Buddhadharma Without Credentials. ~ Linda V. Lewis

Via elephant journal
on Feb 6, 2012
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Big Mind Zen Center

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.

Francis Chung

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.



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15 Responses to “Buddhadharma Without Credentials. ~ Linda V. Lewis”

  1. Padma Kadag says:

    Hi Linda…more often than not the reason for writing on a particular subject is as interesting as the article and may or not be evident in the article. i would be interested in what motivated you to write this one.

  2. Linda V Lewis says:

    I was motivated because I see many meditators and even some teachers motivated by ambition. Pulling out a list of one's achievements is questionable. What really magnetizes one to the genuine dharma is how a person manifests in life. In particular, truly great teachers teach by example as much as through words. Of course we all may start out thinking meditation is about self-improvement, but we soon realize that the process of taming the mind and engendering compassion is not a process of self-cherishing. In short, teaching dharma "is not about me!" And ultimately even meditation "is not about me!" Thanks for asking the question.

  3. Padma Kadag says:

    Thanks for the response. Those examples, by way of teaching, could be lost in this blog style of medium. The dharma for those who depend on blogging could very well keep the dharma relegated to these empty words appearing on the monitor. Though I may be exaggerating this phenomena I do believe that the intellectualization only further entrenches this idea "about me". The lack of any mention of Bodhicitta in the majority of "Dharma" articles is evidence of this. As you know all teaching from "truly great teachers" is all Bodhicitta and the teaching in actual process reminds us in the beginning , middle , and end of Bodhicitta and the motivation to liberate all mother sentient beings. Are you seeing this lack of Bodhicitta in Buddhist articles and discussion? and if you do then what do you think is the cause?

  4. Joanne says:

    This makes me think about my mum. She never formally studied the Dharma but she lives in harmony with the reality of impermanence, somehow she always accepted that everything changes and that life is beautiful and sad – she just figured it out for herself from a young age with no access to the Dharma….just good natural wisdom. Every word and action of hers is a manifestation of kindness. Before my dad's father passed away she visited him daily and he once said that everything mum touches turns to gold. I think that he was referring to the alchemy of mindfulness and loving kindness.

  5. Linda V Lewis says:

    Ah, so beautifully said. I am glad I had the chance to witness her qualities first hand right after the birth of your daughter Sophia!

  6. Linda V Lewis says:

    I cannot really generalize, but bodhicitta, awakened heart or mind, takes many forms, many styles of manifestation. But full-blown bodhicitta cannot be divorced from actual meditation practice. Simply reading great dharma books doesn't do the trick. One cannot intellectualize compassion, yet at the same time the intellect can be awakened to help one see what not to do.

  7. Padma Kadag says:

    Yes….This is the point. Compassion cannot be intellectualized. It can be given a name..Bodhicitta. Yet whether we are aware or not Bodhicitta is there. We can go on and name everything which is present or not present but in regard to the kind of teaching your article points to it has been my observation that with all of the blogging on "mindfulness" and enlightenment and Buddhism there is little to no mention of Bodhicitta. No mention even in passing. Without bodhicitta there is no awareness and yet the blogosphere ignores this. Since we are limited by words and our own degrees of acumen we should "spell it out". When we sit at the feet of our teacher at the beginning of the teaching there is setting the motivation to arouse bodhicitta , both relative and ultimate. "Spelling it out" over and over again and we are warned to not think " oh I have already heard this". I am a little concerned that Bodhicitta , the heart of Buddhism, is being forgotten by those of us who feel compelled to write about Buddhism.

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  9. Gyurme Pawo says:

    Thank you for the article Linda. In discussing credentials and ego, compassion/awakened heart/ basic goodness is used with skillful means to catch "the gaps" in our post meditation experience. The game of one up manship is subtle and ego infused. Bodhicitta is always present and within the context of your article is implied. To want to see the actual term used regularly may be a stretch and as you mention, "awakened mind takes many forms, many styles of manifestation". Indeed Bodhicitta, the heart of Buddhism is THERE and by eliciting it's presence regularly and mechanically or typing the word within the blogosphere does not necessarily give it more presence because it is already THERE.

  10. I love this! We get so silly about credentials and seeking ego food. I wrote about this a little while ago (with much less depth.)

    Cheers to boredom pulling out the carpet & relaxing into every day! All those credentials are meaningless–I still have to do my dishes and go to the bathroom just like everyone else.

  11. Lisa Rivera says:

    "Organically Spiritual" is what I like to call what you are referring to above. It is about walking the talk………

  12. Linda V Lewis says:

    Eh Ma HoH!–indeed! All words are basically provisional meaning, not the genuine meaning which comes from experience. In Tibetan it is trangdon or provisional, and ngedon or certain meaning. The analogy is granny's finger and the moon; the child might mistake the finger for the moon. thus it is possible to mistake saying compassion, compassion, bodhicitta, bodhicitta for feeling one's heart truly open and empathetic. The words can be helpful, but they are not the equivalent of the experience–let alone the realization! If one actually practices meditation, mindfulness evolves into awareness and one cannot be aware without engendering compassion for all the suffering one witnesses in any given day.

  13. Linda V Lewis says:

    Oh and thanks for getting us back onto the theme of the article! Amazing how sparks fly! All minds and hearts are so brilliant in their display!

  14. Linda V Lewis says:

    You bet! You got it! Cheers!

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