This interview was originally published on the website of Banyen Books & Sound, on Sept 27 2015.
Banyen: What first led you to Dharma teachings?
In this Banyen interview, Doug Sensei and Catherine spoke with us about their innovative teaching work, the blending of Eastern and Western traditions, and the integration of the shadow aspects of our psyches for transformation.
Banyen: Doug Duncan Sensei and Catherine Pawasarat, how did you first arrive at the Dharma teachings?
Doug Duncan: In my 20s, I traveled around Europe and Asia for a year, which I found life-changing. Returning to Canada, all my friends were doing the same things as when I left. I was searching for something more, something that integrated the culture shock when I realized my home world, its values and priorities, weren’t those of the whole world. Dharma was the vehicle to begin the process of integrating that.
Catherine Pawasarat: In my early 20s I moved to Japan, and without much of a inner compass I suffered a lot. I saw medical doctors in the US and they concluded I was extremely healthy, which made me interested in what the rational, “Western” mind doesn’t usually perceive. I started receiving acupuncture and studying tarot and astrology, which provided insight and relief. Later I became an ayahuascera and helped establish a community in Japan. I loved that path, and as an American woman the Latin American cultural framework presented some challenges for me. I met Doug Sensei nearly 20 years ago and I haven’t found anything more powerful and joyful than these teachings.
Banyen: How has your approach to teaching paths of Awakening changed and evolved over the decades?
Doug Duncan: Mine started out including both Western and Eastern methods, heavily focused on meditation and the yogic path. The monastic path functions through the structure of a monastery, whereas the yogic path is more about a relationship with a teacher, and tends to exist outside any particular form. In most recent years, I’ve come to embrace more the karma yogic path (the path of selfless service) and dharma training, which is embodied in a new version of the monastic tradition, which we’re calling the virtual monastery. It lacks the rigidity of traditional monastic environments, but we think embodies the values and ideals of the Aquarian Age.
Catherine Pawasarat: When I started studying with Doug Sensei 18 years ago, we focused on individuals awakening in this lifetime, for the benefit of all beings. Since we launched our retreat center, Clear Sky, in the BC Rockies 10 years ago, we’ve focused a lot more on awakening in community and the contemporary relevance of that. This is most easily seen in our quadruple bottom line: a generative approach to spirituality, ecology, society and finance. We’re constantly refining our teachings and methods to ensure that the awakening process remains vibrant and relevant.
Banyen: What do you see as the biggest and most common misunderstandings people have about the spiritual life?
Doug Duncan: That intellectual or theoretical knowledge is the same as experiential knowledge. Also that a casual “shopping” approach – minimal commitment, not much practice, and a lack of community engagement or effort – can lead to deeper understanding. Lastly that a facile presentation equals understanding.
Catherine Pawasarat: Westerners can mistake poverty, chastity and repression for spiritual accomplishment. On some level – maybe literal, maybe energetic – true spiritual accomplishment entails wealth, healthy sexuality and freedom. Another misunderstanding is that suffering and sacrifice are central to being spiritual. They may be central to being human, but with a healthy spiritual practice we gain the universe.
Banyen: Your 5-Day Hollyhock Intensive (October 25-30) is on the theme of the Hero’s Journey. Can you give us a sense of what types of topics and exercises you will be exploring in this program?
Doug Duncan: We are conditioned beings. In the process of our cultural conditioning, there is a lot of correction. Those parts of our being that don’t “fit” into the cultural conditioning get pushed into the shadow. In the Hero’s Journey, we first of all find and celebrate the positive aspects of our being, and then we reintroduce the shadow as an ally, to help us create a fuller and richer life.
Catherine Pawasarat: When our shadow is well integrated, life gets so much more enjoyable, interesting and richer. There are challenges inherent to the process, which help us cultivate essential qualities like courage and compassion, for others and for ourself. And it can still be fun. In addition to teaching, we’ll undertake a variety of creative exercises, some are interactive and group-oriented, while others are more solo and about individual expression, through drawing, movement and theater. And if you’d like to know more, you can check out our Hero’s Journey blog on HollyhockLife, or the video and details on the Hero’s Journey course at Hollyhock.
Banyen: Your talk at Banyen (on Friday, October 23) is on the theme of Dharmic Astrology. What is the relationship between Buddhism and Astrology? Is Dharmic Astrology different from other types of Astrology?
Catherine Pawasarat: Traditionally Buddha Dharma is based on Eastern philosophical traditions, and this kind of Astrology is based in Western ones. For us bringing them together is an opportunity to combine Eastern and Western perspectives on spiritual unfoldment. The kind of astrology I learned and have always practiced is based in transpersonal (mostly Jungian) psychology. While astrology can tend to be all about ‘me’, transpersonal astrology is about getting to whatever is beyond me. Dharma is all about exploring ‘the post-me experience’ too, so they work well together this way.
Doug Duncan: Typical astrology focuses on the self, ‘me’. Dharmic Astrology focuses on the transcendence of self. All systems involved with dharma are aimed at helping you become more aware, first of all, of the self, and then of the illusory nature of this thing we call the self. Insofar as Dharmic Astrology makes you more aware of the self, it can be a step on the way to Dharma, which is transcendence of the self. We elaborate on this in our blog about the benefits of AstroDharma.