Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche – "Working with Early Morning Depression."
The Basket of Tolerance “Great Tradition” Series
Great Eastern Sun: Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
The Wisdom of Shambhala:
“Working with Early Morning Depression”
In the now-classic Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, Chogyam Trungpa offered a powerful vision of spirituality founded on basic human wisdom, a path of meditation and warriorship for people of any belief or way of life. In this chapter from the long-awaited sequel, entitled Great Eastern Sun: The Wisdom of Shambhala, Chogyam Trungpa discusses “Working with Early Morning Depression.”
The whole Shambhala training process is connected with how to manifest, so that people can do things without deception. We have to start right at the beginning, take it from the top, so to speak, or from the ground up. You are invited to join us. As they say, charity begins at home. There are many international problems, and throughout the world chaos is taking place all the time-which is obviously far from the expression of enlightened society. In the past, various disciplines or faiths-such as Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism-had great dignity.
There were extraordinarily sane people among the ancients who worked to make the world worthwhile and passed down their wisdom generation by generation. But there has been a problem of corruption. The world has been seduced by physical materialism as well as by psychological materialism, let alone spiritual materialism! The world is beginning to turn sour. Our measures may be small at this point, but we’re trying to sweeten the world up. In the long run, we want to offer something beyond a token. We want to make a real contribution to the development of enlightened society. That begins right here.
There’s always the primordial dot: that spark of goodness that exists even before you think. We are worthy of that. Everybody possesses that unconditioned possibility of cheerfulness, which is not connected purely with either pain or pleasure. You have an inclination: in the flash of one second you feel what needs to be done. It is not a product of your education; it is not scientific or logical; you simply pick up on the message. And then you act: you just do it.
That basic human quality of suddenly opening up is the best part of human instinct. You know what to do right away, on the spot -which is fantastic. That is what we call the dot, or basic goodness and unconditional instinct. When you have an instinct of the real instinct, you don’t think: you just feel, on the spot. Basic trust is knowing that there is such a thing as that spark of basic goodness. Although you might be in the worst of the worst shape, still that goodness does exist.
From trust comes renunciation. Renunciation is traditionally a term for rejecting or giving something up. But in the Shambhalian use of the term, renunciation is not giving up something like alcohol or cigarettes or sex. Renunciation here is connected with knowing-or with a general sense of discrimination. Discrimination, from the dictionary’s point of view, might mean throwing away something bad and picking up on something good. But discrimination in the Shambhala world means clear seeing or clear thinking.
What it boils down to is precision. Anything that is not precise is rejected. When we talk about a Shambhala style of livelihood or about synchronizing mind and body together, those points are connected with how to be there, how to be precise. By means of discipline and training, mind and body can be well groomed. Renunciation doesn’t mean that you develop one-upmanship and criticize or reject others who haven’t practiced. We simply take pride in our own life, our own existence, our sparkiness, brilliance, fearlessness and warriorship. The joy of basic goodness is the key to that.
Having experienced that first dot, what comes next? What comes next is the appreciation of that first good thought, which is called the stroke. Coming out of the first dot is the brushwork, just like when you touch an actual brush and ink to paper. First you touch the ground, the canvas or the paper, and then you create a stroke, a calligraphy or a painting. The stroke of goodness is connected with second thought. From the first thought, the dot, you extend the second thought, which arises from gentleness. You are not trying to fight with your world or to destroy anything, nor are you trying to gain anything personally. There is just the first flash, and then there is the sense of continuing that.
If you’re true to yourself, as you draw out your stroke, you begin to realize what is good for you and what is bad for you. We’re talking here about working further with our basic instinct as human beings, rather than operating on a purely materialistic, scientific or analytical level.
However, we’re not saying that human beings are animals who need to be made into human beings. That is not the idea of enlightened society. Rather, we’re saying that you have yourself, your existence as a human being, and you can work with what you have. You can develop that sense of basic instinct, which is pure and absolutely immaculate. There will be obstacles: questions, criticisms, moral and ethical choices, but you can overcome the obstacles by acting as a true human being-which is bound to be good. You are a dignified and capable person already. So why don’t you do it? That’s the idea.
The starting point, that first delight, the dot, could be anything in your experience. Suppose you are very thirsty, and you are presented with a glass of ice water. The first thought or the dot occurs when you hold the glass of ice water and you are about to drink, knowing that it is the real thing and that it will quench your thirst. Then holding the glass in your hand, you bring your arm close to your mouth, you bend your neck, you raise the glass and you begin to drink.
Having had the idea, the connection, the first delight, the stroke is that you proceed with the appreciation of that basic goodness. Strangely enough, when you are very thirsty, while you are drinking a glass of water, your mind is almost completely without anxiety at all. You can try this yourself. While you’re drinking a glass of water, you have no thoughts. You are purely synchronizing your mind and body together in drinking that nice cool glass of water. That is the concept of the stroke.
The stroke is the smoothness that comes along with the appreciation of basic goodness. With anything in life, it works that way. The closest analogy I can think of at this point is the general basic goodness of drinking a glass of ice water. It might be the wrong season to discuss this, but you can imagine it, I’m sure. You have an idea and then you proceed with it. When you go along with that process, there is nonthought-almost. The joy of goodness. That goodness means that you are not creating pain for others and you are not indulging yourself either.
Then we have the second part of renunciation, which might be slightly painful. It is a sense of being put off, joined together with a sense of sadness, towards what is known as the setting-sun world. In that world, there is no perpetual vision, no forward vision, and your vision is purely connected with death and with things ending. Everything is getting dark. Dark pitch blackness is about to come along, and we can’t even see each other in this pitch darkness without sunshine.
The setting sun is the notion of eternal depression. When you feel depressed, when you feel bad, it is sometimes for no reason at all. You wake up in the morning and feel hopeless, terrible. We may use our experiences to justify that feeling: I feel bad-because I don’t have any money. I feel bad-because I don’t have any friends. I feel bad-because something has gone wrong in my life. I feel bad-because I’m not up to the challenge of firing someone at work this afternoon. I feel bad-because my husband left me.
In fact, our early morning depression is not all that logical. It is the curse of the setting sun. Out of nowhere, you just don’t feel so good. Then you come up with all kinds of logical explanations for why you are depressed. There is a feeling of death. For some people that feeling is completely extended, further and further, leading to a suicidal mentality. The other approach is to replace or repress your depression by doing something very crazy or reckless. Everybody knows this fundamental depression.
We do all sorts of things to avoid depression: waiting for the arrival of the newspaper at your house in the morning; even watching Sesame Street with our children-or without our children. There are lots of aids to forget depression, and billions and billions of dollars are spent on those attempts to cheer up. In England many people like to bring their tea to their bath, and they drink their tea and take a long bath.
Many of us use magazines and food to cheer ourselves up. We call up a friend to make a lunch appointment so that our early morning depression can be relieved by having a chat with somebody and making a lunch date. But what about the evening-that hasn’t been worked out yet.
You may want to plan ahead, knowing that you might have this depression every morning, every day. So you plan a holiday to go skiing, surfing, or swimming. You need to take some time off-from what, one never knows, but you plan to take time off, telling yourself that you’ll have a good time here and there. You try to keep things organized even a few days ahead so that you can avoid your early morning depression. In three weeks you’re going to go here and here and here, and you’re going to do this and this and this. You tell yourself that you shouldn’t be depressed, because you can look forward to what you’ve planned. You can keep on doing that almost indefinitely.
That is the basic idea of the setting sun. Hotels are built to promote that and airlines to accommodate it. Everything works towards helping us forget our early morning depression. From the point of view of basic goodness, we are capable of generating our own dignity and goodness. So yielding to that setting-sun mentality seems pathetic and quite sad, very sad. It is only going to get sadder as time goes on, unless we do something about it.
No doubt the twentieth-century world will come up with further and more sophisticated aids to forget any reality of depression at all and to provide a million percent setting?sun world. The alternative is that, having experienced the joy of basic goodness and the sadness of the setting?sun world, we develop real renunciation, which is knowing what to accept and what to reject.
At this point, we need to understand another reference point, which is our habitual tendencies. I would like to make it quite clear that I am not saying that you’re stuck with your habitual tendencies. When you are nice to a dog, it will always waggle its tail. In the same way, if you say hello to a person, they will automatically smile. But those are just reflexes rather than habitual tendencies.
The habitual tendencies that I’m talking about here are the medium-level tendencies, which definitely can be overcome. Whether it is according to the wisdom of the Buddha or whether it is according to the wisdom of Shambhala, we are basically good. We possess what is known as basic goodness. Then we develop an overlay of unnecessary tricks and occupations. We develop little tricks to shield ourselves from being embarrassed-or from feeling too painful or naked.
Those are habitual tendencies, but they are not fundamental. They are simply temporary habitual tendencies. It’s as though you had a building with nice white smooth plaster walls. If you can’t stand the plain white walls, you might decide to put colorful wallpaper on top of them to cheer yourself up. The habitual tendencies we’re talking about here are like the wallpaper that you put on but which can be taken off. The paper doesn’t go all the way through the wall; it’s not that deeply ingrained. It’s a veneer of some kind, called habitual tendencies-which have to be renounced, definitely.
Seeing the basic goodness in oneself and seeing the sadness of the setting-sun possibilities, one is willing to make some kind of sacrifice. We can take off the wallpaper, take off the veneer. The negative aspect of renunciation, so to speak, is what you reject or avoid. In this case, you are rejecting self? indulgence, purely pleasing yourself.
If you reject that, you have a clean white plaster wall. What you accept, on the positive side, is the development of genuine warriorship. In the Shambhala tradition we talk about how fearlessness comes out of the realization of fear. Similarly, when you experience morning depression, it is possible to cheer up. That situation is genuine and quite workable. From morning depression and its terror, we can step right into basic goodness. We learn to reject the terror of morning depression and to step into morning basic goodness, right on the spot.
The result is that you have a better relationship with your mate, your kitchen is cleaner, your daily schedule is accomplished on time-all because you don’t have a tremendous struggle, even on the smallest, most mundane level. You might think this is purely a “Dear Abby” concept of happiness, but in fact we’re talking about developing enlightened society. Enlightened society comes from the kitchen sink level, from the bedroom level. Otherwise there’s no enlightened society, and everything is purely a hoax.
So genuine renunciation is knowing what to accept and what to reject and how to step out and appreciate depression as a staircase. When you put your foot on the first step of this very feeble staircase, you wonder whether it is going to hold you. You might fall. But as you take the third, fourth, and fifth steps, you realize that although it’s wobbly, it is going to carry you upstairs. And the journey is worthwhile.
In this way, you can begin to work with your early morning depression. First you wonder whether you can work with it or not, but once you take at least five steps, or have five thoughts-which is very fast, naturally we think very fast for our own security-then you find that your early morning depression is fine. You can work with it, you can walk on it, and it will lead you into basic goodness. Walking on the staircase of your early morning depression is the concept of the stroke. The dot is taking the first step on the staircase, which is wobbly. One wonders…. Then you keep going, and it is fine.
You should have a sense of self-respect and self-comfort throughout your life. When you walk down the street, don’t rush. Just take a nice walk. Be yourself, appreciate yourself. Even appreciate your subconscious thoughts. Appreciate that you are a human being in one piece.
Your arms and your legs and your head are not flying off everywhere because of your wild thoughts, but you remain as one good human being with your shoes and your hairdo, perhaps wearing glasses, a tie and jacket, walking on the good earth, on the good street. Just do that, just walk nicely. Just do it. Then you will begin to feel that you are doing your real job. It’s not even a job, but you are actually being what you should be. After that, you can learn to eat properly, drink properly, even pee properly.
Everything comes from that basic sense of being and wholesomeness. You are one piece rather than disjointed. This is a very ordinary experience, which happens to people all the time, but they don’t regard it as a good message. They just think, “Oh, forget it.” According to the Buddhist teachings, people always have that flash of buddhanature in them, always, but they don’t acknowledge it. This is the same thing.
The wisdom of Shambhala is not the product of some accident. It’s not that somebody just happened to do the right thing; and now we are relaying their message to you. Rather, this wisdom has tremendous heritage and background. It comes from several thousand years of basic tradition, from a society of enlightened people, great warriors of the past. This tradition comes from Shambhala-oriented people who achieved this; in turn, they are so kind to let us use their wisdom and to let us practice in this way.
We can find this wisdom even in the midst of the worst of the worst situations. The politics and the policies in South Africa were terribly problematic for many years. However, South Africa still produced the Krugerand, such a good gold coin. In any situation, there is always some dignity, some goldlike element. Tibet is a lost country, at this point. The Chinese occupied my country, and they are torturing my people. It is quite horrific, every bit as bad as South Africa. We Tibetans were unable to avoid that situation. Nonetheless, the Tibetan wisdom has escaped. It has been brought out of Tibet. It has something to say, something to offer. It gives us dignity as Tibetans.
On the other hand, however, although the West possesses tremendous technology, it comes along with enormous arrogance. Even though you are able to land on the moon, technology in itself is not a saving grace. We should appreciate the basic traditions of wisdom that have been preserved. It is absolutely wonderful to have respect for wisdom.
You are not receiving the wisdom of Shambhala because you won the lottery. You come to this tradition with genuine interest and genuine respect. It’s not random at all. It’s not that you happened, by chance, to have the right number and therefore you are here. You aren’t a subhuman being wandering around in a lost paradise, trying to find answers to your questions, hoping to bump into the right way to do things.
The training of Shambhala is geared to educate you to be an honest person, a genuine person, not fake. The sitting practice of meditation is the main vehicle to accomplish that, so I would like to reiterate the importance of practice. When you practice, hold your seat and have a sense of your breath, without questioning or slumping halfway through. Just let the breath flow. You are sitting on the earth. This earth deserves you; you deserve this earth. That is a very important point. The basic concept of joining heaven and earth is that you are there fully, personally, genuinely.
By practicing in that way, we come to experience the Shambhala teachings very directly. Our appreciation of the teachings brings a natural appreciation of the teacher. Because of our respect for wisdom, we can appreciate the spokesperson for the wisdom, the elder.
Elder in this case does not mean someone chronologically old. Rather it is someone who has worked and practiced and tested the Shambhala wisdom. It is someone who is able to survive in the world of the setting sun. In fact, they are able to glow and project a good message that will influence others. It is quite remarkable that they are willing to share their compassion and their limitless kindness with others. There are such people, and that lineage and warrior tradition are worthy of respect.
Often we think that we can buy wisdom. People have spent lots of money trying to do that, but they are unable to accomplish very much. It is very important to realize that wisdom cannot be bought or sold, but wisdom has to be practiced personally. Then we begin to realize the value of wisdom. It is priceless.
From Great Eastern Sun by Chögyam Trungpa, edited by Carolyn Gimian.
© 2000 by Diana J. Mukpo.