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Lions Roar : January 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2012 34 Our soft spot represents embryonic buddhanature. Each of us in our essential nature is a complete, perfect buddha. It may require some uncovering, but as a result of this basic nature, we have a big open heart, or bodhichitta, which he often translated as “awakened heart.” Trungpa Rinpoche used the soft spot as a jumping off point for teaching Mahayana Buddhism, the path of the bodhisattva. In the mid-seventies, he began to devote considerable attention to these teachings. The foundational path of mindfulness and awareness, in the system he followed, is known as the narrow path, focused on liberating oneself from suffering. The Mahayana is the wide path, focused on liberating others. The Vajrayana is the path of totality that lets one dance with all the energies of the phenomenal world. While they have distinct methodologies, the paths intertwine, and in Rinpoche’s tradition all three are implied at once. At a certain point on the path, we reach the limitation of work- ing solely on ourselves. We’re holding out hope of a final resting place with our name on it. As Trungpa Rinpoche put it, we want to witness our own enlightenment, or more pointedly, ego would like to be present at its own funeral. At this point, it’s necessary to go bigger, to put others before ourselves. We’re now stepping onto the path of compassion, the wide path of the Mahayana, but this brings its own dangers. If compassion becomes a display concocted by ego for its own aggrandizement, we will be back in the trap of spiritual materialism. Following the classical Buddhist teachings, Trungpa Rinpoche taught that the only way for real compassion to emerge of its own accord is in concert with wisdom. Wisdom in this case means real- izing shunyata. This term has long fascinated and confounded philosophically minded students of Buddhism. Western scholars initially described it as the void, as nothingness. The newer term “emptiness” was an improvement, but it could still leave you puz- zled. Once again, Rinpoche taught about it experientially: Shunyata literally means “openness” or “emptiness.” Shun- yata is basically understanding nonexistence. When you begin realizing nonexistence, you can afford to be more compas- sionate, more giving. We realize we are actually nonexistent ourselves. Then we can give. We have lots to gain and nothing to lose at that point. To present these teachings most thoroughly, Trungpa Rinpoche gave extensive commentary on a classic Maha- yana text built around a series of sayings, which he referred to as slogans. (These commentaries are published as the book Training the Mind.) A slogan such as “Be grateful to everyone,” when memorized, can emerge in your mind at an opportune moment—not as some rule you’re struggling to follow but as a sudden catalyst for your soft spot. You find the possibility of putting others before yourself—without having to strategize it. A key practice to cultivate bodhichitta is tonglen, literally “sending and taking.” You send out warmth and openness to oth- ers and you take in their pain and difficulty. This practice, similar to the Theravadan metta practice, became the focus of the books of Pema Chödrön, who learned it from Trungpa Rinpoche. This great switch, where the first thought is of others, is the essence of genuine compassion and a key to real liberation. 5. Art in Everyday Life Early in his time in America, Trungpa Rinpoche was hailing a cab in New York City. The Beat poet Allen Ginsberg was trying to hail the same cab. They were introduced, and Trungpa Rinpoche, his wife Diana, Ginsberg, and his ailing father shared the cab. After dropping off Ginsberg’s father, they continued to Ginsberg’s apart- ment, where they stayed up long into the night talking and writ- ing poetry. In the introduction to Volume Seven of the Collected Works (devoted to poetry, art, and theater), editor Carolyn Gimian notes that this chance meeting started a long and fruitful friend- ship: “On the Buddhist front, Rinpoche was the teacher, Ginsberg the student; on the poetry front, Rinpoche acknowledged how much he had learned from Ginsberg, and Ginsberg also credited Trungpa Rinpoche with considerable influence on his poetry.” Rinpoche had received training in Tibetan poetics, where the metrical forms were well established and the topics restricted to the spiritual. Ginsberg was a worldly poet, composing in a free- form style. Yet he shared Rinpoche’s deep appreciation of classi- cal forms, believing that learning strict meter allows one to have good rules to break. Poetry became an arena in which Rinpoche could play, and display a sense of humor. For him, humor meant not jokiness, but seeing the dichotomies and the totality at once, which allowed one to play—with one’s communication, with one’s perceptions, with one’s gestures. It evinced real freedom. TIMELY RAIN In the jungles of flaming ego, May there be cool iceberg of bodhichitta. On the racetrack of bureaucracy, May there be the walk of an elephant. May the sumptuous castle of arrogance Be destroyed by vajra confidence. In the garden of gentle sanity, May you be bombarded by coconuts of wakefulness.