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Dzogchen Ponlop is a teacher, a poet, visual artist and city-dweller, based in the United States for two decades. He is the author of Rebel Buddha.

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from Rebel Buddha,  Chapter 13, “The Good Shepherd and the Outlaw” (pp. 185-6)

When we are getting ready to wake up, our journey becomes very, very basic. No matter who we are in the eyes of the world, we are just trying to leave this neurotic life behind and become a more sane and compassionate person. We are trying to be virtuous, a good shepherd, like Samuel Jackson at the end of the movie, Pulp Fiction. In one of the final scenes, he is sitting in a restaurant holding a gun with his finger on the trigger, trying not to shoot the crazy people in front of him. He is hoping that he can just walk away without killing anyone. He is an outlaw, a bad guy, praying for the will or grace from above to become a good man, firmly on the side of the angels.

That moment, where life and death or heaven and hell seem to hang in the balance, is the kind of intensified experience that offers the possibility of a different outcome altogether: freedom from all concepts on the spot. However, it has nothing to do with weapons. It has to do with our emotions, which, in their heightened state, can have the power and force of a loaded gun. To be clear, I am not saying it is OK to fool around with guns or emotions, because that’s how people get hurt. I am saying that emotions are much more powerful in bringing about the experience of awakening than we think. If we can be fully present in the space of any emotion in its naked, raw state without conceptualizing it, then we stand a chance of transcending our dualistic mind, right then and there. If, however, we fall back into mundane thoughts of good and bad, right and wrong, then we fall back into a conventional mindset that says we are either a saint or a sinner—the good shepherd or the outlaw. We are still living in a conceptual, divided world, where one side is always in opposition to the other. We are still attaching labels to naked reality.

At this point in our journey, our perspective shifts. We begin to see that the very experience of our emotions is the experience of wakefulness. We no longer regard our emotions simply as “bad energy” or see them as just a form of potential. We usually think of anger, for example, as negative. Ordinarily, our impulse would be to either cut through it and get rid of it or transform its intense energy into good qualities, like clarity and patience. However, now, our project of recycling our disturbing emotions into positive mental states becomes redundant once we realize that our raw emotions and their pure essence are not, ultimately, any different. There is no need to peel away the outer layers of our emotions to find an inner essence called “wakefulness,” or “enlightened wisdom.”

Wisdom is not a treasure concealed inside our emotions. Openness and wakefulness are already present in that very first flash of anger, passion or jealousy. The distinction between mind and mind’s true nature, or the emotions and their true nature, turns out to be valid only through the lens of thought. From their own side, no such distinctions can be made. Therefore, the direct experience of our unprocessed, raw emotions can generate a direct experience of wakefulness.  They are powerful agents in bringing about our freedom, if we can work with them properly.

This is admittedly a little tricky, which is why we rely so much on the guidance of our spiritual friend, who tells us now to trust our emotions even further. They are not only workable, they are the path and also its culmination. Their wakefulness is the wakefulness we seek. From this point of view, connecting with the experience of our original, primordial wakefulness is only possible when we can directly relate to and work with our raw emotions. While we may think of our messy, polluted mind as an embarrassment, our friend tells us not to look elsewhere to find a more presentable, respectable mind to make the basis of our spiritual journey.

That’s the whole point and the beauty of this approach, as well as what makes it hard to accept. When our mind is deeply rooted in notions of virtue and sin, good and bad, and most of all, in the view of theism, then this kind of path is not possible for us. We have to find another, more gradual road to freedom. However, the teachings of the Buddha have many means for achieving realization, and so we can choose what suits our temperament.

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