Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bringing the Rain

"When the dragon wants a rainstorm he causes thunder and lightning. That brings the rain."

- Chögyam Trungpa

"You know," I said to Jeff last night after closing the laptop and setting it back on the bookshelf, "the cool thing about this whole idea of 'cultivating an environment of truth' is that you don't have to actually know what the truth is. You just have to make room for truth to enter in."

"I'm still not sure I know what Trungpa even means by an 'environment of truth,'" Jeff said, yawning a little.

"An environment of truth--you know. So, suppose you want to teach. Whatever subject. You can try to pour in all the information and skills into the student that you yourself know, right? But if that's all you do then your student will never quite surpass you; the best you can do is teach her everything you know but not ever more than you know. Or, you can cultivate in the student an aptitude for curiosity, inquisitiveness, careful observation, coherent reasoning... You can cultivate in the student an environment of truth, and show the student how to create such an environment for herself, the internal environment of her own attitudes and thought processes, and the external environment of encouraging, supportive and challenging peers. And with such an environment, she is receptive to truth in whatever forms, not only those forms you've discovered yourself already. She might learn things that even you don't know.

"An environment of truth, an environment in which truth can take root and come to full bloom. An environment that does not punish or discourage or dismiss truth, but is open and receptive to the discovery of new truth, as well as the preservation of old, familiar truth.

"And that's actually very freeing. It doesn't require you to know everything, the complete truth, before taking action or making choices; you can still act and choose in ways that reveal truth, even before knowing what that truth is. All you need to know is what kind of environment and relationships give rise to truth, to the revelation or realization of truth; you need to develop a talent for recognizing truth when it comes and attending to its circumstances and context. Then you work to create that environment and those relationships.

"In fact!" I continued enthusiastically, "In fact, in some ways it's like making art, or the process of writing: by creating an environment of truth, you are actually cultivating the circumstances of your own continuing discovery. I don't always know what I'm going to say before I say it--writing is a process of finding out and elaborating on what it is I truly think about something, just as much as it is a way of communicating with others. Sometimes the work of writing reveals connections and ideas I hadn't anticipated, but because I'm listening to the work and not trying to restrict it to some predetermined concept of what I want to write or what I think I should write, I can allow that truth to speak to me as well as to the reader.

"It's the same thing wherever you cultivate an environment of truth--in writing, in art, in the classroom, in family relations, in life in general. When your focus is on cultivating that receptive, fertile environment, truth can well up within it and flow freely through it, naturally, seemingly effortlessly even. You don't have to worry about controlling truth, you just... let it happen. The dragon wants a rainstorm--wants truth--so he creates thunder and lightening, he makes the things he can make because he knows he cannot make the rain itself. He prepares the way. And preparing the way brings the changing, falling rain.... You know what I mean? ...Jeff?"

I looked at Jeff. His nose half-buried in his pillow, he snored, a snore deep and rumbling.

"Speaking of thunder..." I muttered to myself, and smiled.


  1. I feel compelled, despite the obvious literary and ethical merit of this essay, to point out a tremendous, one might even say fatal, flaw. I refer to the fact that, in it, Truth is stretched, wrung, hung, lynched, stabbed, flung down, and trampled in the dust, buried in an unmarked grave and its children sold into slavery. Ironic indeed, considering that Truth is, in fact, its theme!

    It is True that I asked you, Ali, what the heck that raving Buddhist guy was talking about. And it's True you said a sentence or two in reply. But this! Hundreds of erudite words full of feeling and insight? I think not!

    And as for the dénouement -- slander, naught but filthy slander. I was wide awake and engaged for your entire reply. And snoring? Bah! I will not disrespect the Truth further by addressing the question.

    Can a pack of lies cultivate an environment of Truth? I ask you!!

    Just you wait, Ali! Any day now you're going to end up as a character in one of MY posts! And THEN you'll be sorry...

  2. Does context matter in order to create an environment for truth? Is universal truth necessary? Will they be true for the scientist as well as the shaman?

    Even the Christ did not answer when asked, "What is truth?"

    How do you encourage it if you do not know what it is?

    -- Feral Boy

  3. Feral Boy,

    But I could ask you, how do you know what something is before you've have a chance to cultivate it? You don't harvest the fields before you've sown them, and you don't always know how the plant will grow, or even what plant will grow, just from the tiny seeds in your hand.

    I think the shaman and the scientist share truth, because they share the same world, the same reality. A scientist whose truth cannot include a realm of unknowing and uncertainty about the nonmaterial world is mistaking the process of science for some authoritative doctrine (see: the New Atheists, like Dawkins and Carroll). And a shaman who wanders so far from the reality of the scientist loses his grounding. Even the shamans of tribal cultures that have survived until present (as distinct from those of reconstructed Neopagan shamanism) do not believe their truths contradict the truths of the material, physical world, but rather compliment and deepen them.

    The world is true. But can we possibly know the whole world? No. So truth is always there to be discovered, in each new experience. To know truth, we need only look to the world. Our perspectives on the world shift and evolve, depending on our circumstances and experiences, of course, but because we know where truth can be found, we can always cultivate it, prepare ourselves for receiving it and seeing it, and encourage others to create an atmosphere of clarity and receptivity. If you know rain falls every spring, you don't have to know the specific mechanics of the rain, which drop will fall where, or what particular day it will fall every year from now on... you just plow the fields and sow the seeds and let the world bring the rain. And in that way, you also work with the world to create truth, your own unique truth that pertains to who you are, because you, too, are in the world, living in it as an intimate, interwoven part of it, a microcosm within a macrocosm--and so you, too, are a world and part of the world. You are also true.

  4. I'm tempted to say "Aww Bless", especially as I've had similar discussions with my partner, which end in him being asleep, but I don't want to offend anyone (it's meant in a nice way; I read both your blogs, you're both awesome writers).
    Your posts always allow me to really think about my life and how to be less mindless.
    Thank you for giving people like me a focal point for pause.

  5. Rose, thanks for the empathy. ;) And I'm glad my blog can provide you with food for thought on occasion, even when it's also a bit silly. :)

  6. hi! I was apalled and I like the nature of your blog. very pleasing to the soul.

  7. MelCole, Thank you very much! (I think? Is there another meaning for "apalled" I don't know about? ;) I'm glad you found some enjoyment in reading; come back any time!