Chogyam Trungpa remains one of my favourite teachers and, this week, I want to speak about a phrase he uses, which is basic goodness, or basic sanity. In the Advaita and Dzogchen traditions, the ground of being is often spoken of in somewhat lofty terms: it is The Great Perfection, The Great Stillness, Buddha Nature or the One Taste. In my view those phrases can be misleading, setting up yet another concept in the seekers mind of some lofty state outside what is right here, right now. Trungpa sweeps all of that away with his grounded, no-nonsense delivery and his choice of the words ‘basic goodness.’
When we’re identified as a body/mind, everything is unstable. One minute we’re on the top of the world, the next we’re on the edge of the abyss. An Ego that is puffed up by the highest praise punctures, with an audible pop, at the sharp end of criticism. It’s an impossible place to base our lives from. How can it not be when the self we’re identified as is nothing more than a collection of memories, dreams and projections, based on conditioning. In confusion we are always, therefore, off balance, stumbling on our feet. Any situation has the potential to jostle us because our stance has no support.
Yet, when the ground of being is discovered suddenly we begin to find our feet again. The mind, which previously danced from object to object in search for a place to land, now rests. The background, consciousness itself, becomes the foreground. Whereas before it was the very instability of mind which propelled our thoughts, now life itself is more than enough. ‘Being’, knowingly itself, does not need constant propping up. Thought, so used to leading the show, is now a bit part, like the screwdriver in your garage you fetch when needed and which, in other times, is not required.
This is what Trunga calls ‘basic goodness’, that undefinable empty space which exists before any definition. You are now in constant contact with reality, not as the witness of the world but as the world itself. Here there is no longer a self which needs to feel good about itself: the totality is recognised AS the self. This basic human virtue is beyond conceptual reference points, it simply IS.
In Trungpa, the West received a teacher of almost incomparable depth and wisdom, who truly unpacked Buddhism for what it is: a perfect science of mind, and the most subtle psychological system in the history of humanity. Discovering this basic goodness is the very heart of its message.
“In the ordinary sense, we think of space as something vacant or dead. But in this case, space is a vast world that has capabilities of absorbing, acknowledging, and accommodating…if you look into it, you can’t find anything. If you try to put your finger on it, you find that you don’t even have finger to put! That is the primordial nature of basic goodness, and it is that nature which allows a human being to become a warrior, to become the warrior of all warriors.” (Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior pg 155)