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Friday, August 14, 2009

Buddhism, Jung, and the Ego – CREDO LXXIX

The following quote from the late Tibetan Lama Dudjom Rinpoche reinforces the message of a recent Credo, adding the spiritual application. I was struck by this as I was reading his book of lectures Counsels from My Heart. Here is what he said:

What is the root of all this, the source of both good and evil? The doer of all virtue is the mind, when it makes positive use of body and speech, its servants. The doer of all evil is also the mind, when it uses body and speech negatively. The root and cause of good and evil is in the mind itself. Nevertheless, in a sense, this mind of ours is something unknown to us. It does anything and everything, like a lunatic running here and there at the slightest impulse. This is how it accumulates karma.

The mind is the root of every defilement. It is here that anger is born; and from anger, every kind of hurt and injury to others: fighting, beating, and the rest. The mind is the soil in which all this grows: all malevolence, envy, desire, stupidity, arrogance, and so forth. That is why the Buddha told us to get a grip on our minds. Having realized that the mind is the root of all affliction, we must be vigilant in keeping it under control, holding down our defilements as much as we can. We have to be completely focused on this, gaining mastery of whatever arises.

The mind can move in a positive direction as well. . . . Through the practice of the Dharma, the mind can also accumulate the causes of its own liberation and that of others. Therefore, since the mind is the root of both good and evil, it stands to reason that it must be corrected and transformed. The examination of one’s mind is thus the principal feature of the practice.

The interesting point to me is that if you substitute the word ego for mind, you would hear Jung saying the same thing! He defines the ego by the psychological terminology of “center of consciousness” and also sees it as functioning through duality. (Astrologically, the brain is ruled by Gemini, whose glyph is II.) When we identify with our ego, we give it our name, and it serves us daily in making it possible to live in the manifest world. We do get an involuntary break every time we sleep or are rendered unconscious. It is the part of our psyche that constantly is having to make choices, not only in practical matters, but also in allowing ourselves to be influenced by the emotions Dudjom describes above. In terms of my diagram, the ego, that small circle divided by the circumference, half looking out to the world and half looking inward to the psyche, goes round and around searching. But there is a conscious decision that we can make that is helpful: meditation!

One of the purposes of meditation is to become aware of our ego or “monkey mind.” Every religion has some form of it. Many, though, confuse it with prayer which is active, whereas meditation is receptive, a surrender to something greater than one’s mind. At first, we usually have trouble concentrating, but eventually awareness grows and you ask, “Who is watching?” That is the breakthrough! Who indeed? In this magic moment the radius to the centerpoint of Jung’s Self becomes a reality in Hagia Sophia’s process of in-tuition. Holy Wisdom, Holy Spirit, name it what you will, is the “Only Way” (process, verb!) that connects us to that wick in us that holds the universal flame of Spirit. And, as Jung points out, this center dwells in (sigh!) the Unconscious! The mind can reason that there must be something going on, but what? “The Tao that can be defined is not the Tao.” So, to repeat what Jung said, “The longest journey for most of us is from the head to the heart.” To meditate is to visit a place of love and eventually a state of bliss. Now Teachers and mystics have all pointed this out in every culture and every age, one way or another, but Jung clothes it in psychological terms because so many of us are ego identified and unhappy, lost and not conscious of why. Now, I am probably stepping on many toes, because there are so many instructions and how-to’s to meditation, but, honestly, forget all that to start with – just light a candle, close your eyes, and sit and listen to and receive the Silence, “that peace that passeth understanding.”

One of my favorite stories is that of one of the greatest intellectuals in history, Thomas Aquinas, who pursued and exhausted the philosophical proofs of God. At the end of his life, he had a spiritual experience that knocked his socks off! He came out of it declaring that all he had written was “as straw”; he surely had gone from the mind to the greater mystery of the heart. The Hindus would say that he practiced jnana yoga, the path of knowledge. They also tell us that there are different approaches to that “Vast Certainty”: bhakti yoga, the emotional approach of devotion; raja yoga, the totally committed path, taken by priests, monks, and lamas. A fourth, karma yoga, is to live in the world and give all of the fruits of your actions to God – my path, for sure.

Another person, lesser known, I admire immensely is Brother Lawrence, who was a French lay monk in Paris in the 1600s. He wrote a small book called The Practice of the Presence of God. He felt closest to God in the kitchen! It is a paean of delight among his pots and pans and profoundly spiritual in its joyful practice. Perhaps Julia Child is his reincarnation!

In his honor, I have a brown plastic garbage can which held the ice at my wedding to my beloved Walter in 1980. It has a label pasted on top + Brother Lawrence +. So he is a real and daily reminder in my own kitchen.

In conclusion, I am just trying to point out that one can consider oneself of no consequence and meditation to be a lofty and unreachable pursuit, but that is not the case. Each of us, if we are alive and conscious, is precious and unique, so all it takes is to be conscious of the gift and ultimate purpose, perhaps, of consciousness. As the Hindu Dadaji put it, “God is making love in your every heartbeat twenty-four hours a day.”


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