Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dharma Without Diplomas

The great Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche introduces us to what he calls "Buddhadharma without Credentials." We can easily find this in his Collected Works---I think in Volume II---where it occupies all of two pages, but a flawless diamond is a flawless diamond, no matter its size or setting.

The thesis is that illusion uses seeming existence as "credentials" in order to maintain or validate itself. The thesis is simple enough, but Trungpa employs it focally to explain common foibles of sangha, and in so doing exposes another layer of usefulness. He explains, "Thus, if a person is self-righteously claiming to practice the buddhadharma, [and] is using his practice as credentials, then he is simply playing ego's game." He goes on to state, "If a group of people do this together, then they reinforce each other in the same game. Inevitably they will pick a leader. Then the leader will have as his credentials the title "head of the flock." The members of the flock will have as their credentials the title 'member of such-and-such organization.' The leader and his flock reinforce each other's identities."

The Vidyadhara explains that this collective ego will be on the constant prowl for new ways of self-confirmation, and-- he says directly--- this may even extend to our perceptions of lineage, and how we emulate the teachings of great masters. "But," warns the Vidyadhara, "it will be a prostitution of those teachings." He describes what he refers to as an "ever-escalating game of one-upsmanship," pointing out that this can involve collecting endorsements, validations, certificates, ambitious projects, and so forth, eventually degenerating into something like a cult.

Thankfully, there eventually comes a point when everything that relies on the existence of credentials becomes wholly irrelevant: things becomes sufficient proof of themselves, of their own accord, with nothing external being required.

The Vidyadhara concludes his comments by saying, "The Dharma does not demand rigidity, [or] adherence to external ideals. If a teacher understands this, he needs no confirmation from his students. The turning of the wheel of dharma will be a mutual creation on the part of student and teacher." [emphasis added]

This is a tremendously liberating concept for both the teacher and the students to contemplate. Fundamentally, this is the utter honesty of self-arising things as they are, freed from neurotic labels, structures, or intellectual dilation. It suddenly becomes perfectly alright to be exactly who you are, to see what you see, and think what you think. You no longer have to limit yourself to an abstract dance of stages and levels, or certificates, or the poison of seeming approval versus disapproval. You no longer have to limit yourself to "belonging" to this or that... friends with the one, enemies with the other... to rivalries, to contests, to the great neurotic dichotomy of samsara versus nirvana.

The Vidyadhara's advice was given in the context of an admonition to Westerners, and may have been something of a reaction to the diplomas one sees on the walls of a law office, for example. He once remarked that these are no guarantee of common sense, and this is something we can all appreciate. However, his words had the greatest impact upon the up and coming generation of Tibetan teachers---the majority of whom regard Trungpa Rinpoche's writings as a "must read" proposition. In the West, we often like to think that the Vidyadhara "belonged" to us, but actually, his most profound influence takes place within his own tradition, among other Tibetan tulkus.

Was Buddha himself a Buddhist? That's an interesting question, which puts one in mind of the often-invoked circumstance wherein the Buddha is allegedly asked whether he is a man or a god, and replies, "I am awake."

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