Albert Einstein once said that “there are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” What he omitted to say was that in no way were these two modes of living incompatible with one another.
What is the spiritual mountaintop?
The spiritual mountaintop is a metaphor for a way of thinking or a place where consciousness becomes different. Up there in the rarefied atmosphere of the mountaintop you can sense the connections between things and you can feel that everything will work out just fine. Even if it doesn’t work out just fine. Because you will be able to deal with that too.
You feel a sense of childlike curiosity which expands your thought and opens it up to new possibilities. An example of this would be when I was staying over at a friend’s house in rural Waterford and I looked up at the night sky and was awestruck. The milky way running like a band or spine of great incandescent dust cut the sky in two.
My mind was abuzz with questions about philosophy and nature but also disturbed by a sadness at the fact that inevitably I must return to my normal modes of thought inclined as they are towards fear, anger and ultimately and probably most powerfully sadness. The sadness that you must return to earth is a sadness I can see in the words of the last astronaut to walk on the surface of the moon – Eugene Cernan:
When I was up there, in the heavens as we call it, it was like I was sitting on God’s front porch. And when I was leaving the moon, as I was looking down at my final footsteps, I knew I wasn’t going to be coming that way ever again. Someone would but it wouldn’t be me. And I was trying to figure out what we, not just Apollo 17, but what we as a whole generation actually accomplished with space flight during those years. What was the meaning of what we did? We furthered technology, sure. But during those last steps, when I looked over my shoulder and looked back at the Earth, at our identity with reality, at the real world we live in, I realised that all life and love and family was all back there. I wanted to be able to come back to earth to tell you, and whoever might be listening, particularly the younger people, what it was like. I wanted to reach out and grab that beautiful Earth and tuck it in my spacesuit and say, “Hey, here’s what it looks like, here’s what it feels like.” That wasn’t possible, so I came home with somewhat of an empty feeling, because you can’t answer those questions with a phrase or two. It’s an emotional experience that you have to find a way to relate to people.
What is it like when you come back down to earth?
You can get the briefest of glimpses of the spiritual mountaintop with all of the clarity and wisdom that comes with it and the next moment be cast back down into the regressive hell that forms much of human experience. It can be a quick descent or it can be a slower and by all accounts worse fall.
If it happens quickly it is oftentimes just because these more positive states of thinking and consciousness are difficult to maintain. Examples of the quick fall include a woman in the cinema, when I was watching Dunkirk, shushing me with the most exaggerated of finger to the lip gestures. Instantly I was apoplectic with rage. My earlier conversation with my friend about my being more chill was immediately wiped out.
Another example. I am preparing spaghetti from scratch. Wholemeal spaghetti. Little cherry tomatoes. All the good vegetables and parmesan cheese. I lean down to grab a fork from the dishwasher that should have been emptied but has not been emptied. My spaghetti slides (all of it) onto the floor. Sauce everywhere and I lose my shit.
The slower fall is where the devastating smallness that can be evidenced by humanity takes direct aim at a structure of ideas that you have built over time. The best example of this is the case of Sogyal Rinpoche’s Tibetan Book of the Living and the Dead. It was a fabulous book and great insight and compassion came off the pages and moved me.
I stole a few pages of reading on the luas going into work and read larger passages when I was in the magic van in Inch strand in Cork, when I was in Amsterdam travelling by myself and on that weekend when I was in Waterford. I finally finish and am ready to add more similar reading materials to improve my informational diet when I learn through conversation that the author of the book that was helping me through a tough time and to achieve a sort of spiritual deliverance was at the centre of devastating scandal.
A letter, dated 14 July, and signed by current and ex-members of Rigpa, the international network of centres and groups founded by Sogyal Rinpoche in 1979, was posted on the internet, detailing abuses allegedly committed by sogyal Rinpoche:
“As long-time committed and devoted students we feel compelled to share our deep concerns about your violent and abusive behavior,” the letter reads.
“Those of us who write to you today have firsthand experience of your abusive behaviours, as well as the massive efforts not to allow others to know about them. Our concerns are deepened with the organisational culture you have created around you that maintains absolute secrecy of your actions, which is in sharp contrast with your stated directive of openness and transparency within the Sangha. Our wish is to break this veil of secrecy, deception, and deceit. We can no longer remain silent.”
The twelve-page letter then addresses, in detail, four areas of alleged behavior by Sogyal Rinpoche: physical and psychological abuse of students, sexual abuse of students, a “lavish” lifestyle, and that his actions have “tainted our appreciation for the practice of the Dharma.”
The allegations are numerous, and graphically presented, alleging, for example, that:
“Your physical abuse – which constitutes a crime under the laws of the lands where you have done these acts – have left monks, nuns, and lay students of yours with bloody injuries and permanent scars.”
“there are hundreds of examples of trivial incidents that have set you off and your response has been to strikes us violently [. . .] Your emotional and psychological abuse has been perhaps more damaging than the physical scars you have left on us”
“You use your role as a teacher to gain access to young women, and to coerce, intimidate and manipulate them into giving you sexual favors. The ongoing controversies of your sexual abuse that we can read and watch on the Internet are only a small window into your decades of this behavior.”
“Much of the money that is used to fund your luxurious appetites comes from the donations of your students who believe their offering is being used to further wisdom and compassion in the world.”
After its list of grievances, the letter ends,
The letter references and links to still other complaints (including a recently circulating account alleging that, as the letter puts it, “Sogyal [Rinpoche] gut-punched a nun in front of an assembly of more than 1,000 students at Lerab Ling in France, August 2016″), and links to resources and “a blog where concerned students can connect with each other.”
On Friday afternoon, July 21, Lion’s Roar received from Rigpa a press release in response to the letter; it indicates that Sogyal Rinpoche will “step back” as the community looks into next steps. Read “Rigpa press release responds to letter detailing allegations of abuses by Sogyal Rinpoche” here.
I read the 12 page later and the inadequate response offered by Sogyal. Crazy wisdom and all of the logic of Buddhism became tools of evasion in his response. Instantly the entirety of the book’s wisdom for me became a painful confirmation of another philosophy I hold. One which imagines the worst and ascribes the worst motives and is generally correct. Nothing can be trusted. Whatever someone says, believe the opposite. It was devastating for me and like with many of my strong emotions it was not experienced immediately but later following a seemingly inexplicable abaissement du niveau mental.
After examining both the quick and slow drops I am left with this question. How do you get to that good place and stay in that good place? Why is that sometimes when you are not looking for it and suddenly you are hit by the revelation and other times all of the ingredients are there and you are not hit by the revelation.
I have heard former addicts talk about having spiritual revelations, seeing the map for their development and their higher self. They have these earth changing experiences. Their hearts are filled with love and compassion. They feel connected with everyone and the universe and what do they do they sink to even lower depths of addiction and being messed up. It is only when they put in the work that they are able to maintain a foothold on the mountain top.
I have not yet discovered how to stay on this mountaintop for longer periods. I have few small methods which can help me a little bit but it is still very much a work in progress and people are generally a regressive force in the quest.