-- Chögyam Trungpa
"Meditation is not a matter of trying to achieve ecstasy, spiritual bliss, or tranquillity, nor is it attempting to become a better person. It is simply the creation of a space in which we are able to expose and undo our neurotic games, our self-deceptions, our hidden fears and hopes."
-- Chögyam Trungpa
|Chogyam Trungpa 1939-1987
There's nothing like a little light reading, right?
Back in the day, this book was my first exposure to Trungpa Rinpoche and his presentation of Tibetan Buddhism. By then, I'd already been swept up in the collective kensho of the late sixties and early seventies, but most of my actual contact had been with Zen tradition and the Hippy Zen of Stephen Gaskin and his tribe. Along the way, I'd already experienced a number of "openings" and "peak experiences" -- as had many of us. It was a time that the collective consciousness of an entire generation was steeped in the teachings and meditation practices of the East -- and the mind altering herbs and medicines of the psychedelic revolution.
In a grand warping of the space-time continuum, many of us, at least temporarily, had gone on Retreat from the pervasive rat race of our capitalist society, to spend some timeless time exploring Life Beyond the confines of the business as usual concerns of mainstream society. At some point, whether it happened in a meditation hall, around a campfire in the Rockies, in a rock hall, or elsewhere many of us had "Been There". Awestruck, awash in the Boundless Presence of Eternal Perfection, the One Love -- for at least a few moments -- we knew: there was a Spiritual Dimension to life! Depending on the setting, we may have even awakened the next day without feeling tired and burned out, and realized that this all had something to do with "the pearl of great price" that Jesus had spoken of.
In my case, I cashed it in as best I could -- and pocketed that pearl. Glimpses were one thing, but seeing my way clear to be a kind, compassionate and clear-minded person in any sort of consistent way was another. Although I sensed that commitment to a life of Study and Practice and Service was essential, I didn't have much of a clue of what that would really look like for me. (That would only take another 40 some odd years. LOL)
As a young man who had entered the Buddhist stream swimming toward "liberation", the title of Trungpa's book, itself, was mind-blowing. The MYTH of Freedom? WTF? What's this got to do with meditation? Wasn't Freedom the ultimate goal? Wasn't that the escape from suffering that the Buddhist's promised?
As I remember it, I poured through the book, intrigued and haunted by the imagery, but confused, not ready to grasp the underlying subtleties of his presentation of meditation and the Buddhdharma. And, having heard via the grapevine of Trungpa's rather "unconventional" lifestyle, I was a bit skeptical. When I got to the final section on devotion to the guru, I thought, "no way, buddy" -- and moved on.
I didn't get back to it for another thirty years.
I did keep practicing though as the zig-zags of my life continued through stints in residence at Insight Meditation Society and Zen Mountain Monastery, numerous jobs, relationships and family, successes, failures, even homelessness.)
Ten years ago, a good friend of mine handed me a copy of Pema Chodron's Start Where You Are: A Guide to Living a Compassionate Life. When I opened it and read "this book is about awakening the heart', I got goosebumps. As someone whose idea of zazen was to remain in a very clear, very calm consciousness, I thought to myself, "Oh...the Heart! Duh." Something deep inside me shifted.
I poured through the book, amazed. And I kept Sitting.
Since then, although I have never been in her Presence, the Teachings of Ani Pema, a continuing Daily Practice, and my Spiritual Friends have been the Triple Gems of my life. Along the way, it seemed only natural to revisit the works of this Masterful Teacher's Teacher -- especially since Trungpa Rinpoche's Training the Mind: and Cultivating Loving-Kindness is a primary text for the Lojong Teachings, the traditional system of Heart Training that Chodron practices and teaches. (Here's a brief annotated bibliography of other commentaries and materials on the Lojong Trainings)
So, during the past decade, I've re-read The Myth of Freedom cover to cover a number of times. Each time his words have gotten clearer --and even more humbling, as I peer into the vastness of the mystery. Today, on a day when I had some time to spare, for no particular reason other than to play, I just picked the book off the shelf and flipped it open to a random page after Morning Practice.
Light reading, indeed.