The man who became the Buddha lived and died 2500 years ago. Since there was only one Buddha, it is entirely impossible for me to have ever hugged him. I also admit that I’ve never hugged the Buddha in a dream, so that pretty much takes care of Buddha-hugging in my case. I’m also under the impression that the Buddha did not make a practice of hugging his disciples, but who knows?*
I did have a chance recently to hug Saniel Bonder, the founder of Waking Down in Mutuality. Saniel makes absolutely no claim to being the next incarnation of the Buddha. He is not a Buddhist, nor is Waking Down a Buddhist teaching. Saniel does not refer to himself as a Guru. He calls himself an “adept,” someone who has achieved proficiency in a particular field or endeavor. I don’t want to say anything more about what Saniel is or isn’t. He speaks for himself eloquently, powerfully, and courageously in his books and in person.
I attended my first seminar with Saniel this past weekend. The first thing that struck me was the intimate setting. About twenty people sat in the cozy living room of a two-story house in the suburbs of Atlanta. I sat only a few feet away from Saniel and his wife, Linda Groves Bonder, a Senior Teacher in the Waking Down in Mutuality organization.
I mention the setting and my proximity to Saniel and Linda, the seminar leaders, because it all contrasted sharply to the decades I spent sitting in large auditoriums filled with hundreds or thousands of people, listening to a Guru on the stage. For many years, I felt these experiences were impersonal, but I could not find a suitable alternative.
It appears I have found that alternative. My Waking Down experience has been warm and highly personal, from the first moment I walked into a WDM meet up group in Miami, to the Human Sun seminar I attended in Atlanta.
In his book, Healing the Spirit/Matter Split, Saniel refers to the Waking Down work as “aspirant-centered.” I came to the Atlanta seminar to put Saniel’s words to the test. I have to say that Saniel, Linda, and the three attending WDM mentors passed. They answered questions and commented on everyone’s sharing with compassion, love, deep insight, and a profound commitment.
I came to the seminar thirsty. My head buzzed with questions about the teaching. I left filled with precious feelings of relief, love, peace and joy. I made some new friends. The only question that remained in my head for the moment was, “Why did it take me so long to find this?”
*I do not intend, in any way, to disrespect or denigrate the Buddha, Buddhism, Buddhists, or Buddhist teachings. I’m just having a little fun here.