TRANSCENDING MADNESS – Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche


by Chogyam Trungpa

© 1992 Diana J. Mukpo

(very long post)

Chapter 2


Generally there is the basic space to operate, in terms of creative process, whether you are confused or whether you are awake. That basic space acts as the fundamental ground for the idea of bardo. Many of you may also have heard about the development of ego, which is exactly the same pattern as the operation of bardo. The experience of bardo is also operating on the basis of that evolution of ego. But the discovery or sudden glimpse, or the experience of bardo, is a momentary thing, impermanent. So fundamentally we might say that the teaching of bardo is closer to the concept of impermanence.

Bardo is that sudden glimpse of experience which is constantly developing. We try to hold on to it, and the moment we try to hold on to it, it leaves us, because of the very fact that we are trying to hold on to it, which is trying to give birth to it. You see something happen and you would like to give birth to it. You would like to start properly in terms of giving birth, but once you begin to prepare this birth, you realize you can’t give birth anymore. You lost your child already by trying officially to adopt it. That is the kind of bardo experience which happens in everyday life. It is operating in terms of space as well as in terms of ego.

Bardo is generally associated with samsaric mind, not necessarily with the awakened state of being. There is a background of bardo experience, which is like a river. A river does not belong to the other shore or to this shore; it is just a river, a no-man’s-land. Such a no-man’s land, or river, has different characteristics: it may be a turbulent river or a gently flowing river. There are different categories and types of rivers—our basic situation, where we are at, our present psychological state of being—which make the bardo experience more outstanding. If there is an impressive little island, by being in the middle of a turbulent river, it becomes more outstanding. An island in the middle of a gently flowing river is also more impressive and outstanding. At the same time, the shape and condition of the island itself will be completely different, depending on the river and the background. Therefore it seems necessary to go through these patterns, which are called the six types of world: the world of the gods, the world of the jealous gods, the world of human beings, the world of animals, the world of hungry ghosts, and the world of hell. Before we get into the bardo experience, it is very important to know these particular types of worlds. They are not purely mythical stories or concepts of heaven and hell; they are also psychological pictures of heaven and hell and all the rest.

We could begin with heaven. The notion of heaven is a state of mind which is almost meditative. Heavenly psychology is based on a state of absorption in something, or spiritual materialism. It is complete absorption, which automatically, of course, means indulging ourselves in a particular pleasurable situation—not necessarily material pleasure, but more likely spiritual pleasure within the realm of ego. It’s like the notion of the four jhana states. Traditionally, the 33 god realms are based on different degrees of jhana states, up to the point of a completely formless jhana state containing both experiencer and experiencing. But if there is an experiencer and also an experience, then that experience must be either pleasurable or painful—nothing else could exist beyond those limits. It could be an extremely sophisticated experience, seemingly transcending pain and pleasure, but there is still a very subtle and sophisticated experience of some thing going on. The thingness and the awareness of self continue. That is the realm of the formless gods—limitless space; limitless consciousness; not that, not this; not not that, not not this—the full state of absorption in a formless state. Other states as well are inclined toward that state of mind, but they become less sophisticated as the experience is on a more and more gross level. The first state, therefore, the realm of spiritual pleasure, is so extremely pleasurable that you can almost afford to relax. But somehow the relaxation doesn’t happen, because there’s an experiencer and an experience.

That is the realm of the gods. And in that god realm, as you can imagine, in such a state of spiritual materialism, there is a weakness. The intensity of your experience is based on collecting, possessing further experiences. That means that fundamentally your state of mind is based on give and take. You are developing immunity to temptation and fascination in order to seek pleasure and try to grasp hold of the pleasure more definitely.

As that state of mind develops in terms of the six realms of the world, we are talking about regressing from that sophisticated state of spiritual materialism in the world of heaven down to the world of hell—regressing. Such a state of pleasure in the world of heaven, that complete meditative absorption into the jhana states, automatically brings up temptations and questions. You begin to get tired of being extremely refined, and you want to come down to some raggedness. Jealousy or envy or dissatisfaction with your present state comes up automatically as an obvious next step, which then leads to the realm of the jealous gods, the asuras.

The realm of the asuras is highly energetic, almost in contrast to that state of spiritual absorption. It’s as if somebody had been far away a long time from their civilization, in the middle of a desert island, and they suddenly had a chance to come down to the nearest city. Automatically, their first inspiration, of course, would be to try to be extremely busy and entertain themselves, indulging in all sorts of things. In that way the energetic quality of busyness in the realm of the asuras develops.

Even that experience of tremendous energy, driving force, trying to grasp, trying to hold on to external situations, is not enough. Somehow you need not only rushing, but you have to pick something up, taste it, swallow it, digest it. That kind of intimacy is needed. You begin to feel tired of rushing too hard, too much, and you begin to think in terms of grasping and taking. You would like to take advantage of the situation and the intimacy of possessing, the sexual aspect, the tenderness. You try to use it, chew it. That is the world of human beings. (In this case, when we talk of the world of human beings or the world of animals, it is not necessarily human life or animal life literally, as conventionally known. It’s the psychological aspect.) So the human realm is built on passion and desire.

Somehow, indulging ourselves in passion and desire is again not quite enough—we need more and more. You realize that you can come down to a more gross level, a cruder level. And realizing that, you begin to yearn for much more real and obvious experience as a way of putting into effect your emotional need. But at the same time, you are tired of relationships. You are tired of relating to experience in terms of pleasure, and you begin to find all sorts of facets of your experience are involved with just that. You begin to look for something simpler, a more instinctive way of dealing with things, in which you don’t have to look for the complicated patterns of that passion, that desire. Then you are reduced to the animal level. Everything is put into practice in an instinctive way rather than by applying intellectual or emotional frustrations as a way of getting or possessing something.

Then, again, such a state of mind, in which you are purely acting on the impulsive or instinctive level of the animal realm, is not gross enough. You begin to feel that there is a tremendous weakness in your state of being, in such animal mentality. You don’t want to give away anything, but you would like to take more. So far, all experience—from the realm of the gods down to the animal level—has been a kind of exchange constantly, a balancing act or play. And somehow you begin to realize and come to the conclusion that exchanging or commuting between two situations, even at the blind level, is too exhausting. Then you look for a highly crude form of maintaining yourself. That is the world of the hungry ghosts. You don’t want to give away anything, but you just want to take. And since you do not want to give anything away, since you would purely like to take in, the mentality of that world becomes an extremely hungry one, because unless you give, you won’t get anything. And the more you get, the more you want to receive. In other words, you do not want to give or share any experience. There’s so much hunger and thirst, me-ness, unwillingness to give an inch, or even one fraction of a moment, to relate with the world outside. So the hungry ghost realm is the height of poverty.

Ultimately that sense of poverty leads to aggression. You not only do not want to give anything away, but you would like to destroy that which reminds you of giving. That is the ultimate world of hell, or naraka, an instant and extremely powerful state of aggression or hatred.

All these six states, these six different aspects of the world, are the rivers in which the bardo experience is taking shape. In terms of the realm of the gods, it’s a very dreamlike quality. The realm of hell is very aggressive and definite. It would be good to think about that process of the six types of world and become familiar with those different states of mind before we get into bardo experience itself. That would be very helpful. Having already developed that ground, we can pinpoint the different experiences of bardo and fit them into these different types of rivers, samsaric rivers. It would be much easier to work on that level.And strangely enough, these experiences of the six realms—gods, jealous gods, human beings, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell—are space, different versions of space. It seems intense and solid, but in actual fact it isn’t at all. They are different aspects of space—that’s the exciting or interesting part. In fact, it is completely open space, without any colors or any particularly solid way of relating. That is why they have been described as six types of consciousness. It is pure consciousness rather than a solid situation—it almost could be called unconsciousness rather than even consciousness. The development of ego operates completely at the unconscious level, from one unconscious level to another unconscious level. That is why these levels are referred to as loka, which means “realm” or “world.” They are six types of world. Each is a complete unit of its own. In order to have a world, you have to have an atmosphere; you have to have space to formulate things. So the six realms are the fundamental space through which any bardo experience operates. Because of that, it is possible to transmute these spaces into six types of awakened state, or freedom.

STUDENT: Can you be in more than one type of world at the same time?

TR: With momentum the worlds always change. But it seems that there is one particular governing factor.

S: When you’re in one of these worlds, can you remember another one?

TR: Well, you have the instinct of the other one. That’s why you can move from one experience to another experience.

S: By your own will?

TR: Not necessarily by your own will, but you sense that you know something. For instance, dogs occasionally forget that they are dogs. They almost think they’re human beings taking part in human society.

S: These worlds of the bardo, are they real, or are they mind-manufactured?

TR: That’s a very heavy question: What is real? It is very difficult to distinguish 100% real in any case.

S: Does it make any difference if these take place only in the mind or in reality?

TR: Well, mind operates realistically.

S: Does it make any difference whether they are actually acted out?

TR: Well, they are acted out, of course, but that activity is questionable—whether it is purely action for the sake of action or whether it is inspired by the mind. The point is that once you are in any of these realms, you are completely immersed in it. You can’t help showing the internal impressions of it. You are completely submerged into that kind of experience. It is so living and so real. It is almost confusing whether the experience of hell, for instance, is external hell or internal hell, purely in your mind. At the time, you can’t distinguish whether you are just thinking or whether you’ve been made to think that way. And I don’t think you can avoid acting at all. If you are nervous, for instance, much as you try not to act nervous, there will still be some signs of nervousness.

S: But take passion, for instance: you can restrain your action, but you can’t restrain your thinking.

TR: You can. At a certain gross level there are different ways of putting out passion. Passion is not sexual passion alone at all, there are many kinds: one particular desire can be replaced by all sorts of other things. You see, what generally happens is that if you don’t want to reveal completely your full state of being, quite conveniently you tend to find ways of interpreting that in order to get satisfaction in all sorts of ways.

S: So whether you act on it or not, you’re in that world?

TR: Yes, at that time you’re in that world, and action happens.

S: And repressing it doesn’t change the fact?

TR: No, you always find a way of doing it.

S: I sense, when you talk about transmuting the six realms of samsara into the six realms of the awakened state, that the six worlds are to be avoided or worked through into something else. Is that a good way to think about it?

TR: I don’t think replacing them with something else would help. That doesn’t seem to be the point. The point is that within that realm of intensity there is the absence of that intensity as well—otherwise intensity couldn’t exist, couldn’t happen, couldn’t operate. Intensity must develop in some kind of space, some kind of environment. That basic environment is the transcendental aspect.

S: There’s no sense in leaving the world of hell behind, transmuting it into something which excludes hell?

TR: No, then you go through the realms again and again. You see, you start from the world of heaven, come down to hell, get tired of it, and go back up to heaven. And you come down again and again—or the other way around. That’s why it is called samsara, which means “whirlpool.” You are continually running around and around and around. If you try to find a way out by running, by looking for an alternative, it doesn’t happen at all.

S: Does it make any sense to look for a way out?

TR: It’s more like a way in, rather than a way out.

S: Were you ever in the hell world yourself? Have you yourself ever experienced the hell world?

TR: Definitely, yes.

S: What do you do?

TR: I try to remain in the hell world.

S: What is the basic ground that allows one to enter completely into that state and yet be completely out of that state at the same time?

TR: The point seems to be that the hell realm, or whatever realm may be, is like the river, and the bardoexperience out of that is the island. So you could almost say that the bardo experience is the entrance to the common ground.

S: Is it the key to that experience?

TR: You could say key, but that is making a more than necessary emphasis.

S: So it’s like the high point or peak.

TR: Yes. Yes.

S: You spoke yesterday of the ground or canvas on which experience is painted. How does that relate to the river and the island?

TR: That’s a different metaphor altogether. In this case, the canvas had never known colors yet, it’s an open canvas. Even if you paint on the canvas, it remains white, fundamentally speaking. You could scrape off the paint.

S: I still don’t see how it relates to the gulf between the ground and the experience.

TR: The experience is, I suppose, realizing that the turbulent quality purely happens on the surface, so to speak. So you are not rushing to try to solve the problem of turbulence, but you are diving in—in other words, fearlessness. Complete trust in confusion, so to speak. Seeing the confused quality as the truth of its own reality. Once you begin to develop the confident and fearless understanding of confusion as being true confusion, then it is no longer threatening. That is the ground. You begin to develop space.

S: Where hope and fear cease to exist?

TR: Of course.

S: And activity continues; each state continues. Nothing changes?

TR: Nothing changes.

S: If confusion persists, do you just let it persist? Don’t you try to clear it out?

TR: You do not go against the force, or try to change the course of the river.

S: Suppose there are four exits, and in our confusion we don’t know which is a good one?

TR: You see, the whole idea is not to try to calm down; it is to see the calm aspect at the same level rather than just completely calming down. These particular states of turbulence, the emotions or confusions, also have positive qualities. One has to learn to transmute the positive qualities as part of them. So you don’t want to completely destroy their whole existence. If you destroy them, if you try to work against them, it’s possible that you will be thrown back constantly, because fundamentally you’re running against your own energy, your own nature.S: There’s still something undesirable I feel about confusion. You always think that you’re going from some unenlightened state to an enlightened state, that if you stay with it there is this little hope or feeling that you will develop clarity sooner or later.

TR: Yes, there will be clarity. Definitely.

S: So you don’t want confusion to be around, you want to get rid of it, but nevertheless you have to stay in it to see it?

TR: It doesn’t exactly work that way. You see, you begin to realize that the clarity is always there. In fact, when you are in a state of complete clarity you realize that you never needed to have made such a fuss. Rather than realizing how good you are now, you begin to see how foolish you’ve been.

S: Does anything actually exist outside of the mind itself? Does anything actually exist?

TR: I would say yes and no. Outside the mind is, I suppose you could say, that which is not duality—open space. That doesn’t mean that the whole world is going to be empty. Trees will be there, rivers will be there, mountains will be there. But that doesn’t mean they are some thing. Still, tree remains tree and rocks remain rocks.

S: I wonder, in the human world is there any advantage over, say, hell for crossing over, or is it equal in all respects?

TR: I think it’s the same. The karmic potential of the human realm seems to be greater because there is more communication in the human state. The human state is the highest state of passion, and the ultimate meaning of passion is communication, making a link, relationship. So there is a kind of open space, the possibility of communication. But that doesn’t mean that the human realm is an exit from the six realms of the world. The experience of passion is very momentary: you might have a human state of mind one moment and the next moment you have another realm coming through.

S: But seeing as how we have human bodies, isn’t the human world the one in which we have the best chance to accept ourselves for what we are?

TR: Yes, but we are talking about the realms as six experiences within the human body. We are not talking about the different realms as other types of worlds.

S: I understand that, but since we have human bodies and minds, isn’t passion the basic framework of our lives rather than hatred? Don’t we have the best chance of crossing over within that framework?

TR: I think so. That’s precisely why we can discuss these six types of world in a human body. So as far as experience goes it is equal, but the physical situation of the human realm seems to be unequal or special. As I’ve said already, we are discussing these realms now, in our human bodies. However, all of them are human states of mind, one no more so than any other………

“The perfect among the sages is identical with Me. There is absolutely no difference between us”
Tripura Rahasya, Chap XX, 128-133

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