We Have to Meet Our Egos to Lose Our Egos.

Via on Apr 27, 2012

  “Unless we give up the speed and the urgency, we are not going to learn anything or absorb anything at all.”

With that invitation to slow down, Trungpa Rinpoche introduced [1] the theme of seeing ego’s games as the first step toward entering the path of the buddhadharma. In these early talks Rinpoche smiled sweetly, laughing, and was absolutely amused at our goal-orientation and hopes for liberation or instant Enlightenment. But while shattering all illusions of security or guarantee, the atmosphere he created in these talks was not at all depressing but fun!

“There is something extremely positive about our search for understanding, something that we could use as a steppingstone. That steppingstone is the chaos in our living situation, the pain and chaos and dissatisfaction and hunger and thirst.”

This was a far cry from the New Age self-improvement, self-cherishing themes of the day with their sugar-coated affirmations. But Rinpoche pounded in the Buddha’s message, the First Noble Truth, in modern language:

“Psychological pain is the beginning of the teaching…that pain is the direct experience of seeing our basic insecurity. Looking for security and failing to find it—that is a glimpse of egolessness, the state of the absence of ego.”

I was intrigued. Failing to find something to hang onto, being bewildered and acknowledging pain—that was the starting point?

As one raised on musical comedies with their many promises of living happily ever-after, I personally didn’t want to acknowledge the truth of suffering. I was young and adventurous with my life before me. But being open and curious, I couldn’t deny this truth to which Rinpoche pointed.

Plus, Rinpoche wasn’t deadly serious, nor was he ever depressing. If he had been I might have waved bon voyage to the good ship buddhadharma before ever coming aboard. But he was so charming, playful, and witty, I was magnetized—while being perplexed: the search and dissatisfaction the beginning of the path?

I was intrigued. How could failing to find something to hang onto, being bewildered and acknowledging it, be the starting point of a spiritual path?

Rinpoche responded, “The discovery of confusion is enlightenment…discovering the confusion…is facing reality and getting beyond self-deception.”

This was so brutally honest—and helpful. We were invited to make friends with the basic groundlessness of the human situation and with the anxiety that arises from that. This was not only a lesson in non-duality but a view brought down to earthy practicality, down to the meditation cushion, where we were encouraged to relax and even to have a sense of humor about our situation.

“We use ego as a steppingstone constantly…that which would begin to throw ego away would also be ego. So the starting point is not abandoning ego as bad, but going along with it and letting it wear itself out.”

In all of Trungpa Rinpoche’s seminars, sessions of sitting meditation were built into the

Photo: Shambhala Meditation Center, LA

schedule. And his meditation instruction was as non-dual as the view of buddhadharma he presented.

“Meditation is a way of permitting hang-ups of mind to churn up and then use these materials that come up as part of the practice. These psychological hang-ups are like manure. You do not throw away manure; you use it on your garden. It becomes part of your resourcefulness. In the same way, you use your hang-ups…as part of your path by not rejecting them as a bad thing or indulging in them, but simply relating to them as they are.”

This was also the theme of Rinpoche’s Meditation in Action which had come out the year before. By neither rejecting nor indulging in neurotic thoughts, which Rinpoche often called “subconscious gossip,” but simply noticing them, we were instructed to return to the breath over and over again. We were just sitting and breathing. Thoughts were not a big deal. Noticing them was included as part of the practice.

These periods of sitting meditation really helped the battle of ego wear out and the teachings sink. Then we found ourselves experiencing the dharma.

As Rinpoche said, “Actually there is no such thing as a neurosis as a lump entity. What there is, are these constituents of ‘neurosis,’ grasping and rejecting…But if you are able to see and acknowledge all those little mechanical constituents of neurosis, then it can be a tremendous source of learning. And then the ‘neurosis’ dissolves by itself, works itself out automatically.”

Through meditation we indeed discover that whatever arises is workable, and then by extension post-meditation we begin to find that the world is more workable as well. Trungpa Rinpoche always encouraged meditators to see that there is no difference between the mundane, domestic life and a spiritual life. This was further emphasis on non-duality.

“In this sense, therefore, meditation is developing ultimate compassion. It is an inexhaustible resource, because once we are on the path of meditation, every life situation begins to teach us something.”

It is amazing to note that even in this one talk, having started with the Hinayana view of the truth of suffering, then presenting the Mahayana meditative view that inspires compassion, Rinpoche then introduced the Vajrayana fruitional view—all in this one talk!

“In order to become Buddha you either have to give up the idea of Buddha or give up the idea of you.”

It was wonderful, supreme good fortune, to have had such a brilliant teacher, such an available and true friend. It has been 25 years since his passing, and yet so many students continue to meet his mind through his books and DVDs. But as he himself said,

“This teacher-student relationship is never a permanent, co-dependent situation. At the point where we are actually beginning to follow the teacher’s instructions, usually he or she becomes more distant, and we are left to work things out on our own. Then, our life situations become the guru. And simultaneously, our inner guru wakes up.”


[1] Los Angeles, February 1972, a talk published in Volume I, #1 of “The Laughing Man” magazine in 1976.

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Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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About Linda Lewis

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.

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30 Responses to “We Have to Meet Our Egos to Lose Our Egos.”

  1. Hi Linda,

    I've shared your piece on EJ FB: https://www.facebook.com/elephantjournal

    Cheers,
    Jeannie Page

  2. Jasmine says:

    "Unless we give up the speed and the urgeny, we are not going to learn anything or absorb anythng at all"
    I read this once earlier, and then again after my brain had slowed down a bit. The second time, I got so much more from this.
    I read a similar quote this morning, and then heard the same quote again later in the day. It is brought back to mind now, "It's a process, not an event." I relate that to the title of this post. I feel I meet my ego, and then must meet it agian and again. Thanks for this!

    • Linda Lewis Linda V Lewis says:

      Seeing ego is already beginning to see through it, to see that it is only a fiction we fabricate. Bravo! Recognizing this is the beginning of having more of an allegiance to space, to a spacious and all-inclusive outlook, rather than to a self-centered one.

  3. “In this sense, therefore, meditation is developing ultimate compassion. It is an inexhaustible resource, because once we are on the path of meditation, every life situation begins to teach us something.”

    I loved that. It's so true! Once I stop racing around and letting my ego run the show, every situation has something to teach me. Thanks for sharing this, Linda.

    • Linda Lewis Linda V Lewis says:

      You bet! And it keeps our minds flexible, because everything keeps changing. If we are open and not fixating or looking for self-reification, we can listen, learn, and find ways to be genuinely helpful. And sometimes this means saying "no!"

  4. Padma Kadag says:

    Hi Linda…thanks for the article. I have not read anything by Trungpa Rinpoche nor heard any teaching of his. I have read your quotes from him here and there. It seems as though, of course, for those of you who have received instruction from him his instruction lives on. I am aware of Shambala as an organization. But who is transmitting rinpoche's teachings as they are.? Is it you? or is Shambala? This lineage of his…can it be effectively transmitted..as it is? Or are his writings all that will be remaining after you and those like you are gone? I realize that there can be many avenues of response to this in regard to relative and ultimate…I am concerned with how will the relative human teaching of rinpoche, which points out the ultimate, survive. Is it answered with a museum? memories?reprinting books? I see Trungpa Rinpoche as a Rinpoche and all that should convey. who is embodying his essence?

    • Padma kadag says:

      I re-read what I am asking you and i must say that I am asking in all sincerity. I also know that this kind of question asked in this blog format maybe is not appropriate to receive an answer. So much is written about Trungpa Rinpoche now accompanied by photos and you received so much directly from him. Your article on Devotion and godliness was very appropriate and is it the same for Shambala?

      • Linda Lewis Linda V Lewis says:

        Many new students have met Trungpa Rinpoche's mind through his books, videos, DVD's, etc. His senior teachers continue to teach, and his lineage continues through his son Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. For the Hinayana and Mahayana aspects of the path one can go far with mixing meditation with study. But upon wishing to enter the Vajrayana path, it is important to find a teacher with whom you feel longing and respect. Those two aspects comprise devotion, in Tibetan mogu. Then this teacher is the one who can give you pointing out instructions, pointing out the true nature of mind. But before this a great deal of meditation and study is helpful, so that in the Vajrayana you can recognize what is being pointed out!

  5. Robert Piper Robert_Piper says:

    Great article Linda!

  6. Valerie Carruthers ValCarruthers says:

    What a wonderful article, Linda, so many great teachings. Even a taste of what Trungpa Rinpoche offered is so powerful. Thank you!

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Spirituality Homepage.

    Valerie Carruthers
    Please go and "Like" Elephant Spirituality on Facebook

  7. Valerie Carruthers ValCarruthers says:

    Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Spirituality Homepage.

    Valerie Carruthers
    Please go and "Like" Elephant Spirituality on Facebook

  8. Jay says:

    "The discovery of confusion is enlightenment" – just another great line by Rinpoche. Thanks Linda for skillfully putting together such a precious teaching, very inspiring.

    • Linda Lewis Linda V Lewis says:

      Yes, it takes prajna-insight to recognize confusion and that insight is coming from a different place than the confusion. but it is interesting that recognizing confusion and the groundlessness of that, is similar to the groundlessness of the space prajna takes you too!

  9. Gyurme Pawo says:

    Thank you for the article Linda!
    To "give up the idea of you", jumping off the cushion and into the day
    brings the "kitchen sink" to life. Literally. Rinpoche taught us to see things
    "as they are", a sometimes daunting task in that we might not see what we
    "want" to see. The world does become more workable if we learn to stay put
    within the groundlessness of the moment and not jump back into our warm
    and secure cocoon of habitual pattern.

  10. [...] It is the ego and the mind that are responsible for you being born again. These are responsible for dragging you back into a new womb. If you commit suicide, when you die you will be thinking of life. Deep down, you want a totally different kind of life—that’s why you are committing suicide—not that you are against life, you are just against this life. You just don’t want to be the way you are, you want so many things—successful relationships, money, power, fame, admiration—but all that has not happened. [...]

  11. Linda Lewis Linda V Lewis says:

    You've got it–plus see previous response to comment. Cheers!

  12. [...] In fact, in today’s world, some of those activities may be the very places that scare us—and pop our ego—whether in the board room or staff meeting, during public speaking, [...]

  13. [...] key is to not let my ego-wounded self diminish these situations with statements like, “It’s just a [...]

  14. [...] the ego takes over, your so-called enlightenment means nothing. All the power that is acquired—and many people have [...]

  15. [...] Spiritual freedom is about giving up ego, (our wants, desires, opinions, beliefs) and being in total alignment with who and what we are, which in our deepest sense, means being in alignment with the will of the Divine. Spiritual freedom, ironically, is the giving up of all our egoic wants, desires and agendas. [...]

  16. [...] I’m doing and trust that this personal work is connected to something important, something larger than my ego, something that will lead to healing and wisdom within me and extend to the world around me? The [...]

  17. [...] can we dissolve the ego while at the same time being the change you want to see in the world? How is always the question, [...]

  18. [...] The word “whole” comes from the Old English word meaning “hale,” which means health. Whole implies the totality of all that you are: the good, the bad and the sometimes even the ugly. Duality exists in nature and within our selves. Once we accept the duality within our selves with love and compassion, we can do so with others as w… [...]

  19. [...] Spiritual Teachers, Eckhart Tolle concluded that “teachers who are awake sometimes experience return of their ego because of all of the projection from students.” In other words, when everyone thinks [...]

  20. [...] in the end, takes everything from our ego; it is a total stripping down of the narcissistic [...]

  21. [...] Ayurveda, the mind is thought to be the origin of all disease. The mind creates protective patterns and belief systems [...]

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  23. James Degner says:

    What a wonderful post. Thank you, Linda! I'm definitely going to check out Meditation in Action.

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