Monthly Dharma Quotation: On Letting Go of Concepts

You have to notice whether you are clinging to particular ideas so that they become part of the way you think you are. You think, this idea is me somehow and I’m not going to give this up: it’s too much me. It is as though certain concepts and certain ideas are like my life, my breath, my blood. I can’t let go of them, I might die if I let go of these concepts. In fact sometimes it is said if you do—even though it may be good for you to let go of them—you might feel quite unsteady and even become sick to some extent by doing that. You could see how that might happen because you feel your concepts are like firm ground under your feet and letting go is like the ground has begun to fade. There might be mysterious holes and you don’t know where and you’re going to fall through the earth. On the other hand you might enjoy it! You might think, “Oh, that was like a thousand tons on my shoulders and I never realized it. Now I can afford to relax and feel better about myself actually.”

Often developing some kind of conceptual stricture is a kind of self-punishment that is a way of confirming your existence somehow. “I can do this, I can tough this thing out, I’m going to do it this way even though it’s painful and it hurts.” Because even though it’s a kind of punishment, it confirms my existence. Then of course when I’m like that with myself, automatically I project it outwards and I’m like that with other people. I knew somebody who developed that attitude towards herself and she had a dear friend who she thought didn’t really understand things and that she should be made to face things. It sounds all right to say “made to face things” if it’s done in a proper way, with some kind of gentleness but here the idea was she ought to be forced into it somehow. “You yourself also need to be punished by reality.” That’s a crazy idea!

Sometimes it’s a good idea to think of things you believe in, even in Dharma, thinking of the structures you have in mind about how Dharma works, how your life works and so on and then think, “Supposing I allow myself to become a completely naive person and give all this up. I don’t really know how anything works. I think I know, I think I know how to practice, I think I know how to do this, I think I know how to do that. But maybe I could just not do any of that today.” Maybe you think, not on any day! Just to let go of those ideas almost as an experiment, all the ideas you have about Dharma, all the ideas you have about the world, all the ideas you have about your life that gives your life the kind of shape that it has. And of course the Dharma, if you’re a Dharma practitioner, is going to be a lot of that. Maybe you step back from that.

It’s important to realize that actually all that great structure you created is just an idea. It’s just a thought you have and maybe you don’t need it. After all, it is said sometimes when you die Buddhas will come to you gesturing at the sky and say to you, “Death is but a thought!” That’s difficult to cope with perhaps but if you could say death is just a thought, what about all the constructions of this life? They’re just thoughts as well and you could, experimentally, just for a moment, think of what it would be like to let go of them. I’m not saying anything silly like let go of everything you believe in! I’m saying, have that sense of maybe just for a moment, I could investigate the feeling of what it is to let go of all that.

Rigdzin Shikpo

This teaching came from a Heart of Buddha teaching Rigdzin Shikpo gave last year on the Vision of Equalness. Heart of Buddha teachings are open, public talks Rigdzin Shikpo gives as a direct introduction to a wide range of important Buddhist ideas. They can cover any topic on which Rigdzin Shikpo feels inspired to teach. We will be scheduling more Heart of Buddha teachings for next year.

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