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Navajo & Tibetan Sacred Wisdom

Mar 07, 1997 09:53 PM
by E. J.


Peter Gold has written a beautiful and scholarly book called "Navajo &
Tibetan Sacred Wisdom:  The Circle of the Spirit."

Gold was fascinated with the idea of comparing two cultures that live at the
opposite ends of the earth while sharing my similar insights.  Both
societies live on the world's highest inhabited plateaus and share deeply
spiritual ways of life filled with wisdom, rituals, and art that produce
observable results in the lives of the people.

Gold writes:  "Tibetan and Navajo life is a process of constant re-balancing
and perfecting of one's actions expressions, and thoughts into an ideal
state as befits each culture's ultimate role models....  Both groups see the
process of living as a spiritual journey, an individual and communal effort
to develop each person into the best version of him or herself, in the
company of like-minded people dedicated to the integration of matter and

Gold observes that both cultures lack our word "religion," which literally
means to bind back, to link back.  In the Tibetan and Navajo cultures,
spirituality is a way of life, and there is no sense of linking back to
anything.  This sense of full and present participation in a spiritual way
of living contrasts sharply with Western culture where religion is often
seen as a counter-force to everyday life, where being spiritual means being
different and having to swim against the current.

Both the Tibetans and the Navajos perceive life as a journey toward the
unity of matter and spirit, real and ideal.  The Tibetans use two words to
express this ideal state of being:  "tashi," a harmonious relationship with
the universe, and "sangye se," Buddha nature or enlightenment.  The Navajos,
on the other hand, use the word "hozho" or "beauty" to describe an
"empowered staet of the deities, immune from physical and mental suffering."

Gold reflects, "We too have terms for this most essential goal of living.
The mystics call this state of mind illumination, and its state of being,
holiness.  The etymology of our word 'holiness,' which derives from the same
old Anglo-Saxon root as do 'heal' and 'whole,' also reveals the universality
operating at the heart of the Navajo and Tibetan spiritual paths.  In their
perennial philosophies, matter and spirit, body and mind, self and cosmos, I
and thou are inseparable.  As such, to attend to one means to involve the

Gold's thesis is that there are four universal principles underlying
spiritual paths around the world and that these principles are plainly
evident in the vital spiritual traditions of the Tibetan and the Navajos.
Gold calls these four principles the Circle of the Spirit.  Here are the
four underlying principles:

1)  "Awakening and Connecting to the Nature of Things"

This awakening refers to the first awareness of the unity of all things, of
the one creative life force that flows through all living things.

2)  "Balancing and Unifying Earth with Sky"

Earth and sky are used symbolically to represent the universal, polar
energies of mother and father, female and male, matter and spirit, time and
eternity.  "Tibetan and Navajo spiritual teachings place major emphasis on
the unity of the two, with the spiritual path wending its way in between."

3)  "Centering in the Mandala of Self and Cosmos"

This principle involves balancing and unifying earth and sky--the
paradoxical and seemingly conflicting forces of our beings--by centering in
the mandala of self and cosmos.  Both the Navajos and the Tibetans create
mandalas that symbolically reveal how to balance and unify the imperfect
outer world and a sacred and ideal inner world.

4)  "Becoming:  Sacred Rites of Transformation"

Gold observes that understanding these principles will never create a vital
spiritual experience or a transforming way of life.  Something more is
needed to bring an individual "onto a specific daily spiritual path, one
formulated to bolster the body/mind's inner strengths and defeat its
self-destructive weaknesses."  Both the Tibetans and the Navajos have
developed vast traditions of knowledge and sacred rites of transformation.
Gold writes, "But most of their spiritual lineages, called 'haatal,' or
'chantway,' by the Navajo and 'gyud' or 'tantra' by the Tibetans, are geared
to orchestrating a transformative spiritual journey into the ideal world
with a return into the maelstrom of the real world as an empowered (healed,
whole, and holy) person."

Gold refers to these four principles as the Circle of the Spirit for the
following reason.  Both cultures depict concentric circles, a small, inner
circle connected to an outer, larger one by means of four lines, creating
four quadrants.  Gold writes, "The smaller circle is the microcosm, the
finite body/mind or self, yet it is also the source of all awareness and
life.  The larger circle is the macrocosm, the infinite body/mind of the
universe and, simultaneously, the fully expanded individual on the spiritual

What then are the results of this spiritual path in the lives of the
Tibetans and the Navajos?  What benefits would entice us to step onto the
path of spiritual transformation?  Gold offers the following quotes from
objective observers:

   The anthropologist Gary Witherspoon observed of the Navajo that which is
   also true of the Tibetan:  "If a Navajo is to be truly healthy and happy,
   must dominate his thought and speech, and harmony must permeate his
   environment.  Beauty flows from the mind or inner form of a person.
   Navajos have radiant personalities and the beauty they have within themselves
   seems to radiate from the inner core of their being.  This can be readily
   in firsthand observation or even in photographs."

   Consider the following comment by Thubten Jigme Norbu (Tagtser Rinpoche):
   "I think of Tibet as a beautiful country, and so it is, but the greatest
beauty to
   me is that the people live a life dedicated to religion.  You know it when
   you meet them, without being told.  There is a warmth that touches you, a
   power that fills you with new strength, a peace that is gentle.  I remember
   such people, and I feel sad that now it is so seldom one meets their like."

I will bring this lengthy book report to a close with three quotes.

   If we want to help the world we have to make a personal
   journey.  It is up to each of us individually to find the meaning
   of enlightened society and how it can be realized.
                                          --Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

   There is no alternative [to ultimate happiness] other than the
   spiritual way.  We must make a strong determination to practice.
                                          --The XIV Dalai Lama

The following is a Navajo prayer used at the end of many ceremonies and
tribal council gatherings:

   In beauty may we dwell.
   In beauty may we walk.
   In beauty may our male kindred dwell.
   In beauty may our female kindred dwell.
   In beauty may it rain on our young men.
   In beauty may it rain on our young women.
   In beauty may it rain on our chiefs.
   In beauty may it rain on us.
   In beauty may our corn grow.
   In the trail of pollen may it rain.
   In beauty all around us may it rain.
   In beauty may we walk.
   The beauty is restored.
   The beauty is restored.
   The beauty is restored.
   The beauty is restored.

One of the hardest lessons to learn -
yet absolutely essential for those
dedicated to the search for Truth -
is the reality of paradoxes -
contradictions and uncertainty.

Let There Be Light -- Always in All Ways,  e.j. }~!~{
"Some men can live up to their lofties ideals without
ever going higher than a basement" - Theodore Roosevelt

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