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During my childhood I learned from a close elder who was born in Ireland (and was herself taught the “old ways”) that a person must be attentive to the presence of sentient, invisible energies.  All one’s bounty (I was told) is only attained with the collaboration of the “invisible beings” – the ageless sidhe.

Thankful acknowledgement along with alert observation of one’s actions in the natural environment (to be sure one is not being careless or rude to “the invisibles,” and to sense their response)… are taken for granted by people raised in the “Old Faith” of Ireland.  One must stay on one’s toes, and never be ungrateful or arrogant.

©2008 Michael Cerulli Billingsley

Offering “clooties” tied to trees by a County Tipperary sacred spring.

Ireland’s old creation stories make it clear that the earliest successful settlers made a pact with the sidhe.  They promised not only to thank and acknowledge such “invisible help” in creating and providing the natural bounty that the people receive from the land, the sea, the air.  The early Irish also promised to teach their children, grandchildren and all Ireland’s future generations to maintain the same responsive, grateful relationship with the “invisible ones.”

It was hence with enormous gratitute that I discovered, when first encountering Tibetan Buddhism in my mid-20’s, that the Tibetan people (and my teachers) were also in the habit of gratefully acknowledging “the earth, water and sky beings” of the countryside, rivers and mountains.  My heart-lama and first long-term teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was an earth-healer; a master of the mo system of earth-divination; and had been instructed in the arts of rain and hail-making (by becoming self-identified with the sky beings and energies).  He also blessed farm animals and led seasonal observances of gratitude.

Trungpa Rinpoche proved to be personally fascinated with the comparable earth/sky/water-spirit practices of the Old Irish folks – people who understood intertwined-life as my grandmother did.  He respected and had plans to use my training in that work.  He involved me deeply (along with several others) in the design of his Maitri Buddha-family system of mind-healing and understanding of neurosis.  He also trained me to use my natural sensitivities in a more focussed way.  He made several visits during his lifetime to Ireland to investigate for himself.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche chose unothodox methods in order to reach and engage Western students – diverse people, most of whom were preoccupied with competitive materialism even as hippies (us even acquisitively grasping at “spiritual attainment” like a merit badge, for rising in social hierarchy).  Nonetheless I have come to understand that he was firmly grounded in traditional Tibetan methods, principles and intended outcomes.  He was not an “out-lyer” but rather a risk-taking pioneer, hoping we would catch up to the importance of the invisible world… if we could approach it humbly and respectfully rather than as a source of personal power and “oh, wow” ego entertainment.

Certainly even His Holiness the Dalai Lama, when asked what he believed was the outcome for everyone attending a teaching he had given in NYC, replied, “for invisible or for visible beings?”

The Irish have their own time-honoured means to listen to, and show respect for, the beings of the invisible such as leaving out bits of food and milk; tied-cloth offerings (clooties);  thanking out loud those beings in one’s presence who have contributed to one’s well-being; or walking 3 times clockwise around the dwelling place of the person within (be she visible or invisible) while singing their praise… as a sign of respect.

Tibetan Buddhist practice encourages altar gifts (hopefully kept fresh and well-tended) as well as offering our prostrations; mudras made with one’s hands while offering to one or another invisible yidam (a perfected spiritual quality in cogent, sentient, timeless form); and torma.  All such actions focus us to thankfully acknowledge the invisible energies inspiring us, moving about the world of beings on everyone’s behalf, and certainly “set in motion” by our visualisations and intentions.

This is the magic of our relation with the naturally-balanced universe.

Offering torma, with lamp & water offerings

Offering torma, with lamp & water offerings

Torma barley flour & butter (or, silver/gold, plasticine) sculptures attempt to directly display the true form of such energy beings… utterly foreign to the usual I-Thou “visual” world as perceived with our physical senses.  Rather, these spinning discs and columns of “invisible” pure intention and energy are seamlessly interactive in the infinite fabric of all creation – what we call the Buddha (or as the Lakota suggest, Wakan-tanka… the endless presence which cannot be known or described with words).

• • • Hopefully my limited grasp successful portrays these qualities in a non-grasping way.  I dedicate my attempt to His Holiness Chetsang Rinpoche of the Drikung Kagyu.  May All Beings Be Truly Happy.

Offered by ngakpa k jigme tonpa – Michael Cerulli Billingsley, today in Brattleboro, VT, USA

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