Wednesday, April 25, 2007

on self-absorption

"For the Buddhist, disobedience, pride, and murmuring are more than momentary gestures of autonomy or independence. They are all expressions of self-absorption [which is] a defence against our own spiritual development .

To expose that self-absorption in a way that neither breaks the rusty vessel nor crushes the bruised reed is one of the principle tasks of the spiritual teacher. Speaking of Chogyam Trungpa's various ways of exposing her stubbornness, Simmer-Brown writes: Even if he said nothing, my awareness of my confusion and self-absorption became highlighted in his presence. The shock and nausea of seeing our own self-absorption can be overwhelming for a time. We may find ourselves awkward or tongue-tied when we are around our teacher, our neuroses heightened, as our self-absorption rises to the surface. Simmer-Brown says she was often unable, in the presence of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, to hold a single coherent thought in her mind. Vulnerability of this kind opens the heart to the teacher's skilful means. A teacher who lovingly does this for us, showing us our shortcomings and his view of them, is a revealer of hidden treasures, inviting us to a true change of heart.

But what if the fortress of self-absorption seems impregnable? Then the utmost delicacy, clarity and firmness are required for the good of all. One truly incorrigible and self-willed person can destroy a community. But careful discernment is essential, as rebellion can be a sign of breakthrough rather than of breakdown; it can mean that one is approaching fresh frontiers of practice. The disciplines of monastic life and obedience may be serving to exaggerate [self-absorption and rebellion] to the point of self-awareness. Either way, the community needs skilful means to deal with intransigent and disruptive self-absorption, and to care for the rebel."