Sunday, 6 July 2008

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche's Words...My Interpretation

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was one of the leading figures of Tibetan Buddhism in the West. His many exploits can be reviewed here:

His education at Oxford University must have been up to the usual mark, for his lucid accounts of what can be a religion shrouded in mystery are well known. The controversies he embroiled himself in suggest the acts of a Tibetan heyoka, a contrarian who by his very nature and behaviour forced those about him to examine their beliefs and perspectives.

His book "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism" touches on a subject that was certainly close to his heart. Excerpts of this volume are available here. Quoting from his book:
"Walking the spiritual path properly is a very subtle process; it is not
something to jump into naively. there are numerous sidetracks which
lead to a distorted, ego-centered version of spirituality; we can
deceive ourselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when
instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual
techniques. This fundamental distortion may be referred to as
spiritual materialism."

This doyen of spirituality goes on to define spirituality:

"According to the Buddhist tradition, the spiritual path is
the process of cutting through our confusion, of uncovering the
awakened state of mind."

The basis of the message, as I view it, is of not being fooled by ourselves. Disregarding the religion and tradition, the heart of the message is an important one. The pursuit of spirituality is an aim of many, but the attainment of but a few. Part of the reason, one suspects, is that the typical follower gets embroiled in the trappings of a given path and forgets to ask the simple question: What's this all about?

The answer varies (apparently) from path to path:

To be saved
Freedom from suffering
To be one with the universe
The middle way
To unlock the secrets of life
All of the above
All of the above and more

There is a certain glint of Hollywood glamour in each phrase. But what is enlightenment? What does it mean to be saved? Quite a few People-Who-Had-A-Clue had followings. (Of course, so did quite a few People-Who-Saw-An-Opportunity-To-Make-A-Quick-Buck with God, a credible partner who doesn't take a cut. Yes, I confess, I watch Frasier.)

My own experiences suggest that this "thing" which we consider the Ultimate Goal is quite a different beast from popular imagination. Trungpa says it is ending the confusion to get the awakened state of mind. In fact, this is not too different from what Hui-Neng, the Sixth Patriarch of Buddhism said in the verse that got him that particular position (read all about it in the link):

Bodhi is no tree,
nor is the mind a standing mirror bright.
Since all is originally empty,
where does the dust alight?

So, there is no "getting", no grasping at something which isn't there. Rather, it is becoming awakened to what already is within. Continuing our interview with Trungpa:

"When the awakened state of mind is crowded
in by ego and its attendant paranoia, it takes on the character of
an underlying instinct. So it is not a matter of building up the
awakened state of mind, but rather of burning out the confusions
which obstruct it. In the process of burning out these confusions,
we discover enlightenment."
So enlightenment is basically uncovering the bright mirror that already exists. It is cutting through to find a basic sense of sanity in this apparently mad world of ours. Nothing more becoming aware of what is already there. If the mirror is bright, then what we have discovered is unchangeable nature, or unconditioned awareness. Ironically, Lao Zi, founder of Taoism, seems to agree. To quote from the Tao Te Ching, the key text of that lineage:

The Tao that can be Taoed is not the Tao. There have been numerous expositions of that profound sentence, but in this context, it becomes clear. By its very nature, that which is true nature has nothing (hence the term "emptiness") and everything. To point to any one thing to say that it is "Tao" excludes something else, whereas everything is included.

Thus, in the path of
seeking Truth, whatever that is, it seems that the Masters of each tradition have all hinted that there is a process of losing, not of gaining. The Bible tells us what is lost through the beloved Beatitude:

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Matthew 5:5

It seems to be pride. Pride as in loss of ego. Ego is not the condemned thing that it is usually made out to be, but rather it is an interlocking of consciousness that prevents us from seeing past the ends of our own noses.

Jesus tells us, again, that in discovering heaven, there is this fundamental price. Yet, it is not a penalty, I don't think, but simply the throwing of the sandbags over the side of the hot air balloon so that it may rise higher.

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into the kingdom of God." Matthew 19:24

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