4.8
April 28, 2012

We Have to Meet Our Egos to Lose Our Egos.

  “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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