (Tibetan) Buddhism captivated my imagination, but I didn't think this was sufficient reason to embrace that path.

I understood that one of the entryways into the Buddhist path was the taking of refuge declaiming that one renounced worldly happiness and took refuge from the world in the figure of the Buddha, His teachings and specifically the Buddhist congregation. I had felt that as long as this rite was so firmly delimited to a Buddhist scope, I couldn't enter into it with good conscience, since I didn't feel a resignation about worldly concerns (in fact, I was rather optimistic generally) nor did I feel that The Buddha's teachings were alone sufficient for my own spiritual explorations (being interested in magick, etc.).

Meanwhile, my life in the Craft was becoming less satisfying for me. I cannot attribute it to my relationship, since my partner was also in the Craft and we had ample chance to practice our spirituality both together and separately. I guess it was more due to changes within myself than to anything external, even if the constant ego battles, infighting and bickering that goes on in Craft traditional communities was beginning to wear on me. My partner, Michael, was a quiet Buddhist, and wasn't really all that interested in proselytizing, a trait I tend to admire in people of any faith.

Finally, my partner brought up in a conversation an upcoming empowerment (wang) to be held by the lineage holder of the Shangpa Kagyupas, Bokar Rinpoche, together with the Yangsi Kalu Rinpoche (the young reincarnation of the previous Khyab Je Kalu Rinpoche). He asked if I wanted to attend with him. This necessitated that I think through my misgivings about Taking Refuge, a rite that up till that point I had been unwilling to consider, and which would be a prerequisite for receiving empowerment from a Lama.

Buddha, I was beginning to understand, was that potential for enlightened intent and behavior inherent in all of us, that guiding principle that allows us to learn and accumulate wisdom. Dharma was in fact all teachings that helped one to attain some level of spiritual realization. And my Sangha was all of the human community in its striving for peace and harmony. Finally, looking at the broader interpretations of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in this way, I was able to genuinely take refuge, and participated in the wangkur, on this particular evening to a practice of Vajrakilaya according to the teachings of Sangthik Nyingpo. I was unaware of the changes this event was to bring about in my life.

I began to actively seek out chances to practice, to attend teachings and empowerments, and to meet other practitioners. Some of my former friends have found my increased interest in Buddhist practice less interesting, and no longer remain as close. On the other hand, I have chosen to reduce contact with other acquaintances with whom my friendships were already tenuous. Others of my Craft friends have expressed an openess and curiousity about Buddhism that has been really heartwarming. My body has undergone changes, and I've now stopped drinking alcohol, a task I had been attempting unsuccessfully for the previous ten years. I enjoy practice, and find that it is affecting my entire life -- life is becoming a meditation.

One lesson that frequently comes up in teachings is the idea of faith in the lama and faith in the path. I guess I'm not a very good Buddhist, since so little of my practice is based on faith at all. Rather, I find myself experimenting a lot, while I try to suspend any disbelief or judgement. This gives me the chance to learn about a technique or teaching first, and acquire faith in it only after trying and proving it. Thus far, this has been a most rewarding way of working in the Vajrayana and I believe that it has resulted in much swifter changes in my life than I might have otherwise experienced.

I crave self-control. I often consider myself a weak personality, lazy and essentially powerless to change those things about myself that I detest. The mind training of Buddhism lets me know that my feelings are empty of any inherent existence, and that the real issue is how I *think* about myself. If I believe myself incapable of change, I am incapable of change. If I change my mind, purify it of its negative karma and introduce the idea of capability, then I am on the road to healing myself of my own self-imposed paralysis.

All phenomena arise from a cause, That cause the tatagata has taught. That which stops the cause the tatagata has explained. Do no nonvirtue, Practice virtue thoroughly. Completely tame your own mind. This is the Buddhas teaching. PHAT!

Nowadays, I remain active in a practice of sorcery, of mind-changing, of Vajrayana meditation. I am a much more discerning practitioner, I feel, for having come into contact with the Mahayana, and my subtle body is being trained in a new way of being. In a way, I have found a more authentic "Witchcraft" in my practice of Vajrayana than I ever did before, and I see the two as intricately intertwined, and both informing each other. I feel more whole in my spirituality than I can remember being before, and encourage questioning perhaps more than I did previously. Now as I enter my third year practicing the Vajrayana path, I still may not have any ultimate answers, but I'm much more comfortable asking the questions.

Blessings, Jigme Kunzang (Tom Johnson)


Clarification on what "witchcraft" is:

Witchcraft is a magico-spiritual tradition that survives in many parts of the world, but the type I practice is primarily from northwestern Europe (Britain, Scandinavia, Northwest continent). It is rather like shamanism, so I tend to call it shamanistic, rather than shamanic, which *is* shamanism. Most Witches I know tend to look to pre-Christian imagery for their liturgies, and some also call themselves "pagan," "heathen," or "wiccan." It has always interested me that so much of a pre-Christian spiritual aesthetic has survived throughout Europe, in spite of the all-pervasiveness of the Church. The Witchcraft Traditions seeks to recreate a religio-magico-mystical spiritual practice based on those survivals.

The aim of Witches vary with the Witch, and with the tradition to which they belong. The tradition I follow places a very heavy emphasis on the kind of purification of socially normalized obscurations that Vajrayana also seeks to purify one of. And in that a practice of Vajrayana has been more effective in performing that purification than Witchcraft ever was, I can say that I've found more and better of what I was looking for when I began Dharma practice. For example, in Vajrayana, we have a practice of purification in the meditation on Vajrasattva in which karmic seeds are purified, ripened as it were, and one can use these extraordinary means to purify karma from past lifetimes in this single lifetime. It's difficult sometimes, but helpful in the long run. I have found the same to be true in some of the practices of Witchcraft as well.

Just to clarify some often encountered misconceptions, Witchcraft is *NOT* satanism or evil magic. There are some satanists who call what they do Witchcraft, and there are Witches who *do* perform evil magic, but the *system itself* is not defined that way -- rather, it is a system that is neither good nor bad, and depends entirely upon the practitioner as to its ethical content. I have always tried to temper *my* Craft with Compassion.

Witchcraft uses a type of utterance called a charm or spell, and this is not unlike the mantra of Vajrayana, which is, as Ngagpa Chogyam has said, an "Awareness Spell." Strange phenomena have been attributed to the utterance of charms as well as to mantra recitation. Words are powerful, and the more so when supported by empowerment and lineal transmission.

Witchcraft includes ritual performance, and uses mudra in its ritual, much like the tantric sadhakas, ngakpas, or yogis. It sees the mind in a similar fashion, and has a dual understanding of method/wisdom, just as Vajrayana does. It has an idea of three souls or spirit parts -- Unihipili, Uhane and Aumakua -- just as Vajrayana has the Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya and Dharmakaya. It posits a subtle structure of the body as well as a more dense physical manifestation.

The only difference is I think in intent -- Witchcraft does not seek to escape Samsara, the endless cycle of repeating obscurations, whereas this is paramount in the Dharma. In this, the Dharma is more powerful than any other path to me. It helps me live a life devoted to the wellbeing of all those around me, and simultaneously works to free me of my veils and obscurations, making me happier in the long run.

So you see, in spite of the similarities, I still see Dharma as a superior path -- it contains all of the truths of Witchcraft, while its intent and its aim are both vastly superior and informed with compassion and wisdom. I do not doubt that there are those who are solely Witches who are also engaged in the process of meditation, and seeking wisdom and enlightenment, but they are few and far between. In the Dharma, that is one of the foundations.


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