M: Here is a quote from Trungpa:
“I have some good news and some bad news about reincarnation. The good news is that it happens. The bad news is that it never happens to you.”
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, trailblazing Buddhist teacher, never emphasized traditional Buddhist teachings on reincarnation—much like the Buddha himself, who famously said that the Big Questions (is there an almighty, how did the universe begin…) don’t matter.
What matters, they agree, is sitting down and dedicating the merit and practicing some meditation. The rest, too often, is discursive entertainment.
Jay: This has gotten me thinking. Why does Trungpa say this is bad news? Isn’t it because there is a fundamental anxiety in us about ceasing to exist. And why would someone say this doesn’t matter? It seems to matter a great deal. Underneath much thinking is the desire to continue. I experience this in wanting to take care of my material needs for the future and also in wondering who will remember me when I’m gone. Sometimes I wonder about what will happen to me in the future, though at my age this thinking leads pretty much to a dead end. What future :)? A handful more years?
Who will remember me when I’m gone? To listen to a question like this in myself and let it open up and reveal itself. To listen to and feel the anxiety behind it. To wonder what that question means right now in the context of this present moment. What is it in this moment that I would want someone to remember as “me”?
To say that this question doesn’t matter really means to me that I’m free to examine it, to feel it, to live it and to find out for myself the truth of it. Who knows what word the Buddha used but I think a more accurate way may be to say that this is not a question that has a theoretical answer. It is a living question that needs to be entered into, come in touch with. The question is not irrelevant but our relationship to this question is important. My relationship to this question is to accept the reality of the feelings behind it and at the same time want to understand sensitively what is behind the question. This isn’t done simply by thinking and making something up. For me entering into this can involve thinking at some point but it opens up into something much larger and more direct than thinking.
It seems quite clear to me that meditative work is not a matter of trying to be more intuitive rather than analytical. That creates a battle between these two aspects of the mind. It sets up a dramatic agenda to become one thing rather than another. It is much simpler to drop all agenda and simply be in touch with what is here, which can include many deep questions and anxieties about ourselves and life. In entering deeply into this moment, with whatever mental or emotional movements may be wanting to be heard, the present moment may unfold so deeply that there is nothing really that needs to be continued into the future.
Someone reported that Toni Packer (my mentor from the Springwater Center) mentioned once, during her extended illness that at one point something had happened and the powerful thought came up “Maybe this is it. The end. My death.” and with that thought came a lot of anxiety and agitation. Then, at some point, the thought faded away and with it the anxiety. This can be observed, can’t it? The active thinking and the feelings of anxiety that go along with it and then if there is a sticking with it and watching, the fact that the thoughts can’t continue indefinitely. At some point, they fade away. We forget to think them. And the state of the body/mind changes when the thoughts are gone.
But certainly it’s probably clear to many people that this dropping of thoughts is not a “practice” that can be consciously done. It is not a skill that can be strengthened. The deeper thought/emotion anxieties can’t just be ignored by shutting out the thoughts, focusing on pleasant sensations, or focusing on distractions, mantras or exercises. In my experience, if an anxiety or thought/emotion pattern persists, it is because it has not yet been heard fully! It needs patient, extended attention and it needs NOT to be manipulated.