Echoes from the 1988 Seminary

September 23, 2008

I realized recently that it has been twenty years since the 1988 Seminary. This was a surprise to me. Wow. And almost twenty years since the parinirvana of the Vajra Regent. And coming soon will be the twenty year anniversary for His Holiness Jamgon Kongtrul. 

There have been so many changes in my life during the last twenty years. I was a terribly devoted student of the Regent, in love and in horror of the Los Angeles sangha at the time. For some reason I distrusted any urge to seek out the Vidyadhara. I think his writings struck me too personally. I remember feeling that he was quite literally talking to me when reading “Cutting Through” and “The Myth of Freedom” for the first time. Also, I suppose the sangha members who displayed the most realization were rather circumspect about the Vidyadhara’s state and his willingness to communicate, so it seemed like I was better off to focus on more accessible situations. 

Connecting with the Los Angeles Dharmadhatu and the overall Vajradhatu mandala was really great for me. I was of two minds, though. On the one side, I sensed a wonderful fearlessness and vitality within many practitioners. These were people who had been liberated from a sense of continual apology for themselves, while still their kleshas were not hidden, nor was their devotion to the Vidyadhara hidden. Simultaneously, though, I felt that many people were missing some very basic truth. They still sought a kind of idealization of their path or being, which seemed to be a horribly grotesque form of spiritual materialism. It is hard to find the words to describe this, but it was a kind of unnecessary concretization or attribution of their wisdom, an automatic rationalization or credentialling process which was the seed for all sorts of lies and deceptions. 

Now I sometimes reminisce over such a spontaneous sense of revulsion. But, of course, what we are attracted to and repelled by mostly relfects our own psychology, and some of that has changed over twenty years. I guess the revulsion hasn’t passed, but I am now much less in denial regarding my enmeshment in samsara, that web of interdependent and endlessly rehearsed dysfunction. 

Twenty years ago I believed that the Regent acknowledged both my wisdom and my confusion, without any fear or sense of project. It was very inspiring, and seemingly very real. But I had an overwhelming sense of failure, which manifested as guilt and regret that I didn’t “live up” to the sense of awake I felt was the core of buddhadharma and the Regent’s way of being. Sadly, this feeling was my constant companion for many years, and it came to largely embody the Regent’s presence in my life. Finally, a few years ago I visited the Satdharma sangha in Ojai and had a short interview with Patrick Sweeney. He remarked quite simply, “there is no reason for regret.” Since then, I think of the Regent less; it seems that my obsession was just another symptom of not being enlightened. 

What strikes me after these years is a recurring sense of “Man, how could I have been such an idiot!” and “Why was I so stuck on that?” Did the Buddha look back and marvel at his ignorance? Did he see all the unintended consequences of his actions? Could he laugh and cry over these things? 

One question that is often asked in the various sangha forums is, “How are the senior students going to carry this on?” etc. etc. You have heard the refrain. Well, the short answer is: they won’t. Sure, there will be many good deeds accomplished by the vast and wonderful sangha. There might be a few exceptionally eloquent and erudite teachers and scholars. This is surely nothing to speak against, but it is more like brewing and selling yogurt, rather than being a vidyadhara.

It seems that many of these discussions of the future of the Vidyadhara’s legacy fail to acknowledge the outrageous narcissism of our buddhist practice. We actually believe that we have direct access to the truth. So we spend years and years in meditation to uncover this so-called truth; meditating on our intentionally created forms, meditating on our karmas, meditating on our post-meditation, meditating on so-called space. All of this for the benefit of others. This is what is taught, no? But also the Buddha, the mahasiddhas and so forth taught about letting go. Nonattachment. Really letting go. And then letting go again. 

I think the message will continue as it always has, when the desperate person forms a relationship with the realized person. Whether you happen to be the desperate or the realized person, the possibility of communication is what exists. This is how the lineage will continue. Was it any different for Naropa and Tilopa? Was it any different for you and your teacher? As much as I might secretly want God to exist in the form of the Buddha ministering to my homunculus, I must acknowledge that the situation really is nontheistic. It is much more spontaneous. How can we possibly compete with the Vidyadhara? We can’t. 

Twenty years post-seminary, I have to ask: what has it all done for me? What has it done for you? I am much more pragmatic and less principled. I have failed, deeply, in so many ways. I have accumulated debts and responsibilities, liabilities and contingencies. Looking at my mind, all I can say is that it is quite vivid. Is this apparent mind any better or worse, any duller or sharper? Not really, with the possible exception of brain damage caused by alcohol use. Or is that just the natural process of aging? I have not escaped from impermanence or death. 

What use is it then? Well, I understand things better. There is the notion of insight, “Oh! I see.” And there is always more to see; profundity and vastness are the two qualities of the dharma taught by the Buddha. There is more ignorance to uncover; there is more subtlety to discover; and there are endless possibilities of encouragement and growth. 

So these are my thoughts, some twenty years post-seminary.

 


A short poem 

namo gurubuddhaya       

 

Don’t look near. Don’t look far.

Your gaze cannot manifest the Buddha. 

Don’t be a fake. 

 

Whether it is real 

or unreal 

It is a complete unknown, 

and it has not particular consequences 

in any case. 

 

Ed, you sought a guru. 

You found the Regent. 

You studied and practiced. 

But you must admit the sensation 

of subjectivity has not disappeared, 

the thought of a self is more vivid. 

 

Or is it, really? 

A little introspection goes a long way, 

especially in this day and age. 

 

There actually was no thought 

of a self. It was 

just a thought. 

Not a self. 

That has neither come nor gone, 

Made bigger or smaller. 

 

But there is lots of reactivity and 

fear. 

Fear of penetration. Fear of 

penetrating. 

Killing and giving birth, 

or contributing the sperm, in 

any case.

 

Getting hung up — 

it is my lifestyle. 

 

I love the Regent 

and I miss him so. 

 

First thought best thought 

Is this only for friends? 

It is just a phrase. 

Don’t get hung up on it. 

Let it be. 

 

Ed 

Tingdzin Nyima 

Sherap Dashon 

Keeping Alive the Teachings

August 10, 2008

The living treasure trove of teachings, practices, forms, symbols, individual and group instructions and methods, which the great Vidyadhara, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche left to the world, are held by his direct students–to preserve, protect, and propagate.   Such treasure belongs not to us, but to humankind.

Read the full article, and return here to comment on it.