I’ve been kicking an idea around in my head for the last couple of months — an idea that originated after watching part of a teaching from Sogyal Rinpoche, best known for a book that I consider to have been groundbreaking in my practice, “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.” During his talk, Rinpoche said our unenlightened lives are like a dream, while the purpose of the Buddhist path is to help awaken one’s mind to its true nature.
It was an effective metaphor, if for no other reason than I started looking deep inside, re-examining my answers to some basic questions : Why do I even want to wake up? Why have I, as an individual, put myself on this path? And at what point (and why?) did I realize I was asleep inside this dream?
All sentient beings have an innate aversion to suffering, and while I don’t consider myself an “unhappy” person, I do want to reach a place in my life where I’m no longer susceptible to the highs and lows of the roller coaster that I call monkey mind. Let’s face it: the world isn’t becoming a nicer place anytime soon, and like it or not, it’s just not possible to insulate one’s self from the tragedies that take place each and every day on our rapidly shrinking planet.
[Flash back: the First Noble Truth was a very tough pill to swallow for me. For a good portion of my adult life, I put a lot of mental energy into being frustrated that we, as the human race, are screwing up the world at an epic pace. The potential for what we could create is astounding: a world without war, where no one goes hungry, where everyone has access to medicines and education…and yet, I have come to realize that Utopia simply isn’t realistic and that I can focus my own practice and actions on trying to alleviate some of that suffering.]
About the same time that I heard Sogyal Rinpoche’s teaching, I also started reading about an upcoming book from another well-known Tibetan teacher — Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche. DPR is not your typical teacher, in that he is a self-described Gen-X’er in his mid-40s (not too much older than I am) who earned the Karma Kagyu’s equivalent of a geshe degree, but then gave up the monastic life to become a lay teacher. In short, he’s got real-world Western experience that allows a guy like me to relate to him.
Ponlop Rinpoche’s new book, Rebel Buddha, is out now, with a great deal of buzz. While I have only read the first two chapters, the book is stirring up many of those same questions about awakening, only Rinpoche is doing it outside of the framework of a formal, ritualized Buddhist practice. His case for presenting this “pragmatic Buddhism” is a good one, I think.
“To bring the wisdom of the Buddha from one culture and language into another is not an easy task. Simply having a good intention does not seem to be enough. Furthermore, the task is not simply one of direction, say from East to West. It is as much a movement through time as through physical space. It is one thing to visit a neighboring country with different customs and values and figure out how you can communicate with its people. You will find a way, because in spite of your differences, you share certain reference points and ways of thinking just by virtue of being contemporaries—of living together in the twenty-first century. But if you were transported two or three thousand years into the past or the future, you would have to find a way to connect with the mind of that age.
“Similarly, we need to find a way to connect these ancient teachings on wisdom with our contemporary sensibilities. Only by stripping away irrelevant cultural and social values will we see the full spectrum of what this wisdom is in its naked form and what it has to offer our modern cultures. A true merging of this ancient wisdom with the psyche of the modern world can’t take place as long as we’re holding tightly to the purely cultural habits and values of the East or West.”
From Introduction: Born to be Free, “Rebel Buddha”
I’m confident that my path can lead me to an answer for the ages-old question, “What’s the meaning of life?” But I’m also sure that I will require a 21st-century context to Buddha’s teachings if they are, in fact, going to help me find the answer. We’ll see.