Crazy Wisdom

In this talk Doug Duncan and Catherine Pawasarat explore the topic of ‘Crazy Wisdom’. Also known as ‘Divine Madness’, these are energetic and unpredictable teachings that help shake students’ fixed views about their reality. The stuck nature of our egos requires a breaking through of the status quo in order to access a place of open spaciousness of possibility. Doug and Catherine also explore the paradox that we actually feel more in control and secure when we let go of our ego’s need to be in charge all the time.
Today’s episode covers ideas that Doug and Catherine explore in detail in their bestselling book, Wasteland to Pureland. The third section of the book is entitled Crazy Wisdom and covers a wide variety of topics, including The Shadow, Tantra, and Money, Sex & Power.
Podcast listeners can download a free chapter from this section of the book by visiting


Podcast Transcription:


HOST: Welcome to Dharma If You Dare. Today’s recording comes from Doug Duncan and Catherine Pawaserat`s Facebook livestream series, Enlightenup. In this talk, Doug and Catherine explore the topic of crazy wisdom, also known as divine madness. These are energetic and unpredictable teachings that help shake the student’s fixed views about their reality. The stuck nature of our egos requires a breaking through the status quo in order to access a place of open spaciousness of possibility. They also explore the paradox that we actually feel more in control and secure when we let go of our ego`s need to be in charge all the time. This coming February, Doug and Catherine will be in Los Angeles for the Conscious Life Expo. While in LA, they will also be teaching at various locations around the city. Planning to be in the LA area at that time? Stay tuned for more details so you can come join them at one of their events. And now, here’s today’s recording. 



Q: Today’s topic is so-called crazy wisdom. You could substitute in energetic wisdom, you could substitute in innocent wisdom. And the reason for this is because the ego, that’s you and me and everybody else, is fundamentally and absolutely alone. We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone, and inside the ego of our own minds, we are alone. And because of that, we are separate. We are divided. We’re insecure, we’re vulnerable, we’re in a universe way too big for one little ego to manage. And because of that it’s traumatized. You could say perhaps that the ego doesn’t get traumatized, you could say perhaps that the ego is the trauma. So in that sense, as egos we`re all suffering or struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. Therefore, you need some energetic energy and some energetic mind states to break through that to the other side of that, which is a sense of unity.

CS: So what does that look like? 

Q: Well, with crazy wisdom, you need to embrace the technology or methodology that helps you break through the isolation of the ego`s trauma and to enter into this altered field, which is by definition bliss, clarity and non-clinging. But because the ego’s traumatized, it doesn’t want to do it. It wants to stay comfortable or safe inside its separation, and at the same time it feels separate and isolated. So that’s kind of the dilemma. 

CS: The nature of the ego is to settle into some sort of status quo. And the nature of the breakthrough is really revolutionary, which is where the crazy part comes from. And so, if we want to transcend the ego on our spiritual path, on our path to spiritual enlightenment, then that’s going to require some breaking through the status quo. And that’s certainly going to appear crazy to somebody, maybe to our own egos.

Q: To our own self in a way. In a sense, we all live on one side of the wall in our egos and this transcendent thing, this Christ consciousness, Buddha nature, divine union, is on the other side of the wall. And whenever you come up against the wall, you go, no, no, no, I can’t go over that wall. And so the crazy wisdom or the energetic wisdom is actually, as Trungpa said (Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche), recovering the innocent mind, the vulnerable mind, the open mind, the trusting mind, and the ego has a big problem doing that. 

CS: Not every tradition embraces crazy wisdom, it’s kind of a special feature of Vajrayana, or also known as Tantrayana, which we see in Tibetan Buddhism and in Shingon in Japanese Buddhism. And our spiritual tradition really embraces what we’re calling here, crazy wisdom. It’s also called divine madness. And it’s this spontaneity, it’s sort of like a Rinzai Zen koan – what is the sound of one hand clapping? It’s these ways of speaking or ways of being, that our ego just can’t fix, that our ego just can’t get a grasp on and therefore we have to move beyond this everyday status quo reality and consciousness and break through ourselves into something that’s beyond that.

And we know that the universe, that the cosmos, is not limited to just the rationale that our ego knows. We know that that is tiny in comparison to the wonder and the wisdom of the cosmos. And that’s something that crazy wisdom or divine madness gives us a taste of. It is the wide open spaciousness of possibility. And that, our friends, is an essential element of what we call spiritual liberation. 

Q: Just so, just so. From the point of view of the ego, it’s crazy wisdom. From the point of view of the ego, it’s energetic intervention. From the point of view of the ego, it’s a struggle or difficulty or scary or fearful. But from the point of view of the transcendental, it’s no such thing. It’s spacious. It’s clear, it’s open, it’s lovely. From the point of view of the ego, it works on some very strong powers that are holding it in place and this is called the shadow. These are areas of our psyche that we have pushed out of the way or underneath in order to get along with our egos in the world.


And when you’re in a situation where you, the ego, feel threatened or challenged or vulnerable, it’s going to revert to its program in terms of money, sex, and power as a place to hold on and grasp onto, which puts you solidly on the struggle side of the wall. To meet the energetic transformation of those things into the sense that the universe has given you everything you’ve ever had, therefore, there is no shortage. That your identity is whatever you put on, whatever you make up, and there is no inherently correct or right identity to have. And therefore your self-image isn’t so important. And when you realize that the whole system together is in control and that we honor that, for instance, say in biomimicry or nature’s processes, that we don’t need that much control most of the time, then it makes it much easier to enter into that surrender, which makes it curiously almost a paradox. The more you let go and the more you surrender into this other side of the wall, the more resources, the clearer the sense of identity and the clearer the sense of control, in terms of your own being, and therefore in your community, and more security you feel. And it’s kind of a paradox. It’s not just negatives. 

A large part of the spiritual life is people attempting to get into a good clear space. And the thing is they don’t really have to work at that because that is there naturally underneath the ego surface. So what the spiritual life focuses a lot on is the negatives, how to get rid of the greed or the anger, the confusion, and so on. And part of the problem, from our point of view, is that this is not all of humanity’s task. It’s not all of humanity’s task to remove the negatives. It’s also to explore the positives. But as long as the ego is in control, the negatives always have kind of an over-weighted power or control of this. So by letting that go, we encourage the ego to explore its positives, which is exploration, discovery, experimentation, curiosity, engagement, and a sense of trust that the universe isn’t going to blow up and my ego will get hurt. 


We don’t have to find the positive or the wholesome or the imaginative or the creative, that is our natural state. But what we do have to do is knock out the blocks that keep our wheels spinning in the air. And one of them is, the way our Western ego is very much rewarded and honored for its successes. So every small child learns by the time they’re in grade three, that they’re in a competitive market. And so from a very early age, our family competes with the family next door. And so this whole sense that the ego and by extension, the nuclear family, and by extension, your company and your corporation, are all competing against each other, which is fair enough and true in some ways but isn’t the whole picture. There’s another picture going on that is more cooperative and engaging. 

And so here again, at Clearsky, we’re trying to undertake the four bottom lines to restore the sense of cooperation –  environmental and social and economic and spiritual integration, a generative way of being. It`s part of what we do to meet the opposite side of crazy wisdom which is bright shiny, sane wisdom. One of the ways, and in a very powerful way in which we hold this whole thing in place, is through communication, and communication is based on my language and my language is based on my parents and by extension my community and society and so on. 



And communication in Western terms is very much `I`  focused. I did this, I’m going to do that, I am this. And then by extension, identifying Catherine as mine and me as hers. It becomes a `we`.  

CS: `My` partner in this case or `my` co-teacher.

Q: And then my kids, my family, and my tribe working its way out. So that the communication aspect structures around the language and the language in English anyway, is noun, subject, verb. So it’s very much a dichotomy in the language that separates and divides, which is wonderful for naming birds and species of mushroom, classification and communication. It’s a wonderful, wonderful tool. 

But from the point of view of the ego, it’s also an isolator. So that what you think you’re going through and what you think you’re experiencing, you think is just you! You don’t see that you’re in a group of people who are all probably at some point having the same feelings and the same thoughts and the same ideas and the same sensations about all sorts of things. But because of the language, we feel thE separation, which is in that sense artificial.

CS: And this is somewhat unique. Not every language has this. So if we look at English as an example, English was a language invented or developed for commercial and military conquest, and in this sense, it’s very linear, it’s subject-object-oriented. So it has a built-in subject-object, what in Buddhist philosophy we call duality.

If you have a subject-object then you’ve got this polarization from the very roots of your language and not every language has this. Chinese for example does not have this. For many years I read the Heart Sutra in English and could not make heads or tails of it. And then I got a book with translations and read it in Chinese and it made a lot more sense because in Chinese it doesn’t have the subject-object linear orientation. It’s a much rounder fluid kind of form of expression and then the meaning becomes much clearer. This is one of the reasons why we embrace a planetary consciousness. It’s not the purview of any particular kind of people or socio-economic class or elite or educated people, it’s really a union consciousness and that’s why we call ourselves Planet Dharma. We should be Cosmic Dharma. Why limit ourselves to the planet? 

Q: So you could say in some ways that English is prose and Chinese is poetry. And so you can also in some ways make that association between this side of the wall, which is the struggle side of the ego, the prose side, and the other side of the wall which is the transcendent side, which is more poetry. So if you’re a very analytical, structured, economic, mechanical, scientific kind of person, which most of us in the West are by the way, the way we work and function, you could say the problem that we’re stuck with is that we’re just doing prose all the time, when in fact the transcendent side is dismissed as poetry, which has no economic or mechanical or scientific value. You can’t bake bread with poetry, particularly. 



So you might want to think that way as well, that the shadow also holds itself by its definitions in its language, like what is my sexual identity? Now in the modern age, we’re talking a lot about the alphabet people like the L G B Q T and so on. So by extending the non-fixed labels about our resources or about our identity or about our power and control, we are in a sense also allowing ourselves to let go of the prose side and have a more poetic relationship to our identities. This would be a very useful thing for community, if not a great thing for fixing the tractor. For that you want prose. Although, there’s a poetry element too.  

CS: And this is another reason why it’s so valuable to be exposed to diverse cultures and why we really embrace a planetary view. Because if we look at the world’s traditions, there are other cultures that embrace numerous different kinds of so-called gender or manifestations of sexual orientation that are a part of their culture and they believe that to be natural. Some islands in Indonesia have seven, I think. Thailand has three that I know, at least three. And an indigenous tribe in North America has five. And so it’s excellent to be exposed to these different kinds of paradigms as opportunities to reflect on them and expand our own way of thinking, which can get really quite small in such a vast universe. 

Q: So returning to the idea of crazy wisdom for a minute, the teaching speaks about two inherent problems. One is conflicting emotions and the other is primitive views. Using what we’ve been talking about so far, you could say that a fixed `I` language is a primitive view. It’s holding reality in a very useful and functional but small box. And then the emotional conflict we suffer from this small box is because we identify so much with the small box, we’re in emotional conflict almost all the time because we see others as a challenge or a threat or an interruption to the `I` moment.

And so the crazy wisdom is simply to bring your attention to the analytical wisdom, the energetic wisdom. It is simply to bring your attention to what is already going on in your being and that you don’t really acknowledge because it seems so much like just being `me`. We say, okay look, it’s a wider picture and the ego goes `no thank you, it’s scary out there!` 

CS: It’s hard to defend our little me box all by ourselves. So to take on more feels even more frightening. 

Q: So by relaxing your issue around resources rather than `my` money… people will talk to us about some of their problems and people are much more revealing about their sexual issues than they are about their economic issues because economics, money, is more fundamentally important than sexuality. So you can see how the secrecy or the containment gets closer the deeper you get to the ego sense of separation. In community businesses and so on, you have mutual support, resource-wise, and more loosely defined relationships and you have more support there, and therefore your control and power are shared and there’s not so much weight coming down on you, right?

CS: Not so much stress on such a small number of people.



Q: Exactly. When we speak about the shadow, we’re not talking about some evil power. Mostly, what we’re talking about is an unconscious relationship to these issues. We’re unconscious about our sense of resources. We just kind of go out and try to get the money to be alive and to take care of ourselves. But we’re unconscious of the stress that comes from the idea that we are resource independent or I am solely responsible for my resources. And the same thing when it comes to relationships or community or communication, which is like sexual identity –  any feelings or desires I have that don’t fit into the mainstream have to be pushed into the unconscious lest they get rejected. And money and control, or money and sexuality and identity.

And then the control issue is about, well, if I’m not in control, I’m losing. If I’m not in charge, I’m annihilated or defeated. Rather than, if I’m not in control, I’m relaxing. It doesn’t have to be me, me, me all the time. Should we see if there are any questions? 

STUDENT: I guess my question is around what comes up if you’re not in control. It’s like my parent’s voice – If you’re not in control of your own life, then no one else is going to be, so take care of you, right? So you’ve got to be super in control and take care of things. 



Q: And that’s true in the current structure of society, that’s a true statement. If you’re going to live in the prevailing paradigm, that’s true. So it’s a very true statement. 

STUDENT (Cara): So, is the kind of letting go for transcendence, that kind of letting go, does that really then require community? So that you have the support to let go? Because, could you let go, say, in the mainstream paradigm? 

Q: Extremely difficult. That’s a very good question, and in fact, it’s extremely difficult to do it on your own. Almost everybody who is awake has awakened through some kind of paradigm. Saint Francis, in spite of Christianity, and in a way, you can say the Buddha awakened in spite of Buddhism. So the traditions are there to provide a raft and support, but they’re not an end in themselves. It’s a way of supporting and fostering the ability to surrender, and when one person surrenders they surrender into a totality. But the methodology, in a sense, bridges that wall. 

Say, for instance, in Buddhism, it starts on this side of the wall, but it leads you over to the other side of the wall. But the idea is once you cross over to the other side of the wall, you don’t need so much the support of that tradition. However, in order to support and live in the community and to embrace it in a more worldwide spectrum, which would be better for humanity itself, including the environment, then you need community and you need strong community. Because the law of large numbers is that it’s very hard to do anything on your own anymore. It involves the community to do something. So the community then gives you the support to help other people to do it. Otherwise, you have to go get a job. 

CS: Yeah, it’s a great question and there are two layers to that question. Of course, I agree with everything that Qapel said, and I think I’m just saying what you said in a different way, but spiritual awakening is an interesting thing. It really comes down to the individual. It’s the individual that takes the steps to spiritual unfoldment, and only the individual can do that. And in that sense it’s kind of the ultimate in self-determination. And on the other hand, boy, it sure helps if there’s a lot of support and role models. Support from other people can really speed up the process and make it less intimidating as well. And so there’s this kind of back and forth between the role of the individual and the role of the community and that’s always true, I think.

I just get super jazzed… and the second level of that question, I think most of us know that capitalism pretty much sucks and isn’t working and is putting us on a path that is not looking promising in the future and we can say the same for consumerism.


And so I get very excited about creating alternatives to that. I’m not waiting for someone from the government or some global or national organization to present me with this solution. But I get very excited about trying to create solutions. It’s a big challenge and it is a lot of fun. It’s a great adventure. 

Q: It’s also important to remember that even people who you think didn’t have a community like, say, Buddha or Jesus Christ, in fact, did. Buddha had a community of wanderers and aesthetics like himself, and he went from teacher to teacher and engaged in different communities in his process and Jesus did the same thing. Jesus was part of an ancient tradition and we don’t know what Jesus did before 30, but there was some talk that he was studying with other teachers in other places. In Kashmir perhaps.

STUDENT (Maureen): I’m wondering what other words you might use rather than crazy or what you would suggest when speaking about this wisdom to others? 



Q: Another way to put it is basically, do you fit in or not? If the average person fits into the paradigm that we’re currently in, the current model, then you have religion. Religion is just basically a set of rules about how to live in a community. But if you don’t fit in or you feel there’s something missing in your world then by their standards you feel crazy or they think you’re crazy. Or you are a bit odd. If you don’t fit in or you don’t want to fit in or you can’t fit in, then you have to give up religion and take up spirituality. And spirituality by definition is religion with a ladder to the other side of the wall.

Religion by itself will not take you to the other side of the wall, but with a ladder, with a bit of challenge or exploration or courage, that ladder takes you to spirituality. 

CS: What’s the wall again? 

Q: The wall is the ego’s fear or the ego`s terror of transcending its own separation and isolation. 

CS: Which keeps us in those little boxes. 

STUDENT: How do you communicate in higher self to people who are in the bully mode, especially as someone they see as controllable for being kind or female or spiritual or whatever they see as weakness from their perspective? How do we become enlightened when there is a disbelief in the spiritual or when we are told that we’re separate and that we must be crazy to be following anything of a spiritual nature? 

Q: Well, the brief answer for me is you need different friends. You need to find a different community, and you need to be dialoguing with different people. And you can’t tell somebody who’s up to their neck in alligators that your plan is to drain the swamp because they’re too busy with alligators.

So my short suggestion for such a long question is to find a community and find people around you and work with them. And for the mainstream, just keep your focus contained in your spiritual life, keep that contained within yourself and work within the normal paradigm according to the rules of that paradigm. So give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and let them worry about that, and you get on with it somewhere else. 



CS: Yeah, I’d agree, that’s a great question, and this is where the spiritual community can be so valuable because there is a real learning curve about how to respond skillfully to unwholesome states or unwholesome actions. And the nature of unwholesome states and actions is that they can catch us off guard or they can come in with the force of nature, like a cyclone, and we’re kind of caught off balance and it can be challenging to know how to respond at the moment.

So it’s great to be around other people who have experience doing that and see what they do under those kinds of conditions that certainly arise in any community, including spiritual communities. We can see how different people handle it. We can also ask questions: this happened to me, and what could I have done that would have been more skillful? We make extensive use of that living here in the community at Clearsky; it`s a tremendous resource and that’s why spiritual communities are considered one of the triple gems. 



Q: Perhaps just to correct a possible error that might be creeping in – it’s not an `us and them` dialogue. It’s a bit like fruit on a tree. On this side of the wall, the struggling people, on the other side of the wall, the awakening people. It is not an us and them dichotomy. The important thing to remember is it’s like fruit on the tree – this fruit is ready to fall. So if you’re a fruit picker you go out and you go `oh I can pick this fruit and I can pick that fruit and I can pick this fruit`. These are people who are already either involved or seeking or working to awaken, and this one is not yet ready or this one is not yet ripe. So we wait. So it’s not an us and them dialogue. It’s a `ready or not ready` dialogue. I think it`s an important point.

CS: That is a very important point. Here at Clearsky, this part of the world is world-renowned for hunting and there are a lot of hunters in this community. It’s really a gun culture and I’m not from… well, I am from a gun culture. My mother is a crack shot, and I’m from the US. But I have not handled a gun myself. And that’s something that I try to reduce in my world. And so the point about it not being either or is so great because when we meet hunters, the best thing that I love focusing on is what we share. We share a love of wildlife and we share an appreciation of the importance of a healthy habitat, and we can have really wonderful connections based on that and promote the health of those values. And if we came at it from what our differences are, then we could really just fall into conflict very easily.


HOST: We hope you enjoyed this episode. Please rate and review Dharma If You Dare on apple podcasts to help more people find and benefit from these teachings. And don’t forget to subscribe to get episodes and bonus content sent directly to your device. Today’s episode covers ideas that Doug and Catherine explore in detail in their bestselling book, Wasteland to Pureland. The third section of the book is entitled Crazy Wisdom and covers a wide variety of topics, including the shadow, tantra and money, sex, and power. Podcast listeners can download a free chapter from this section of the book by visiting See you next time and may all our efforts benefit all beings.