There are many things you can learn from a Lama, including:
Number one - it's always good to know the courtersies of a different religion (learn the mantric greeting meant to be given to a Bön lama rather than go "Merry Meet, Rinpoche...").
Number two - it's possible to be a spiritual teacher and have a good sense of humour ("You live in microwave culture! Everything so fast... your spiritual searching are like a a greasy plate and a dry sponge - but I am the Ecover liquid and the warm water!"). On Tuesday, I sat in on a question/answer session with Lama Khemsar Rinpoche (second from the right), a Bön lama and the spiritual director of the Tibetan Yungdrung Bön Study Centre and his students. He's a very interesting and wise fellow. He first spoke of a few interesting points to do with his teachings - he called them drub-dhe (or, the meditation school) which is in contrast to the monastic school, _____-dhe (I can't for the world remember the Tibetan for it).
Drub-dhe is the very practical version of the spiritual path. It's the difference between those who go into University and carry on being research fellows and those who go out into the world and do manual work, raise families and support the society's infrastucture. Those in the monastery debate, philosophise, talk a lot and just work things out from the canons, texts and practices. The drub-dhe are those who go to a teacher/lama/guru, get taught the practices, learn everything the master can give and then go back out in the world. They have spouses, children and so on, but they are the ones that practice. They do the rituals every day and night. They really go out into the world and make a difference. Rinpoche said that there is little to no merit in the monastic life and that drub-dhe is the really the main way you're gonna go forward on a spiritual life (I enquired about the fact that the Bön tradition have monasteries, and a devotee just said it was all down to culture and habits. They've had monasteries for centuries and old habits die hard). This is where I feel Bön and Buddhism seem to differ; particularly in the Theravadan schools, the monastic sangha are seen to gain the most merit and are more likely to attain enlightenment because their lives are devoted to the practice but Bön puts the same emphasis on practice but on a more practical level. It's by far more pragmatic to the practitioner to be able to combine the mundane life with the spiritual rather than discarding one for the other.
Rinpoche's description of the practical school really sunk in as to what Paganism really was about. We are people who in some way or other (thanks mainly to Druidry and Gardner) see ourselves as priest(esse)s. I know very few completely lay Pagans in the traditional term. Most know and can lead rites, all perform home rites, all perform magic in some form, whether subtle or blatant, known or unknown but none of us spend our lives in a monastic setting we are just priest(esse)s. Some of us hire people to perform rites like weddings and baby namings or the seasonal celebrations. With the former, it's rather hard to marry your wife and be the priest; baby namings are done either with a hired clergy or just by the parents themselves and not all rites require outside help. With the Lampeter and Carmarthen crew, the Master of Ceremonies changes and even then the role of that person is to welcome and to thank, to make sure the rite runs smoothly. It's usually the person of the most experience or the host - all pragmatic. It's not someone who happens to have some privilidge because of training unless in you are a member of a tradition.
In medieval and celtic societies, you may have turned to the local cunningman, the local witch, the local druid for help, but now, we are all witches and cunningfolk and druids and priest. We can do the spells ourselves. Some people do it better than others but again, that's just how life is. Some are natural magicians, born psychics and witches, but we're all magicians in some respect.
And I like that. We're all drub-dhe; our practices seem to be only an extension of our mundane existence and a means to experience the world at a different angle and I rather think it should remain like that.
What was the important teaching though? Practice! Both magical and mundane. And religious practice should have the adherents immersed in the practices and rites. Ritual and magic should be second nature and as normal as making a cup of tea and not chores. I haven't gotten to that level yet, but every morning, I try to meditate and do a small rite; if it's the full moon, I try to go out and appreciate it; I imbue my food with intent and magic - every herb has a purpose and reason.
The mundane stuffs matter just as much. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle; buy organic and/or local; buy ehtically; support green issues; Save the Whales; grow veg or herbs; make wine or ale or mead; cook fresh; use Ecover; love the earth; use public transport; make food using seasonal stuff; attune to the cycles and seasons. The mundane is just as, and sometimes more, important than the magic.
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