Transcending Madness – Chogyam Trungpa

DEVOTEE: Master, the Tibetan scripture on the six Yogas of Naropa, which is very similar to the Tibetan Book of the Dead , describes the bardo state as an opportunity for attaining Enlightenment. If you have been trained spiritually and if you have practiced during your lifetime, then the consciousness of the bardo state after death provides a vehicle for transformation.

MASTER DA FREE JOHN: As this life does! This experience is a bardo state. This moment is an illusion of consciousness. The disposition we suffer or enjoy while alive is the disposition we bring to the bardo realms. We must rightly conceive of this life as a bardo realm, as a state of phenomenal awareness conditioned by our disposition, and, through profound participation in the spiritual process, we must transform our habit of associating with arising phenomena.

Adi Da Samraj – Easy Death

“Thus, the Crazy Adepts, even in an exaggerated fashion, may tend to live the Western style of life. They live as if completely attached, or they do the things that, you might imagine, if they continued to do them they would become so profoundly attached they would even destroy themselves or work counter to Enlightenment. But they are functioning on the basis of prior Enlightenment. No attachment, no egoic principle, no self-principle is involved in what they are doing. They demonstrate complete freedom through paradox. Thus, the evolution of the Buddhist tradition, from Hinayana to Vajrayana and ultimately to Advaitayana, expresses a return from East to West.”

Master Da Free John (Adi Da Samraj) – Dreaded Gom Goo

Student: Would you translate bardo again?

Trungpa Rinpoche: Bar means “in-between” or “gap” or “the middle,” and do means “island,” so altogether bardo means “that which exists between two situations.” It is like the experience of living, which is between birth and death.

Student: What is not bardo?

Trungpa Rinpoche: The beginning and the end. [Laughter]”


by Chogyam Trungpa


The Six Realms of Being

The Bardo of Meditation

The Bardo of Birth

The Bardo of Illusory Body

The Bardo of Dreams

The Bardo of Existence

The Bardo of Death

The Lonely Journey

From seminar’s in
Allenspark, Colorado
Karme Choling


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There seems to be quite a misconception as to the idea of bardo, which is that it is purely connected with the death and after-death experience. But the experience of the six bardos is not concerned with the future alone; it also concerns the present moment. Every step of experience, every step of life, is bardo experience.

Bardo is a Tibetan word: bar means “in between” or, you could say, “no-man’s land,” and do is like a tower or an island in that no-man’s land. It’s like a flowing river which belongs neither to the other shore nor to this shore, but there is a little island in the middle, in between. In other words, it is present experience, the immediate experience of nowness—where you are, where you’re at. That is the basic idea of bardo.

The experience of such a thing also brings the idea of space, of course. Without seeing the spacious quality, which does not belong to you or others, you would not be able to see the little island in the middle at all. The living experience of bardo could only come from seeing the background of space. And from that, within space or an understanding of space, a brilliant spark or flash happens. So generally, all bardo experiences are situations in which we have emerged from the past and we have not yet formulated the future, but strangely enough, we happen to be somewhere. We are standing on some ground, which is very mysterious. Nobody knows how we happen to be there.

That mysterious ground, which belong to neither that nor this, is the actual experience of bardo. It is very closely associated with the practice of meditation. In fact, it is the meditation experience. That is why I decided to introduce this subject. It is also connected with the subject of basic ego and one’s experience of ego, including all sorts of journeys through the six realms of the world.

Beyond that is the issue of how we happen to be in the six realms of the world; how we find that experience is not seen as an evolutionary process, as it should be, but as extremely patchy and rugged, purely a glimpse. Somehow, things don’t seem to be associated or connected with each other—they are very choppy and potent like gigantic boulders put together. Each experience is real, potent, impressionable, but generally we don’t find that there is any link between those potent experiences. It is like going through air pockets—emotionally, spiritually, domestically, politically. The human situation passes through these highlights or dramas, and on the other hand, the absence of drama, and boredom—which is another aspect of drama. We go through all these processes. And somehow these isolated situations, which from our confused way of thinking seem to have nothing to do with the basic quality of continuity, are the continuity itself. So the only way to approach this is to see the evolutionary process.

I can’t lay heavy trips on people to understand that or accept that purely on blind faith. In order not to lay heavy trips on people, we have to have some concrete thing to work on. That is where the six experiences of bardo come in—in each moment, each situation. Each of the six types of bardo is individual and unique in its own way. They are isolated situations on the one hand, but on the other hand they have developed and begun to make an impression on us, penetrating through us within that basic space or basic psychological background. So the bardo experience is very important to know. And in fact it is much more fundamental that simply talking about death and reincarnation and what you are supposed to experience after you die. It is more fundamental than that.

I know people would love to hear about undiscovered areas: “Do Martians exist?” In a lot of cases, when we talk about karma and reincarnation and life after death, we tend to make assumptions or logical ideas about them. And people often get quite emotional about it, because they would like to prove that there are such things as life after death or reincarnation. But the subject we are going to work on is not based on trying to prove logical conclusions. I mean, it is not really that desperate, is it? What difference does it really make whether we are going to come back or not? The question of whether we are what we are or whether we are on some ground seems to be more realistic and more important.

In discussing the experience of the bardos we are working on that realistic aspect of the process of changing from birth to death, the intermediate process between birth and death. We are not trying to prove logically or by theology that life after death is important and that you must accept that on faith. In many cases, particularly in the West, people try to prove the existence of life after death, saying: “Such and such a saint or sage was a great person when he lived, and his example of being is beyond question—and he also says that there is such a thing as life after death.” That is trying to prove the notion of life after death by innuendo: “It is true because he was an enlightened person as a living being and he said so!” When we try to prove the point of view of life after death in that way, we have no real proof. The only thing we could prove is that he was an awake person and that he said so.

There is almost a feeling of rediscovery: Eastern traditions have managed to present to the Western world that nothing is fatalistic but everything is continuously growing, as an evolutionary, developing process. In many cases, Westerners find this view extremely helpful and hopeful. They no longer just wait to die, but there’s something hopeful—the message of continuity, that you have another chance. But I think all of these views and attitudes on the idea of rebirth and reincarnation and karma are very simple-minded ones. As well as that, we begin to feel we can afford to make mistakes, because surely we will have another chance. We are going to come back and we might do better. Often people who are afraid of dying have been saved by hearing the idea of reincarnation. They are no longer afraid of death, or even if they are afraid of death, they try to contemplate the idea of rebirth, which saves them from that. I don’t think that is a complete way of looking into the situation.

The fatalistic quality of life and death depends on the present situation. The present situation is important—that’s the whole point, the important point. Whether you continue or whether you don’t continue, you are what you are at the moment. And you have six types of psychological thresholds, or bardo experiences, in your lifetime. We will go into details if you don’t find this too heavy on intellectual supposition. You might ask, “Is it worth speculating about all these six types of bardo experiences? Why don’t we just sit and meditate and forget all this jargon?” Well, it is much easier said than done. To start with, when we begin to sit down and meditate, these collections do come up. They happen continuously in the thought process. Discursive thoughts, argumentative thoughts, self-denial thoughts—all sorts of thoughts begin to come up. So it seems to be important to know something about them. In other words, you could make use of these thoughts instead of pretending to be good and trying to suppress thoughts, as though you don’t require them anymore or they don’t require you anymore.

It is good to make use of speculative mind. That is exactly why the whole idea of studying scriptures and going through disciplines or practices is extremely important. It is a way of using these living materials that we have. Whether we try to quiet ourselves or not, these things come up constantly and do happen. Therefore, making use of such thought processes as a way of learning is extremely necessary and good and helpful and important—unless you develop “gold fever,” believing that you have found some argument, some logic which you’re excited about, and you spend the rest of your life arguing, trying to prove it logically all the time. If this begins to happen, then the intellect is not being properly cared for. It begins to take on a self-destructive quality, as in gold fever, where you’re constantly willing to sacrifice your life looking for gold, gold, gold, and you end up destroying yourself. It is the same thing when you’re trying to look for something, trying to prove something purely by intellectual speculation, beyond the ordinary level of thought process. The ordinary level of thought process has been transformed into a more ambitious one. Being able to click with your thought process and work something out is good, but beyond that goodness, you begin to get a faint idea of satisfaction—just a teeny-weeny bit to start with and then it begins to grow, grow, grow, and grow. It becomes addictive and self-destructive.

So that seems to be the limitation. If one’s experiences, discoveries, and intellectual understandings coincide simultaneously, like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, that’s fine. That doesn’t mean that you have to have an absolute understanding or a complete command of the whole thing necessarily at all. But you could have a basic glimpse or understanding of the situation and you could go along with it, without indulging in the experience as a new discovery of an exciting thing. And I hope, in any case, to introduce in my lifetime, working with people in the West, all the teachings that are available and have been studied, practiced, and experienced in Tibet and elsewhere. And I have tremendous confidence that people in the West will be able to grasp them if we are not too rushed, if no one has caught gold fever halfway. That would be too bad.

I’m sure that such studying, such learning, means sacrificing intellect when it goes beyond, to the pleasurable point of intellectualization. It also means sacrificing the emotional, impulsive quality of wanting to exaggerate by tuning in to your basic neuroses and trying to interpret them as discoveries. That is another problem. You see, there are two extremes: one extreme is indulgence in the intellectual sense and in intellectual discovery; the other extreme is using the impulsive, instinctive level of the ego as camouflage to prove your state of mind in terms of the teachings. The two of them could work side by side with some people, or else there could be a greater portion of one or the other with others. It could work either way.

Our task is not purely trying to save ourselves alone—whether you are 99 years old or whether you are ten years old doesn’t make any difference. Our task is to see our situation along with that of our fellow human beings. As we work on ourselves, then we continuously work with others as well. That is the only way of developing ourselves, and that is the only way of relating with the six experiences of bardo. If we relate our experience with the dream bardo, the bardo between birth and death, the bardo of the before-death experience, or the bardo of emotions—all of these have a tremendous connection with our projection of the world outside. Other persons, animate and inanimate objects, the apparent phenomenal world, also play a great and important part. But unless we’re willing to give in, give way, and learn from these situations, then our prefabricated learning—either by scripture or by the constant close watch of our instructor—doesn’t help. It doesn’t mean anything very much.

I think I’ve said enough. This much introduction is quite a handful. At this seminar, a lot of us, all of us actually, are brought together by individual convictions. That individual conviction means a great deal. We were not brought up in Buddhist families; our parents did not pay our fee and push us here. Everything here is based on individual conviction. We are free people; we have the right to use our freedom, our insight, for our own benefit as well as for sharing and communicating with others as compassionately and openly as possible. Perhaps we should have a short question period.

STUDENT: You said one should not try to save oneself alone, and then you used the expression “projections.” But in another talk you said that in order to be able to communicate you have to respect the existence of the other person. This is more than projection, isn’t it? It’s a recognition.

TR: Well, you see, that is a very interesting point. And actually, to tell you the truth, nobody is quite certain whether it is one hundred percent projection or whether it is only partially a projection. Things do exist independent of you, outside you, and you exist independent of them in some ways. But occasionally you need their help to reaffirm yourself. If you are a fat person, somebody will say you are fat because they are thinner than you. Without their comparison you wouldn’t know what you were, because you would have no way of working with yourself. And from that point of view it could be called a projection. But projection in this case does not necessarily mean purely your hallucination; things outside do exist as they are. But that’s a very dangerous thing to say.

Things do exist as they are, but we tend to see our version of them as they are, rather than things as they really are. That makes everything that we see projections. But one doesn’t have to make a definite and absolute reassurance of that necessarily at all. You just go along with situations, go along with dealing with them. If you are going too far, they’ll shake you. They’ll beat you to death if you’re going too far. If you’re going well, if you are balanced, they will present hospitality and openness luxuriously to you. I mean, that much of a situation is there anyway; some kind of rapport between this and that goes on all the time. As long as a person is sensitive enough to experience it, that rapport goes on. That’s the important point. One doesn’t have to make it definite and clear-cut as to which is not projection and which is projection. It is sort of a gradual understanding. Until the attainment of buddhahood, this experience goes on—and nobody is able to answer it because they themselves don’t know.

STUDENT: When was The Tibetan Book of the Dead written?

TR: According to tradition, it was about the 14th century, or about 200 years after the introduction of Buddhism into Tibet from India. At that time, a particular teacher called Karma Lingpa discovered this teaching—he did not actually compose it, but it is as though he discovered, or rediscovered, this teaching. The actual teaching existed in the 7th century. He rediscovered the idea of bardo and the death experience out of his own experience as well, in the death of his very beloved child. He had watched the death of his child, and after he had conducted the funeral service and the child had been buried, he came back home to find that his wife was also just about to die. So he watched and he worked through this experience of the death process. From that experience he discovered that the process of birth and death is continual, taking place all the time. And therefore the six types of bardo were developed.

I think it had something to do with the local situation in Tibet at the time as well, because generally people regarded death as extremely important as well as death. People often gathered around their dying friends, dying relatives, and tried to work with them and help them. That was the common tradition. It seems that in the West, people make birth more important. You congratulate someone for having a child, and you have parties for birthdays. But there are no parties for dying.

STUDENT: In Ireland there is the wake, or party for the deceased, which happens down South as well.

TR: I hope so. I’m pleased. That is probably connected with ancient ideas, which is very right, very good. It think it is extremely important to a dying person that he or she receive proper acknowledgement that he is dying, and that death plays an important part in life as well as birth—as much as one’s birthday parties. It’s an important thing.

STUDENT: I didn’t understand the distinction between intellectual and instinctual.

TR: In Instinct, you don’t use any logic. To put it very bluntly, extremely bluntly, if you’re studying and practicing the teachings of some religion, and you have some pseudo-experience of the spiritual path—sort of a shadow experience of what has been described in the scriptures—you’ll go along with it, but you are not quite certain exactly. You would like to believe that these experiences are true experiences. And at a certain point, you have to make up your mind whether all this experience and development have been pure hypocrisy on your part or not—you have to make a decision. Either you have to renounce your discoveries as being false up to that point or you have to make another leap of building yourself up.

That very peak point becomes extremely important to a person—whether he will confess everything completely, or whether he will latch onto some continual buildup. If a person has decided to continually build up and to latch onto that, then he begins to realize that he can’t keep up with the speed of what’s going on, with his experience. In the scriptures, the analogy for this is a street beggar who’s been enthroned as a universal monarch. There is a sudden shock, you don’t know what to do. You never had a penny; now you have the rest of the world, from your point of view. And you automatically freak out because of such a change. You act as though you are a universal monarch, although in mentality you are still a beggar. A beggar doesn’t make a good millionaire. If there’s no gradual experience of the transition, things will become chaotic and emotionally disturbed as well in such a relationship. That is, of course, the emotional or the instinctive.

The scholarly approach is less violent than that, less dangerous than that, but at the same time it is extremely contagious in the sense of bringing you down. Continual bondage is put on yourself all the time. You become heavier and heavier and heavier. You don’t accept anything unless it is logically proven, up to the point that the logic brings you pleasure, the discovery brings you pleasure. In certain neurotic intellectual states of mind, everything is based on pain and pleasure. If your discovery brings pleasure, then you accept it as a masterpiece. If that discovery or logical conclusion doesn’t bring you pleasure, or victory, then you feel you’ve been defeated. You find this with certain college professors: if you discuss their sore point in their particular subject, if there’s the slightest usage of certain words, since their whole world is based on words, the structure of words, they become extremely upset or offended. The whole thing is based on pleasure and pain, from the point of view of getting logical conclusions. But the scholar doesn’t claim that he or she has spiritual experiences, as the other person would claim. In fact, the scholar would be afraid of any actual experience of what he’s teaching; he wouldn’t actually commit himself at all. He may be a professor of meditation, but he wouldn’t dare to take part in sitting meditation because that doesn’t bring pleasure or any logical conclusions for his work or research.

STUDENT: If you really start to study very hard, do you have any conscious control over the experiences you receive? Doesn’t it just happen to you? Can you really push it too fast?

TR: Well, you can push too fast, of course, but that doesn’t mean the whole thing should be ruled out. I mean, there is a balanced pattern happening all the time. It’s a question of how open you are. The minute you set foot on the path, if there’s room for suggestion and if you are flexible and not too serious or sincere, there is, of course, room for study. But once a person begins to make up his mind that whatever he is doing is a matter of death or life, kill or cure—as they say, “publish or perish”—then it could become self-destructive. It is very individual; you can’t make generalizations.

S: Is it possible to check yourself when you start on the path so that you’re not deceiving yourself all the time about your seriousness, your sincerity, and so that it doesn’t just become a trap?

TR: Generally, if you allow some space between the action and the thinking, it is a natural process, always predictable. In this case, there will be a definite experience of genuine understanding of yourself as you areand as what you’re trying to do—in other words, your hypocritical aspect and you as an innocent child. That will be quite obvious, provided you allow room or space between action and thinking. It will be quite a natural process.

A person might be convinced that he has gained something which he actually hasn’t gained. And if you talk to such a person, he might behave as if he has no doubt about himself at all. He overrides your doubts about him; there’s no question about his attainment; it’s absolutely valid; he is a bank of knowledge and he knows what he’s doing. But the very fact of the way he overrides any doubts means the subtlety of something is not quite right. It could happen that if we were really honest with ourselves, if we allowed space for ourselves, we automatically would know that the subtlety of self-hypocrisy is always there, without fail. Even if you had great power, great will power to override these obstacles, still you would know. There still will be a very faint but very sharp, very delicate and penetrating understanding that something is not quite right. That is basic sanity, which continues all the time, without fail. That basic sanity really allows you to engage your speed and your pressure, so to speak. It happens all the time, continuously.

S: I want to know how it works, the space between action and the thinking process. Is it that you think of an action, then do it?

TR: When I talk about space, I don’t mean you have to delay yourself between thinking and doing things. It is a fundamental understanding that, to start with, what you’re doing is not warfare. No one is losing and no one is gaining. There’s time to be open. It doesn’t mean you have to slow down your footsteps and be half an hour late for your interview necessarily; it is not that literal. But there will be some feeling of spaciousness or roomy quality, that you can afford to be what you are. Really, you can afford to be what you are. You may think you’re alone and nobody’s with you, but that in itself is good enough. The aloneness is good, because you are definitely what you are, clear-cut what you are. Your area has not been intruded on or taken advantage of by others. You have your space; you have your place. It is a definite thing: you are alone and you can afford to be what you are, and you don’t have to rush into it. It is fundamental space, basic space—extreme, fundamental space.

S: Usually in real life one cannot afford to do or be what one wants to be for oneself because it involves many other people, so it can be very selfish.

TR: The point is not that you have to centralize yourself. If you can afford to be what you are, then that automatically means you could receive others as your guests. Because the ground your guests are treading on is safe ground, nobody is going through the floorboard. It is a sound, well-built house, your own house, and people could be welcome in it. That makes other people more comfortable and welcome, so they don’t have to put up their portion of resistance anymore. It is mutual understanding. You see, generally people pick up some kind of psychic vibrations that you put out, and before you exchange words there is a kind of meeting of the two psyches. That takes place continuously.

S: Could you elaborate on the importance of studying the six states of bardo in connection with meditation experience?

TR: You don’t have to try to put them together; they are the same experience. However, the six types of bardo are post-meditation experience, the meditation-in-action aspect. Sitting meditation is being, a way of being in open space, providing a clear white canvas in order to paint pictures on it. So they are complementary to one another.

S: As Evans-Wentz mentions in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, there are various books of the dead in various cultures. Are the experiences they describe inspired parables, or have they actually been experienced and can be experienced by us, too?

TR: You see, all ancient traditions—such as the Egyptian, the Pon tradition of Tibet, the Shintoism of Japan, the Taoism of China, and others—all paid a great deal of attention to the process of growth. The process of growth means birth as well as coloring, blooming, decaying, turning into a seed, dropping on the ground, regenerating as another plant, and going through the cycle of the four seasons continuously. Because of that, because it is of the same nature, human life has been dealt with in exactly the same way. So much sacredness has been imposed on the idea of the birth and death process. I don’t think it is so much an intellectual, philosophical, or religious phenomenon, but it is much more earthy—being one with the facts of life, with this growth process.

For instance, in Pon, the Tibetan pre-Buddhist tradition, they say the time of death and the time of birth should coincide. That brings a conclusion to that process of birth and death—which includes the climate, the time, the location, the direction the dying person is facing, the particular collection of parents and relatives, and how many people are gathered there, how many men, women, or children. That whole collection brings a total picture of complete conclusion. So they are very earthy people. It is quite different from how modern occultists work with the same thing. It is very earthy; nobody allows room for hallucinations or imagination. Everything is dealt with completely within the tradition and the actual experience of the moment.

From that point of view, in all the traditional civilizations of many different cultures, the death experience is regarded as an important point. And on top of that, the Buddhist discovery was to see all those colors, directions, temperatures, and climates of the dying person as a psychological picture. So it is seen completely differently but in exactly the same way.

S: Are the deities which appear during the 49 days following death just visions, or are they actually experienced?

TR: Nobody knows. But as an experience of a given situation develops, it has a feeling around it as well. That could be said of anything, like the meeting of two friends—the situation of the meeting, the nature of the conversation, the particular kind of prelude to the meeting the individuals had before they met the other person, what kind of state of mind you are in, what kind of incidents you have gone through, whether you just got up and felt high-spirited when you met this person or whether you were just involved in a car accident and you happened to drag yourself into a friend’s house and met this person—I mean, such situations make real life, the living quality. From that point of view it is a definite thing, an experiential thing. But as far as the death process is concerned, nobody knows. It is left to individuals to work through it from their living experiences.

S: If you have decided to return to earth, the soul sees visions of copulating males and females. Well, this is a marvelous simile, but does that vision really exist?

TR: It could exist, sure. If you are without a home for seven weeks and you see somebody decorating a beautiful apartment …

S: Through meditation I get myself together. But can I use it to help other people, all those who are oppressed?

TR: I think so, definitely, yes. It wouldn’t become true meditation if you couldn’t help other people. That is a criterion of meditation—meditation experience is not only an introverted experience, but it is also associated with the experience of life in general. You see, the idea of meditation is complete sanity, a completely balanced state of mind. If you are a completely sane person, even your example will be inspiring to others, that you are a balanced person, beautiful to be with.

S: Is it helpful to study The Tibetan Book of the Dead?

TR: Sure, of course. But you have to understand the symbolism, all the subtleties, because the people who wrote such writings were very earthy people. They saw things as they really are. When they say water, they really mean it. When we say water, we might see it as something coming out of taps, in terms of cold and hot. It could be misleading.


S: We were talking this morning about ego, and we seemed to have trouble defining it. Could you say what it is?

TR: Well, there seem to be different ways of using the word ego. To some people, the ego is that which sustains them. That which gives some kind of guideline or practicality in dealing with things is referred to as ego, being conscious of being oneself. And you exert effort through it, so any kind of self-respect is referred to as ego, which is a general sense of the term.

But ego as we are discussing it is slightly different from that. In this case ego is that which is constantly involved with some kind of paranoia, some kind of panic—in other words, hope and fear. That is to say, as you operate there is a constant reference back to yourself. As you refer back to yourself, then a criterion of reference develops in terms of hope and fear: gaining something or losing one’s identity. It is a constant battle. That seems to be the notion of ego in this case, its neurotic aspect.

You could have a basic sound understanding of the logic of things as they are without ego. In fact you can have greater sanity beyond ego; you can deal with situations without hope and fear, and you can retain your self-respect or your logical sanity in dealing with things. Continuously you can do so, and you can do so with much greater skill, in a greater way, if you don’t have to make the journey to and fro and if you don’t have to have a running commentary going on side by side with your operation. It is more powerful and more definite. You see, getting beyond ego doesn’t mean that you have to lose contact with reality at all. I think that in a lot of cases there is a misunderstanding that you need ego and that without it you can’t operate. That’s a very convenient basic twist: hope and fear as well as the notion of sanity are amalgamated together and used as a kind of excuse, that you need some basic ground to operate—which is, I would say, a misunderstanding. It’s the same as when people say that if you are a completely enlightened being, then you have no dualistic notion of things. That is the idea of ultimate zombie, which doesn’t seem to be particularly inspiring or creative at all.

S: What do you mean by basic sanity?

TR: It is relating with things which come up within your experience and knowing experiences as they are. It’skind of the rhythm between experience and your basic being, like driving on the road in accordance with the situation of the road, a kind of interchange. That is the basic sanity of clear perception. Otherwise, if you wanted to reshape the road in accordance with your excitement or your wishes, then possibly, instead of you reshaping the road, the road might reshape you and you might end up in an accident. This is insane, suicidal.


S: How about vajrayana, crazy wisdom?

TR: Well, crazy wisdom—that’s a very good question—is when you have a complete exchange with the road, so that the shape of the road becomes your pattern as well. There’s no hesitation at all. It’s complete control—not only control, but a complete dance with it, which is very sharp and penetrating, quick precision. That precision comes from the situation outside as well: not being afraid of the outside situation, we can tune into it. That’s the fearless quality of crazy wisdom.

S: What do you mean when you speak of “the simple-minded attitude toward karma?”

TR: Well, there seem to be all sorts of different attitudes toward the idea of karma. One is that if you constantly try to be good, then there will be constant good results. That attitude to karma doesn’t help you to transcend karmic creation. The ultimate idea is to transcend sowing the seed of any karma, either good or bad. By sowing karmic seeds you perpetually create more karma, so you are continuously wound up in the wheel of samsara.

Another attitude to karma is that it is connected with rebirth, life after death—which is pure blind faith. That approach brings a certain amount of psychological comfort: this is not the only life, but there are a lot more to come; other situations will come up so you don’t have to feel fatalistic any more. That kind of attitude to karma is not dealing with the root of the karmic situation but is purely trying to play games with it or else trying to use karma as a comforter. It is based on distrust in oneself. Knowing that you are making mistakes, you think that even if you do make mistakes, you can afford to correct them, because you have a long, long time, endless time to do so.

S: I understand that an enlightened person doesn’t carry a trace of what happens, but the rest of us do.

TR: In terms of an enlightened being, his attitude to karma is that either of the two polarities of good and bad is the same pattern—fundamentally a dead end. So there’s no fear involved. In fact, there’s more effort, more spontaneous effort of transcending sowing karmic seeds. In the ordinary case, you are not quite sure what you are doing, and there’s fear of the end result anyway. So there’s the constant panic of losing oneself, the ego.

S: Could you discuss what it is that reincarnates, especially in relation to the Theravadin doctrine of anatman, egolessness?

TR: Well, from the point of view of anatman, nothing reincarnates. It is more of a rebirth process rather than reincarnation. The idea of reincarnation is that a solid, living quality is being passed on to the next being. It is the idea of some solid substance being passed on. But in this case, it’s more of a rebirth. You see, something continues, but at the same time, nothing continues. In a sense we’re like a running stream. You could say,such and such a river, such and such a stream. It has a name, but if you examine it carefully, that river you named three hundred years ago isn’t there at all; it is completely different, changing, passing all the time. It is transforming from one aspect to another. That complete transformation makes it possible to take rebirth. If one thing continued all the time there would be no possibilities for taking rebirth and evolving into another situation. It is the change which is important in terms of rebirth, rather than one thing continuing.

S: Doesn’t that happen moment to moment within a lifetime?

TR: Yes, exactly. You see, the ultimate idea of rebirth is not purely the idea of physical birth and death. Physical birth and death are very crude examples of it. Actually, rebirth takes place every moment, every instant. Every instant is death; every instant is birth. It’s a changing process: there’s nothing you can grasp onto; everything is changing. But there is some continuity, of course—the change is the continuity. The impermanence of the rebirth is the continuity of it. And because of that, there are possibilities of developing and possibilities of regressing. Certain new elements and inspirations could insert themselves into that process of continual change. You can enter yourself into the middle of the queue, if you are queuing, because this queue is made out of small particles, or people, rather than one thing.

S: Doesn’t alaya consciousness provide the ground of continuity?

TR: In order to have alaya consciousness, you have to have change taking place all the time. This common ground idea, or alaya, is not ground in terms of solid ground, but perpetually changing ground. That’s why it remains consciousness—or the unconscious state—it is a changing process.

S: This morning there was some confusion in our discussion group about the place of technique in dealing with the problems of everyday life and in meditating, and whether there should be any techniques at all.

TR: Whether there shouldn’t be any techniques or there should be techniques, both remain techniques in any case. I mean, you can’t step out of one thing because you have gotten a better one, you see? It’s a question of what is needed. Any kind of application becomes a technique, therefore there is continual room for discipline.

S: Is the technique of “no technique” a fiction? In fact, do you always have to apply some technique?

TR: When you talk about “no technique” and “technique,” when you begin to speak in terms of “yes” and “no,” then that is automatically a polarity. And however much you are able to reduce your negativity into nothingness, it still remains negative as opposed to positive. But at the same time, being without the sophisticated techniques of everyday life, the practice of meditation is in a sense more ruthless. In other words, it is not comforting and not easy. It is a very narrow and direct path because you can’t introduce any other means of occupying yourself. Everything is left to a complete bare minimum of simplicity—which helps you to discover everything.

If you present the simplicity of nothingness, the absence of technique, the so-called absence of technique, then that absence produces a tremendously creative process. Nothing means everything in this case. That helps you to learn not to be afraid to dance and not to be afraid of too many things crowding in on you. It helps keep that guideline of simplicity. Whereas if you already have complex techniques and patterns, if you already have handfuls of things, then you don’t want to pick up any more. Any new situation that comes in becomes overcrowding. But all of these tactics, so to speak, are fundamentally still acts of duality, of course.

S: Is that all right? Is that the best we can do at this point, to act within that duality?

TR: Well, there’s no other thing to work on; the best we can do is just work on what we have.

S: Some people reach a sort of meditative state without knowing it. I met somebody who was emphatically against even hearing about meditation, and yet he was often in a meditative state. But if I told him, he would be furious.

TR: Well, that’s always the thing: even if you start with the bare minimum, complete nothingness, it tends to bring you something anyway. You end up practicing some kind of teaching; that automatically happens. Before you realize where you are, you have technique; before you realize where you are, you have religion, so to speak, you have a spiritual path. You see, you can’t completely ignore the whole thing, because if you reject everything completely, that means there is still a rejecter. As long as there’s a rejecter, then you have a path. Even if you completely ignore the road, there still will be a pair of feet, and they have to tread on something. That automatically happens. Things always work with this kind of logic. If you commit yourself to collecting a lot of things, you end up being poor. But if you reject—not exactly reject, but purely accept everything as bare simplicity—then you become rich. These two polarities, two aspects, continue all the time. It is a natural thing. It doesn’t matter whether you are studying Christianity or Buddhism. Whatever technique or tradition it may be, it’s the same thing as far as ego is concerned; it’s still stuff that you are collecting. It doesn’t matter what this stuff consists of, still you are collecting something.


Bardo | The Six Realms of Being | The Bardo of Meditation | The Bardo of Birth

The Bardo of Illusory Body | The Bardo of Dreams | The Bardo of Existence

The Bardo of Death | The Lonely Journey