In a seminar of the same title in 1976, Trungpa Rinpoche pointed out how credentials of any kind reinforce a sense of self.
But from the point of view of the buddhadharma, surrendering the fiction of ego, allowing the “self” to lose ground, is the purpose of practice. From the dharmic view the ego is a myth—a patchwork creation we make and struggle to maintain and embellish.
As Trungpa Rinpoche suggested, “You (can) smile with it, like (the) British, as the foreign properties of the empire become smaller and smaller.” This actually happens in meditation, as with each breath we exhale ego and let go of “me” and “mine”. And what a spacious relief! Post-meditation, a sense of humor helps us continue this process. This prevents making the path of mindfulness-awareness into a serious goal oriented project. We become more lighthearted as well as sane.
Relating to the earth, planting a garden, cleaning and relating to the “kitchen sink” aspect of life further extends mindfulness into all the corners of our life.
Furthermore, we can surrender ego every time we give up preconceptions and open to what is. This does not mean that we cannot function in the world, hold a job, and accomplish whatever needs to be accomplished. It means we can consider and contemplate other ideas and approaches, and be more flexible and inclusive.
But under direct attack, in the rare case that that might occur, Trungpa Rinpoche coached us to give up territory like judo: “By using the other person’s energy, you’re sending their energy back to them rather than putting up any defense mechanism, which they find extraordinarily confusing.”
This counteracts the tendency to react to aggression with our own aggression. Nor does one become either a brick wall, reacting passive aggressively; or a door mat, like the perfect victim. There is even play in such encounters because there is no solid entity to defend and no “self” to capture. Awareness is fully present and alert, but not centralized anywhere.
As Trungpa Rinpoche said, “Where there’s no perceiver, our perceptions can dance among themselves. But the perceiver doesn’t have to take part in that party. In other words, you can’t watch your own burial service.”
What is unnecessary is our tendency to report back to central headquarters, to judge everything as pro or con “me and mine.” Giving up the tendency to reify and fortify the illusion of self with story lines and emotions — whether all about “poor me” or “I am the greatest” — is a common plight. One might not even think of doing this as a “credential,” so recognizing the habitual tendency or need for such reference points such as, “I was born in LA so Canadian winters are extra tough on me,” or “he hurt me” or “I am the fastest” — whatever the story line or emotional rant — contribute to the unnecessary spinning of the web of ego.
And credentials are very sneaky. The Buddha discovered this when he renounced his kingdom and tried to become like the yogis. Even this task, which he perfected, became a credential. He discovered there was no lightheartedness, no humor in the achievement. It was instead serious spiritual materialism. So having tried the extremes of royal indulgence and yogic renunciation, he gave up — and voila! Under the Bodhi tree he discovered a true path and practice, one that anyone could follow, whether Brahmin or untouchable, male or female.
Similarly it is valuable for each of us to periodically question what we are doing, and sometimes, just that open questioning self-destructs ego. And that brief explosion, although it may bring only temporary liberation from ego habit, can lead to the discovery of Buddha Nature. There is an honest glimpse—the gap which is Buddha mind.
But first it is important to see the fiction, the tactics, the self-importance and security system of ego, how we fortify ourselves against the openness and unknown.
This is powerful post-meditation practice. As Trungpa Rinpoche said, “There are always possibilities of sabotaging the security system of central headquarters. The changing of the guards takes place all the time.” Catching ourselves before, during, or after a story line — the pause that recognizes, “Oops, I am doing it again!” creates space or allows the space that is already there to shine through. Those gaps reveal our Buddha-Nature, which is unborn, uncreated, not fabricated.
So what about Trungpa Rinpoche himself? What about the credential of Rinpoche? Rinpoche in Tibetan means precious. Why is such a person so valuable? In his own words, “the credentials of the lineage and the credentials of the teacher are that they have a tremendous fearless attitude and are willing to pull the carpet out from under your feet.” Lineage teachers have already gone through the process of having their ego shredded. They are qualified to do the same for us and, in fact, having a teacher means requesting that they help us do this.
Beyond this training and shredding, Trungpa Rinpoche had experienced loss of his mother, his homeland of Tibet and of Surmang in particular with its monasteries, retreat centers, and people who looked to him not only as a teacher but as a protector-governor; after losing his whole culture he was a refugee in India; then losing that Eastern ground for England, he was seen as a strange and exotic monk; finally, pulling the carpet out from under himself, he took off his monastic robes and married, moving with his 16 year old British wife to America, where without any known credentials he began teaching and magnetizing students by the hundreds.
The opposite of that, spending life accumulating credentials, he said is like trying to “have a wall-to-wall carpet.” It’s trying to reinforce the illusion that whatever ground we have— job, home, marriage, whatever– is permanent.
The insight that we are all fundamentally groundless is a powerful insight. We may think we have a job, a mate, a house — but there are earthquakes, lay-offs, divorces, or illnesses that take our loved ones away. There are in reality no guarantees — even if we have insurance! In short the ego-project with its ambition to accumulate credentials to reinforce itself is futile and hopeless.
Meanwhile, until we realize the true nature of mind, we have to work with confused mind — with humor and insight — until ego is worn out.
In the practice of meditation the accompanying boredom is helpful in this wearing out process. While still living fully in the world, working, raising a family, whatever — the boredom that comes from practice helps one to lose interest in credentials — even while we might be being promoted!
Boredom doesn’t mean flatness. It is a good ally full of energy and intelligence, for it sees through the variety of entertainments. How each of us goes about wearing out ego is a matter of improvisation. There is no formula fits all. But the sitting practice of meditation, just being, is the only way to cut through the neediness ego has for credentials. And when we sit, we can almost feel the boredom pulling the carpet out from under us!
edited by Greg Eckard
Linda Lewis met the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1972 and, following Rinpoche’s invitation, immediately moved to Boulder, Colorado to be a part of his young and vital sangha. The predominant themes in her life have been teaching in contemplative schools–Vidya, Naropa, and the Shambhala School in Halifax, Nova Scotia–and studying, practicing, or teaching his Shambhala Buddhadharma wherever she finds herself.