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A few words to try to explain in what spirit I try to report my memories of this curious figure who has left a deep imprint on my soul.
First of all, I wish to make him known to those who, by force of circumstance, could not approach him, since at the time of writing these lines, he has been dead for more than fifteen years. Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche was an absolutely unique human being, and the more I think about him, the more it is clear to me that this encounter has determined a lot of things in my life, and certainly in the lives of a number of other people.
It is not necessary to adhere to the ideas of Buddhism in order to recognize the radiance of a great individuality, not only in the sense that we would be influenced for good by the truths he or she says or even by the example of the good he or she does, but in the sense that there are interactions between us and other humans with whom we have deep affinities, which, in some cases, can determine an alteration (for good or for bad, for that matter) of the functioning of our own mind.
Today, I would no longer so deeply persuaded of the (philosophical) truth of Buddhism as I once was. I don’t even have an opinion on the supposedly “enlightened” character of its “great masters.” I am only interested in singularities, in this case the very deep one of Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche, in the intertwining with mine, which was formed during the twelve or thirteen years I knew him. I really think that this very strange figure - the most amazing human being I have ever known - has exerted on me an influence, largely beneficial, that I cannot explain well, but something of which could be passed on through the most naïve possible account (albeit accompanied by some reflections) of what I remember about him. It seems to me that something can still pass and be transmitted through this simple narration. I don't know in what form Chhimed Rigdzin may have survived his death; but part of his post-mortem survival is in the fecundity that his disconcerting words still have today, when reported. In the burst of laughter that they often provoke, something happens, it seems to me, that goes beyond us. In any case, it is beyond me.
Because – in the end, that is what is central – Chhimed Rigdzin is, of all the masters I have come close to, the one who still leaves me with the feeling of something exorbitant, prodigiously excessive, like the confrontation with the unconscious itself: one does not understand anything, one feels as if surrounded by an ocean of darkness, and yet there is something in this disturbing strangeness that speaks to us very deeply. Of the other masters I had the joy of knowing, I think I can vaguely say “what I found in them,” what I was looking for in them, and, to a certain extent, what they brought me. But as far as Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche is concerned, it is much more curious: He has never been a role model for me, in the moral sense of the word; I don’t think one can speak of a father figure (in fact, he would be more of a grandfather figure, if I may say so, because I met him the same year my paternal grandfather died, with whom he had nothing in common, except for a great good-naturedness expressed through a humor that was sometimes quite off the mark for such a patriarchal character).
It is to try to say a word about this, which is at the heart of my desire to write these few memories, that I am interrupting the thread of my narrative a little, this morning, in favor of a more general reflection. Really, what fascinated me so much about the relationship I developed with Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche, especially in the very late 1980s and in the 1990s, is that, in a sense, I didn’t understand anything about it and even had the feeling that I was engulfed in it, as if in spite of myself, as one will have understood from the episode of the letter recounted in a previous chapter. It is this feeling of wonder mixed with a touch of fear that I try to restore here. This leads me, to continue in the somewhat discursive vein of my talk today, to say a few words about “crazy wisdom” and the way in which my interactions with Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche does not at all coincide with the expectations that this notion of “crazy wisdom” (such as it has been thematized by Chögyam Trungpa and all his posterity of more or less abusive gurus) has aroused in the West.
I don’t blame those who follow “masters of crazy wisdom” because they want to be sadized in typically perverse devices, in the sense that the master is the sole holder of the rules, which he manipulates at his convenience (and for his pleasure?), so that one is always at fault. I only think that they should take a step back from their deep masochism and better identify the kind of enjoyment they expect from their enrolment in this kind of device: one loses nothing by being lucid, no Buddhist should say otherwise. Besides, a human reality is always rich in multiple dimensions, and recognizing the dimension of masochism that is implied in the fact of seeking a spiritual master and submitting to his authority, does not imply that the whole relationship thus constructed is reduced to sado-masochism. Simply, there are clearly neurotic elements in man that overdetermine his most profoundly emancipatory steps, and which can in some respects have as much a driving character as a parasitic and inhibiting one in these processes.
If one is dying to be whipped, why not, but why disguise it as a spiritual quest?
Why these remarks on masochism, besides the dimension of a testimony as sincere as possible of these pages? It is true that I must, like everyone else, question myself on what pushed me to desire to live under the guidance of a master (and even, to tell the truth, of several). Do we need masters, what do they bring us? Or, to put it in reverse: is man made to live in this kind of meaninglessness where we are invited to live, on this blank page of unconditional freedom where each one would give his life the meaning he or she desires? On the contrary, doesn't he or she feel very deeply the need to be in some way framed by rules, so much so that, if society no longer gives him or her sufficiently precise tables of the Law, the fear that such a formless freedom inspires in him or her pushes at least some of us to wish to submit to a master? Or even to confuse the pleasure experienced in this submission with a benefit of a properly spiritual order?
We remember Lacan's curious formula, seeing the French students marching in May 68 with anarchist slogans: “They are looking for a master.” There is perhaps the key point, in this paradoxical junction of the desire of unconditional freedom (of which the May 1968 students’ libertarianism could have been the expression in the political register) and the aspiration to submit, notably to a tyrant, that is to say a master whose good pleasure will have force of law.
If this is so, it throws light on the “crazy wisdom” as a central ideological component of Western neo-Buddhism. Indeed, it seems to me that a very deeply determining fantasy in the adherence of many to these teachings must be brought to the fore: this fantasy, precisely, of unconditional freedom, of leaping into the void, with respect to which there is, moreover, perhaps some truth in the curious equivalence proposed by Freud between “death drive” and “nirvāṇa drive.” If we think about it, indeed, in this fantasy of unconditioned freedom, or rather, in this perception of Buddhism as an apparatus of integral deconditioning, there is a desire to no longer be human, to emancipate oneself from all the limitations that make us what we are, to make oneself a pure "opening." an impersonal and impassive crossroads of all the flows, at the same time open to everything and bound to nothing, that life penetrates and crosses, but as the water slides on the feathers of a duck - of a being therefore at the same time sovereign and incapable of any progress, a little in the sense of Stirner’s The Unique and its property .
I think - but this is another question - that this “under the paving stones, [there is] the beach” [a famous slogan of the French student movement of the 1960s] expresses as an aspiration to inner suicide by “depersonalization,” if I may venture this neologism, which is basically foreign to Buddhism and that it is only one of the innumerable expressions of a deep desire for self-destruction which seems to animate our societies at the very moment when they rush with the most frenetic greed on consumer goods. The key to all of this may lie partly in analyses like those of Christopher Lasch in The Culture of Narcissism. In the end, there may be an experience of inner emptiness on both sides, in the sense of an empty stomach conditioning “intense oral frustrations.”
“The heart of man is hollow and full of trash,” says Blaise Pascal.
But let's go back for a moment to the “crazy wisdom” and especially to what I experienced with Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche, which does not look like it at all.
Behind this notion of “crazy wisdom,” (completely invented, I repeat, by Chögyam Trungpa, without any genuine Indian or Tibetan basis) there is in reality in Westerners, as I said, a very masochistic libidinal configuration, which is easily recognized in phrases, heard a thousand times in Buddhist centers, such as: “Rinpoche has destroyed my ego.” Ah the ego! This thing which does not correspond to any well determined Sanskrit or Tibetan term, and which is however so much at the center of the speeches of the new Western converts to Buddhism! In short, rather than "grasping the self" or "apprehending [oneself as] a self", it is basically what Catholic morality and spirituality calls self-love; “crazy wisdom,” with its airs of “beyond good and evil,” is basically envisaged by many as a sovereign means of mortification of self-love.
But once again the fantasy that accompanies it is very different: if in Catholic spirituality the horizon is clearly holiness as “perfection of charity,” in the Western Buddhist world (there is much to be said about the gap between the fantasized expectations, in this respect, and what the texts actually say, not to mention what actually happens in the individuals), there is a gnosis (wisdom) understood as linked to an integral deconditioning, confusedly imagined as the regression of conceptual, affective proliferations, etc., of the mind towards a neutral, indestructible, empty and luminous primordial state like the surface of a mirror.
Now the attainment of this state is imagined as having to proceed from a destruction. This way of thinking is not unknown to the Tibetan tradition, where some people (notably the Jonangpas with their doctrine known as Zhentong, of the “emptiness of other[ness]”) have been able to oppose to the Awakening understood as a "fruit of production" another conception where it appears as a "fruit of separation » – as being obtained by taking away and not by building.
On the other hand, among Tibetans, this way of thinking works with the idea of a "Buddha nature" that is always already present and more or less already endowed with all the characteristics of Enlightenment. Whereas, among many Westerners converted to Buddhism, there is a real fantasy of the clean slate, of the naked and empty mirror, of a way of being nothing but pure presence, a kind of uninvolved witness before a spectacle of illusion (with, when one looks at it better, a total absence of renunciation of the desire, notably sexual, and rather the fantasy, there again, to plunge in the world by remaining unharmed, to the image - very Buddhist, for that matter - of the lotus which grows in the mire without being soiled by it).
In this ideological construction - of deification by the clean slate, basically, via a liquidation of all moral preconceptions, at the end of which “you will be like gods” (a construction whose main architect in theory will have been Chögyam Trungpa) - the role of the master is imagined as being fundamentally to tear us away from the known, to break our psychological mechanisms, to “destroy our concepts,” as they say in Buddhist centers. And it would be par excellence the "master of crazy wisdom" who would be able to proceed to this surgery of the soul – surgery whose essence, basically, would be to disconcert thoroughly and to leave the subject in a state where he or she no longer adheres to any idea, to any value, to any feeling. At most, he would be left with the "devotion" to the master, without goal and without object. One would gain by meditating, there again, on the psychology of the masochist, whose horizon is to regulate him/herself in everything on the will of a master, which is not limited by anything and which expresses itself in the more or less symbolic or real destruction of the masochist subject.
I must confess that, in my younger years, I myself was seduced by Chögyam Trungpa's books that I read in high school and that today appear to me as inconsistent as they are perverse. To a certain extent, my own expectations were conditioned by this phraseology of "crazy wisdom" and by the denunciation of "spiritual materialism" which, if you think about it, tells the disciple: you have nothing to expect from the master, nothing to demand, you have to abandon yourself totally "without any spirit of purpose or profit" (according to the Zen formula), no longer even hoping for Enlightenment, and this is the condition under which something can finally happen (but what?). Basically, this kind of attitude governed my relationship with the one I considered my main teacher, Nyoshül Khenpo - a master-disciple relationship which, in my opinion, was in the end somehow disappointing in some respects, or at least full of misunderstandings.
But what I must say above all is that, approaching Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche with such preconceptions, what happened to me through the relationship I formed with him (or he formed with me) was quite beyond the scope of what I had in mind. This is the central theme of the memories that I am trying to relate here.
In order not to close this long and somewhat theoretical chapter without testifying to a few episodes of my exchanges with Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche, here is, as recorded in my memory, a piece of the conversation I had with him during those first months after my meeting with him.
“Rinpoche, you are a master of the Jangter (Northern Treasures), are you a holder of the Gongpa zangthal [Dzogchen system in the Northern Treasures]?
- Yes, and the next time I give it, I will invite you!
- Rinpoche, I was not asking this for myself, but for people who would be able to practice it!
- How can you know who you are?”
It seems to me that this very simple little exchange already says a lot about the way Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche interacted with those who approached him: far from systematically encouraging masochism, he had a very strong tendency to restore confidence in people, to strengthen them.His verbal brutalities were often aimed, not at self-love at all, but at forms of thought or conduct by which, according to the Deleuzian definition of the reactive temperament according to Nietzsche, “power is cut off from what it can.” It often seemed to me that even his verbal assaults, sometimes of great violence, had more to do with testing how well his followers were able to stand on their ground, than with any ambition to destabilize them. I would even say that he often seemed to be looking for resistance, to check how firmly one wanted what one wanted, without fear of not being legitimate. We will see other examples of this in the course of these memories, even if this interpretative hypothesis, which works well in certain cases, does not apply to all.
Chhimed Rigdzin, in a way that cannot be explained by ordinary means, had an extraordinary ability to penetrate into the “secret recesses of the soul.” This often led him to throw their most heinous secrets at people's faces. But what is remarkable is that he never did this, at least as far as I have seen, in a spirit of moral reproach. He simply seemed to want to bring into the light of day something that was hidden under shame and lies. Again, this is a far cry from all the Western expectations of "crazy wisdom", since, rather than "breaking the ego", it seemed to be more along the lines of "where That is, the self must come" (perhaps with the idea that, when the light is shed, many things will unravel, of course - but not in a punitive and destructive mode).
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Appendix : N°1 holy funny silly French song alluded to in one of the chapters (the secret song of realization for the lovers of crazy wisdom) :
Il s'est levé à mon approche
Fais-moi mal, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny
Il n'avait plus que ses chaussettes
Voyant qu'il ne s'excitait guère
Tu m'fais mal, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny
Il a remis sa p'tite chemise
Fais-moi mal, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny
He stood up as I approached
Hurt me, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny
He only had his socks left
Hurt me, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny
Seeing that he didn’t get too excited
You hurt me, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny
He got his little shirt on
To listen to it, click here.