Thursday, April 01, 2010

Insects In Amber

In my guru’s namthar (life story), Amrita of Eloquence: A Biography of Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, it’s considered praiseworthy that Rinpoche refuses to name his master (that’s tight lipped, totally old school).
                                ---Bill Schwartz, "In Blood," via

I read today that there is a doctor going around finding insects in amber, in order to extract their DNA. He uses this to design vaccines that are able to overcome today's mutated, vaccine-resistant diseases. This is possible because he is encountering the diseases in what may be thought of as their original form.

Suggestive, isn't it?

I have lately, and only gradually, become aware of a developing genre in neo-Buddhist literature,  driven by a surprising readership. For lack of better description, let us call it the first-wave Western practitioner's memoir. The eager audience is comprised of young lamas of recent vintage -- many of whom, in their thirties, are just beginning to emerge from the cocoon. 

Since our friends are among the kings of physicians, and dispense the medicine that transcends nectar, it stands to reason they would wish to examine laboratory notes.

This life passes, and ends, in the blink of an eye. We have only the briefest possible opportunity to become immortal. From that perspective, I suppose all arising forms of information are in some way potentially useful to somebody, at one time or another. All of this is highly contextual. I might remember a thing one way today, and quite another way tomorrow. If I am the only source of data, the picture is going to be skewed. 

For this genre to work, it has to grow: it has to be large. If you look at Trungpa Tulku's students, and their Chronicle Project, you see a model of useful work. They are taking input from everyone who ever knew him, in any capacity. If I had to make a criticism, I would only say (1) do more of it, and (2) fire all the editors. Just throw out the concept of editing anything.

Because there is this distinction between what was said and what was heard, do you know? What was said might be important to some, and a record of what was heard might be important to others. So, this has to be large. Really quite large. Then one can take what one will, according to one's needs at the time. After all, that is how it was originally presented.

A while back, we took notice of Elephant Journal, in what I hoped was an encouraging article. Using the "if you build it, they will come" model, I was encouraging them to cultivate writers, as distinct from anything or anybody else, and it seems like somebody there took this to heart. They have begun publishing a diamond in the rough they found in Chicago. His name in Bill Schwartz. He is a first-wave Kagyu student now in his fifties, dealing with congestive heart failure. He writes about whatever is happening right in front of him, leavened with memories of what his teachers told him.

Elephant Journal has a hit on its hands. In a remarkably brief period, Mr. Schwartz has developed a considerable and devoted readership that includes Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, and a number of other lamas. If you want an example of what has captivated everyone's interest, try the "In Blood" article we quoted from, above. You will also find links to his other articles, and I encourage you to read them all.

Back home at Digital Tibetan Buddhist Altar -- truly the happiest place on earth -- I have offered up memories here and there, but only when it felt natural and appropriate. I have lived what most people regard as an unconventional life. I have created unconventional circumstances that were meaningful to me, but not necessarily meaningful to you. Operating under the theory that hammered gold is best, this might have some small value, if only as a cautionary tale. However, even in the best of circumstances this would be a loan, and the "vig" would be punishing.

By making great show of my teachers, it might seem as if I was trying to use our relationship to legitimize the decisions I have made. Nothing could be farther from my wishes. The decisions I have made -- and here I definitely include the more controversial ones, although why they should be controversial I do not know -- legitimized themselves at the time, and then dissolved in perfect naturalness. 

The decisions I made have all been self-liberating metaphors. They do not need anyone's help. You either understand them or you do not. If we want to freeze them like insects in amber, or a newspaper clipping, or a transcript, or an archival entry, we rob them of their beauty. Yes... beauty. A silver hammer on a hard head is beautiful, particularly if it is administered before one's funeral pyre catches blaze. Otherwise, one's head swells and explodes.

The decisions you make -- the decisions you are making right this very minute -- are also self-liberating metaphors. Of course, each has the open-ended potential to result in instruction. How you choose to codify the instructions, whether in memory or in grace, is up to you. If you start hammering, freezing, or transcribing, maybe it is because you want to add or remove something from what is otherwise quite singular and genuine. 

Maybe it is best if you ignore instructions altogether, and leave things in their singular, genuine state, or their "single authentic condition" if you like that phrase better.

Oh well... time for me to bug out.

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3 reader comments:

Deborah said...

Rinpoche, you are brilliant. The way you weave and suggest is teaching without teaching so we begin to teach ourselves. Many prostrations to you.

Yeshe Dorje said...

Fine articles like this are why I keep coming to check out the latest Digital Tibetan Buddhist Altar. Substance, seriousness, humor. Usually a good mix for this thick-headed fool!

Anonymous said...

Check out today's (April 1) "The Chronicle Project". They have posted photos of the newly discovered Scorpion Seal. ;)