Thank You, Rimpoche
The term crazy wisdom is generally associated with Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche (pronounced rim-po-shay), a remarkable teacher who was the first person to give me a real taste of what the Dharma is all about.
Rimpoche had been born and educated in Tibet as the 11th Trungpa tulku. A tulku is an incarnation of a famous teacher. Tulkus are educated within the monastic system in a strict, but caring manner. As a young tulku, Trungpa had several important gurus and learnt many practices and traditions. However, when he was driven out of Tibet by the Chinese invasion and some of his teachers had disappeared into Chinese prisons, never to be seen again, he decided that what mattered was not so much the forms of tradition, but the actual lived life of the Dharma.
Perhaps the inspiration for this attitude came particularly from one of those lost teachers of his, Jamgon Kongtrul of Sechen. When Trungpa had asked the Sechen lama what enlightenment was, Kongtrul said, “There is no such thing; but this is it!” Trungpa had learnt early that there were some gurus who were better at conveying the form and others who were better at living the spirit. When he came to the West where the traditional forms were either unknown or, too often, treated as exotic curiosities, he decided that he had to start from scratch.
When I First Found Buddhism
When I first found Buddhism, which was soon after Rimpoche had come to UK, there was not a lot of form to be had. There were few established Buddhist groups at that time and what there were were more academic than practising. To study Buddhism meant to study about it, not to do it. Trungpa was… well, I was going to write the cliche, ‘like a breath of fresh air’, but in fact he was more of a whirlwind, all energy on the outside and dead calm in the middle.
So Trungpa Rimpoche started from scratch and took to heart that Dharma is investigation of real life. And real life is pretty crazy. Wisdom, in Buddhism, is prajna. Prajna means to look below the surface. So, take real life and look below the surface, and you see plenty of craziness. The traditional form of religion is to shape people into the shape of moral people, but underneath that outer shape they can be just as crazy as ever. In fact, the circumstance of being fitted into a shape can make you even crazier.
Got What You've Got
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with being moral - I’m just saying that there is something to be said for authenticity. When the Sechen lama said “this is it’” I don’t think he was making a clever remark about living in the present moment. No, he was talking about the fact that you have got what you’ve got. However, whatever you’ve got - which may well be a bundle of really crazy stuff - the Buddhas still throw a light on it, still smile at it like a benign parent, still enjoy the life spirit that it evidences. When you live in that smile, then you know that you've got what you've got, but you also know it is a whole lot more than you thought. However, having a whole lot more does not mean that you have got rid of the rest. The term yana in Sanskrit means a "vehicle". The crazy yana is what we are going along in.
Could Buddhism, which started in the West in the days of let-it-all-hang-out Hippydom, be now in danger of becoming a kind of rather straight-buttoned, killjoy, puritanism, in which the self-perfection project leads people into adopting a spiritual manner on the outside, but does not really touch the cauldron of self-righteousness, self-pity, self-entitlement and self-silliness, on the inside? that does not even look at it in fact, but just goes on and on about perfect Buddha Nature and stuff? Buddhism is not just about living on lentils and carrying out a procedure that one calls "my practice". That is hinayana. Hinayana is not really a school of Buddhism, it is an attitude toward Buddhism. It is the attitude that seeks personal rightness, personal benefit and no-sign-of-craziness. It is Buddhism in a small bottle.
Crazyana & Sillyana
Crazyana is different. Crazyana is what happens when we abandon Buddhism-in-order-to-get-something-for-me, which Rimpoche called ‘spiritual materialism’, and start looking at life ‘just as you are’ with all the self-silliness still happening. After all, that is how the Buddhas see us. They are not taken in by pretending. They see straight into the heart. They see how really silly we are. If it is painful to one to realise that the Buddha sees right into one's heart, then is it because one is ashamed of what he sees there. Well, that shame is part of the silliness, too. One could start right there. Investigate. Wow! Real human nature with no clothes on! What he sees there may be dukkha, but dukkha is a noble truth, and Buddhas love that.
The Root of Compassion
I now practise, more or less, in the Pureland style of Buddhism. One of the things that I like about Pureland is its realism about the human condition. We are all ‘bombu’ which means, roughly ‘foolish beings of wayward passion’. However, ever here, it is difficult to really get away from the question: yes, but how can I get to be a better class of bombu? Which, of course, is to miss the point completely, but is a wonderful example of human silliness. It makes me think of the infamous Madame Mao who followed her husband's injunction that all revolutionaries should wear boiler suits so as to identify with the working masses, and so sent to Paris to have some very chic boiler suits tailor-made. We are like that, right? We mouth a doctrine of ordinariness while convinced deep down that oneself is something different - both better and worse - or just plain too frightened to put our money where our mouth is. The point of pointing this out, however, is not so as to say: so straighten up there and perform better - it is, rather, to help us see that being human is like that. If one can really digest that truth, then one is somewhere near to compassion.
Buddhism is not about me being better, nor worse for that matter; it is about compassion and wisdom and wisdom is really crazyana. Of course, if one is abandoned to compassion and wisdom, third parties might say that one is a good person, or they might just be shocked and disapproving that one is not performing according to their image of what a good person is supposed to look like, but the point is that the gaol is not to arrive at a position where others have such-and-such an opinion of one or, indeed, that one has such an opinion of oneself. Self isn’t in it. It is self that is crazy and that up-welling craving to be something - that is really crazy - but it is studying just that, just as it is, just as one is, that is the wisdom that feeds compassion, because we have all got it, and when you are at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, it is no use being a dormouse.