On Becoming Transparent


The best protection is transparency. – Chögyam Trungpa

How’s that for a motto to live by? I recently heard it from a lama (a teacher in the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism) who told our insight meditation class that it is her personal theme for the year.

What a profound and challenging thought! I’m reminded of Jung’s view, which he expressed in many different ways, that what we do not make conscious in ourselves ends up driving our lives: “When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate. You meet your destiny on the road you take to avoid it.”  I’m also reminded of Socrates’ injunction to know ourselves. Even allowing for the ways in which Buddhist- and modern psychology differ from platonic psychology, they all share the conviction that a condition of enlightenment is self-transparency.

Thus, one of the aims of practicing insight meditation is to become fully aware of the workings of your mind: to make every sensation, perception, thought and feeling transparent to yourself. By doing so, you also become aware of the nature of Mind. For various reasons—some of which I discuss here, and in a post on the virtues of self-deception—we have so much resistance to becoming self-aware that most of the activity of our own minds remains largely unconscious. To the extent that we remain obscure to ourselves, we are in the dark, unenlightened and unprotected.

In the lama’s view, the idea that the best protection is transparency also implies that ideally this transparency be extended to others, so that one appears in one’s full humanity, with nothing to hide. This notion that letting down one’s guard and becoming transparent to others may be our best protection is counterintuitive, to say the least. But it’s less counterintuitive if you take seriously the Buddhist view that part of what becoming transparent means is accepting that the ego and all the workings of the mind are far less solid and substantial than we think. There’s not as much to hide as we think.

Speaking of which, it is interesting that in Sophocles’ telling, Oedipus’s true nature is simultaneously revealed to himself and to the community, and that this transparency does, ultimately, turn out to be the best protection for the city and the man. (You have to read Oedipus at Colonus before that becomes clear.)

Anyway, imagine reaching a point of self-knowledge and self-acceptance where one’s best protection is no longer repression, suppression, ignorance, avoidance, misdirection, or lies, but simple transparency.

Thanks to the NSA, that day may be closer than you think.

This entry was posted in Buddhism, meditation, Mind, Philosophy, Quotes and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to On Becoming Transparent

  1. dan says:

    Hey Gary,
    The quote was tickling me after class, I finally looked it up and found your site.

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