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An Open Letter To The Pagan Community

Author: Thich Nhat Hanh

From GREEN EGG Vol 26 #103 Winter 93-94 page 27
brought to you by the Children of Ra Temple

The following is an "Open Letter" to the Pagan Community from one of the nations "top" Buddhists (in a non-hierarchical way) and appeared in the Winter '93-'94 Green Egg. Since it's an "Open Letter" I doubt I'm stomping on anyone's copyright so feel free to copy it around as you feel appropriate.

Greetings to the Pagan Community:

I am director of the International Buddhist Meditation Center, the oldest American Buddhist Temple. My job is to work with groups and foundations that promote pluralism and world harmony and foster the human condition and spirit. I have many personal sympathies to Paganism as my own spouse is a Wiccan in the Norse tradition. I have learned much about the process of interfaith dialogue. I have worked closely with, and count among my friends, members of many religions and inter- faith groups. I understand their fears and foibles.

It is urgent that you understand the way it really is to become a member of the interfaith community if you truly desire to be accepted into the American mainstream and the international religious community in general, and to diffuse the automatic negative reaction to the word "witch".

Our entire society is being pulled inexorably into a single global village aided by technology and the growing awareness of world crises. There is no gain, but much loss, in attempting to hide.

You have already gained much: Pagans have interested seekers, friends and sympathizers in more places than you might think. That Paganism is the fastest-growing religious movement in the country is partly due to the fact that the New Age movement did not satisfy many seeking a true Path. Paganism is more a component of American life than may be outwardly apparent.

Walk the Middle Path and you'll have less resistance. Seek the recognition you deserve in an approachable manner. To win personal trust, let others know that you're ordinary folk like them and dialogue over commonalities. Eventually, when you have the strength of personal friendships to support you, being to address the big differences and old grievances.

With regard to this, as you initially make contact, don't smokescreen people with excessive costumery - a phenomenon which I was disappointed to see at the recent Parliament of World Religions. Many Pagans are still in that militant mode that is a normal part of "coming out" an early phase that should be matured past. Many high-profile Pagans remind me of the old "Bull-Dyke" lesbians of the last decades. They're not letting the pendulum swing back to normal. An example of this is the old COG literature: complete inappropriate and damaging, in that it was righteous, hostile and emphasized the trivial, never presenting the more interesting philosophical aspects of Wicca. I am very pleased to find their new literature much, much better.

A sacred rule of dialogue is: once you've established good personal relations, be frank about your feelings and do not gloss over anything you object to. Pagans caught in the common, adolescent attitude of defiance need to grow out of it, or at least they should not be in public positions that will hurt or embarrass the movement, and definitely not dialoguers, negotiators, publicists or anything that is contact for the media, public or other organizations.

You don't have to compromise your basic religious tenets, but you do have to get rid of outdated, inflexible attitudes which make you no better than the people who vehemently oppose you. Today you must be savvy world citizens. Twentieth century rationalism allows many cosmopolitan people to pooh-pooh old superstition.

Think of the rewards. You've already made inroads and some major gains, such as being recognized officially at the Parliament. There, in an extraordinary move, the Chicago Archdiocese intervened to gain you your park permit for a full moon ritual. Granted, the Cardinal did it under some duress, but he could have not helped at all. Your delegates sat next to and were received with openness by members of many faith groups. With further introductions and personal dialogues, people will be able to say to their colleagues, "Pagans? Oh, yeah, I know them. They're good people."

When Paganism becomes acceptable to mainstream America, you won't have to fear for your lives, homes, jobs, children. The road is long and sometimes hard, but not impossible. There are many logistical and tactical approaches to greatly facilitate this which can be explored at length in this atmosphere of mutual respect.

So decide what you will do. If you hold back, others will not be able to protect you from injustice. You must come out enough to meet society half way, even if it means taking some blows. This has always been the way of civil rights gains. But you won't be alone, and you can count on the guidance of those who have already walked this path.

Please deeply examine this issue among yourselves. Your Buddhist friends await.

Yours in love and support,

Chrys Thorsen

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