Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rebel Buddha

I have been reading Rebel Buddha: On the Road to Freedom by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche. It's a relatively short book, but a dense one; and it provides an excellent guide to anyone choosing the Buddhist path to awakening--or contemplating that choice. It's clear that Ponlop Rinpoche believes in our ability to reach that goal if we diligently follow the promptings of the "rebel buddha" he refers to in his title--the enlightened nature that is our birthright, but which we are too often content to leave hidden behind layers of ego-driven delusion. It is our inner rebel who reminds us of the responsibility to question and test everything from personal experience to the cultural assumptions that stand between us and a clear understanding of ourselves, the world, and our place in it.

There are, frankly, easier introductions and guides than this one. The book eschews the facile "how-tos" that characterize so much of what is on the bookstore shelves these days. Based on the Rinpoche's live dharma talks, it is a serious, thoughtful, thorough-going examination of the steps needed to free the mind from its own fabrications about our selves and the nature of the reality in which we live. It identifies, step by step, the sometimes convoluted knots that keep us tied up in confusion--including, especially, those we do not wish to see; and it demonstrates, step by step, the kind of sound, clear-sighted analysis that allows them to be loosened and, eventually, untied.

They are many, and tricky, as those who have followed this path with any degree of seriousness for even a little way will know. Chief among them is the ego, that sense of self that is at once wonderfully seductive and powerfully persuasive. It is no small task to take apart the many identities we create for ourselves and to break through the armor with which we protect them, and not for the faint-hearted. By the same token, to recognize both our treasured desires and our aversions as equal obstacles to the freedom that we seek is a challenge that is not soon and not easily overcome. It takes the kind of unsparing self-examination that Ponlop Rinpoche prescribes to unmask them, evaluate them, and let them go.

Given the Tibetan tradition from which the author comes, it is gratifying to this Theravadan reader to discover, toward the end of the book, that the Rinpoche is ready to extend his rebellion even to the religious teachings and the cultural heritage of his own branch of Buddhism. If I read him right, such trappings of religion may also be suspect as constructs of the clinging mind, and are therefore no less subject to our scrupulous examination, and no less necessary to let go. Discussing the relatively recent, sometimes clumsy embrace of Buddhism in the West, he argues that attachment to our own cultural traditions is equally open to challenge here, and that the true heart of the Buddha's teachings can take root anywhere where the "rebel" has the commitment to go the whole distance, regardless of what must be left behind along the way.

1 comment:

mandt said...

The question we must ask ourselves is: would be concerned with nuances of practice if we were homeless and struggling to survive every day, when basic food needs were not guaranteed and basic safety not assured? One way to answer this question is to spend some hours a month volunteering at food banks in the 'worst' neighborhoods, at an inner city AIDS ward, at hospice,at homeless shelters etc. etc.