The Personal Police State

by Ngak’chang Rinpoche, October 1981

This may sound slightly shocking to some people. It could well offend your sense of spiritual law and order. You might feel moral outrage about the fact that we are all our own punishment. Each one of us is the worst punishment we could ever fear – and best reward we could hope to achieve.

The inconsequential eccentric yogi sNgags pa chos dByings rGya mTsho utterly acknowledges his endless joyful appreciation of his Lamas – without whose direct inspiration he would have nothing of any interest to say to anyone, anytime anywhere, concerning anything.
Ngak’chang Rinpoche, Roath, Cardiff – October 1981

I would like to say a few words about ‘ego’. Ego is a term which has different meanings for different people. It has its Freudian implications – and also, it seems to have a plethora of general usage implications. Let us forget about these implications, I do not think that they are going to be a great deal of use to us as people exploring Vajrayana. Often we think of ego as something that we are attempting to ‘get rid of’, as if it were some form of psychic-surgery by means of which a disagreeable organ could be avulsed. This unlikely concept has rather repulsive ramifications. Imagine it: were all beings to attain enlightenment there would be a festering morass of accumulated post-operative egos with which to contend. Somehow this concept is not particularly intelligent, without even commenting on ‘dualism’. I think we would do better to forget ‘ego’. Attaining the non-dual state is not concomitant with attaining the status of a spiritual amputee.

Let us look at it another way. Let us ask ourselves why it is possible to be egoless. Impermanence and change characterise our world. The ‘stuff’ of our world is constantly moving: forming, disintegrating, arising, dissolving; but nothing is ever lost – the universe is what it is. In terms of endlessness and beginninglessness – addition and subtraction become a meaningless irrelevance.

The only reason that we cannot lose ego is because ego does not exist.

Ego is merely a style of being—a mannerism—a habit. Where is your fingernail-biting habit when you no longer bite your nails? Where is your smoking habit when you no longer smoke? Where is your depression habit when you are cheerful? Where is our dualism habit when we find the presence of awareness?

Because ‘ego’ does not exist, I do not talk about ego. When I do discuss the issue of the ‘I-dentity’, I often use the term ‘distracted-being’ – because ‘ego’ is a verb rather than a noun. ‘Being’ is also a verb. Ego is a verb trying to prove its ‘noun-ness’ along with the ‘noun-ness’ of everything else. Ego in this sense is wilful illiteracy. Distracted-being is process rather than product. It is not a thing, it is a style – and the ‘patternistics’ of this style are known as karma.

Karma is sometimes known as the ‘law of cause and effect’ – as if it were an intergalactic high court ruling. Laws can be broken however, and laws can be changed. Fortunately ‘the law of karma’ can also be changed. If ‘the law of karma’ could not be broken there could either be no enlightenment or enlightenment would have to be causal. The ‘law of karma’ belongs to the world of dualism which, like ‘ego’, like ‘distracted being’ or the famous ‘I’ – is illusory. The legal system of karma has no jurisdiction in the non-dual sphere.

When we realise our unlimited beginningless enlightened nature, the law enforcement agencies of karma evaporate, they boil away into space: they were our unenlightenment.

The spaciousness of Being is unrestricted by cause and effect; so when you realise the non-dual state it is hardly likely that the ‘karmic boys in blue’ are going to tap you on the shoulder and say: We realise that your perception is now completely uncontrived, but we still have a warrant out on you for gross insensitivity in a public place. You will not be hauled off to gaol, and from there to a court, and from there to a place of punishment where you will be forced to endure a protracted newage poetry recital.

Perception and response are inherently and simultaneously crime and punishment. Any concept of being extradited for ‘sentences unserved’ and ‘crimes unpunished’ is nonsensical in terms of Dharma.

This may sound slightly shocking to some people. It could well offend your sense of spiritual law and order. You might feel moral outrage about the fact that we are all our own punishment. Each one of us is the worst punishment we could ever fear – and best reward we could hope to achieve.

We may well need to take a look at ‘law’, in order to understand its function. The existence of laws within a society means that there is little or no awareness in that society. It means that such a society has no confidence in awareness or personal responsibility. The need of law signifies that we cannot trust or rely on awareness – because law is instituted as a substitute for awareness and personal responsibility. Where there is awareness and personal responsibility, there is no need for law. Where there is awareness and personal responsibility, there is no need for rules. Where there is awareness and personal responsibility, there is no need for moral or ethical values. Where there is a lack of awareness and personal responsibility – we rely on laws, rules, ethics, and morality.

Where there is no awareness and personal responsibility, law serves a function – but law undermines personal responsibility and obscures awareness.

So, we have our societies where laws and rules are implemented or enforced, either for the benefit of people or to their detriment. This is inevitable with any fixed measure because no law, rule, or moral standard can possibly apply in all circumstances. Laws, ethics, and morality are always expedient, and their implementation approximates to awareness and personal responsibility. In this way vehicles other than Dzogchen contain methods which approximate the non-dual mien. This can be a helpful practice for encouraging openness – but ultimately ‘good and bad’, ‘right and wrong’ are inapplicable from the point of view of Dzogchen. Dualistic moral concepts dissolve into the pure appropriateness of the non-dual condition. Morality is a means not an end. Seeking the ideal and infinitely applicable moral philosophy is a fruitless quest. Morality is an expedient device which we employ skilfully until we find awareness.

We can all agree—for example—that it is good to be truthful and that it is good to be kind. I do not imagine many people here would wish to argue with that. However, it is not difficult to conjure circumstances where truth and kindness are in direct conflict. Say for instance that my dear and significantly aged aunty asks me at someone’s wedding whether I like her hat? It may be that in that situation it is impossible to be both truthful and kind. The hat in question may appear to be the most farcical abomination to disgrace a human head. Were I to speak ‘the truth’ according to my subjectivity, I would have to say: Sorry Aunt Ivy, I think it makes you an object of ridicule – surely you have noticed people sniggering about it behind your back? This may be truly what I feel, and I may be expressing myself accurately according to my own subjective perception – but kindness would appear to be lacking. If truth and kindness are fixed aspects of my ethics then I would be faced with a moral dilemma. Without awareness we are continually faced with moral dilemmas. It is impossible to construct the perfect moral philosophy applicable in all circumstances. The only perfect morality is awareness. The only perfect morality is awareness, because all actions which spring from awareness are choiceless pure appropriateness.

Let us look more closely at the problematic ageing aunty situation. She is maybe a little nervous about her appearance—with good reason we may think—but in need of reassurance in order that she can enjoy the afternoon. She is at a wedding. She is in no position to change her appearance – even if she desired so to do. Maybe it is a new hat. Maybe she has taken something of a risk with it. Maybe it is the kind of risk she has wanted to take for years. I am not to know. She is not realistically asking for my honest opinion; even though—externally—these are the words she has used. Only our closest friends will ask us for our honest opinions – and that, only rarely. What is this ‘truth’ anyway? Only the ‘truth’ as we perceive it. Only ‘truth’ in terms of accurately expressing our limited value judgements. Nothing is ultimately beautiful or ugly. Maybe we should try to bear this in mind before offering opinions and subjective value judgements.

Kindness is as close as we can ever come to a ‘moral approximation of awareness’. Having a good heart. Intellectual elaborations are not important. Kindness is something we feel – a warmth and expansiveness which flows from our growing openness. Kindness is our contact – our strongest link with our intrinsic enlightened nature.

So much for ‘law’. The essence of the teachings is anarchic. Not anarchy in the distorted popular sense in which the word is understood—in the sense of ‘dog-eat-dog chaos’—but anarchy in terms of ‘no external government’. Anarchy is the naturally manifesting inner government of awareness – unconditioned, present, direct, and utterly responsible.

Enlightenment means relinquishing the police state of karmic-vision and assuming personal responsibility. Karma is the sum total of our perception in all its excruciating intricacy. The ‘law of karma’ is different from externally enforced societal law – because ‘karmic law’ is directly consequential and self-implementing. We perceive the world in a certain way – and react to it in accordance with that style of perception. That is what is meant by karma.

There is no injustice in this kind of ‘law’ apart from the injustice to enlightenment perpetrated by karmic patterning.

No one else is responsible for how we perceive the world. We accept and reject society’s influences and the influences of our parents and friends on our own terms. We fabricate our own perception, and unless we discontinue the process and de-structure our perception, we will merely continue to be repressed by our personal totalitarian regime.

The responses we make to our environment will remain the same and we will attract the kind of circumstances which will match our perception.

If we feel impoverished, we experience the objects of our perception as confirming our impoverishment. We tend toward aspects of life that show us what we want to see. We continuously recondition ourselves. We attempt to hoard pleasant experiences – but this is merely another way of accentuating our impoverishment through contrast. Through such contrasting – we crush the life from our pleasant experiences.

We either positively or negatively reinforce our conditioning. No matter how much we hoard, we never realise our wealth. We never realise the abundance of our wealth because it is hoarded. It is dormant, and therefore we can never spend it or be generous with it. We are too concerned with ensuring that its only function is to fend off poverty. Our capacity to endlessly enrich our lives and the lives of all beings is frozen by our fear of poverty. We actively ‘feel’ our environment – seeking out anything which will justify our perception as being accurate.

This is karma. This is the law we are trying to break. It is here in the present, and constitutes our perception-instant-karma – there is no external agency with which to reckon.

Our karma is entirely how we perceive the world – moment by moment. So the ‘law of karma’ is not just law, it is the entire legal system. It ranges from the inception of the legislature to the nature of law enforcement and punishment. Our perception is the legislation and our responses enforce it. We are our own judge, jury, and prosecution. We sentence ourselves, gaol ourselves, and execute ourselves. This is the only entirely accurate legal system – but its accuracy only exists within its own frame of reference.

Meditation is our only weapon against this repressive regime and constitutes civil disobedience in the form of ‘passive resistance’. By allowing the development of experiential space through shi-nè – through letting go and letting be – we discover our own intrinsic awareness. The Four Naljors of Dzogchen Sem-dé is one of the ultimate crimes against the ‘law of karma’ and is punishable by enlightenment – the final revolution and overthrow of the legal system.

If anything in what I have said is of any help in making the teachings clear and applicable to you, it is entirely due to the endless kindness and wisdom of my Tsawa’i Lamas Kyabjé Düd’jom Rinpoche; Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche; Kyabjé Künzang Dorje Rinpoche and Jomo Sam’phel; ’Khordong gTértrül Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche; and Khamtrül Yeshé Dorje Rinpoche. If there are any errors in what I have said, it is entirely due to my own lack of clarity and shamefully limited intelligence.

Typed by Ngakpa ’ö-Dzin Tridral from an original article in the handwriting of Ngak’chang Rinpoche, 23rd of June 2000, whilst travelling to Oxford to see Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche, and on the 1st of July 2000, travelling to York for a week’s retreat. Ngak’chang Rinpoche’s article was based on a transcript of a talk he gave in Bath, England in 1978 – the original of which has been lost. At the time Ngak’chang Rinpoche had no typewriter and often wrote short pieces in longhand for apprentices. ‘Rainbow of Liberated Energy’ was entirely handwritten through three stages of editing, as was ‘Journey into Vastness’ and the first four chapters of ‘Wearing the Body of Visions’ – which were once lost on a Nepalese bus between Kathmandu and Khakabita, on the way to Sikkim.