Springingtiger's Blog

The Noose of ‘Crazy Wisdom’.


There is something very attractive about crazy mystics and their lives of spontaneity unfettered by social constraints. Unfortunately for many the practice of crazy wisdom is, like the western practice of Tantra and of Zen, is little more than self indulgence. People want spirituality without discipline and without giving up the pleasures to which they are attached, who can blame them? Were there such an easy path we all would take it, would we not? When looked at from outside a particular spiritual path may appear very attractive, but it can only be understood from within and then it may not be so easy.

As an example let’s look at Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory. This is not a spiritual example, but a parallel. There is something very attractive about Sheldon’s intellect and his nonconformity with social norms. However it is easy to forget the terrible price he pays for being who he is: the childhood bullying, the constant confusion as he tries to make sense of the world around him, the difficulties in processing emotions other people consider normal, the rigidity of his behaviour. (Actually some of the costs may well appear attractive to some of us!). You don’t just get to get the good bits.

Crazy wisdom is a whole package and you don’t just get to get the good bits. In one of his poems the wonderful crazy mystic Drukpa Kunley says, “Behaving naturally and spontaneously, free from hypocrisy and self-deceit, Lama guide me!” Legpo recognised how easily the crazy path could become self-indulgent without constant awareness. Pema Lingpa said, “He whose moral action is called ‘Spontaneous Activity Has gone beyond the possibility of choice; Where there is bias and discrimination, there is no perfect action, And where there is no accepting and rejecting, where is moral action?” Discrimination is that which kills spontaneity or to put it another way spontaneity is acting before choice. Most of those who profess to be crazy mystics fall into the trap of hypocrisy and self-deceit, they want to be seen as wise and tailor their actions for effect. The true crazy mystic surrenders to the moment and accepts that society may well condemn him as mad, but he acts for himself. He is as he is and acts as he acts without regard for the opinions of others. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t care, Drukpa Kunley was very compassionate, he just manifested his compassion his way rather than as ordinary folk would expect. Spontaneity without discrimination is not as easy as one might think. My wife accuses me of having the biggest ‘Now’ of anyone she knows, that is to say I live almost entirely in the present moment. However that is not necessarily the same as spontaneity and it does not make me a Crazy Mystic because, like most people, I try to avoid rejection and so I discriminate and try to act normally. The Crazy Mystic on the other hand does not try either to act normally nor to act crazily, he merely acts.

Society called Francesco Bernadone crazy and in his rejection of society’s values he appeared to be. He deliberately and ‘sanely’ acted to get the way of the Friars Minor accepted by the Pope, effectively securing a license to practice Crazy Wisdom in a Christian society. I think what marks the Crazy Mystic out from the crazy is that they can use the norms of society when necessary whereas the true ‘crazy’ has no brake. Thus we see crazy mystics like St. Francis, Ramakrishna, Osho sometimes stepping back into the constraints of normality. It is possible to see their occasional forays into the reasonable as spontaneous acts within the meta-state of Crazy Wisdom. The true Crazy Mystic lives in the moment, he plays a game guided by instinct and intuition and sometimes intuition will have him behave normally, for him normal behaviour is as unpredictable as crazy behaviour. The difference between the normal and crazy behaviours of the Crazy Mystic and those of the false Crazy Mystic is that the true Crazy Mystics behaviours are not premeditated and planned, even their sanity is spontaneous and real. Whereas the false Crazy Mystic is in reality bound by the insanity of society’s expectations.

In the Arab world crazy people are treated with respect because to the observer it is impossible always to know whether they are mad or divinely inspired. The true crazy mystic surrenders himself completely to the impulses of his body/mind. If his body wants to dance he dances, he just ‘goes with the flow’. I suspect the real insanity is resisting spontaneous movement as high functioning autistics learn to their cost, the more you resist a tic the worse it is when it finally overcomes your resistance, leaving a legacy of muscle damage. Werner Erhard, who sometimes came across as a crazy mystic is very good on the dangers of resistance. He talks about free floating without a boat through rapids and how it was only possible by surrendering to the current of the water, “Those who resisted got inserted into rocks!” He also demonstrated an amazing ability to not resist the opinions of society even when accused of child abuse he refused to fight back and just let events take their course until he was eventually exonerated. A big part of crazy wisdom is the ability to just let go. To let go not only of attachment to material needs, but also to reputation and all that society holds important. The Crazy Mystic knows himself, he doesn’t need the good opinion and acceptance of others, indeed good opinion and bad opinion are as one to him.

When you carefully observe a Crazy Mystic you quickly realise that it is not a path for the lazy, it’s just not always obvious how much they do because of the lack of structure apparent in their action. However when you look closely you realise just how much work has gone into becoming Crazy. Drukpa Kunley practised his Crazy Wisdom on a foundation of study of Buddhist doctrine and practice and years of practising the Mahamudra yoga taught by Tilopa. If you read W W Bartley III’s excellent ‘Werner Erhard: The Transformation of a Man, The Founding of Est.’ you see just how many years of study and practice provided the foundation for est. Ramakrishna studied and received initiation into many spiritual disciplines. True Crazy Wisdom is not a path for the lazy or faint hearted. Many people are looking for an easy way to enlightenment without surrendering their attachments and there are many who will provide them with courses and books which profess to teach such a way. Many of those who do them and read them are still attending courses and reading books years later looking for what eludes them. By the time they reach the enlightenment they seek most of them will have put in more work than they sought to avoid in the first place and that has got to be a really crazy way of finding wisdom. Enlightenment may be instantaneous, but sadly there are no short cuts.


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