CTSM Chapters 4-5: Hard Intelligence • 13 August 2010


This chapter extends the method of cutting-through to any efforts to find a teacher, guru or “spiritual friend.” The first few pages could be nailed to trees outside ashtanga shalas. But maybe all seeking looks pretty much the same: a search for the perfect teacher. Someone wiser, better, more right about everything, more insightful, more popular.

Trungpa discusses the cynicism of some searching, insofar as it’s not attentive to teachers so much as their popularity. One wants to join their club, to get something extraordinary. One searches for a teacher out of a sense of starvation or worthlessness, or maybe to try to buy or steal wisdom. Choosing a teacher out of these motives is not intelligent: “we must approach spirutality with a hard kind of intelligence.”

Said intelligence comes out of one’s own experience; and without it, working with a teacher is pretty lame. If a teacher is to be useful for CTSM, there needs to be a relationship of “mutual opening,” predicated on effort “to expose ourselves” and our self-deceptions. 

Pages 64-66 are specific about how listening to one’s inner wisdom actually works. The "meeting of minds" is described as open and ordinary. 

In contrast, the ego is described as very professional and overwhelmingly efficient. “When we think that we are working on the forward-moving process of attempting to empty ourselves out, we find ourselves going backward, trying to secure ourselves, filling ourselves up. And this confusion continues and intensifies until we finally discover that we are totally lost… because our mind has been so overwhelmed by our own defense mechanisms. So the only alternative seems to be to just give in and let be. Our… smart solutions do us no good, because we have been overwhelmeb with too many ideas; we do not know which to choose, which ideas will provide us with the best way to work on ourselves.” (65)

Mutuality with a teacher is not sacred. It is ordinary. It is nothing. “It is the most insignificant thing of all, complete openness, the absence of any kind of collection or evaluation. We could say that such insignificance is very significant.” (68)

Self- Deception

Combining the discussions of ordinariness, openness, surrender and self-confidence, this chapter begins with an exhortation to drop wishful thinking about onself. Accept yourself as you really are.

Pages 74-79 address students who have had some kind of transcendent experience with a teacher, and the problem of grasping to that experience and identifying with it. This echoes (quite painfully, I'd say) of how charisma tends to be “nostalgized” in many practices, as CT illustrates. One tries to write down everything about the experience to capture and anchor it. One tells guru stories and compulsively clings to tales of “the good old days,” denying the ordinariness of both the past and the present.

Anyone who has experienced past moments of flashing insight is automatically set up for depression. Usually, we deny this when it arises. But depression is bound up with any kind of seeking (80). The force of despair can be very great. Those who only allow themselves to express whatever bliss they contain are enacting a stark dualism, denying the background against which that bliss is felt. (81)

The end of this chapter, like the Q&A section of the previous chapter, gets in to the problem of constantly, compulsively evaluating one’s own experience. This problem is described as “the watcher.” Page 82 describes how the watcher works, and the discussion on pp. 85-86 ultimately reduces it to a form of paranoia.

It’s unclear to me the degree to which the terminology and discussion about the watcher simply refer to compulsive spiritual self-control and self-critique, in contrast to the ways in which this might specifically refer to problems in the early expression of the Kornfield-Goldstein-Salzburg Vipassana paradigm. The latter teachings would have been popping up in Boulder around that time, and their initial problems would later be resolved somewhat. In short, the early Burmese-Thai Theravada tradition ran in to trouble as the teachers started to realize that cultivating witness consciousness was inherently dualistic and that this concsiousness eventually needed to be dismantled in meditation practice. At the time CTSM was articulated, the contradictions that eventually arise from cultivating a witness consciousness may have been a source of anxiety and confusion in this circle–and something Trungpa was using to highlight the importance of "ordinary," non-"evaluative" mind. Basically, I don't know if he was taking a swipe at a rival strain of Buddhism. If not, it's possible this discussion of the watcher applies more generally to any self-evaluation, showing it to generate a kind of infinite hall-of-mirrors regress.