June 30, 2009
As a student of Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, I recently attended his yearly sangha retreat at Nalanda West in Seattle, WA. Yearly retreats usually focus on a particular topic. This year’s topic was Mahamudra (Great Seal or Great Symbol), which is an advanced meditation practice and one that I am just embarking upon.
However, I left the retreat thinking more of a basic Buddhist doctrine, the teaching on anatman, “no self,” and the related idea of the skandhas, or aggregates, and how clinging to them cause suffering. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because I was paying too much attention to my own ego, trying to establish my wants and needs. And I thought I was being intelligent about it too—an intellectual. But I wasn’t completely content; I was constantly worried about what others thought of my establishment, wondering if they noticed my egomania. In short, I was suffering.
Looking back, I see that those afflictions arose from clinging to an identity, to the parts of myself that wanted things to be a certain way. Retreats do have a way of shedding light on areas—both in practice and study—that need attention. Along these lines, I came across an insightful chapter called “Intellect” in, The Sanity We Are Born With by Chögyam Trungpa, which helped me put my thoughts into words:
Looking at the general picture of psychology as we get involved with more and more complex patterns of the skandhas, it becomes clear that it is a pattern of duality developing stronger and stronger. The general tendency of ego is uncertain at the beginning how to establish its link with the world, its identity, its individuality. As it gradually develops more certainty, it finds new ways of evolving; it becomes more and more brave and daring in stepping out and exploring new areas of possible territory or new ways of interpreting and appropriating the world available around it. So it is a pattern of a kind of stubborn bravery making itself more complicated patterns. The fourth skandha, samskara, is a continuation of this pattern. It could be called "intellect." Samskara is intellect in the sense of being the intelligence, which enables the ego to gather further territory, further substance, more things.