On Ego and Enlightenment

I spent a leisurely dinner with an interesting American last night. A dentist who has spent 12 years going back to Nepal  annually to volunteer his services, he also financed a monastery in Pokhara – a big one. And as such, he is in good standing with the Rinpoche (lead spiritual guru of the place. Lit: Precious One) and has become a student of Tibetan Buddhism over that time. He routinely sits in on pujas (group monk prayer) and is a student of chod (removal of ego, energy practice) as part of his worship. He spoke on and on about his journey toward enlightened perfection, and that he is interested to see what happens to me.

I find this wonderfully intriguing, but the words didn’t make me want to enter exuberantly into Buddhism. But when we spoke last night, he assumed they would make me want to. Not that he was trying to convert me, but he suggested that I had a lot to learn and a lot to gain if I went to visit the rinpoche in Pokhara. He fancies himself a good teacher and talked about how the roles and titles (mother, writer, hiker) we designate for ourselves serve to conform us into tiny, fear-perpetuating boxes (okay, that was somewhat enlightening). Then he told me that I was not enlightened and that I was a Buddha, inasmuch as humans on earth can be. All too much for my person-ego-package to digest, perhaps.

Funny thing about Tibetan Buddhism, in its purest form there is no emphasis on conversion and no tools in the religion to promote such. I have never felt pressured by any of my Nepali friends to “become Buddhist” but somehow, when it’s wrapped in a Western ego and presented as a solution from a Western perspective, it loses all it’s luster and feels like a sales pitch. He said something-ego, something-fear and something-enlightenment, as it pertains to me. But none of it resonated. I didn’t feel the need to stare my ego in the face to encourage my enlightenment. Growing as a person, learning through others, no fear, etc, etc… And as I was thinking all of this to myself, it suddenly felt so forced. “No fear” sounds so very far from what I have learned of Buddhism. Not because there is no fear, but because of how it is framed.

It’s not the functional details of the religion that are alluring, it’s the whole experience, itself. It’s not “entering in” in order to gain something. There is no baptism and no confirmation, as far as I know. It is a series of teachings, each of which grants you a tiny piece of enlightenment. Or something. That’s as far as I need to get, so I don’t bother to dissect it further. But isn’t it curious that in our Western modus, we destroy that beautiful part of the spiritual practice by needing to explain it and learn it through our own conventions?

Maybe I need my ego stripped from my being in a chod ceremony in order to understand what he was saying. Or maybe his words fell flat because I have not washed my Buddhist experience through another Westerner’s sieve before. Either way, it was a new window into enlightenment and a new look at ego.