The following series of talks was given in Boulder, Colorado
in the fall of 1970 and the spring of 1971. At that time we were
just forming Karma Dzong, our meditation center in Boulder.
Although most of my students were sincere in their aspiration to
walk on the spiritual path, they brought to it a great deal of
confusion, misunderstanding and expectation. Therefore, I found it
necessary to present to my students an overview of the path and some
warnings as to the dangers along that path.
It now seems that publishing these talks may be helpful to
those who have become interested in spiritual disciplines. 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
These talks first discuss the various ways in which people
involve themselves with spiritual materialism, the many forms of
self-deception into which aspirants may fall. After this tour of
the sidetracks along the way, we discuss the broad outlines of the
true spiritual path.
The approach presented here is a classical Buddhist one -
not in a formal sense, but in the sense of presenting the heart of
the Buddhist approach to spirituality. Although the Buddhist way is
not theistic it does not contradict the theistic disciplines.
Rather the differences between the ways are a matter of emphasis and
method. The basic problems of spiritual materialism are common to
all spiritual disciplines. The Buddhist approach begins with our
confusion and suffering and works toward the unraveling of their
origin. The theistic approach begins with the richness of God and
works toward raising consciousness so as to experience God's
presence. But since the obstacles to relating with God are our
confusions and negativities, the theistic approach must also deal
with them. Spiritual pride, for example, is as much a problem in
the theistic disciplines as in Buddhism.
According to the Buddhist tradition, the spiritual path is
the process of cutting through our confusion, of uncovering the
awakened state of mind. 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. If the process were otherwise, the
awakened state of mind would be a product, dependent upon cause and
effect and therefore liable to dissolution. Anything which is
created must, sooner or later, die. If enlightenment were created
in such a way, there would always be the possibility of ego
reasserting itself, causing a return to the confused state.
Enlightenment is permanent because we have not produced it; we have
merely discovered it. In the Buddhist tradition the analogy of the
sun appearing from behind the clouds is often used to explain the
discovery of enlightenment. In the meditation practice we clear
away the confusion of ego in order to glimpse the awakened state.
The absence of ignorance, of being crowded in, of paranoia, opens up
a tremendous view of life. One discovers a different way of being.
The heart of the confusion is that man has a sense of self
which seems to him to be continuous and solid. When a though or
emotion or even occurs, there is a sense of someone being conscious
of what is happening. You sense that you are reading these words.
This sense of self is actually a transitory, discontinuous event,
which in our confusion seems to be quite solid and continuous.
Since we take our confused view as being real, we struggle to
maintain and enhance this solid self. We try to feed it pleasures
and shield it from pain. Experience continually threatens to
reveal our transitoriness to us, so we continually struggle to cover
up any possibility of discovering our real condition. "But," we
might ask, "if our real condition is an awakened state, why are we
so busy trying to avoid becoming aware of it?" It is because we
have become so absorbed in our confused view of the world, that we
consider it real, the only possible world. This struggle to
maintain the sense of a solid, continuous self is the action of ego.
Ego, however, is only partially successful in shielding us
from pain. It is the dissatisfaction which accompanies ego's
struggle that inspires us to examine what we are doing. Since there
are always gaps in our self-consciousness, some insight is possible.
An interesting metaphor used in Tibetan Buddhism to describe
the functioning of ego is that of the "Three Lords of Materialism":
the "Lord of Form," the "Lord of Speech," and the "Lord of Mind."
In the discussion of the Three Lords which follows, the words
"materialism" and "neurotic" refer to the action of ego.
The Lord of Form refers to the neurotic pursuit of physical
comfort, security and pleasure. Our highly organized and
technological society reflects our preoccupation with manipulating
physical surroundings so as to shield ourselves from the irritations
of the raw, rugged, unpredictable aspects of life. Push-button
elevators, pre-packaged meat, air conditioning, flush toilets,
private funerals, retirement plans, mass, production, weather
satellites, bulldozers, fluorescent lighting, nine-to-five jobs,
television - all are attempts to create a manageable, safe,
predictable, pleasurable world.
The Lord of Form does not signify the physically rich and
secure life-situations we create per se. Rather it refers to the
neurotic preoccupation that drives us to create them, to try to
control nature. It is ego's ambition to secure and entertain
itself, trying to avoid all irritation. So we cling to our
pleasures and possessions, we fear change or force change, we try to
create a nest or playground.
The Lord of Speech refers to the use of intellect in
relating to our world. We adopt sets of categories which serve as
handles, as ways of managing phenomena. The most fully developed
products of this tendency are ideologies, the systems of ideas that
rationalize, justify and sanctify our lives. Nationalism,
communism, existentialism Christianity, Buddhism - all provide us
with identities, rules of action, and interpretations of how and why
things happen as they do.
Again, the use of intellect is not in itself the Lord of
Speech. The Lord of Speech refers to the inclination on the part of
ego to interpret anything that is threatening or irritating in such
a way as to neutralize the threat or turn it into something
"positive" from the ego's point of view. The Lord of Speech refers
to the use of concepts as filters to screen us from a direct
perception of what is. The concepts are taken too seriously; they
are used as tools to solidify our world and ourselves. If a world
of nameable things exists, then "I" as one of the nameable things
exists as well. We wish not to leave any room for threatening
doubt, uncertainty or confusion.
The Lord of Mind refers to the effort of consciousness to
maintain awareness of itself. The Lord of Mind rules when we use
spiritual and psychological disciplines as the means of maintaining
our self-consciousness, of holding onto our sense of self. Drugs,
yoga, prayer, meditation, trances, various psychotherapies - all can
be used in this way.
Ego is able to convert everything to its own use, even
spirituality. For example, if you have learned of a particularly
beneficial meditation technique of spiritual practice, then ego's
attitude is, first to regard it as an object of fascination and,
second to examine it. Finally, since ego is seeming solid and
cannot really absorb anything, it can only mimic. Thus ego tries to
examine and imitate the practice of meditation and the meditative
way of life. When we have learned all the tricks and answers of the
spiritual game, we automatically try to imitate spirituality, since
real involvement would require the complete elimination of ego, and
actually the last thing we want to do is to give up the ego
completely. However, we cannot experience that which we are trying
to imitate; we can only find some area within the bounds of ego that
seems to be the same thing. Ego translates everything in terms of
its own state of health, its own inherent qualities. It feels a
sense of great accomplishment and excitement at have been able to
create such a pattern. At last it has created a tangible
accomplishment, a confirmation of its own individuality.
If we become successful at maintaining our
self-consciousness through spiritual techniques, then genuine
spiritual development is highly unlikely. Our mental habits become
so strong as to be hard to penetrate. We may even go so far as to
achieve the totally demonic state of complete "Egohood."
Even though the Lord of Mind is the most powerful in
subverting spirituality, still the other two Lords can also rule the
spiritual practice. Retreat to nature, isolation, simple, quiet,
high people - all can be ways of shielding oneself from irritation,
all can be expressions of the Lord of Form. Or perhaps religion may
provide us with a rationalization for creating a secure nest, a
simple but comfortable home, for acquiring an amiable mate, and a
stable, easy job.
The Lord of Speech is involved in spiritual practice as
well. In following a spiritual path we may substitute a new
religious ideology for our former beliefs, but continue to use it in
the old neurotic way. Regardless of how sublime our ideas may be,
if we take them too seriously and use them to maintain our ego, we
are still being ruled by the Lord of Speech.
Most of us, if we examine our actions, would probably agree
that we are ruled by one or more of the Three Lords. "But," we
might ask, "so what? This is simply a description of the human
condition. Yes, we know that our technology cannot shield us from
war, crime, illness, economic insecurity, laborious work, old age
and death; nor can our ideologies shield us from doubt, uncertainty,
confusion and disorientation; nor can our therapies protect us from
the dissolution of the high states of consciousness that we may
temporarily achieve and the disillusionment and anguish that
follow. But what else are we to do? The Three Lords seem too
powerful to overthrow, and we don't know what to replace them with."
The Buddha, troubled by these questions, examined the
process by which the Three Lords rule. He questioned why our minds
follow them and whether there is another way. He discovered that
the Three Lords seduce us by creating a fundamental myth: that we
are solid beings. But ultimately the myth is false, a huge hoax, a
gigantic fraud, and it is the root of our suffering. In order to
make this discover he had to break through very elaborate defenses
erected by the Three Lords to prevent their subjects from
discovering the fundamental deception which is the source of their
power. We cannot in any way free ourselves from the domination of
the Three Lords unless we too cut through, layer by layer, the
elaborate defenses of these Lords.
The Lords' defenses are created out of the material of our
minds. This material of mind is used by the Lords in such a way as
to maintain the basic myth of solidity. In order to see for
ourselves how this process works we must examine our own
experience. "But how," we might ask, "are we to conduct the
examination? What method or tool are we to use?" The method that
the Buddha discovered is meditation. He discovered that struggling
to find answers did not work. It was only when there were gaps in
his struggle that insights came to him. He began to realize that
there was a sane, awake quality within him which manifested itself
only in the absence of struggle. So the practice of meditation
involves "letting be."
There have been a number of misconceptions regarding
meditation. Some people regard it as a trancelike state of mind.
Others think of it in terms of training, in the sense of mental
gymnastics. But meditation is neither of these, although it does
involve dealing with neurotic states of mind. The neurotic state of
mind is not difficult or impossible to deal with. It has energy,
speed and a certain pattern. The practice of meditation involves
letting be - trying to go with the patter, trying to go with the
energy and the speed. In this way we learn how to deal with these
factors, how to relate with them, not in the sense of causing them
to mature in the way we would like, but in the sense of knowing them
for what they are and working with their pattern.
There is a story regarding the Buddha which recounts how he
once gave teaching to a famous sitar player who wanted to study
meditation. The musician asked, "Should I control my mind or should
I completely let go?" The Buddha answered, "Since you are a great
musician, tell me how you would tune the strings of your instrument.
" The musician said, "I would make them not too tight and not too
loose." "Likewise," said the Buddha, "in you meditation practice
you should not impose anything too forcefully on your mind, nor
should you let it wander." That is the teaching of letting the mind
be in a very open way, of feeling the flow of energy without trying
to subdue it and without letting it get out of control, of going
with the energy pattern of the mind. This is meditation practice.
Such practice is necessary generally because our thinking
pattern, our conceptualized way of conducting our life in the world,
is either too manipulative, imposing itself upon the world, or else
runs completely wild and uncontrolled. Therefore, our meditation
practice must begin with ego's outermost layer, the discursive
thoughts which continually run through our minds, our mental gossip.
The Lords use discursive thought as their first line of defense, as
the pawns in their effort to deceive us. The more we generate
thoughts, the busier we are mentally and the more convinced we are
of our existence. So the Lords are constantly trying to activate
these thoughts, trying to create a constant overlapping of thoughts
so that nothing can be seen beyond them. In true meditation there
is no ambition to stir up thoughts, nor is there an ambition to
suppress them. They are just allowed to occur spontaneously and
become an expression of basic sanity. They become the expression of
the precision and the clarity of the awakened state of mind.
If the strategy of continually creating overlapping thoughts
is penetrated, then the Lords stir up emotions to distract us. The
exciting, colorful, dramatic quality of the emotions captures our
attention as if we were watching an absorbing film show. In the
practice of meditation we neither encourage emotions nor repress
them. By seeing them clearly, by allowing them to be as they are,
we no longer permit them to serve as a means of entertaining or
distracting us. Thus they become the inexhaustible energy which
fulfills egoless action.
In the absence of thoughts and emotions the Lords bring up a
still more powerful weapon, concepts. Labeling phenomena creates a
feeling of a solid definite world of "things." Such a solid world
reassures us that we are a solid, continuous thing as well. The
world exists, therefore I, the perceiver of the world, exist.
Meditation involves seeing the transparency of concepts, so that
labeling no longer serves as a way of solidifying our world and our
image of self. Labeling becomes simply the act of discrimination.
The Lords have still further defense mechanisms, but it would be too
complicated to discuss them in this context.
By the examination of his own thoughts, emotions, concepts
and the other activities of mind, the Buddha discovered that there
is no need to struggle to prove our existence, that we need not be
subject to the rule of the Three Lords of Materialism. There is no
need to struggle to be free; the absence of struggle is in itself
freedom. This egoless state is the attainment of Buddhahood. The
process of transforming the material of mind from expressions of
ego's ambition in to expressions of basic sanity and enlightenment
through the practice of meditation - this might be said to be the
true spiritual path.
We have come here to learn about spirituality. I trust the
genuine quality of this search but we must question its nature. The
problem is that ego can convert anything to its own use, even
spirituality. Ego is constantly attempting to acquire and apply the
teachings of spirituality for its own benefit. The teachings are
treated as an external thing, external to "me," a philosophy which
we try to imitate. We do not actually want to identify with or
become the teachings. So if our teacher speaks of renunciation of
ego, we attempt to mimic renunciation of ego. We go through the
motions, make the appropriate gestures, but we really do not want to
sacrifice any part of our way of life. We become skillful actors,
and while playing deaf and dumb to the real meaning of the
teachings, we find some comfort in pretending to follow the path.
Whenever we begin to feel any discrepancy or conflict
between our actions and the teachings, we immediately interpret the
situation in such a way that the conflict is smoothed over. The
interpreter is ego in the role of spiritual advisor. The situation
is like that of a country where church and state are separate. If
the policy of the state is foreign to the teachings of the church,
then the automatic reaction of the king is to go to the head of the
church, his spiritual advisor, and ask his blessing. The head of
the church then works out some justification and gives the policy
his blessing under the pretense that the king is the protector of
the faith. In an individual's mind, it works out very neatly that
way, ego being both king and head of the church.
This rationalization of the spiritual path and one's actions
must be cut through if true spirituality is to be realized.
However, such rationalizing is not easy to deal with because
everything is seen through the filter of ego's philosophy and logic,
making all appear neat, precise and very logical. We attempt to
find a self-justifying answer for every question. In order to
reassure ourselves, we work to fit into our intellectual scheme
every aspect of our lives which might be confusing. And our effort
is so serious and solemn, so straight-forward and sincere, that it
is very difficult to be suspicious of it. We always trust the
"integrity" of our spiritual advisor.
It does not matter what we use to achieve
self-justification: the wisdom of sacred books, diagrams or charts,
mathematical calculations, esoteric formulae, fundamentalists
religion, depth psychology, or any other mechanism. Whenever we
begin to evaluate, deciding that we should or should not do this or
that, then we have already associated our practice or our knowledge
with categories, one pitted against the other, and that is spiritual
materialism, the false spirituality of our spiritual advisor.
Whenever we a have a dualistic notion such as, "I am doing this
because I want to achieve a particular state of consciousness, a
particular state of being," the automatically we separate ourselves
from the reality of what we are.
If we ask ourselves, "What is wrong with evaluating, with
taking sides?", the answer is that, when we formulate a secondary
judgment, "I should be doing this and should avoid doing that," then
we have achieved a level of complication which takes us a long way
from the basic simplicity of what we are. The simplicity of
meditation means just experiencing the ape instinct of ego. If
anything more than this is laid onto our psychology, then it becomes
a very heavy, thick mask, a suit of armor.
It is important to see that the main point of any spiritual
practice is to step out of the bureaucracy of ego. This means
stepping out of ego's constant desire for a higher, more spiritual,
more transcendental version of knowledge, religion, virtue,
judgment, comfort or whatever it is that a particular ego is
seeking. One must step out of spiritual materialism. If we do not
step out of spiritual materialism, if we in fact practice it, then
we may eventually find ourselves possessed of a huge collection of
spiritual paths. We may feel these spiritual collections to be very
precious. We have studied so much. We may have studied Western
philosophy or Oriental philosophy, practiced yoga or perhaps studied
under dozens of great masters. We have achieved and we have
learned. We believe that we have accumulated a hoard of knowledge.
And yet, having gone through all this, there is still something to
give up. It is extremely mysterious! How could this happen?
Impossible! But unfortunately it is so. Our vast collections of
knowledge and experience are just part of ego's display, part of the
grandiose quality of ego. We display them to the world and, in so
doing, reassure ourselves that we exist, safe and secure, as
But we have simply created a shop, an antique shop. We
could be specializing in oriental antiques or medieval Christian
antiques or antiques from some other civilization or time, but we
are, nonetheless, running a shop. Before we filled our shop with so
many things the room was beautiful: whitewashed walls and a very
simple floor with a bright lamp burning in the ceiling. There was
one object of art in the middle of the room and it was beautiful.
Everyone who came appreciated its beauty, including ourselves.
But we were not satisfied and we thought, "Since this one
object makes my room so beautiful, if I get more antiques, my room
will be even more beautiful." So we began to collect, and the end
result was chaos.
We searched the world over for beautiful objects - India,
Japan, many different countries. And each time we found an antique,
because we were dealing with only one object at a time, we saw it as
beautiful and thought it would be beautiful in our shop. But when
we brought the object home and put it there, it became just another
addition to our junky collection. The beauty of the object did not
radiate out any more, because it was surrounded by so many other
beautiful things. It did not mean anything anymore. Instead of a
room full of beautiful antiques we created a junk shop!
Proper shopping does not entail collecting a lot of
information or beauty, but it involves fully appreciating each
individual object. This is very important. If you really
appreciate an object of beauty, then you completely identify with it
and forget yourself. It is like seeing a very interesting,
fascinating movie and forgetting that you are the audience. At that
moment there is no world; your whole being is that scene of that
movie. It is that kind of identification, complete involvement with
one thing. Did we actually taste it and chew it and swallow it
properly, that one object of beauty, that one spiritual teaching?
Or did we merely regard it as a part of our vast and growing
I place so much emphasis on this point because I know that
all of us have come to the teachings and practice of meditation not
to make a lot of money, but because we genuinely want to learn, want
to develop ourselves. But if we regard knowledge as an antique, as
"ancient wisdom" to be collected, then we are on the wrong path.
As far as the lineage of teachers is concerned, knowledge is
not handed down like an antique. Rather, one teacher experiences
the truth of the teachings, and he hands it down as inspiration to
his student. That inspiration awakens the student, as his teacher
was awakened before him. Then the student hands down the teachings
to another student and so the process goes. The teachings are
always up to date. They are not "ancient wisdom," an old legend.
The teachings are not passed along as information, handed down as a
grandfather tells traditional folk tales to his grandchildren. It
does not work that way. It is real experience.
There is a saying in the Tibetan scriptures: "Knowledge
must be burned, hammered and beaten like pure gold. Then one can
wear it as an ornament." So when you receive spiritual instruction
from the hands of another, you do not take it uncritically, but you
burn it, you hammer it, you beat it, until the bright, dignified
color of gold appears. Then you craft it into an ornament, whatever
design you like, and you put it on. Therefore, dharma is applicable
to every age, to every person; it has a living quality. It is not
enough to imitate your master or guru; you are not trying to become
a replica of your teacher. The teachings are an individual persona
experience, right down to the present holder of the doctrine.
Perhaps many of my readers are familiar with the stories of
Naropa and Tilopa and Marpa and Milarepa and Gampopa and the other
teachers of the Kagyü lineage. It was a living experience for them,
and it is a living experience for the present holders of the
lineage. Only the details of their life-situations are different.
The teachings have the quality of warm, fresh baked bread; the bread
is still warm and hot and fresh. Each baker must apply the general
knowledge of how to make bread to his particular dough and oven.
Then he must personally experience the freshness of this bread and
must cut if fresh and eat it warm. He must make the teachings his
own and then must practice them. It is a very living process.
There is no deception in terms of collecting knowledge. We must
work with our individual experiences. When we become confused, we
cannot turn back to our collection of knowledge and try to find some
confirmation or consolation: "The teacher and the whole teaching is
on my side." The spiritual path does not go that way. It is a
lonely, individual path.
Q.Do you think spiritual materialism is a particularly
A.Whenever teachings come to a country from abroad, the
problem of spiritual materialism is intensified. At the moment
America is, without any doubt, fertile ground ready for the
teachings. And because America is so fertile, seeking spirituality,
it is possible for America to inspire charlatans. Charlatans would
not choose to be charlatans unless they were inspired to do so.
Otherwise, they would be bank robbers or bandits, inasmuch as they
want to make money and become famous. Because America is looking so
hard for spirituality, religion becomes any easy way to make money
and acquire fame. So we see charlatans in the role of student,
chela, as well as in the role of guru. I think America at this
particular time is a very interesting ground.
Q.Have you accepted any spiritual master as a guru, any
particular living spiritual master?
A.At present there is no one. I left my gurus and teachers
behind in Tibet, physically, but the teachings stay with me and
Q.So who are you following, more or less?
A.Situations are the voice of my guru, the presence of my guru.
Q.After Shakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment, was there
some trace of ego left in him so that he could carry on his
A.The teaching just happened. He did not have the desire to
teach or not to teach. He spent seven weeks sitting under the shade
of a tree and walking along the bank of a river. Then someone just
happened along and he began to speak. One has no choice; you are
there, an open person. Then the situation presents itself and
teaching happens. That is what is called "Buddha activity."
Q.It is difficult not to become acquisitive about
spirituality. Is this desire for acquisitions something that is
shed along the way?
A.You should let the first impulse die down. Your first
impulse toward spirituality might put you into some particular
spiritual scene; but if you work with that impulse, then the impulse
gradually dies down and at some stage becomes tedious, monotonous.
This is a useful message. You see, it is essential to relate to
yourself, to your own experience, really. If one does not relate to
oneself, then the spiritual path becomes dangerous, becomes purely
external entertainment, rather than an organic personal experience.
Q.If you decide to seek your way out of ignorance, you can
almost definitely assume that anything you do that feels good will
be beneficial to the ego and actually blocking the path. Anything
that seems right to you will be wrong, anything that doesn't turn
you upside-down will bury you. Is there any way out of this?
A.If you perform some act which is seemingly right, it does
not mean that it is wrong, for the very reason that wrong and right
are out of the picture altogether. You are not working on any side,
neither the "good" side nor the "bad" side, but you are working with
the totality of the whole, beyond "this" and "that." I would say
there is complete action. There is no partial act, but whatever we
do in connection with good and bad seems to be a partial act.
Q.If you are feeling very confused and trying to work your way
out of the confusion, it would seem that you are trying too hard.
But if you do not try at all, then are we to understand that we are
A.Yes, but that does not mean that one has to live by the
extremes of trying too hard or not trying at all. One has to work
with a kind of "middle way," a complete state of "being as you are.
" We could describe this with a lot of words, but one really has to
do it. If you really start living the middle way, then you will see
it, you will find it. You must allow yourself to trust yourself, to
trust in your own intelligence. We are tremendous people, we have
tremendous things in us. We simply have to let ourselves be.
External aid cannot help. If you are not willing to let yourself
grow, then you fall into the self-destructive process of confusion.
It is self-destruction rather than destruction by someone else.
That is why it is effective; because it is self-destruction.
Q.What is faith? Is it useful?
A.Faith could be simple-minded, trusting, blind faith, or it
could be definite confidence which cannot be destroyed. Blind faith
has no inspiration. It is very naive. It is not creative, though
not exactly destructive. It is not creative because your faith and
yourself have never made any connection, any communication. You
just blindly accepted the whole belief, very naively.
In the case of faith as confidence, there is a living reason
to be confident. You do not expect that there will be a
prefabricated solution mysteriously presented to you. You work with
existing situations without fear, without any doubt about involving
yourself. This approach is extremely creative and positive. If you
have definite confidence, you are so sure of yourself that you do
not have to check yourself. It is absolute confidence, real
understanding of what is going on now, therefore you do not hesitate
to follow other paths or deal in whatever way is necessary with each
Q.What guides you on the path?
A.Actually, there does not seem to be any particular
guidance. In fact, if someone is guiding you, that is suspicious,
because you are relying on something external. Being fully what you
are in yourself becomes guidance, but not in the sense of vanguard,
because you do not have a guide to follow. You do not have to
follow someone's tail, but you sail along. In other words, the
guide does not walk ahead of you, but walks with you.
Q.Could you say something more about the way in which
meditation short-circuits the protective mechanisms of the ego?
A.The protective mechanism of ego involves checking oneself,
which is an unnecessary kind of self-observance. Meditation is not
based on meditating on a particular subject by checking oneself; but
meditation is complete identification with whatever techniques you
are employing. Therefore there will be no effort to secure oneself
in the practice of meditation.
Q.I seem to be living in a spiritual junkyard. How can I make
it into a simple room with one beautiful object?
A.In order to develop an appreciation of you collection you
have to start with one item. One has to find a stepping stone, a
source of inspiration. Perhaps you would not have to go through the
rest of the items in your collection if you studied just one piece
of material. That one piece of material could be a sign-post that
you managed to confiscate in New York City, it could be as
insignificant as that. But one must start with one thing, see its
simplicity, the rugged quality of this piece of junk or this
beautiful antique. If we could manage to start with just one thing,
then that would be the equivalent of having one object in an empty
room. I think it is a question of finding a stepping stone.
Because we have so many possessions in our collection, a large part
of the problem is that we do not know where to begin. One has to
allow one's instinct to determine which will be the first thing to
Q.Why do you think that people are so protective of their
egos? Why is it so hard to let go of one's ego?
A.People are afraid of emptiness of space, or the absence of
company, the absence of a shadow. It could be a terrifying
experience to have no one to relate to, nothing to relate with. The
idea of it can be extremely frightening, though not the real
experience. It is generally a fear of space, a fear that we will
not be able to anchor ourselves to any solid ground, that we will
lose our identity as a fixed and solid and definite thing. This
could be very threatening.
At this point we may have come to the conclusion that we
should drop t he whole game of spiritual materialism; that is, we
should give up trying to defend and improve ourselves. We may have
glimpsed that our struggle is futile and may wish to surrender, to
completely abandon our efforts to defend ourselves. But how many of
us could actually do this? It is not as simple and easy as we might
think. To what degree could we really let go and be open? At what
point would we become defensive?
In this lecture we will discuss surrendering, particularly
in terms of the relationship between work on the neurotic state of
mind and work with a personal guru or teacher. Surrendering to the
"guru" could mean opening our minds to life-situations as well as to
an individual teacher. However, if our life-style and inspiration
is working toward an unfolding of the mind, then we will almost
certainly find a personal guru as well. So in the next few talks we
will emphasize relating to a personal teacher.
One of the difficulties in surrendering to a guru is our
preconceptions regarding him and our expectations of what will
happen with him. We are preoccupied with ideas of what we would
like to experience with our teacher: "I would like to see this;
that would be the best way to see it; I would like to experience
this particular situation, because it is in exact accordance with my
expectation and fascination."
So we try to fit things into pigeonholes, try to fit the
situation to our expectations, and we cannot surrender any part of
our anticipation to all. If we search for a guru or teacher, we
expect him to be saintly, peaceful, quiet, a simple and wise man.
When we find that he does not match our expectations, then we begin
to be disappointed, we begin to doubt.
In order to establish a real teacher-student relationship it
is necessary for us to give up all our preconceptions regarding that
relationship and the condition of opening and surrender.
"Surrender" means opening oneself completely, trying to get beyond
fascination and expectation.
Surrender also means acknowledging the raw, rugged, clumsy
and shocking qualities of one's ego, acknowledging them and
surrendering them as well. Generally, we find it very difficult to
give out and surrender our raw and rugged qualities of ego.
Although we may hate ourselves, at the same time we find our
self-hatred a kind of occupation. In spite of the fact that we may
dislike what we are and find that self-condemnation painful, still
we cannot give it up completely. If we begin to give up our
self-criticism, then we may feel that we are losing our occupation,
as though someone were taking away our job. We would have no
further occupation if we were to surrender everything; there would
be nothing to hold on to. Self-evaluation and self-criticism are,
basically, neurotic tendencies which derive from our not having
enough confidence in ourselves, "confidence" in the sense of seeing
what we are, knowing what we are, knowing we can afford to open. We
can afford to surrender that raw and rugged neurotic quality of self
and step out of fascination, step out of preconceived ideas.
We must surrender our hopes and expectations, as well as our
fears, and march directly into disappointment, work with
disappointment, go into it and make it our way of life, which is a
very hard thing to do. Disappointment is a good sign of basic
intelligence. It cannot be compared to anything else: it is so
sharp, precise, obvious and direct. If we can open, then we
suddenly begin to see that our expectations are irrelevant compared
with the reality of the situations we are facing. This
automatically brings a feeling disappointment.
Disappointment is the best chariot to use on the path of the
dharma. It does not confirm the existence of our ego and its
dreams. However, if we are involved with spiritual materialism, if
we regard spirituality as a part of our accumulation of learning and
virtue, if spirituality becomes a way of building ourselves up, then
of course the whole process of surrendering is completely
distorted. If we regard spirituality as a way of making ourselves
comfortable, then whenever we experience something unpleasant, a
disappointment, we try to rationalize it: "Of course this must be
an act of wisdom the part of the guru, because I know, I'm quite
certain the guru doesn't do harmful things. Guruji is a perfect
being and whatever Guruji does is right. Whatever Guruji does is
for me, because he is on my side. So I can afford to open. I can
safely surrender. I know that I am treading on the right path."
Something is not quite right about such an attitude. It is, at
best, simple-minded and naive. We are captivated by the awesome,
inspiring, dignified and colorful aspect of "Guruji." We dare not
contemplate any other way. We develop the conviction that whatever
we experience is part of our spiritual development. "I've made it,
I have experienced it, I am a self-made person and I know
everything, roughly, because I've read books and they confirm my
beliefs, my rightness, my ideas. Everything coincides."
We can old back in still another way, not really
surrendering because we feel that we are very genteel, sophisticated
and dignified people. "Surely we can't give ourselves to this
dirty, ordinary street-scene of reality." We have the feeling that
every step of the path should be a lotus petal and we develop a
logic that interprets whatever happens to us accordingly. If we
fall, we create a soft landing which prevents sudden shock.
Surrendering does not involve preparing for a soft landing; it means
just landing on hard, ordinary ground, on rocky, wild countryside.
Once we open ourselves, then we land on what is.
Traditionally, surrendering is symbolized by such practices
as prostration, which is the act of falling on the ground in a
gesture of surrender. At the same time we open psychologically and
surrender completely by identifying ourselves with the lowest of the
low, acknowledging our raw and rugged quality. There is nothing
that we fear to lose once we identify ourselves with the lowest of
the low. By doing so, we prepare ourselves to be an empty vessel,
ready to receive the teachings.
In the Buddhist tradition, there is this basic formula: "I
take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the dharma, I take
refuge in the sangha." I take refuge in the Buddha as the example
of surrender, the example of acknowledging negativity as part of our
makeup and opening to it. I take refuge in the dharma - dharma, the
"law of existence," life as it is. I am willing to open my eyes to
the circumstances of life as they are. I am not willing to view
them as spiritual or mystical, but I am willing to see the
situations of life as they really are. I take refuge in the
sangha. "Sangha" means "community of people on the spiritual path,"
"companions." I am willing to share my experience of the whole
environment of life with my fellow pilgrims, my fellow searchers,
those who walk with me; but I am not willing to lean on them in
order to gain support. I am only willing to walk along with them.
There is a very dangerous tendency to lean on one another as we
tread the path. If a group of people leans one upon the other, then
if one should happen to fall down, everyone falls down. So we do
not lean on anyone else. We just walk with each other, side by
side, shoulder to shoulder, working with each other, going with each
other. This approach to surrendering, this idea of taking refuge is
The wrong way to take refuge involves seeking shelter -
worshipping mountains, sun gods, moon gods, deities of any kind
simply because they would seem to be greater than we. This kind of
refuge taking is similar to the response of the little child who
says, "If you beat me, I'll tell my mommy," thinking that his mother
is a great, archetypically powerful person. If he is attacked, his
automatic recourse is to his mother, an invincible and all-knowing,
all-powerful personality. The child believes his mother can protect
him, in fact that she is the only person who can save him. Taking
refuge in a mother or father-principle is truly self-defeating; the
refuge-seeker has no real basic strength at all, no true
inspiration. He is constantly busy assessing greater and smaller
powers. If we are small, then someone greater can crush us. We
seek refuge because we cannot afford to be small and without
protection. We tend to be apologetic: "I am such a small thing,
but I acknowledge your great quality. I would like to worship and
join your greatness, so will you please protect me?"
Surrendering is not a question of being low and stupid, nor
wanting to be elevated and profound. It has nothing to do with
levels and evaluation. Instead, we surrender because we would like
to communicate with the world "as it is." We do not have to
classify ourselves as learners or ignorant people. We know where we
stand, therefore we make the gesture of surrendering, of opening ,
which means communication, link, direct communication with the
object of our surrendering. We are not embarrassed about our rich
collection of raw, rugged, beautiful and clean qualities. We
present everything to the object of our surrendering. The basic act
of surrender does not involve the worship of an external power.
Rather it means working together with inspiration, so that one
becomes an open vessel into which knowledge can be poured.
Thus openness and surrendering are the necessary preparation
for working with a spiritual friend. We acknowledge our fundamental
richness rather than bemoan the imagine poverty of our being. We
know we are worthy to receive the teachings, worthy of relating
ourselves to wealth of the opportunities for learning.
© Trungpa, Chögyam; Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism; Shambhala
Publications, Inc.; Boston, Massachusetts; 1973.