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Lions Roar : September 2005
5 8 SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2005 In the Buddhist teachings, intellectual sharpness and under- standing are highly prized. Prajna, or discriminating awareness, is thought of as almost a goddess of wisdom. However, using systems of thought to enhance our sense of self and to ward off confusion and insecurity creates a prison for the intellect, and in the end, we stop seeing clearly. We are no longer investigating the world with open eyes; we are just working harder and harder to describe our fantasy world and to solidify it until we think it’s the real thing. Science has served over the centuries as the handmaiden for the Lord of Speech, yet it has also served as a source of knowledge and investigation that tears down or deconstructs the illusory world of psychological materialism. Witness Copernicus and Galileo. They were huge threats to the egocentric universe, such a deadly threat that in Galileo’s case he had to be branded an enemy of religion, debunked, and put under house arrest. Today, as far as I know, even the most extreme literal-minded religious fanatics accept that the earth revolves around the sun. In those days, it was heresy, a repudiation of who people thought they were and what they thought the meaning of the universe was. We thought God made the world and the whole universe for us, just for us. He made the sun and the moon for us. It all revolved around us. Charles Darwin is still controversial. Of course, it’s been less than two hundred years since he looked at the evidence of human evolution and suggested that we were related to other animals and that we were a somewhat random occurrence in the universe, gov- erned not by divine providence but by a principle called “survival of the fittest.” We might now accept that the earth revolves around the sun, but on this earth, God created us as his chosen ones. Or did he? That is still being debated in our schools, our churches, our courts, and most importantly, in our own minds. Sophisticated, educated people might scoff at creationists, but on a fundamental level, we all want to feel that we’re special, and that not just we but “I” have a special place in the universe. We certainly see ourselves as the center of our individual uni- verse. We seem to be wired that way: our modes of perceiving and interacting in the world bring everything back to what we experience as “central headquarters,” or our ego. And the Lord of Speech is waiting right there to tell us that this view of ourselves is a good thing, a great thing in fact. The Lord of Speech tells us that we should ward off any fundamental threats to our sense of self-importance by keeping our story lines intact and adopting those views of the world that support us, me, I. Freud was another scientific researcher who threatened our sense of self, by suggesting that the conscious “I” was not nearly as securely in control as we would like to think. He pioneered the use of the term ego to refer to the self, though not necessarily in the same way the term has been adopted by Buddhism in the West. For Freud, a healthy ego had the ability to adapt to reality and interact with the outside world. But he also talked about some- thing called the id, that out-of-control little beastie that unleash- es our instinctual desires onto the world. As well, Freud’s sugges- tion that even infants are affected by sexual impulses and deep, dark emotions was an unsettling challenge to our persona, the nice but mythical person with whom we would like to identify ourselves. Today psychology has become much more tame and acceptable, and we often use therapy to help us feel more secure and to cure our malaise. Is this the predominance of sanity or the work of the Lord of Speech? Perhaps it is a little of both. RELIGIOUS AND SPIRITUAL BELIEFS, when they are usedto manufacture a sense of security and meaning, are the stronghold of the Lord of Mind. Sickness, old age, and death are unpleasant, painful facts of life, hard truths we find extremely difficult to deal with or understand. Why do people suffer? Why do they die? We have been asking these questions since we could frame a question at all. Everyone would like to feel that both their life and their death have meaning. The problem is, we don’t find meaning in the living of life itself, so we want reassurance. We want to know that our memory will survive, or our soul will go on, or that there is some greater meaning to our suffering. Spiritual materialism, the specialty of the Lord of Mind, is the tendency of the ego to appropriate a religious or spiritual path to strengthen, rather than dismantle, our sense of self-importance. Chögyam Trungpa, who popularized this term, often used it to point to the self-congratulatory use of Eastern religions and New Age philosophies, especially in the sixties and seventies in North America. It can, however, refer to the tendency within any religious movement to use spirituality to reinforce rather than to reveal. We often avoid authentic spiritual engagement that involves humbling ourselves or giving in. A pernicious form of spiritual materialism, orchestrated by the Lord of Mind, is to imitate or ape spiritual experiences, rather than to actually engage them. We get high, we get absorbed in nothingness or the godhead, we have a cathartic religious experience, but all on our own terms. God loves us, the universe loves us, we love ourselves. Genuine spirituality offers various paths to investigate what we might call the real mysteries of life. It offers the opportunity both to look more deeply into life and to open out further into the world. It offers exploration, it offers communication, it offers inves- tigation. It offers us genuine questions. Spiritual materialism, on the other hand, says: You don’t have to question. Do this and you’ll be fine. Believe this and you’ll be fine. When you die, you’ll be fine. The Lord of Mind keeps his fortress intact by banishing a sense of humor. Someone has even made a serious psychological discipline or spiritual path out of laughter. Laugh every day. Go ahead. Start now. Keep it up for five minutes. Keep going. Keep laughing. Now you feel better, don’t you? You don’t? You must not have laughed enough. Let’s go back to the technique and start laughing again. The Lord of Mind makes religion into a deadly serious busi- ness. If there are jokes, they are little in-jokes that don’t threaten our worldview but shore it up. In addition to co-opting conven- tional religions, the Lord of Mind is happy to make meditation, yoga, astral projection, chanting, and channeling into deadly