Bangor is an interesting, wonderful blend of spirituality. One can find Catholic, Protestant, and Evangelic Churches. One can find synagogues, and a Unitarian Universalist church. One can even find head shops, Indian restaurants, and a killer bagel/bakery store- (all of which may be a type of spirituality to their regulars). But Bangor is now also home to a growing sangha of rowdy Celtic Buddhists.
“What is Celtic Buddhism?” is a question I frequently hear. Technically, Celtic Buddhism is a mixed form of Vajrayana and Mahayana Buddhism that sprang out of Tibetan Buddhism.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the founder of Celtic Buddhism, wanted to see Buddhism start afresh in America, free from ancient cultural taboos and traditions which he felt did not serve the spiritual quest. He tried to do this in 2 different ways. The first was the creation of Shambhala, which was supposed to be a secular form of Buddhism. But Shambhala, while certainly still a respectable and excellent organization, quickly reverted into Tibetan Buddhism after Trungpa’s death. The second was the concept of a celtic based Buddhism, a new lineage, fresh and untainted by out dated traditions, history, or routine. A Buddhism that was American, not Japanese, Tibetan, or Indian. Trungpa was drawn to the idea of dressing this new lineage in celtic garb because he admired the heart and courage of the ancient Celts. We are talking a people brave enough, such as St Brendan, to put a small leather boat into the unforgiving sea and let God do the steering… all the way from Ireland to America and back. St Brendan’s story, by the way, though long scoffed at as impossible by modern day non-Celts, has finally been proven as true. And so, Celtic Buddhism was born, and what better place for it to establish strong roots than in the good and fertile soil of the fiercely wild and independent, strong spirited type people that call Maine their home.
Celtic Buddhism, like most forms of Buddhism, has meditation as its base, and utilizes various chants and songs at gatherings. But after that, the practice is individualized depending on who the practitioner is.
There are many types of Buddhism. There is the harsh, shouting, beating style of Rinzai, the soft and gentle style of Mindfulness Buddhism, and the military-like style of Zen, to name just a few. But there is also a playful style, and that belongs to the Celts of Buddhism. You will probably never meet a Celtic Buddhist that hits you as overly holy. They are a rowdy sort that bravely faces every Kraken and uses a pirate’s cutlass to severe their own delusions. They are not afraid of being imperfect. They live only to sail the spiritual seas of life, discovering treasure and truth, and serving those in need. It is a strong sisterhood and brotherhood of spiritual celtic pirates, and they have small footholds, now, world wide, although Vermont and Maine are the strongest. David Hutchinson, the Reverend of the U.U. church in Houlton once told me that “Celtic Buddhism is Buddhism for people who can not or will not fit them selves into the round peg holes that most organized religions require”. He’s right of course. And that’s what makes it a great fit for Bangor, Maine. So grab your parrot and climb aboard!