Herb's Notes for Tuesday January 24 2012
When Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche first came to the United States, he lived in Barnet, Vermont, on a farm several of his students had bought. He attracted a group of young, recent college students, many of who were very bright. Some went off and learned Tibetan and became translators. At that time not many texts were available in English and the ones that were, tended to have a British vernacular. For example the word "void" was used as the translation for "shunyata"; what we now call "emptiness".
Robin Kornman was one of that group. He once said that first of all Chogyam Trungpa was the smartest person that they had ever met. Because he lived with his wife on the farm, they thought they had their own live-in guru. And that he told them "things are as bad as you thought."
That logic is common in many traditions, genuine and charlatan alike. Our pain is ruthlessly revealed and described honestly, which legitimizes their teachings.
The Buddha first taught the truth of pain/suffering.
The first half of "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism" has that pattern. We are warned again and again of the pitfalls inherent in spiritual practice. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche's descriptions are accurate. He uses the analogy of going to a doctor when we are sick. First the doctor has to find out what is wrong. The diagnosis is the entry point to treatment. But the diagnosis and the treatment are two separate things.
The right attitude toward the Buddhist teachings is always to take them into our own experience and see if they are true. This is hard to do once we begin to realize that our thoughts and beliefs are biased and not always trustworthy. There is a tendency to put our faith in the doctor, so to speak, and completely rely on their treatment. Anyone who has had a serious illness has had to work with these issues.
The Buddhist teaching is that we have conflicted emotions. They are usually grouped together as passion, aggression and ignorance. The birth of ego is about ignorance.
The Buddhist use of the word "ignorance" comes from "ignore". (We might or might not be ignorant in the sense of not knowing.) What is being pointed out is that we ignore actual experience.
One of the wonders of the human mind is that we can make generalizations. We can take a few facts and generalize, leading to an approach that can anticipate and avoid trouble. Likewise, mind can go from generalizations to specifics. Once we have burned our finger on a hot surface we can avoid other hot surfaces in completely different contexts.
Most of us "know" that the world is round. It is hard for us to imagine a time when people did not think this- silly them. And yet every map on a flat surface shows a flat world and is not accurate at the top and bottom. On maps from our perspective, Greenland becomes huge. If maps were published in Greenland, South America would be distorted. Our minds can make allowances for this generalization only if we remember.
This winter we have the experience of faulty weather predictions. We read a forecast. We want to know what is going to happen. And yet even with all the technology examining cause and effect, we cannot predict the weather three days in advance.
Meditation is a moment-by-moment experience. We are so accustomed to generalization that we ignore actual experience. We are training in becoming aware of what is instead of what we might have predicted, based on memory. We gradually are led to drop judging the contents of mind because that judgment is based on a generalization. "Good and bad, happy and sad, thoughts vanish like the imprint of a bird in the sky." By relaxing mind we can experience that happening. In fact, moment-by-moment, we cannot hang on to one thought or emotion. We might come back to them very quickly but we often ignore the gaps in the narrative. In order to hang on to our story we have to ignore any experience that doesn't fit.
This can be a useful skill. I come from New Jersey. Driving into New York City on S3, there is a convergence of thousands of cars and trucks headed for the Lincoln Tunnel. There is a crescendo of sight and sound: huge trucks 18 inches from our head, growling their diesel up and down the gears. Cars darting into the space in front that we would have left open for safety. Foreign people, different vehicles, odd behavior, not like what we have come from. In order to get through the tollbooth and into the tunnel, we have to ignore huge amounts of input. Every day thousands and thousands of humans are able to do this. Crazy people, people very upset, brilliant people, kind, and nasty, old, young, they all manage to get onto the island of Manhattan.
The Buddhist teachings are not saying that generalizations are bad.
They are pointing out generalizations based on ignorance. The birth of ego is based on a false idea and we ignore all the experience that shows that the idea is false. In order to get real, we have to learn how to cut through that ignorance. Sitting meditation is a technique for doing that. It is also the fruition of cutting through. Suzuki Roshi has said that taking this posture is enlightenment. The warnings about spiritual materialism are useful and yet they themselves can become generalizations used to ignore experience. So where can we turn? Sitting practice, with its endless adjustments, is inherently connected to open mind which in innately intelligent.
Another way of saying this is that there is a suggestion to look at experience differently. The suggestion is that we have been looking to confirm a real me. Everything is seen in reference to this real me. We are blind to the rest. It is what an archeologist has called, a perfect example of not being able to find what you are not looking for.
Instead the suggestion is to question whether there is such a thing as a real me. If not, than the entire struggle to maintain it, defend it, worry about it, is unnecessary.