My life is a mandala, the fringe of which represents the limits of my ability to accept the 'unacceptable' occurrences in my day to day existence. The fringe is where all the interesting stuff happens.

The school basement was a place of mystery outside of the ordinary regimentation of classes, and teachers, and perfectly sharpened pencils. The kindly janitor hangs out down there. In this time when children doing chores for public servants is not considered exploitative, he is sometimes asked to take his teacher's erasers to the basement and knock the chalk dust off on two metal grates set up for just that purpose. The basement is where the janitor keeps several boxes of shavings from the pencil sharpeners for cleaning up after sick children. There is an old wooden chair in one room whose back contains several regularly shaped holes. The janitor has explained that those are bullet holes, but with the innocence of childhood, a bullet-ridden chair sitting in the basement of an elementary school does not strike him as sinister. The basement is also where the boy's restroom is located. At least a couple of times every day the boys are marched down the steps into the basement to use the restroom. When they come back upstairs, they queuequeue up to get a drink from the water fountain before returning to class.

The boy loves school. He loves the order of it. The mysteries that it contains-like, why cold water always comes out of the water fountain-inspire him to get up every morning and practically run to school. Unfortunately, his enthusiasm for school is not uniformly appreciated.

One day as the boys make their way down the steep steps to the lavatory, the hand of one of his peers pushes him in the back and he plunges headfirst into the stone landing. Caught completely by surprise, his chin hits the landing causing him to bite his tongue with the full force of his fall. It is not the first, nor will it be the last, serious accident he will have. Nor is it his first encounter with human cruelty and capriciousness.

But there is something about the casual incompetence of the school personnel that unnerves him, even through his pain and panic. He is not important enough to spare an adult to take him to his grandparents' home. He is not important enough, apparently, for either of his parents to leave work to care for him. Another child is enlisted to walk him the quarter mile to his grandparents where he sits holding a washcloth to his bloody mouth until his mother gets off from work.

This moment is burned in the child's memory. Where there was order, there is interpersonal chaos. The gestalt of that instance of childhood cruelty becomes a metaphor for how he moves through life-taking care to always walk behind his peers or constantly looking over his shoulder, scoping out every room that he enters. He begins to watch the processes of his own mind with the same suspicion and care. Curiosity, surprise, and delight become untrustworthy companions. That unexpected push from behind becomes a metaphor for every loss he encounters. Every journey eventually dead ends into that indelible memory. Every attempt to escape from the paralysis of the reality of his powerlessness to completely guarantee his own safety and satisfaction fails, ultimately. Every instance of caring or love resembles the focused indifference of his early caretakers. He walks through life like a man trying to squeeze through to the front of a crowd without touching another human being.


STUDENT: From what you were saying about hopelessness, I guess it could help one relate to one?s environment better, but there is something else. Maybe I'm thinking of another kind of hopelessness, but it seems that hopelessness takes away the inspiration to practice at all. And the same thing in relation to the teacher. If you see him as not being able to save you either, it takes away your inspiration for relating to the teacher.

TRUNGPA RINPOCHE: What's the problem?

S: That seems to me to contradict what you were saying about hopelessness being a way to make a true relationship with the teaching.

TR: Hopelessness is getting into the teaching more because you have no choice. When we think about hopelessness, that involves choices of all kinds. But when you realize that there's no hope at all you end up with just yourself. Then you can generate teachings or expressions of teachings within yourself.

S: What influences you to slow down if you find yourself speeding?

TR: Hopelessness, obviously. The more you speed, the more frustrated you get. So there's no point in speeding. It's hopeless.

S: Could you distinguish between hopelessness and despair?

TR: Despair is still hopeful, and hopelessness is utterly hopeless. There is no ground to hang on to. You are completely wiped out, therefore you might hang on to your basic being. Despair is a resentful attitude. You are in despair because you have a sense of retaliation against something or other. Hopelessness is very genuine, beautiful, simple act. You're hopeless-it's a fantastic thing. You really are hopeless then, you know. There's no trips about it. It's clean-cut.

S: Rinpoche, does this mean that a person has to experience a lot of suffering before he becomes really hopeless? Or could it just happen on the spot?

TR: Both.

S: Rinpoche, it would make no sense to try to give up hope. If you did that, you would be hoping not to hope. How do you give up hope?

TR: You don't. You're stuck with hope. And then you're disgusted with it.

S: It seems you're saying that the only hope is hopelessness.

TR: That's true.

S: But that's a contradiction.

TR: No, the only hope is hopelessness. 'Only hope' means that the ground, our sense of security, is the only hope, which is hopeless-you have no ground. You don't make yourself into a target for the pain in any way at all, which is hopeless. The only hopelessness is not to provide yourself as a target.

Student/teacher excerpt from The Lion's Roar: An Introduction to Tantra by Chogyam Trungpa.