Sunday, February 28, 2010

Don't Make Gods into Demons

This article is part of a series of short commentaries on proverbs or slogans from the Lojong ("mind-training") teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. Several other such commentaries will be offered soon, in addition to the ones that have already appeared here in previous months. To see the whole series of commentaries on Lojong slogans, click here.

Don't Make Gods into Demons

Most of us have a strong tendency to complain about things, even when our circumstances are actually very good. As Chogyam Trungpa said in his commentary on this slogan, we habitually "make painful that which is inherently joyful." Lost in stinking thinking and spaced out in what Tara Brach calls the ‘trance of unworthiness,’ we focus only on the negative — on what is wrong, what is missing, what we lack. This is one of the meanings of turning gods into demons.

As humans, we have a curious power to manifest what we envision. This power can be a gift or a curse, depending on how we use it. When we envision negativity and focus on what we lack and what is wrong with our circumstances, then nothing we get ever seems to be good enough; the self-centered, “what about me?” attitude of the ego is a bottomless pit of dissatisfaction. We drift helplessly in a sea of poverty mentality, blown to and fro by the winds of hope and fear. But when we envision contentment and focus on making the best use of what we have, then we experience altogether different results. We might even find ourselves wondering how we can leave this world a better place than we found it.

The other meaning of turning gods into demons is perverting our spiritual practice by becoming arrogant and prideful about it. The spiritual path should be leading us towards greater humility and selflessness. If we find ourselves getting puffed up about our realizations or being judgmental and hypercritical of those who don’t agree with us, then something in our practice is amiss.

Chogyam Trungpa was once part of a panel of Tibetan teachers who were asked to explain how students could know whether or not they were making progress on the spiritual path. Each of the other teachers on the panel gave a rather lengthy, formulaic answer that relied on traditional doctrines and lists of qualities. Trungpa’s response, however, was brief, blunt and to the point: you know you’re progressing along the path, he said, if you’re becoming less arrogant and less opinionated.

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