The Greatest Tradition

In 1973, I discovered what I thought was something new.

It was mid winter and I was holding on to the tatters of my hippy subculture, busing tables in a restaurant in West Los Angeles. The kitchen had closed and I was unwinding at the bar, putting off the inevitable journey home by talking with whomever would listen. That night, the person I talked with was a Scientologist.

One book, one course of study later, and I had, on my own initiative, sworn off drugs and begun on a path that, 45 years later, finds me here, talking to you.

I had been raised socially as an Episcopalian so all this talk of thetans, communication, affinity, self-improvement, it all seemed radically new. I was right. And I was wrong.

Finding a spiritual technology—that was new to me. But it was two years later, when I became a minister of Scientology, that I found out how old my newfound fellowship really was.

* * *

Somewhere, thousands of years before Christ, deep in China, a spark was lit.

We don’t know if it was a man or a woman but someone looked away from the pain, toil, and terror of life and saw a light. Religion was born.


Over centuries and millennia, the spark found others. Lao-Tzu. Confucius. Zhu Xi. Wang Yangming. There were so many that the period of time in Chinese history from the sixth to the third centuries is known as the “hundred schools of thought” period.

The spark didn’t confine itself to China. Like a match applied to a trail of gunpowder, the spark followed the caravans of traders, raiders and migrants who made their way to India. There, they exchanged goods, customs and ideas.

In India, as in China, the spark found many outlets. Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and many other religions flared, each offering its own interpretation of the spark.

I was not doing something new. I was joining forces with the millions who had lived and died before me to bring the spark to full flame.

Some of the spark made it into books. The Vedic Hymns are among the first known religious writings. Most of what we know of these ancient poems comes from their Hindu translations, but they are known to have originated in China.

Inevitably, Indian traders carried the spark to the Mediterranean. Christianity and Islam soon appeared, with the long arm of Roman trade carrying their message to most of the remaining corners of the civilized world.

Two thousand years later, I had the privilege of becoming a minister and joining this long and honorable procession. I was not doing something new. I was joining forces with the millions who had lived and died before me to bring the spark to full flame. I was not just a minister of Scientology. I, with millions of my brothers and sisters of all religions, am today’s carrier of the spark.

Leland Thoburn
Leland has been a Scientologist for 45 years. His writings have been published in numerous magazines and literary journals, including Foliate Oak Review, Writers’ Journal, Feathertale Review, Calliope, Vocabula Review and others. Formerly an executive at EarthLink Inc., he works as a business consultant.