who is leading your army?

The following is excerpted from:

Pema Chödrön and Dzigar Kongtrül: Let’s Be Honest

A discussion led by Elizabeth Namgyel

…Dzigar Kongtrül: Self-importance is having too much attachment to one’s own well-being and freedom from suffering, without having the same kind of care and concern for others’ well-being and freedom from suffering. When we have a great deal of self-importance, we will never be able to enjoy whatever we possess that we have gathered through our hard work, wit, and cunning. It will always bring a sense of dissatisfaction. We will never feel quite ready to enjoy it, because we carry the burden of being attached to it. However, if we apply to others the same sense of loving and caring that we have in cherishing ourselves, we reduce the self-importance.
When self-importance is reduced, a door opens to your positive qualities. As you continue to reduce the self-importance, the positive qualities take deeper root in your mindstream and your heart. At that point, you have real discipline and you begin to sustain yourself with your innate positive qualities, rather than the drive to become important. The ability to love, to care, to be concerned, to be compassionate—these were all there from the beginning. Previously, they were guided by self-centeredness; now they are guided by the needs of others.

This innate love is a powerful force that is now being led by a completely noble, incredibly dignified leader. Before, this powerful force, an army with the richness of a whole kingdom behind it and the loyalty of the subjects, was being led by a crooked king, and that crookedness created a state of confusion that spread everywhere. When that crooked leader is replaced by a noble leader, with a genuine sense of dignity, everyone in the kingdom can reap the benefit of the positive qualities that are the basic nature of the kingdom in the first place.

Pema Chödrön: Is the leader self-reflection?

Dzigar Kongtrül: The noble leader is altruistic mind, and the crooked leader is self-centeredness. Self-reflection is what discriminates between the qualities of self-centeredness of the bad leader and the altruistic mind of the good leader.

Pema Chödrön: It is interesting to consider the nature of the self-centeredness that seems to be prevalent in the West. I don’t think the term “self-cherishing,” for example, is all that helpful here, because the ego twist in the West isn’t that we love ourselves too much. Rather, we tend to have a negative preoccupation with ourselves. We might go shopping, not so much to feather our own nest, but to try to overcome some very bad feeling we have toward ourselves. Rather than cherishing ourselves, we hate ourselves. So, loving- kindness toward oneself needs to be developed as the basis before you can spread it to other people.

Dzigar Kongtrül: The loving-kindness is directed to your mind, not to the self. When you redirect the love and compassion from the self-centered approach, which has never produced good results anyway, to the altruistic approach, you find you have positive feelings in great abundance. Even though these are extended outwardly to others, they don’t leave your mind and end up somewhere else. They fill your mind and sustain it.

Pema Chödrön: Shantideva talks about all the ways that we are willing to hurt ourselves, including suicide. He says, if you’re willing to hurt yourself that much, it’s no wonder you’re willing to hurt other people. It seems to me the verses in the Bodhicaryavatara that discuss this issue are key for the West, because we’re much more into self-degradation than what you call self-cherishing.

Dzigar Kongtrül: The use of language in this case is interesting. When we say self-degradation, it sounds like we don’t have much self-importance. But in reality if one were not holding tightly to the self, there would be no reason to feel such aversion to it.

Pema Chödrön: Yes, I see self-degradation as one of the main ways that self-importance manifests in the West. You are still “full of yourself,” but you are full of yourself as a negative thing.

Dzigar Kongtrül: We come to believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with us. But if you really study, if you really practice, you will find that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong. So you need to commit to a course of study and practice, and until you do that, whether one is in the West or anywhere else, there is going to be the feeling that something is fundamentally wrong with you. When you wish to be happy and free from suffering, and yet your mind is not supporting you, it’s very easy to resort to thinking that there’s something fundamentally wrong with you.

race is a shenpa

Excerpted from “Getting Unstuck” by Pema Chodron, from teachings on Shenpa that she attributes to her current teacher Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche

So this is a teaching on a Tibetan word – Shenpa. S-H-E-N-P-A, Shenpa.

And actually its taught about a lot in Buddhism but not quite in the style that Dzigar Kongtrul has been presenting it.

The usual translation of the work Shenpa is “attachment”. If you were to look it up in a Tibetan dictionary, you would find that the definition is attachment. But the word attachment absolutely doesn’t get at what it is, and so Dzigar Kongtrul said lets just not use that translation, its incomplete and it doesn’t touch the magnitude of shenpa and the effect that it has on us.

So, if I were translating Shenpa it would be very hard to find a word, but I am going to give you a few. One word might be “hooked”. How we get hooked. We get hooked, and then we get “stuck”. Everyone likes to hear teachings on getting stuck and how to get unstuck because it is so common to feel stuck.

Guess what: you can meditate for a long, long time, and you can still get stuck.

In terms of [the example previously described of] having scabies and the itch that goes along with that, and scratching it, shenpa is the itch and its the urge to scratch. So “urge” is another word. The urge to smoke that cigarette, the urge to overeat, have one more drink, or whatever your addiction is.

And it gets into everyday experience. Somebody says a mean word to you… and then something in you tightens. That’s the shenpa. And then it starts to spiral into low self-esteem or blaming them or anger at them or denigrating yourself, and then words or actions, maybe if you have strong addictions you just go right for your addiction to cover over that bad feeling that arose when someone said this mean word to you. This is a mean word that gets you. Hooks you. Another word might not affect you, but we’re talking about when it touches that sore place. That’s a shenpa.

The fundamental root shenpa is what in buddhism is called ego, or ego-clinging. And we experience it as this tightening and self-absorption that gets very strong at that point. So the fundamental root shenpa is ego-clinging, or self-absorption, or “cocoon”*, and then the branch shenpas are all the different styles of scratching and so forth, like that.

Buddha by Octavio Ocampo

So someone criticizes you, they criticize your work, they criticize your appearance, they criticize your child and – shenpa – almost co-arising. As soon as those words have registered – boom, its there, and its like a tightening.

Shenpa is not the thoughts. Dzigar Kongtrul made a big thing about it’s closer to an emotion, it’s pre-verbal and then it breeds thoughts really quickly, but shenpa is not the thoughts. He said it’s more like an emotion, but I think its even pre-emotion in a way, its kind of that (makes gasping sound)… so that you can feel it happening, which often, people just starting with this can – you feel it happening sometimes.

Say like at the monastery, at Gampo Abbey, people were finding someone would come sit next to them, and of course you have a kind of intimate relationship with everyone there living in community, and they can feel the shenpa just because this person sat down next to them, because they have some kind of thing going about this person, and they’re hooked.

Now if you catch it at that level, its very workable and then you have the possibility to have this enormous curiosity about this urge to do the habitual thing, to strengthen the habituation. You can feel it.

One thing about shenpa is it’s never new, it always has a familiar taste in the mouth. It has a familiar smell. It’s like when you begin to get the hang of it, you feel like this has been happening forever.

It causes you to feel the fundamental underlying insecurity of the human experience that is inherent in a changing shifting impermanent illusory world as long as we are habituated to want to have ground under our feet.