Deception, Corruption and Truth


by Suzanne Duarte



Hell is the truth realized too late. ~ E.O. Wilson, Harvard biologist



Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, 1975, by Paul C. Kloppenberg

It is said that when a great teacher passes, as Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche did in 1987, his or her students each carry particular teachings from that teacher that they then have the responsibility to bring to fruition in their lives.  This is how lineage is carried on.  I received many transmissions from Trungpa Rinpoche, but after he died several specific aspects of his teachings rose to consciousness, bringing an urgent sense of my obligation to fulfill them.  These pieces came as little energetic packets of information—or ‘medicine’—about my ‘mission’ that had his stamp on them.  I don’t know how else to explain it.  These ‘messages’ usually came to me while I was on retreat and they shaped the path that would subsequently unfold in my life.


Two of the ‘messages’ I received (on two separate retreats) had to do with two dharmic values that the Vidyadhara embodied, which were reinforced in me by his example.  Those values are consideration and concern for future generations and the importance of being truthful, which are related with each other.  After receiving these messages after he died, I began to understand that our personal adherence to the truth – or honesty – in the present is essential for the sanity and wellbeing of future generations, and thus for the continuity of the dharma.  That neither truth nor concern about future generations is a value that is widely held or respected in mainstream Western societies has become increasingly apparent to me since the Vidyadhara died, which has served to sharpen my focus on the importance of these values.


The Vidyadhara and his Kagyu and Nyingma lineages had a great deal of foresight and always acted on behalf of future beings.  This was the force behind the Rimé movement in the 19th century, which helped to preserve sacred teachings in Tibet for future generations.  Trungpa Rinpoche expressed his concern about the future in the Sadhana of Mahamudra and in his Shambhala teachings.  I was already concerned about our collective future before I met Rinpoche in 1972, but when I found myself reciting the Sadhana of Mahamudra the first time I walked into a Dharmadhatu (aka Shambhala Center), that clinched it for me.  That shared concern for the future was the main reason I became his student and it fueled my devotion to him.


Trungpa Rinpoche went to great lengths to make sure his students understood that we are the beneficiaries of the work and sacrifices of many generations of dharma practitioners and teachers whose explicit intention was to benefit future generations of human beings.  In the summer of 1976 or 1977, at a Naropa Institute lecture at the Sacred Heart school auditorium, I heard Trungpa Rinpoche describe his 500-year vision of how the dharma could be kept alive through the Dark Age of materialism, and thus enable future generations to maintain awakened mind in difficult circumstances.  He called this vision Enlightened Society, which is elaborated in his Shambhala teachings on warriorship.  He founded Shambhala Training in the late 1970s specifically to build the foundations for an enlightened society.


In 2000, when George W. Bush showed up on the American horizon, the truth aspect of the Vidyadhara’s teachings – his consistent directive to adhere fearlessly to the truth, both within ourselves and with each other – began to echo recurrently in my mind.  Surrendering to the truth – even when bitter – and integrating the wisdom offered is the spiritual practice that enables the path to unfold.  After all, when we enter the stream of Buddhadharma by taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, we vow to free ourselves from delusion, acknowledging that ignorance and delusion cause suffering for ourselves and others.  The cure for delusion is to face the truth, the facts of reality.


As Trungpa Rinpoche said in Just the Facts:

Dharma literally means "truth" or "norm." It is a particular way of thinking, a way of viewing the world, which is not a concept but experience. This particular truth is very painful truth -- usually truths are.  It rings with the sound of reality, which comes too close to home. We become completely embarrassed when we begin to hear the truth. It is wrong to think that the truth is going to sound fantastic and beautiful, like a flute solo. The truth is actually a thunderbolt. It wakes you up and makes you think twice whether you should stay in the rain or move into the house. Provocative....

The basic questions are: Who is actually listening to the truth? What is his or her situation? And, in fact, what is truth?... The truth is about you, your existence, your experience. It's about you. Hearing the truth of Dharma and becoming part of the Dharma is [being] willing to face yourself, to begin with....


Sacredness doesn’t come in the form of religion, as a savior notion. The sacredness is the truthfulness. Experience is true; therefore, it's sacred. Truth could be secular, but still it's sacred.


If we don't face what we are experiencing then there's no path. It may be a drag, but you must be willing to face and actually give in to what is happening.... At this point, believing in miracles is an obstacle.  There is great room, on the other hand, for our minds to open, give [in] and face facts. Literally to face the facts: the facts of reality, the facts of pain, the facts of boredom.

Our world, this particular world, our Dharma, our truth, needs to be acknowledged and needs immense surrendering—not just a one-shot deal. Without this first Dharma, understanding the truth and our relationship to the truth, we could not go further....

Trungpa Rinpoche himself was fearlessly honest and up-front, and he had an unnerving, cosmic sense of humor.  He abhorred deception and pretense, deplored cowardice, and was compassionately precise in exposing it – a characteristic that discomforted many students.  Someone once said that the role of the spiritual friend is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.  This was exemplified by Trungpa Rinpoche. 


His emphasis on truth as sacred dharma confirmed my intuitive conviction that lies and deception are corrosive.  Lies and deception create fragmentation, confusion, and degradation.  Cleaving to truth gives us strength, backbone, and is essential for maintaining integrity and sanity, whereas lying fragments our integrity and therefore weakens us.  Deception also sows corruption in our social milieu, like a virus in the collective psyche.  Truth sets things right and restores sanity, at least for a little while, until the virus of corruption erupts again.


During George W. Bush’s presidential campaign in 2000, the pretence and deception were so transparent that I could not understand how so many people could fall for it.  Bush’s election was ‘dodgy,’ to say the least, but he got in, and the fact that so many people were so easily deceived did not bode well for the future.  Indeed, a virus of corruption erupted during the Bush II administration, and that virus seemed to spread to other countries due to the American political and economic hegemony that existed when Bush took office – as if the world said, “If they do it in America, it must be okay.”


I cite the example of the Bush II years to illustrate the relationship between deception, corruption and collective suffering, which is the converse of the relationship between truth (dharma) and the wellbeing of future generations.  Although the corruption in the Bush administration may not have exceeded by orders of magnitude that of other corrupt American administrations, it was nevertheless a dramatic example of the old adage that “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  


In any case, my conviction in the value of honesty and my visceral antipathy towards deception kept my attention riveted to the shenanigans of the second Bush administration. There seemed to be no end to the lies, hypocrisy, secretiveness, cover-ups, disinformation, denial and distortion of scientific findings (e.g., global warming!), intrigues, scandals, fraud, subterfuge, and evasion that came out of that administration or were permitted by it.


It seems significant that the Bush II years were marked by numerous scandals in the United States, beginning in October 2001 with the Enron scandal – the largest corporate scandal in American history, which involved Bush’s good friend Ken Lay.  And just before Bush left office, another gigantic scandal erupted in December 2008 with revelations of the $65 billion fraud case against Bernard Madoff – “the largest investor fraud ever committed by a single person,” which has had devastating effects on many sangha people.  We can’t blame all of this on Mr. Bush, but a culture of deception and corruption did proliferate during his administration, and now we can watch (and experience) the ripening of the karma as the United States and the global economy suffer the economic consequences. 


On July 12, 2009, an article in The Independent reported on the State of the Future,” the largest single report to look at the future of the planet.  Entitled “The planet's future: Climate change 'will cause civilisation to collapse,'” the article says:

The impact of the global recession is a key theme, with researchers warning that global clean energy, food availability, poverty and the growth of democracy around the world are at "risk of getting worse due to the recession." The report adds: "Too many greedy and deceitful decisions led to a world recession and demonstrated the international interdependence of economics and ethics."


Although the future has been looking better for most of the world over the past 20 years, the global recession has lowered the State of the Future Index for the next 10 years. Half the world could face violence and unrest due to severe unemployment combined with scarce water, food and energy supplies and the cumulative effects of climate change.


This report vividly illustrates the effects of deception and corruption. “Too many greedy and deceitful decisions” lead to collective suffering in the future because deception and corruption are entropic.  They create disorder and degradation, ruptures in the fabric of reality, and are therefore, by definition, unsustainable.  It doesn’t matter how many people buy into the deception and participate in the corruption, there is no safety in numbers.  Rationalizing that ‘everybody does it’ provides no cover.  The rotten karma will still ripen.  And the more widespread the deception and corruption are, the more people get hurt.  In the case of climate change, for example – which the Bush administration denied for 8 years, delaying action to mitigate the effects – the collective suffering could go on for centuries.


But what does all this have to do with the dharma and why talk about this on RFS?  Corruption can and does occur on a spiritual level as well as in the political economy.  Spiritual corruption begins when we depart from the truth, the dharma.  When we deceive ourselves, we inevitably deceive others, which starts the degenerative cycle of corruption.


In fact, the Vidyadhara said that deception creates samsara (cyclic existence and suffering due to ignorance and delusion):


With tremendous deception, we create samsara -- pain and misery for the whole world, including ourselves – but we still come off as if we were innocent.  We call ourselves ladies and gentlemen, and we say, “I never commit any sins or create any problems. I’m just a regular old person, blah blah blah.”  That snowballing of deception and the type of existence our deception creates are shocking.

You might ask, “If everybody is involved with that particular scheme or project, then who sees the problem at all?  Couldn't everybody just join in so that we don't have to see each other that way?  Then we could just appreciate ourselves and our snowballing neuroses, and there would be no reference point whatsoever outside of that.”  Fortunately -- or maybe unfortunately -- we have one person who saw that there was a problem.  That person was known as Buddha.

(From "Introduction" to The Truth Of Suffering And The Path Of Liberation, edited by Judith Lief, Shambhala Publications 2009.)


No matter how many people believe a lie, it’s still a lie, and it still creates samsara, corruption, karma, and suffering – a setting sun world.  The lie has to be exposed.  To be permissive of deception is to collude with it and corrupt ourselves. This is the Buddha’s painful and embarrassing truth that “comes too close to home.”  But, since it’s the Buddha’s truth, there is still good news: recognizing deception and corruption and realizing the truth releases the energy that has been locked up in evasion, and that is the energy we use to liberate ourselves and walk the path of dharma.  


Allegiance with the truth, no matter the cost, enables us to remain in integrity, connected with reality, one with the dharma.  We have to look beneath the deceptive surface of ‘normality’ to glean the truth of things as they are – whether about ourselves or about our world.  Being open to seeing the truth, rather than shying away from it, arouses our creative energy, raises our lungta, and turns the poison of delusion into medicine - insight.  Of course, it is certainly best to catch deception before we become involved in corruption, for then we might think we have too much to lose by facing the truth – which is the ultimate deception that creates samsara. 


As the Vidyadhara said, surrendering to the truth isn’t a one-shot deal.  It is a continuous process of unmasking ourselves, cutting through deception, through spiritual materialism and all the other tricks of ego that are reinforced by our conditioning in the setting-sun world.  Our wisdom co-emerges with our confusion when we are willing to catch ourselves in deception and surrender to the truth.


The energy of truth uplifts us and takes us forward in a dharmic direction, the direction of enlightened society.  Enlightened Society is our hope for the future of humanity and of the dharma, and that hope resides in being honest and truthful with ourselves and each other.



Published on Radio Free Shambhala, July 16, 2009.


© 2009 Suzanne Duarte