Monday July 25th, 2005
Everyone has to struggle with finding their own personal portion of peace in this world. In a modern world fashioned to draw us into its own reality of materialism and amorality, the struggle to find ‘self’ becomes every individual’s plague. Just contemplating the nature of one’s existence for a moment can lead a person down an ever-widening chasm of confusing thoughts that breed questions which have no obvious answer. Consequently, these train of thought can be a one way ticket to either clarity or confusion; sanity or insanity; and, in a sense, heaven or hell. But no matter where you end up after thinking about your life – which more often than not ends up in confusion – you will find yourself defending against your new found knowledge. Say for instance that after a great deal of thought you conclude, mentally exhausted, that life has no meaning and that everything is without purpose. A pessimistic and defeatist final stance to say the least, one must still decide what to do with this new outlook on life. They could crawl into a closet and cry or they could face the world as they see it and continue living, making some compromise with themselves to ignore, put up with, or accept life’s pointlessness. On the other hand, consider someone who comes to the conclusion that life is beautiful in everyway. In this case the individual might have come to grips with the reality of life and that all forms of it must deal with deal. Would this person then have accepted his or her own inevitable death? Emmanuel Ghent, a Montreal born psychoanalyst, says that “the superstructure of defensiveness, the protections against anxiety, shame, guilt, anger, are, in a way, all deceptions, whether they take the form of denial, splitting, repression, rationalizations, evasions. Is it possible,” he asks, “that deep down we long to give this up, to ‘come clean,’ as part of an even more general longing to be known, recognized? Might this longing also be joined by a corresponding wish to know and recognize the other? As to the developmental origins of such longings I would locate them as being rooted in the primacy of object-seeking as a central motivational thrust in humans” (Ghent 214). In the movie “Words of My Perfect Teacher”, a Bhutanese monk named Chygyam Trungpa Rinpoche – supposed reincarnation of an predecessing wiseman and thus raised as a teacher and prophet – teaches that enlightenment can not be reached by simply repressing life’s harsh realities or by rationalizing them. Rinpoche says that you could not want any more enlightenment “when you don’t have any obsession, when you don’t have any hang ups, when you don’t have any inhibitions, when you are not afraid that you will be breaking a certain rule, and when you are not worried about fulfilling someone’s expectations.” By this, I think he means that after we renounce the material world outside of ourselves and all the ways it affects our psyche we must move on from that point without denying or rationalizing anything, and “come clean” as Ghent says, by further renouncing the renounciation; in other words we must embrace everything. Essential to this enlightenment are the roles of a patient yet firm teacher and a humble yet ambitious student.
In “Words of My Perfect Teacher”, we get a clear view of a firm teacher. Rinpoche is often seemingly rude with students but not without reason. His frequent and mysterious disappearing acts force his students to learn patience while his own is displayed by even taking the time to work with them. Rinpoche is known as the Assassin because of his tendancy to be brutally honest with his students. He is said to kill them in the sense that he exposes and in some cases dismantles their egos. This shows them their false self throught the eyes of his true self and their own. When they recognize and identify one of their hang-ups, they are recognizing this through the eyes of their true self; standing back from the situation and looking at one’s self as if it were an object. Rinpoche, as a teacher, has the job or profession of helping sentient beings. A task which he says is not easy amidst a world of hypocrisy, pretense, and cultural hang-ups, that threaten to drag him back into the common and misguided way of dealing with life; with denial, splitting, repression, rationalizations, and evasions. Acceptance and confrontation of one’s false self, the self ruled by the outer world, is key to enlightenment and peace of mind. The problem, as Rinpoche puts it, is “believing one’s own thoughts”. By this I believe he means that reality is defined simply by how we see it, and most people see it as they are told you. With frequent meditation, and observance of how the world truly works, one can take the first steps towards basic enlightenment. But this can not be done alone. One has to be ushered along the proper path to enlightenment so as not to stray off onto some tangential path of anger or depression. One requires a teacher. The problem then becomes finding one who you can deem worthy to teach you. This may include getting over one’s own vain ego and “surrendering”, as Ghent calls it, “in the presence of another” (Ghent 214). Ghent explains how a student may find a teacher:
“It has been said that there are no gurus, only disciples. The guru creates an illusion – an illusion which permits the disciple to yield, surrender false self, and therein have a chance at finding himself. The process may be thought of as allowing the disciple to re-enter the exhilarating world of transitional experiencing – wherein the guru is the transitional object. The ego, false self, mind wants to argue; the guru won’t argue. He knows that all engagement at this level reinforces the strength of the ego (false self). Surrender in this sense does not need a guru. The indirect object of the surrender could as well be a tree, the sun, God…anything or anyone that will not impinge with its own ego. The process is what is important; the object to whom one surrenders is irrelevant.” (Ghent 217)
Therefore, a student must learn to shed his skin so to speak. Or to leave behind all that once hindered him from achieving the goal of enlightenment. These obstacles that lay infront of the path are not always crystal clear, let alone tangible. But an easy way to identify them would be to say that they are anything and everything that you know. After one lets go of these past attachments – whether they be to people, memories, attitudes, or materials – they can then focus their energies on the task of inner peace. With the false self subdued, the true self can surrender, and leave itself open to “liberation and expansion of the self as a corollary to the letting down of defensive barriers” (Ghent 213). Also important to the process of surrender is not confusing it with submission, which as Ghent says, is “in the service of resistance” and “at best adaptive as an expedient” (Ghent 215). According to the film we must resist the urge to find a teacher based on self-serving motives, because when we are in need of a teacher our false self is in charge of our decisions, thus we will be searching for a teacher who will reinforce our false selves. This is when people start looking for qualities in their teachers that they see in themselves; wanting their teachers to simultaneously be not so special and yet special enough to inspire awe. Ultimately, the student’s key to finding a proper teacher is being honest like a patient is to a doctor; revealing all symptoms (inhibitions) so as to obtain the best help possible.
After the student has humbled his or her self they must then learn as much as they can from their teacher until they feel confident that they can learn no more. The student must have ambition if he wants to reach enlightenment. Even Neo in “The Matix” triology broke free of Morpheus’ tutelage in order to make a self image for himself and for others who looked up to him. In this sense, Neo realized that the reason you go to a teacher is so you realize that your guru is only a bridge to the guru already residing within. Anakin Skywalker did the same thing in the “Star Wars” trilogy – though he sought out a teacher who developed his false self – and eventually stood up to his teacher. So, you must let go of your guru in order to become one yourself. This is a difficult task in itself because the student is always told not to challenge the teacher no matter how inevitable a result this may seem. However, because it is unavoidable, as the teacher should know, both student and teacher should watch their words and their minds while the challenge is being issued so as to monitor whether or not the student is truly prepared to move on to bigger things, and become a master in their own rite.
A sad reality, I think, is that the Western mindset, since the days of the Roman Empire, to the British Empire, and today with the American strangle-hold on the world, has been one of pride strength and that all too famous never back down attitude. This is a shame because it makes most of us brought up in the West unable to come to grips with the term ‘surrender’ let alone actually doing so to a freely acknowledged superior being. The result of that refusal is the continual breeding of hard-headed, ignorant youngsters, who do not wake up to their stupidity often enough and sometimes not at all; delinquents etc. I believe that the East has held the answer to world peace for far too long and that its message need only spread quicker and to more people for its fruits to be enjoyed by all people on Earth. Imagine for a second if everyone was a buddhist… would that not be bliss?