“Fearless Simplicity,”by Tsokyni Rinpoche, from In the
Face of Fear: Buddhist Wisdom for Challenging Times, edited by Barry Boyce and the editors of the Shambhala Sun. Shambhala
Publications, October 2009. Click here for more information.
by Tsokyni Rinpoche
Most people I meet are to
some extent afraid of themselves. Often they say something like,
“Well, maybe I can handle it, maybe I cannot. Maybe I should listen
to him, maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe I can’t take it.”
All this doubt, all this
reluctance, is based on fear, fear of not being able to take it.
“If I do this, if I end up in that situation, maybe I couldn’t
stand it. Maybe I don’t know how to deal with it, maybe it will be
too much. I’d better not.” There is a certain timidity in that
fear, and this feeling of dread is a way of imprisoning oneself
inside a lack of confidence. Once we confine ourselves to that prison
of timidity, ego will take the key, lock the door, and put the key in
its pocket. We become prisoners of ego.
To illustrate the
difference between simply knowing things as they are and ego’s
version, let’s say you are looking at a flower. It’s a beautiful
flower, and it smells so sweet. The moment you see it, it delights
you. If you’re feeling a little bored, it invigorates you; if
you’re feeling a little chill, it makes you warm. The moment you
look at it, the first thought is: “There is a flower.” Next, you
know it to be a nice flower. The third moment: “I want that flower.
I must possess it; it should belong to me.” In other words, ego
Someone might say that
it’s not possible for there to be any knowing without ego. That is
a big mistake, a serious false assumption. Knowing is not a function
of ego, but rather a natural quality of mind, in the same way that a
flame is hot or water is naturally wet. Mind’s natural ability is
to know. For the most part, ego steps in and takes over the knowing.
It takes charge and then claims ownership, trying to make the knowing
belong to itself.
Rather than simply
allowing the first moment of perceiving to be as it is, ego wants to
claim this knowing, to be in charge. In the moment of seeing the
flower, to want to possess it is attachment. Or one could react with
aversion: “I don’t like having a flower here; it will smell up
the room. Let’s get rid of it. Don’t even put it on the table;
throw it outside.” This way of being is not quite anger; it’s
more dislike, a source out of which anger can grow. Or, if one does
not really care to know whether it’s a flower or not a flower, but
just shuts off from it, that is closed-mindedness or stupidity. These
three poisons—attachment, aversion, stupidity—are ego’s
Ego knows no moderation.
And it doesn’t just stop with claiming ownership of experience—it
wants to go all the way. For ego, this going all the way is endless.
There is no stopping anywhere. If we could just remain with simply
knowing whatever takes place, that would be fine. But ego is not
happy with just that. It goes on and on: one thought, the next
thought, and the third thought: “I want it. How can I get it?”
then it wants to get involved in more and more activity. It becomes a
habit, and that habit can be endless. When a habit is reinforced by
being used again and again, it’s like we lose our freedom; every
moment of perceiving seems an involuntary involvement. We get caught
up all the time until we feel totally lost.
Ego always needs the
support of the knowing quality; otherwise ego is nothing. Without the
tool of the knowing quality, there is nothing it can do. When you
dread doing a certain job, you are actually not afraid of the job,
you are afraid of your emotions. There is never anything wrong with a
job. It’s more the fear of not being able to deal with the emotions
that come up during the job, the emotions that are provoked by being
involved in a certain sort of job. What happens is we blame the job
at hand, because we feel incapable of handling our own emotions that
might arise while doing the job. But honestly, without knowing how to
handle our own emotions, it doesn’t matter what job it is; we’ll
always have that feeling of being inadequate, which creates fear. And
this fear makes us not want to do anything. We become closed in; we
refuse to be involved in anything.
Maintaining the notion of
me is separating oneself from others. It’s as if one is
holding on for dear life, being utterly concerned about me and
pushing aside that which is other. This is ego-clinging. It is not
the same as simply taking care of your business, making sure that the
body is fed and able to experience and perceive. This basic process
of taking care of oneself is not called ego, not at all.
In other words, when the body has to be
fed, feed it; when it needs to be washed, give it a shower. But when
something unfamiliar happens, it doesn’t mean you have to claim
ownership of it and make it your problem. According to Buddhism, it
is possible to function while being free of ego-clinging. It’s
possible to live in fearless simplicity.
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