Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Crazy Wisdom {The Eight Aspects of Padmasambhava}

Book Review: Crazy Wisdom {The Eight Aspects of Padmasambhava}– by Chogyam Trungpa, edited by Sherab Chodzin  (Shambhala 1991)

This book stemmed from a series of lectures given by Chogyam Trungpa during two week-long crazy wisdom seminars in December 1972 following a three-month retreat where he presumably contemplated what he would teach in North America now that he had been here a few years. He encountered here a quest for experience among young people experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs and spiritual techniques. Apparently, the first lecture was given right after the retreat with him not having slept at all the previous night and day. His teaching style would change to a more methodical one after these Crazy Wisdom Seminars. The teachings follow a request to teach about the eight aspects of Padmasambhava. Trungpa Rinpoche chose the title of Crazy Wisdom to convey in an informal manner these eight aspects. Each chapter ends with questions and answers from the teaching sessions.

He notes at the very beginning that the subject is very difficult and may be confusing to some, presumably due to mixing different levels and styles of instruction. Padmasambhava was a beloved Indian teacher who brought Buddhist teachings to Tibet. The Tibetans of the time were uncultured shamanist peoples. He is credited with “taming” the wild Tibetan people, and with introducing them to new ways of experiencing metaphysics and spiritual practices. Trungpa notes that one can make a crude analogy of Padmasambhava teaching Tibetans to Tibetans teaching Americans in modern times, not that Americans are wild and uncultured, but that they are predisposed to what he calls “spiritual materialism” which is the idea that merely “buying” into an idea one can be healed by it and come to metaphysical understanding. Spiritual materialism, he suggests, is chasing an ideal and formulating conclusions without actual understanding. A better approach is to meditate on our own confusion without seeking immediate answers but to go deeper into our chaos and neuroses to seek a deeper understanding without the overriding goal of an answer in verbal communicative terms. He says, we seek until we give up hope. “This hopelessness is the essence of crazy wisdom.” Hopelessness is also fearlessness. This process of going deeper within has the effect of ridding us of our preconceptions so that we lose our reference points. Such a psychological process is connected to the eight aspects of Padmasmbhava and he suggests that his teaching of discussing these aspects can be such a penetration. It is important to avoid the habit of trying to grade oneself on a spiritual path as that is the snag of spiritual materialism. The spiritual journey is “ongoingly ruthless,” he says, and there are no resting places for self-congratulations. This ruthlessness implies not giving in to hope and fear. Crazy wisdom is a “primordial craziness,” free of seductive delusions and distractions. In spiritual materialism the goal is often to confirm ideas, to see things as one idealizes them rather than to see things as they are. In spiritual materialism there is a goal but in transcending it there is no goal.

“Padmasambhava’s way is that of transcending spiritual materialism, of developing basic sanity. 
 Developing basic sanity is a process of working on ourselves in which the path itself rather than the attainment of a goal becomes the working basis.”

Trungpa mentions three categories that develop in the journey: completeness/totality of the path, energy/play on the path, and practicality of the path. He notes that the spiritual path does not need to be labeled – all of our mundane activity is included as well, how we relate. The illusory division of self and other creates the equally illusory division of samsara and nirvana. Spirituality is not really the path, he says, but a way of conditioning our path and our energy. The three categories above are how we condition the path, how we relate to it. We relate to it in terms of the totality of our experience, our energy and play, and the practicality of it. This is our motivation. Now he relates these three aspects (totality, energy, and practicality) to the three bodies of the Buddha: dharmakaya, sambhogakaya, and nirmanakaya. He calls them the psychological aspects of Buddha Nature. He explains that the eight aspects of Padmasambhava are not lineal stages but more like a wheel, being eight aspects of any situation. He explains the Tantric approach as unmasking from the inside rather than from the outside. Tantra works from the assumption that we are inherently enlightened so that we merely remove the obscurations to our enlightened nature rather than “become” enlightened, what we already are.

Metaphorically, we tend to see enlightenment as an adult phenomena – old and wise, but in Tantra, says Trungpa, it more resembles a child-like and youthful quality. The story of Padmasambhava appearing as an eight or ten year-old boy on a lotus in a lake with enlightened qualities is an example. He was said to be playful and innocent. Once as a young prince when playing with a vajra and a trident on the roof of the palace, he dropped both, killing two passersby. For this he was exiled and found his way to dwell in a charnel ground. He was born with a sudden glimpse of awakening and thereafter had to learn how to deal with his awakening. The story of Padmasambhava, he says, is a manual of how to be a Buddha and we are all potentially, inherently a Buddha. Discovering our Buddha Nature is the Tantric path. Here the path is the goal and the goal is the path. 

Padmasambhava, as manifesting from dharmakaya through sambhogakaya down to nirmanakaya had to learn how to relate to sentient beings and the worldliness within which they are caught up. Thus he had to learn to relate with samsaric mind. Living in the charnel ground, he sees it in his playfulness as no different from the palace he lived in previously. He dwelled in the fearlessness, the knowledge of eternity, the first stage of crazy wisdom. A vidyadhara is the holder of ‘scientific knowledge’ and an attainer to this crazy wisdom. Being enlightened he manifested as Vajradhara, the holder of indestructibility. This completes the first two aspects of Padmasambhava: as a young prince in the palace and as a young siddha in the charnel ground.

The third aspect is as a bhikksu, a Buddhist monk. This cements his relationship to the tradition. His acquired name is Shakya Simha, or Lion of the Shakyas, which was also a name of Buddha. As a monk he began teaching dharma. When he visited a nunnery where a princess just turned nun, Mandarava, was dwelling, he began teaching there and was eventually discovered by the king, Mandarava’s father, who was so dismayed that he captured Padmasambhava and burned him on a pyre. The pyre burned for some days but would not kill him. He manifested a lake there and sat on a lotus in the center of it. The king confessed his wrong-doing of harming an accomplished siddha and bid him to teach at the palace. The guru initially refused but eventually accepted. During this stage of his teachings he let things be – he let the beings around him discover their own neuroses. His next trial or act was to debate magically five-hundred theists, Brahmanists. He destroyed them in his next aspect as the Lion’s Roar, Senge Dradrok

His next aspect occurred when he went to Tibet. Here he did not encounter theistic Brahmanists, but Bon shamanists. Their equivalent concept was that of yeshen, which means something like ‘primordial ancestral great friend’, or heaven. Here he manifested in the wrathful form of Dorje Trolo. Trungpa considers that Bon, at the time, was theistic, and Buddhism being non-theistic, made it difficult to challenge nationalistic theistic religions like Hinduism but even harder as in the case of Bon, profound shamanistic philosophies grounded in nature. He calls it “anthropocentric” and notes that those types of beliefs are not grounded in basic sanity. He could not pit his gods against their gods but utilized ‘mind,’ as his crazy wisdom to subdue/convert the Tibetans. 

“Dorje Trolo arrives in Tibet riding a pregnant tigress. The tigress is electric. She is pregnant electricity…. Dorje Trolo knows no logic. As far as {he} is concerned, the only conventional logic there is is relating with heaven and earth. Because the sky forms itself into its particular shape, the horizon exists. There is the vastness of space, the sky; and there is the vastness of the earth. They are vast, but okay – so what? Do you want to make a big deal out of the vastness? There is this vastness, but why not consider the smallest things that are happening as well? The grain of sand is more threatening than the vastness of space or of the desert; because of its concentratedness it is extremely explosive. This is a huge cosmic joke here, a gigantic cosmic joke, a very powerful one.”
According to tradition, Padmasambhava buried many teachings in Tibet to be discovered by future generations. This is known as the “terma” tradition. Trungpa describes this manifestation of Dorje Trolo as an immense wrathful energy of compassion and wisdom. Trungpa also notes in answering a student question that the crazy wisdom tradition appears to be exclusively confined to the Nyingma school in Tibetan Buddhism – the “old” school associated with Padmasambhava, particularly the Maha ati, or Dzog Chen lineages. He does note that the Mahamudra tradition of India and Tibet involves similar types of manifestations of siddhi, or accomplishments. Trungpa notes that traditionally there are three ways to tell and understand the Padmasambhava story: the external/factual way, the internal psychological way, and the higher, secret way – which is the approach of crazy wisdom. These are the traditional classifications: outer, inner, and secret. He notes that his current teachings about the life of Padmasambhava are quite unscholastic, though they draw on some of the outer events of his life.

He mentions the idea of working with Padmasambhava as a cosmic principle rather than as a historical person, utilizing his “grace” or adhisthana, in a devotional or romantic way as in bhakti yoga. There are two approaches here he says: the exoteric way of poverty, of seeking the grace one does not have – which is based on spiritual materialism; and the esoteric way of admiring the same principle that you also possess innately – which is based on sanity. This important method employs what is known as “vajra pride” or sacred outlook. It is the pride that is untainted with ego as it is simply recognition that one has the potential for complete awakening. It is an acknowledgement of that potential. Regarding these approaches he says that most of the time one begins from the poverty viewpoint, one begins from a materialistic approach of attaining what one does not have, then proceeds to the sane approach of discovering qualities that are inherent within. I remember a Padmasambhava teaching I attended where the teacher noted this cosmic principle of the Guru, saying that there was a Padmasambhava for every section of space or world system of so many planets! 

At the beginning of the second seminar he reiterates that Padmasambhava’s goal was to teach the barbarian monotheistic Tibetans the non-theistic approach of Buddhism. Believing in “that” or God implies belief in “this” or not God. ie. the Self. It is this relating through reference points that is delusional, he notes. He had to cut through the practicality of the indigenous ecological-type shamanic tradition in order to teach the Tibetans and prepare them for the Tantric path, which requires letting go of Self. It is similar, he said, to America at the time – we all think things exist for our benefit as the Bon Tibetans did. He intimates that such indigenous/shamanic/practical/sane/ecological traditions are quite beautiful and valid, just that the Buddhist view transcends their limitations. Previous beliefs and traditions do not need to be discarded, according to the Buddhist view, but perhaps just sublimated in some sense to a more profound view.

Trungpa reiterates in a long exchange with a student, that the prerequisite for crazy wisdom is sheer, all-encompassing, groundless hopelessness. “… a sense of hopelessness could provide the basic approach to non-duality.” He notes that experience itself involves a sense of duality – relating to the experience as the one having it. This is usually called subject-object duality. Thus the experience is projected onto a self, an experiencer, and there is separation. He says there is a sense of space between experience and the projection of the experience. There is an instant of “pregnant openness”” or emptiness between experience and its projection. The projection happens after the experience: “When we definitely decide to leap, we have leapt already.” Experience first happens (unconditioned) before it is conditioned. Trungpa notes that Padmasambhava manifested from dharmakaya through samboghakaya to nirmanakaya, (He is often called a nirmanakaya Buddha) and this manifesting from the subtle to gross bodies/forms of Buddha is also connected to his eight aspects – the aspects are on different levels/planes of subtlety. Padmasambhava “is” the three kaya principle. As practitioners we are trying to relate to the Padmasambhava-ness in our state of being – the Precious Guru within. He also says we are infested with Padmasambhava and haunted by him.

He tells the story of the ordinary farmer, the Madman of Tsang, who was asked by Trugpa’s guru, Jamgon Kongtrul, how to unite with Padmasambhava. He answered that he did recitations and mantras for years continuously trying to unite with the great Guru but finally he gave up and then realized that he was the Guru, that the Guru was calling him and then everything changed. Trungpa notes that dharmakaya means primordial Buddha and refers to the Buddha that did not “become” a Buddha but always was and has never not been Buddha. 

The eight “aspects” of Padmasambhava are traditionally translated as the eight names of the guru. The aspects ae not a lineal descent or ascent but simultaneous. They might be called the eight ways beings experience Padmasambhava. He notes that the effect of crazy wisdom is to mirror one’s neuroses back as in the scriptural statement:

“He subdues whoever needs to be subdued and destroys whoever needs to be destroyed.”

There is no logic and there are no limitations.

The first aspect is Pema Gyalpo or Padma Raja in Sanskrit. This is the youthful lotus prince. He is born with the enlightened quality of fearlessness. He related with things openly and directly, without fear. He had a sense of eternity.

In talking about the dharmakaya (body of truth) he notes that it does have some conditioning, at least in the Nyingma teachings. Dharmadhatu is no experience while the dharmakaya is the beginning, doorway of conditioning experience. He also says there are different viewpoints as to whether there is karma at the dharmakaya level – in the Maha Ati (Dzog Chen) tradition Longchen Rabjam says there is karma in dharmakaya, but other schools say no. He also notes that the process of manifestation from dharmakaya to nirmanakaya is the same as the process of manifestation given in the Buddhist tradition as the twelve links of interdependent origination, or the twelve nidanas. Trungpa Rinpoche here and throughout the book gives more conversational style question and answer exchanges than I have encountered in teachings. There is a playful quality to the dialogue, yet it is also quite intense.
Death is an uncompromising discontinuity where our habitual patterns cease to function, he says. He notes that socially, facing impending death is often embarrassing to both the dying and those who witness it. He notes, I think quite correctly, that most faith-based reminders about death, are really based on fear. They are reactions to the discomfort of the impending unknown and the impending ceasing to exist.

In his next aspect, after being exiled and living in the cremation ground he discovers eternity. He goes to visit a teacher in the Maha Ati tradition, Shri Simha, said to have come from Thailand, but now living in a cave in another charnel ground. He asks Shri Simha how to destroy the sense of experience. Shri Simha reduces him to the syllable HUM, then swallows him and shits him out. HUM is penetration:

“You don’t try to dissolve experience or try to regard it as a fallacy. You penetrate experience. Experience is like a container with lots of holes in it, which means that it cannot give you proper shelter, proper comfort.”

HUM is a seed syllable, often a condensed form (of a yidam deity), thus he was condensed, abbreviated, tightly packaged, concentrated.

Developing his sense of eternity Padmasambhava was said to be able to control time and space. This is his yogi aspect, Nyima Oser. Trungpa suggests that this “penetration” is like waking up from absorption. He uses the analogy of falling out of a punctured hammock. He also notes that spiritual development is more an unlearning process rather than one of collecting experiences. Thus the style of Padmasambhava is one of unmasking, unlearning, removing layers of obscurations. He makes the interesting statement that fear without hope is insightful. “It has spontaneously existing resourcefulness.” He seems to suggest that hope and fear as the root of all emotions are the basis of duality. They are the attractive and repulsive aspects. He says that we would ideally relate to them without feedback so that the situation will resolve or become clear. Trungpa spent a lot of time beginning in his youth attending to dying people. He says that we should convey to a dying person that death is a very “real” experience rather than trying to give them hope for some happy outcome through dogma. The idea is to let it be as it is rather than try to persuade it, I think.

The aspect of Shakya Senge, or Padmasambhava as a Mahayana Buddha is “connected to the expression of ultimate sanity. This realization allowed him to be able to teach, to proclaim, through the Lion’s Roar. According to tradition Padmasambhava studied with and was ordained as a monk by Ananda, the famous student of the Buddha. Ananda was his guru. I can observe that that shortens the lineage between Padmasabhava and Buddha Shakyamuni just as the termas shorten the lineage between Padmasambhava and the tertons (terma treasure discoverers). This makes sense in light of the Guru’s ability to control time. Padmasambhava, or Guru Rinpoche, is the archetypal guru, particularly for the Tibetan people. He is said to be still alive in the same body living near Jambu, on a continent of vampires (rakshasas) in the Copper Colored Mountain. 

Teaching sanity requires skillful means, as sanity is often found to be too spacious or irritating. Perhaps we are too comfortable in our confusion. Senge Dradrok, his aspect as the Lion’s Roar, is when he appears as a great magician to subdue the tirthikas, the dualists, sometimes called heretics. These heretics are distinguished from the non-dual Vedantists, whose view is much closer to that of the Buddhists. This powerful aspect of the Guru allowed nature to destroy those predisposed to being destroyed.

Trunpa distinguishes the experience of emptiness (shunyata) from that of crazy wisdom. Shunyata is wisdom without energy while the Tantric approach is based on energy.

The next aspect is simply Padmasambhava. He is usually called Guru Rinpoche, or Pema Jungne, or the “Lotus-Born” in Tibet, or Padmakara in Sanskrit. This may have something to do with a sectarian philosophical argument whether he should be understood more as a cosmic principle or as a historical person, a scholar, or pandit. This is his aspect as a pandit. He entered Nalanda Monastery and studied the threefold discipline: meditation, morality, and knowledge, which correspond to the Buddhist division of teachings known as the Tripitaka, the three baskets: sutra, vinaya, and abhidharma. The idea is to become well-grounded in theory and practice and understanding. He mentions the value of working with the intellect without a “watcher” and this seems to be similar to Indian teachings about working without a witness.

The next aspect is Loden Choksi. Here he was a king’s guru (rajguru) who went to the nunnery to teach Mandarava who would become his consort. When confronted by the King of Zahor who sent him to be executed he manifested using all aspects of his punishment to ornament himself magically by becoming immune to all the tortures. Obstacles became adornments. In this aspect he accepts and adapts accordingly rather than seeking to change things other than himself, his mind. 

The eighth and final aspect of Padmasambhava is Dorje Trolo, the absolute aspect of crazy wisdom. This aspect is all about transmitting the teachings, the grace-energy, or adhisthana, to sentient beings. There are three styles of transmitting this energy: 1) by word of mouth – this includes all language and writing too and all of our preconditioning to be able to receive and comprehend such teachings; 2) the method of crazy wisdom on the relative level – here the teacher shows by creating situations that appear to occur by themselves through a symbol or sign conveyed by the Guru; 3) the mind lineage or the thought lineage. This aspect of crazy wisdom may appear quite ordinary but is based on dharmakaya, so is the most profound. He mentions a kind of aware uncertainty developing, at the boundary between the death of the question and the birth of the answer. The crazy wisdom of Dorje Trolo is an uncompromising wrath. He subdued the twelve guardian goddesses of Tibet, converting them to protectors of the dharma. He transformed his consort Yeshe Tsogyal into a pregnant tigress and together they subdued the psychic energies of the country. He appeared in his wrathful form ambiguously, as part Tibetan, part Indian, part human, part animal. The pregnant tigress represents dangerous energy, the vehicle of Padmasambhava. He introduced impracticality to the overly practical Tibetans. Yet it was the return of their practicality later that made them good yogis, he says.
Padmasambhava foretold prophecies of the distant future. One was that Tibet would be conquered and subdued. This made the royal personages anxious. One remedy was the development of the buried treasure, or terma tradition, where teachings were concealed magically all over Tibet for the benefit of future generations. 

There is an About the Author section that talks about Trungpa Rinpoche’s recognition as a tulku, or nirmanakaya, an incarnated teacher – in his case the 11th Trungpa Rinpoche, leader of Surmang Monastery. His main teachers were the Nyingma master Jamgon Kongtrul and the Kagyu master Khenpo Kangshar. He escaped Tibet to India in the late 1950’s. Eventually he moved to England and was educated at Oxford. He took a solitary retreat in Bhutan in 1969. After this he immediately became a lay person, married an Englishwoman, and moved to North America. He taught for seventeen years, developing a reputation for being dynamic and controversial. He gave many talks, wrote many books, he translated texts, practiced art, painting, poetry, and other contemplative arts. He developed the Shambhala Warrior teachings and a Buddhist and Contemplative University at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. There were developed several systems of training. He died young in 1987 at age 47. He was also known to have a habit of alcohol use, some drug experimentation (which was commonplace at the time) and womanizing. In these aspects he was quite controversial, yet he shaped the transmission of Tantric Buddhism, the Vajrayana, or “indestructible vehicle,” to the West most extensively.

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