In love with the world

Many teachers of nonduality—the term itself is ironic, since nonduality, which is after all the nature of reality,  can’t be taught—offer guidance in waking up out of the dream of separation to recognize our inherently awake and radiant true nature. But very few teach how to live from this realization in every moment of life—the crucial, ongoing, lifelong process of embodiment, of being the love and emptiness we know ourselves to be even in the most challenging circumstances. 

After all, if we don’t live our understanding, what’s the point of waking up?

To those who have had some realization and seek wise guidance in this process, I recommend In Love with the World, a remarkable memoir by the young Tibetan Buddhist teacher Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. I don’t read many spiritual books these days and haven’t reviewed one in years. But I found this one captivating because the author, a highly regarded lama from an illustrious spiritual lineage, has the courage to chronicle, with utmost honesty and humility, his own process of freeing himself from the beliefs and emotions that bind him to a separate sense of self.

While telling his own story, the author articulates profound spiritual teachings on the emptiness of self and phenomena in accessible, jargon-free laguage. And he presents a path beyond awakening for using difficulties as opportunities—or as he calls them, “logs on the fire”—to let go of the dream of past and future at ever deeper levels. 

His clear, wise counsel goes beyond Buddhism and appeals to all those who have some understanding of their nondual spiritual nature and seek to embody it. His emphasis on an endless journey of deepening and clarifying, so characteristic of the Buddhist tradition, is a refreshing alternative to the popular view these days that “one and done” is sufficient—or even that awakening is unnecessary because we’re always already awake.

Mingyur Rinpoche grew up as the youngest son of the great Tibetan meditation master Tulku Urgyen, who introduced him directly to the “nature of mind.” By the time he was 17, he had already done an intensive three-year retreat, received advanced teachings and practices from his father and several other teachers, and  experienced deep and abiding insights into the nature of reality . But he eventually comes to realize that his status and comfortable life-style reinforce a limiting identity as a teacher and authority figure. Resolving to break free of even this “positive” identity, he leaves his monastery in the middle of the night and sets out on a four-year journey as a homeless renunciate, living without money, begging for food, sleeping outside on the ground. 

The story of this pilgrimage forms the central thread of this book, around which the author weaves wisdom teachings and simple practices for working with attachment and identification--practices that he does himself as his journey unfolds. During the first few months, shortly after giving up his crimson Buddhist monk’s robes for the saffron garb of a sadhu, he gets violently ill from eating leftovers he’s begged and nearly dies. Instead of calling his monastery to rescue him, he feels moved to  allow himself to “die before he dies” and surrenders to the gradual release of the five elements as his body slowly shuts down. Having practiced bardo meditations as part of his own training, he now applies them to his own dying, and in the process drops all trace of separation and merges with the nondual nature of reality. (Unconscious and near death, he’s rescued at the last minute by a stranger to whom he had offered meditation instruction.)

As an extraordinary account of a contemporary Buddhist teacher’s journey through the bardos to spiritual awakening, this book is destined to be a spiritual classic. But it doesn’t feel lofty or inaccessible. Quite the contrary, Mingyur invites his readers to join him and avail themselves of the same process of clarifying and embodying that he himself undergoes. It’s both a riveting story and an eminently practical guidebook. I highly recommend it.