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Buddhist Meditation and Psychology of Impermanence

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Meditation is a way of working with neurosis of ego, so in order
to understand the psychology of meditation we must understand the
dynamics of that neurosis. According to Buddhist psychology, the
basis of ego is the tendency to solidify energy into a barrier that
separates space into two entities, “I” and “Other,” the space in here
and the space out there. This process is technically termed “dualistic
fixation.” First there is the initial creation of the barrier, which is the
sensing of other, and then the inference of inner or I. This is the birth
of ego. We identify with what is in here and struggle to relate to what
is out there. The barrier causes an imbalance between inside and
outside. The struggle to redress the imbalance further solidifies the
wall. The irony of the barrier-creating process is that we lose track of
the fact that we have created the barrier and, instead, act as if it was
always there.
After the initial creation of I and Other, “I” feels the territory
outside itself, determining if it is threatening, attractive or
uninteresting. Feeling the environment is followed by impulsive
action—passion, aggression, or ignoring—pulling in what is
seductive, pushing away what is threatening or repelling, ignoring
what is uninteresting or irritating. But feeling and impulsive action
are crude ways of defending and enhancing ego. The next response is
conceptual discrimination, fitting phenomena into categories, which
makes the world much more manageable and intelligible. Finally,
whole fantasy worlds are created to shield and entertain ego.
Emotions are the highlights of the fantasies while discursive
thoughts, images and memories sustain the story line. A story of
ego’s hopes and fears, victories and defeats, virtues and vices is
developed. In highly neurotic people, elaborate subplots or
“problems” then develop from the initial drama. The subplots become
very complicated and compelling, often overshadowing the main
drama. In psychotic people, the subplots completely overshadow the
main drama. The different stages of ego development—the initial
split of I and Other, feeling, impulse, conceptualization and the
various fantasy worlds—are technically referred to in the Buddhist
tradition as the five skandhas. From moment to moment the five
skandhas are recreated in such a manner that it seems the ego drama
is continuous. Clinging to the apparent continuity and solidity of ego,
ceaselessly trying to maintain I and Mine, is the root of neurosis.

On the other hand. there is irritation. seductive. seemingly hostile objects become more threatening. or of solidifying and fixating it. which is psychosis. of giving up conflict. we invite suffering. not in a passive. their awkward attempts at easing their discomfort are obvious. One can go so far as to lose contact with the ground. One can define meditation as a process of letting go. by blocking the flow of energy. with the everrecurring death and birth of ego. withdrawing into a defensive posture. In the case of highly neurotic persons. But in the case of spiritual techniques such covering over is harder to detect. I and the Seduction. by trying to make oneself at ease. Even if we are seemingly quite comfortable with . and consequently either moves out and tries to grab hold of phenomena or holds back from them.) One sees the world in terms of I and the Threat. suffering and egolessness. So we are faced with the moment-to-moment alternative of either opening to space. From the Buddhist perspective. The particular neurosis you create depends on your style of relating to the world—defensive. and therefore causes suffering. Seemingly pleasurable objects become more seductive and. which is ironic. Whenever we withdraw from phenomena or grasp them. One must be careful not to fall into the trap of superficially letting go. Or one can stabilize in a defensive way. because it is the effort to make ourselves comfortable that creates the discomfort. Rather than softening reality. there is the possibility of breaking the chain of panic and struggle by opening to what is. manipulative. by dropping the attempt continually to maintain one’s security. but in the sense of being present yet not manipulative. which is what a neurotic person does. Meditation is thus concerned with life as it is rather than as we would like it to be. But whatever your style. encompassing or ignoring. What one is doing in that case is trying to compensate for the discomfort of life by smoothing it over.(This effort clashes with the inevitability of change. By not accepting this reality. The first reality is death— the nature of energy is to form and dissolve continually. meditation is a process of clearly seeing it. of being in harmony with it. Such clinging creates a sense of alienation which panics us into struggling to restore the balance that has been upset. the more one creates dissatisfaction. the degree to which you are neurotic depends on the extent to which you are struggling to make yourself comfortable. spineless sense. So the more one struggles either to gain pleasure or to avoid pain. the realities of life can be summarized in terms of three basic principles— impermanence.

There is more sense of being present. the inanity. is also not solid. Our efforts to build eternity on top of death. is frightening. that we are fundamentally alone. In order to begin to see our life as it is we need some method of cutting through the speed and deception in our lives. Meditation becomes a pervasive aspect of our everyday lives. pain and aloneness that their terrifying and tragic quality is overcome. our inner space. and egolessness. and emotions to obscure the fact. suffering. aware and permissive to whatever arises. Instead of seeing the changing nature of things we impulsively jump from thing to So we churn out thoughts. Our best friend. We begin to see the realities of impermanence. our ego. to solidify ourselves in the face of aloneness—all these are futile. Usually techniques that cut the chain of thoughts are used as aids—attention to the breath is most common. harsh nature of things which must be overcome by reason and effort. speeding is the strategy we employ to hide all three aspects of reality. Calming the frenzied thought process is often quite painful since we allow thoughts and feelings that are normally repressed to emerge. precise relationship to things. Then this expands into an awareness of the environment in which phenomena occur. to untangle itself. Moreover. The fact that ego does not exist as a solid entity. our constant companion who consoles and entertains us. also is born and dies continually. So the turbulence may seem to increase before it subsides. And to overcome the terror they evoke is the gateway to sanity. It is only by fully opening to death. not only is the seeming world out there continually changing and therefore painful. We become more open. But along with the boredom. but there is something wrong with our home. recalling and anticipating pleasures and comforts or slights and sorrows. of a calm. Instead of acknowledging the underlying dissatisfaction in our lives we cover it up by highlighting. Deception. We neither feed nor repress thoughts but clearly see them without getting caught by them. Sitting meditation provides a way of allowing the mind to slow down. evasion. These realities are not viewed as the unfortunate. the fact of egolessness cannot be recognized. . the embarrassment. In fact. the irritation. to create pleasure out of pain. there is some sense of uneasiness underneath the surface comfort. memories. a heightened clarity begins to develop. ignoring is the way of ego. As long as we are always busy. the ups and downs of the meditation process.