4 min read

The Myth of Freedom: Maybe it's supposed to be disappointing?

(I should focus on what I want to see more of. But... eh, I already wrote this. So oh well.)

It turns out there is such a thing as too much book.

I read three meditation books recently related to the general theme of tradition and teacher-student relationships. I read Dangerous Friend about the Vajrayana teacher-student relationship, and Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism and The Myth of Freedom about that plus a "spiritual friend" relationship.

It turns out this is way too much book to absorb in a single pass each. I am working back through The Myth of Freedom slowly as the most apparently relevant to me right now. But there is a sense that this might not be helpful. There's a sense of agitation about it. I want to get past the problems it describes, but also it frustrates me. I understand this whole direction is a lot of work in terms of executing on it, but hell, it is a lot of work to figure out what the book is even suggesting that I execute.

Large parts of the book just feel like a demotivational poster for meditation: "We DON'T want you." Turn back, go away, you saw nothing here. Suckville, 3000 miles, watch out for dragons, witches, and wild dogs. Fair enough.

In terms of takeaways, I just don't know what to do with it. The conceptual model of the six realms is elaborate and I don't understand it — how is asura realm paranoia different from hell realm paranoia? Less aggression? What is this model for? Is this a way of recognizing one's own state and acting on it? It doesn't seem like it is meant to apply to other people. And what about the five skandhas, what is that all about? What is the suggestion there, to dismantle feelings entirely? Just the because-ofs or the labels of emotions? What is this other model for? This ten bhumis thing — it's not suppose to be useful to try to locate yourself in it, so it seems only useful from the outside, not the inside? Why include it in a general-audience book apparently for prospective practitioners rather than for teachers? Maybe it's just inspirational, a listing of possibilities?

Maybe for is the wrong idea here. Regardless I honestly just find that whole thing irritating.

(My way of orienting to this reminds me of how "lots of people have ideas, but very few people want to take responsibility for those ideas... the burden of performance is on the performer.")

The teacher pages are especially frustrating -- and insulting. Yep, okay, true to form, Trungpa wrote that this path involves "insult after insult," and he delivered! When he goes on for a page and a half about how irritating and frivolous and foolish I hypothetically am (p. 142-3), what am I supposed to get out of that? If I'm so irritating, if this hypothetical teacher needs so much compassion just to deal with me, if that's something they feel is important to tell me -- I have to question this teacher's motives for telling me. "You should be grateful to me because I am so wonderful and do so much for you." Morally, it may be true -- but the demanding is not a good look, let's say. Doesn't inspire gratitude. Doesn't seem especially compassionate. Doesn't seem to show these other virtues he's talking up in this book.

This book has a section on working with negativity. Sounds dead useful given all this, right?

Overall it feels like a waste of time. I feel annoyed at the place that recommended it. Paradoxically I also feel motivated to pick it over and find something to justify the time I spent on this book. Maybe, I think to myself, I can dig out of this something that was worth 300 pages of insults.

Maybe I won't bother.

Okay, I like one thing in the book. There's a metaphor presented where the result of disappointments and practice is encouragement "to work as a grain of sand":

We have heard so many promises, have listened to so many alluring descriptions of exotic places of all kinds, have seen so many dreams, but from the point of view of a grain of sand, we could not care less. We are just a speck of dust in the midst of the universe. At the same time our situation is very spacious, very beautiful and workable. In fact, it is very inviting, inspiring. If you are a grain of sand, the rest of the universe, all the space, all the room is yours, because you obstruct nothing, overcrowd nothing, possess nothing. There is tremendous openness. You are the emperor of the universe because you are a grain of sand. The world is very simple and at the same time very dignified and open, because your inspiration is based upon disappointment, which is without the ambition of ego.

In retrospect: This book talks a lot about disappointment. Trungpa in this book or in Cutting Through, can't remember which, tells a story or two about disappointment. He tells a story about Milarepa, I think it is, traveling to India to meet the teacher Naropa, and being sent off with useless scrolls, then coming back and offering gold dust and having Naropa toss it up in the air, and eventually Naropa sends Milarepa to an island on a lake of poison where some other teacher lives surrounded by wild dogs. The teacher doesn't say a word to him. And I think: Maybe the fact that this book is a disappointing frustrating waste of time is part of point.

If so: Good job.