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 

spiritual materialism.


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.



Spiritual Materialism


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 

"spiritual" people.


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 

American problem?


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 

fooling ourselves?


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 

new situation.



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 

pick up.



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 

very profound.


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.