CTSM 6, 7, 8: pain, warmth, tickles • 14 August 2010

The Hard Way

This chapter repeats the argument that it is crucial to take responsibility for one’s own work, making hard, individual effort (87) and relentlessly unmasking, staying open, surrendering the self-defensive tendencies of the ego. What is new in this chapter is an attitude of religious fervor and use of (it seems) Christian language. CTSM is called a “narrow path” (cf. Matthew 7:13) and described as excruciatingly painful. Explicitly stating the Protestant ethic, the chapter concludes: “The idea is not to regard the spiritual path as something very luxurious….” (104)

[For some of us in this group, I am guessing that the forceful version of the argument will be less credible than the quiet or the systematically reasonable versions of previous chapters. For others, graphic discussion of pain and suffering may be really useful and more honest than anything? I hear a lot of this sort of talk among Vajrayana students. A recent example is Susan Piver’s beautiful, detailed article on the despairs and dramas of meditation practice last month in HuffPo. Sometimes Vajrayana emphasis on keeping it real seems histrionic, or Puritain, to people on the outside. I include this commentary here because the pain and seriousness decrease after this chapter.]

Meantime, the one new thing here is, understandably, a discussion of false heroism. Renegade genius and serious pain are linked. This “heroic” path, which usually involves pilgrimmages and especially ritual purification and body cleansing, gets a person involved in all sorts of austerities and self-affirming discipline. It is a flight from everydayness—one which sets a person up for dramatic highs and lows. Pages 89-90 conclude: “The attitude of ‘heroism’ is based upon the assumption that we are bad, impure, that we are not worthy… We must… be different from what we are…. [I]f we are middle class Americans, we must give up our jobs…. If we are hippies, we must give up drugs…. We think our path is spiritual because ti is literally against the flow of what we used to be, but it is merely the way of false heroism, and the only one who is heroic in this way is ego.”

The Q&A covers topics from the limitations on written teachings to skillful and unskillful approaches to psychotherapy.

The Open Way [ strike The Easy Way ]

In contrast to the “samsaric path of desire,” of achievement and self-improvement (114), this chapter describes the compassion and “dance” that arises later.

There is a phase of practice characterized by a search for miracles and a desire “to be one of the people who has done something… super-extraordinary.” (106) One becomes alienated from family and friends in search of the extraordinary, full of self-concern, and practice gets stale and uninspiring. There is a new search for better practices and teachers. This phase is natural and beautiful, as it was for Tilopa, the student Narpoa finally slapped on the face with a sandal to get him to lay off the seeking behavior and thus let go of its momentum and aggression.

Then something happens. “At this stage your meditation practice is the act of trusting yourself. As your practice becomes more prominent in daily life activiies, you begin to trust yourself and have a compassionate attitude…. [This is not] feeling sorry for someone. It is basic warmth. As much space and clarity as there is, there is that much warmth as well, some delightful feeling of positive things happening in yourself constantly… the continual act of making friends with yourself. Then… you cannot just contain that friendship within you; you must have some outlet, which is your relationship with the world.” (113)

One could instead travel in the direction of achievement and expert-ness, becoming bloated with knowledge, “self-satisfied and aggressive. ‘I know what I’m doing—don’t touch me.’”

But in the other direction is trust, spontaneous joy, and giving. “[Y]ou relate with people, because you no longer regard people as a drain on your enegy. They recharge your energy… you do not feel you are running out of resources.” (115) You can afford to be open instead of working to protect your ground. Because of its essential trust, there is no concern for impoverishment and thus an attitude of generosity. Later other virtues arise: discipline, patience (because non-inspired-ness fades), and ability to see situations as they are. These qualities arise because energy is not being so drained on efforts to maintain the ego.

The end of the chapter includes a discussion of the self-decptive nature of “love,” insofar as love attempts to overcome hatred and darkness, defending light aganst the dark. But love ultimately just encompasses dark and light, good and bad. (117).

The long Q & A covers fear, discusses that compassion is not an emotion but a state of being, and mentions that compassion “ferments by itself. It does not need any effort.” (123)

Sense of Humor

The opposite of humor is the sense of “hard fact” (with which chapter 6 dryly began and concluded). The solemnity of seeing life and spirituality as hard facts, or as a battlefield, actually “relates to spiritual materialism.”

This chapter offers funny stories of monks playing with mice at the moment of realization, dying of laughter, and other absurdities. Seriousness dead-ends in funny. If you “try to impose solemnity… as if everything is a big deal, then it is funny.” (133)

“Sense of humor means seeing… from an aerial point of view. There is good and there is bad…. Then you begin to feel that these little people on the ground, killing each other or making love… are very insignificant… the ironic aspect of their clamor.” (132-3)

Very serious practice, too, is extremely ironic and thus humorous. Trying too hard, with rote solemnity, to have a sense of humor, is itself laughable. So is effort at perfect posture. And ticklishness.

The source of humor is pervasive joy.