Response to Ivakiv (3) – was I wrong in my last post?

In my last post, which I wrote over a month ago, I seem to be arguing that there something incomplete in Ivakhiv’s analysis of how Nagarjunan thought can help western intellectuals to understand joy and compassion in more process-relational terms. I mean, I think the whole conversation is about why thinkers like Zizek (and I recall in Matthieu Ricard’s TED Talk, he mentions how French intellectuals object to his writing on happiness, saying, “Don’t impose on me your notion of happiness” – i.e., I find meaning in my misery) think Buddhism is a kind of soma or opiate for the masses. But for some reason I wanted to niggle over Ivakhiv’s use of the idea of groundlessness. The thing is, I’ve been reading HH the Dalai Lama’s Dzogchen book, where he very much does go into the need, at higher stages of meditation, to drop analytic analysis and simply meditate on emptiness. In reality, all the various methods and stages of meditation are a precise science the quite exceeds my knowledge. Even in Dzogchen, His Holiness points out, it’s presumed that the student first has a very solid basis in analytic meditation, but at the point when meditative absorption is to become total, then analysis is slight dispersal of the necessary energy, and should be abandoned. Well, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche said in an interview posted on YouTube that the shortcut to enlightenment is simply to seek for it, and it’s the seeking that matters more than the finding.

It seems like I was pretty certain last month that the Dalai Lama had taught that we have to be careful about teachings that tell us that we can truly approach groundlessness. Maybe I was momentarily clinging to the idea that the ideal of total selflessness was one of the mystifications that makes it hard for the ordinary person to enter the path of meditation. I mean, having encountered some would-be western Zen masters, I do think I have a slight aversion to the seriousness that comes with the notion that ‘I’m really going to come from a place of mastery, the master, without the self.’ Much better, I think, to be friendly with oneself. And so I took the Dalai Lama to be reminding us that the real “I” to be annihilated was the notion of a true I or a master-I, while in fact there wasn’t much problem with the notion of a conventional and provisional I, which is much closer, isn’t it, to our experience of being selves anyway.

I’m just trying to be careful about the idea of Groundlessness with a capital “G.” It’s sort of like what I’ve heard Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche emphasize (and like the little bit I’ve understood about Tsongkhapa’s teaching) the “ness” in emptiness. I’ve also read in Chobgye Trichen Rinpoche’s commentary Parting From the Four Attachments that the Mind Only School was actually a good starting point back in the days of Nalanda University, because it frees one from believing one’s experience is intrinsically real, but that one then has to analyze and see that the mind, too, is a result of dependent origination, or is empty of essence. In fact, I had this dream in 2011 that I was at a small teaching with Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. A bunch of us students were seated on the floor talking, with Rinpoche. I raised my hand to tell another student that for me the most important notion was that the mind was unfabricated. Rinpoche suddenly said, “No, I don’t agree with that. You sound like an idealist.” At the time, I couldn’t understand the dream. Now I think I sort of do. Maybe it’s a pitfall to cling to the notion of the mind as a kind of eternal self, a substitute for the limited “I” – an unlimited I! Clinging to that idea will prevent further understanding.

But, looking back, I don’t think Ivakhiv was misusing the notion of groundlessness. Or, anyway, I need to keep studying this whole question.