“You must kill the sense of I,” is the oft-repeated Buddhist demand, but when cross-examined, Lamas acknowledge there is an individual entity even at the highest levels of enlightenment.
Because of this individuality, we can invoke assistance and blessings from various enlightened historical personages, such as Gautama Buddha, Padmasambhava and Yeshe Tsogyal, rather than praying to emptiness.
After years of wandering back and forth to India in an attempt to slay the elusive self, and finding that I still had not merged totally with infinite, non-personal awareness, Sathya Sai Baba told me to meditate on, “I am.” Since I had been meditating on the question “Who am I?” this seemed to be a slightly more positive expression of that same consciousness.
However, the New Age religion of Spiritual Materialism (a term coined by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche), seemed to pervert “I am” and the affirmations associated with that statement, into ways to merely improve one’s personality and have a better life, such as, “I am getting better and better every day in every way.” The New Age obsession with producing visible, material results to the exclusion of working to purify the ego and cut through obscurations, detracted from the attainment of pure awareness. Trying to sort out this mystery of how to function skillfully in the world, yet also attain enlightenment, I practiced Trungpa Rinpoche’s way of Vipassana meditation.
Many years after Trungpa’s death, another Tibetan Lama, Chagdud Rinpoche, who lived near my home in Mount Shasta, appeared to me in a dream the night before the beginning of a nine day Red Vajrasattva drubchen (intensive spiritual practice for the cleansing of the mind and the realization of one’s basic nature). In this vivid dream, he revealed some past lifetimes in Tibet, and said that I needed to attend this drubchen in order to continue my training.
However, as this complex ritual, conducted in Tibetan, began, I realized that I understood almost nothing of what was happening, and neither did most of the other practitioners I questioned. We started early in the morning and chanted Tibetan until late in the evening. Surrounded by a hundred and fifty practitioners banging drums and clanging bells, I suffered amidst this ear-splitting cacophony.
Not understanding Tibetan, and frequently losing my place in the text, I felt lost and depressed. What were we even chanting? When a neighbor pointed out our location, I would continue mumbling in Tibetan as best I could—praying that my pronunciation would not invoking banishment to one of the Buddhist hells for ages to come. Asking long-time practitioners around me what the purpose of this practice was, none of them seemed to know, but one assured me, “It must be good for us,” but the goodness was not immediately apparent.
On the second day, sensing the loss of sanity and my hearing as well, I told Candace, the gonpa (ashram) administrator, that I could not take it anymore and was leaving.
“I will throw my body down in front of your car if you try to leave!” she exclaimed, blocking my path. “First you have to talk to Lama Drimed.” Lama Drimed was the westerner Chagdud Rinpoche had appointed as his Dharma heir, and was the one to approach with questions.
“Why stay if I haven’t a clue what I’m doing?” I fired back.
“I’ll make a deal with you; make an appointment to see Lama Drimed, and then if you still want to leave, I won’t stop you. In the meantime, read the text in English instead of Tibetan.”
Grudgingly, choking back tears of frustration, I agreed to try one more time to discern wisdom from this cacophony of drums, bells, horns and Tibetan chanting. At Candace’s further suggestion, I fortified myself with a cup of strong black tea and went back inside to continue the ritual.
When I explained to my neighbors who had been helping me find my place in the text, that I would now be reading the English translation, they seemed dismayed and I sensed their disapproval.
As the afternoon session wore on, and we moved from one section of the ritual to the next, tension began to mount. Now that I could read what I was supposed to be visualizing, I began to see the exquisite dance of form and emptiness manifesting through the ritual—peaking in a lightning stroke of illumination when I read the affirmation at which our practice culminated:
I am the Deity, rays of light streaming forth from my heart
Guided by the words, “I am,” I realized my own identity with the Deity—a Buddha who was simultaneous seated on a throne in front of me, yet within me as well, and within every atom of creation. I had been trying to eradicate all sense of “I,” now here was the “I,” of my own Buddha nature.
Recently I saw this apparent contradiction between the need to rid oneself of the sense of “I,” and the claim of individual warriorship as a living Buddha, expressed in the words Trungpa Rinpoche wrote on the wall of the Halifax Shambhala Center on the occasion of his first visit there: “I am here MUKPO.”* Rather than being a statement of personal ego, these bold words can be seen as an expression of Buddha nature manifesting at a particular place in space and time—uniting form and emptiness in a consciousness that, as warriors of brilliant luminosity, we can all attain. “I AM here…”
*Mukpo was Trungpa Rinpoche’s family name, a lineage dating back to the monarch, Gesar of Ling. This panel containing his words may be viewed in person at the Great Eastern Sun exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Peter Mt. Shasta spent time in India with Ram Dass, Neem Karoli Baba and other yogis, then returned to the West where he had transformative contact with Trungpa Rinpoche. Later, while doing Vipassana meditation inside a hollow Redwood tree to get out of the rain, a Bodhisattva known as Saint Germain materialized in front of him. As a result of this meeting Peter went to Mount Shasta, where he received advanced training on bringing the Dharmakaya, also known as the I AM Presence, into daily life. He will be giving a retreat on this in Boulder on the Wesak full moon weekend, May 4-6, 2012. His books are: Adventures of a Western Mystic and “I AM” the Open Door. DVD’s: Becoming a Master Series (episodes 1-2) and Becoming a Master Series (episodes 3-4). Visit his website and his blog.
Prepared by Soumyajeet Chattaraj/Edited by Tanya L. Markul
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