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His views on religion have a double aspect. On the one hand, he has a deep sense of his Buddhist roots and of the link between religion and art and both with human suffering. This is expressed in his landmark book Shakyamuni Buddha: His Life, Times and Teaching, in which he describes the spiritual trajectory of Shakyamuni Buddha, linking the Buddha's enlightenment to the emergence of an "Indian Renaissance" (p. 13). On the other hand, he shares the impatience of many contemporary Buddhists with religious dogma. What one should find inspiring is the experience of tradition, of the long line of great teachers, their commitment, and the evidence of their realizations. The path does not involve blindly following a guru; it involves becoming acquainted with the tradition, gradually becoming one with it, and then eventually transcending it. His commitment to egalitarianism stresses that all paths have equal value. Ultimately, we can only know what is important to our own human situation and experience (pp. 39–40).
This aspect of his approach to Buddhism is exemplified by the title Knee of Listening, which he uses for the course offered at Naropa. A knee of listening is not a knee of worship, or forgiveness. No, he insists, a knee of listening does not happen automatically in the presence of an ascetic saint. A knee of listening does not happen by merely throwing oneself at something. Rather, it requires intense entrusting, a clear mind, a self-perception of mindfulness, a functioning of the type of brain necessary for insight, a self-awareness of the conflict between willing and not willing; and, above all, an attitude of a full trust in the practice.
The following are excerpts from his American Dharma talks, based on his mentoring of the student community at Naropa. He acknowledges the possibility of being in the world with a clear mind, yet notes that on most days we are a "mess" (pp. 45–46). We then need to have a certain level of presence, the quality of a wise mind, in order for the phrase "clear mind" to mean anything to us at all. d2c66b5586