Tag Archives: Truth

Is Your Ambition Putting You to Sleep?

27 Mar

Excerpted from Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungpa (1973), pages 69-70.

There is the story of the great Tibetan teacher, Marpa. When Marpa first met his own teacher, Naropa, Naropa created an alter which he said was the embodiment of the wisdom of a particular heruka. Both the shrine and Naropa contained tremendous spiritual energy and power, and Naropa asked Marpa to which one he would prostrate in order to experience the sudden realization of enlightenment. Marpa, being a scholar, considered that the guru lives in the flesh, an ordinary human body, while his creation, the altar, is a pure body of wisdom, having nothing to do with human imperfection. So Marpa prostrated to the shrine. And then Naropa said, “I am afraid your inspiration is going to fade. You have made the wrong choice. This shrine is my creation, and without me the shrine would not be here at all. The issue of human body versus wisdom body is irrelevant. The great display of the mandala was merely my creation.”

This story illustrates the principle of dream, hope, wish, as self-deception. As long as you regard yourself or any part of your experience as the “dream come true,” then you are involved in self-deception. Self-deception seems always to depend upon the dream work, because you would like to see what you have not yet seen, rather that what you are now seeing. You will not accept that whatever is here now is what is, nor are you willing to go on with the situation as it is. Thus, self-deception always manifest itself in terms of trying to create or recreate a dream work, the nostalgia of the dream experience. And the opposite of self-deception is just working with the facts of life.

If one searches for any kind of bliss or joy, the realization of one’s imagination and dream, then, equally, one is going to suffer failure and depression. This is the whole point: a fear of separation, the hope of attaining union, these are not just manifestations of or the actions of ego or self-deception, as if ego were somehow a real thing which performed certain actions. Ego is the actions, the mental events. Ego is the fear of losing openness, the fear of losing the egoless state. This is the meaning of self-deception, in this case – ego crying that is has lost the egoless state, its dream of attainment. Fear, hope, loss, gain – these are the on-going actions of the dream of ego, the self-perpetuating, self-maintaining structure which is self-deception.

So the real experience, beyond the dream world, is the beauty and color and excitement of the real experience of now in everyday life. When we face things as they are, we give up the hope of something better. There will be no magic, because we cannot tell ourselves to get out of our depression. Depression and ignorance, the emotions, whatever we experience, are all real and contain tremendous truth. If we really want to learn and see the experience of truth, we have to be where we are. The whole thing is just a matter of being a grain of sand.

 

 

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More Microscopes!

28 Feb

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In 1665, the English physicist Robert Hooke looked at a piece of cork through a microscope lens. He noticed some strange shapes which looked like little “prison cells.” Robert Hooke believed that these cells served as containers for the “noble juices” or “fibrous threads” of the once-living cork tree. He published his discovery in a book Micrographia, the first book describing observations made through a microscope. However, for the next 174 years naturalists debated the existence of cells until Theodor Schwann and Matthias Jakob Schleiden collected all of the observations and unified the field in the conclusion that “cells” did indeed exist.

It is not surprising that Hooke’s discovery of cells sparked such a violent reaction from the scientific community. After all, without the use of a microscope, which had just been invented, other people had no way of verifying Hooke’s observations. They called him “crazy” and a “liar” and given that they had no direct experience of looking through a lens and seeing little structures, we can understand their skepticism. And yet, you could give a microscope and a slide to an amateur and he could see right away that there was something there.

As important an invention as the microscope was, the true break through came thousands of years earlier with the invention of the scientific method itself. It is through this simple process that we determine truth. It goes something like this:

1) Ask a question

2) Formulate a hypothesis

3) Conduct an experiment (using the proper tools)

4) Come to a conclusion

5) Verify that conclusion with a community of other scientists

The process is supremely logical, eliminating as much of our bias as possible to get at the truth. I’d like to suggest that the same process can be applied (at least metaphorically) to meditative or contemplative traditions. It is a bold claim, but one that can be easily falsified. My argument goes like this; For thousands of years the great contemplative traditions have echoed the same basic message. “The world that we see is one of suffering. If we quiet ourselves and listen to the present moment, we realize that the world we see is not the only world. Behind everything that exists, there is a fundamental essence and we can experience this essence directly. When we experience this way of being we no longer experience suffering.”

Of course, this is a horrible generalization and it certainly does not include the more conservative interpretations (particularly in the West), but mystics from all traditions seem to echo a similar message (albeit with their own regional flavor). And just as the scientific community doubted the existence of the cell, collectively we have been debating that there is a reality beneath the world of thought/mind. I’d like to suggest that the argument hinges upon nothing more than a lack of microscopes.

The practice of meditation or yoga or any other variation of mindfulness practice which focuses one upon the present moment is a tool through which you must have to verify the claims. Unfortunately, it seems that for most people we must practice for years and years before we ever get a glimpse of what the mystics and monks have been writing about. Without that commitment, one will likely never have that direct experience, and without the direct experience, one will likely never believe that it exists.

So, the world will continue to be skeptical and assume that phrases like “formlessness,” “presence,” “awareness,” “awakening,” “enlightenment,” “essence,” “god,” “being,” etc. are all just lies made up by people who are trying to sell you something. However, the community of practitioners, which stretches across oceans of time and space, seem to have some agreement. In fact many schools of Buddhism focuses on the training and development of students by having masters validate the insights of their students (like a chemistry teacher grading a student’s science project).

So, if you really want to test the hypothesis that there is something deeper than ego/mind at work, then you need the right equipment to make your own observations. Don’t take anything I say at face value. Challenge it. Be skeptical. But if you are not willing to look through the microscope at the little things moving around inside yourself, then are you really in a position to say they don’t exist?