Tirelessness (5)

There’s one form of tirelessness that I doubt will survive beyond the present generation of masters: the tirelessness of genuine enlightened, spontaneous activity, without reference to external judgements or pressures. Take Do Khyentse Rinpoche, for example, a truly tireless Dzgochen master of the crazy wisdom school, whose unconventional outlook and activities profoundly shocked the majority of Tibetans in his own time, but whose reputation today is sky-high. Tulku Thondup tells a wonderful story about him in Masters of Meditation and Miracles:

“Do Khyentse went to meet Gönpo Namgyal (d. 1865), the wicked chieftain of Nyarong, who caused many sufferings to many parts of Kham. One day that chieftain said to Do Khyentse, ‘You carry a gun—now shoot that crow.’ Do Khyentse did so. Then the chieftain said, ‘You claim to be a compassionate Buddhist, but you are killing animals. How can that be?’ Do Khyentse snapped his fingers, and the crow flew away.”

But do you think this great Mahasiddha with power over life and death (not a bad siddhi, you must admit) could have survived the contemporary western world. Can you imagine what the English media would do to a Buddhist who went hunting? Let alone his other difficult-to-explain activites. Spiritual power and miracles don’t sit well in the laps of Dockland hacks, in the same way that spontaneity doesn’t lend itself well to conformity.

These days, for example, since society has finally accepted that women have the right to tell their side of any story, a man’s right to a fair hearing appears to be on the wane. In a world where wisdom is trounced time and again by the rule of law (which is an ass) and media bias and love of black and white sensationalism (words fail me—and a fear of potential litigation…), if a man is accused of violence towards or abuse of a woman, it’s virtually impossible for him to find a forum in which to tell his side of the story. Bill Clinton, for example. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I do not condone abuse or disbelieve Monica Lewinsky, et al, but apart from the denial the news ran of him saying “I never had sexual relations with that woman” as he wagged his finger, I’ve never seen or heard his version of what happened.

Do you know the movie, The Life of David Gale from 2003? It’s an Alan Parker movie with Kevin Spacey, Laura Linney and Kate Winslet. The critics loathed it but audiences seemed to love it. The bit that stuck with me was when Kevin Spacey’s character (a college philosophy professor) refused to bed a student in exchange for a pass mark, and then met the girl (by now an ex-student) at a party, had consensual sex with her, then found himself accused of rape as payback for failing her. In the movie, his side of the story didn’t count. He was barely given a hearing even by his closet friends. Just the fact he’d been accused of rape was enough to get him the sack, and the excuse his unfaithful wife needed to take their son to live in Spain with her lover. David Gale became untouchable.

That part of the story rang true for me because I’ve had friends in similar situations. And I ask myself, in such an environment, how is it possible for the crazy wisdom masters to function?  If Do Khyentse Rinpoche had had to think twice about getting arrested for GBH, and the harm his arrest might do to the reputation of vajrayana buddhism, he may never have used physical violence to introduce Patrul Rinpoche to the nature of his mind. A good thing, you might say. But what if the only way to make that introduction was to drag Patrul Rinpoche by the hair and beat him up? Given how effective Patrul Rinpoche’s teaching life became after that introduction, I, a life-long pacifist, find it hard to censure or condem Do Khyentse for his actions.

I can’t imagine ever being able to emulate such courage, though. Could you tirelessly be true to the activites inspired by a genuine realization of the nature of you mind, regardless of the opinions and judgements of those around you? I couldn’t. But I’ve met a few masters who can. OT Rinpoche, for example, and of course Sogyal Rinpoche. But will any of the next generation of tulkus be able to risk such speedy and effective methods without getting chucked into prison, or run out of the civilized world? It’s not very likely, is it?

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