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Lions Roar : March 2009
60 SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2009 in caves, surviving mainly on nettles (to the point of developing a green glow). Milarepa sang to anyone who came by his cave, leaving thousands of songs of realization for us to contemplate. these are some of the early forefathers of the karma kagyu school of Vajrayana Buddhism, a lineage that has continued in this manner down to the present day. it is now led by Ogyen trinley Dorje, the Seventeenth karmapa, who had to make a dangerous escape from tibet in order to receive thorough train- ing and education. these life stories of the great figures of the kagyu lineage show us what extreme human beings they were. the wisdom that comes from this family tree is extreme wisdom, and it may be just what is needed for the current situation. this article is not intended to make you long for the “fish- entrails diet.” nor does it prescribe the “sandal-whap facial,” the “throw your money in the air” freeing-therapy, or the “if you build it, you will tear it down” theory of insight. rather, it asks: What helpful insights can we glean from the teachings of people like these? Why would we turn to such people now? Because they were all fearless. they were not intimidated by external difficulties. in fact, they approached their lives with spontaneity, humor, and a sparkling sense of dignity and deco- rum that were completely independent of outside circumstances. they were not preoccupied with themselves or their problems. they were concerned about others; in fact, they embodied com- passion, either ruthless or gentle depending on what was called for. and they were very, very wise, in the ways of the world, the ways of the heart, and the ways of the spirit. in tough times, we need wisdom that is not dependent on con- ditions. When things are falling apart, we need wisdom that is not propped up. the basis for this wisdom is freedom—freedom from confusion, freedom from fear, and interestingly enough, freedom from extreme views. extreme views in this context means eter- nalism and nihilism, the belief in either existence or nonexistence as ultimate reality or saving grace. the origin of this wisdom is simplicity, or nonattachment, which is a bit less threatening than calling it “riding on the razor’s edge,” which might also apply. tilopa, naropa, Marpa, Mila, and all their descendants exempli- fied the freedom of profound simplicity or naturalness of mind, which can adapt to and transform any external circumstance. their lifestyles might look extremely unconventional to us, perhaps even unspiritual, but in fact these were people completely at ease in their world, having nothing more to attain and nothing more to give up. How can we, as beginners on the path, relate to this way of being? to follow their example does not mean mimicking their behavior. rather than trying to imitate or adopt something external, which will never be a thoroughly satisfying solution, we need to emulate their inner practice and, ultimately, their state of mind. this may seem like a tall order, but to begin, at least, it is not that complicated. in the beginning, we need simply to examine what’s taking place; we need to familiarize ourselves with our- selves. as long as we are in a state of panic, it is very difficult to actually see what is happening to us, to others, or to the world altogether. So in the beginning, developing simplicity means making friends with our fear. When the situation in the world around us inspires panic, we may regard that panic as something unusual or extraordinary. But actually, we are panicked all the time. Fear is already an old friend. However, fear is so ingrained in us, as anxiety and denial, that we generally don’t recognize it. We try to suppress our awareness of it. But in extreme times, this becomes harder to do. to keep ourselves from feeling panicked, we have to build a much denser wall of denial and self-deception, which we construct from the building blocks that the Buddhist teachings call the three poi- sons: passion, aggression, and ignorance. On the other hand, we could take the approach that an ex- treme time is an opportunity as well as an obstacle. We could even celebrate and encourage the chance to bring fear to the sur- face, into the open. We could welcome our fear for the opportu- nity it brings us to develop fearlessness. Fear is not the enemy, unless we allow it to become that. instead, fear can be conquered. But that requires that when we see fear, we smile—an image im- parted to me by my teacher, Chögyam trungpa rinpoche. Chögyam Trungpa rinpoche pHOtOrapHerunknOWn