The Path from Recognition to Rejoicing
by Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche
Again, you can certainly continue your relationships, your friendships, and whatever you cherish as important in your life, just don’t let yourself become so swallowed up by them that you behave like a roller coaster, allowing the associated emotions to make you erratic and unstable. When you become like a roller coaster, at some point you lose your appreciation for the relationship, or whatever else you’re so attached to. You wear out your ability to bear these roller coaster emotions. Even if you are loving to each other in the beginning of a relationship or you care deeply about something important to you, sooner or later such emotions will make you feel resentful. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can work with these situations just like we work with all our attachments and grasping to the self.
The more we can work with our grasping and attachment to the self, the more open space and awareness we have to see more deeply what we need to do in our lives. This provides us with a great reference point, and helps guide us along.
I want to emphasise that this is not about being hard on ourselves. When we talk of seeing one’s self as a “foe,” for instance — as it is stated in the traditional teachings — I particularly want people not to take this statement in a negative personal light and beat themselves up, because that is not the proper practice here. The practice is meant to increase our relaxation, increase our spaciousness and detachment, not to overwhelm us with judgments and self-aggression. Please understand that this is a very fine line, especially in the West. You have to be very discerning to know when you’re becoming self-aggressive or getting into a heavyhanded, ineffective way of relating to your mind. Truly letting go of your attachments and grasping to the self requires your critical intelligence, awareness, and perceptiveness. Avoiding self-aggression requires a very keen interest, and the knowledge that there is an entire lineage which stands behind this way of working with the mind. And that lineage is not neurotic.
When we are aggressive toward ourselves, there is often a lot of attachment already present. Because we’re attached to seeing ourselves as “good” or “special,” we become aggressive toward ourselves. We’re talking about letting go of all grasping to the self. People who are very aggressive toward themselves are often perfectionists. They cannot relax sufficiently. They often can’t apply their intelligence skillfully because they are too fixated on their agenda or on comparing themselves to others. Let’s also admit that this happens from time to time with each of us. So it is important to know there exists a non-neurotic way of working with our mind, and we need to figure out how to do it. Much of this is detailed in the teachings, but we still have to find our own personal path within that context. Otherwise, we may find ourselves converting the Buddhist teachings into self-aggression, beating up on ourselves. Since we already have this tendency naturally, adding to it won’t do us any good at all.
So, it is very important to separate these two things: truly learning to let go, and being hard on yourself. Patrul Rinpoche, the nineteenth century master, says many times that although two things may look similar, we need to know how to distinguish them. I think becoming clear about this particular distinction is very important, especially for Westerners, for whom issues of self-esteem are often problematic. So I’m taking the time to explain this idea thoroughly, rather than assuming that people already understand it.
In other words, people have to develop their sense of renunciation even further. For this, people have to develop greater joy in renouncing negativity and grasping to the self. The joy has to come from deep within, because this is related to effective practice, to becoming free. It’s common sense to realize that before you can make any change you have to see what the problem is. If you are truly interested in letting go of a problem, then seeing the problem clearly should be joyful. There’s a saying: “Applying diligence must come from great joy within.” So I don’t want people to take these teachings in the wrong way. It’s not at all about becoming a martyr. It’s about getting free from grasping to the self. Okay? There’s a big difference!