How does meditation relate to daily life?
Simply saying, “Oh, if I focus my attention on my breathing I’ll feel more relaxed,” is not enough. If meditation were about stress relief, we could forgo having to understand our own minds and simply get a good massage. Instead, it’s crucial to consider the implications of guiding our mind away from the pursuit of every little thought that pops into our head.
This is what we do in meditation practice: gently guide ourselves toward observing thoughts and emotions from an ever-larger perspective. We use the natural tendency we refer to as meditation to return us again and again to a more open view of our experience, rather than our usual habit to return again and again to a smaller view. When we meditate, we acknowledge that we’re thinking but try not to follow the thoughts. Instead we bring our attention back to the sensation of the breath going in and out.
We recognize we are caught in a thought or fantasy, and then we bring the attention back to the breath. That’s what meditation is–returning our attention to the object. Once we can squarely recognize the condition we’re all in, it’s natural to say, “Well, I don’t want to drift at the whim of conditions coming together just right. I want to be able to feel content even when things don’t go exactly my way.” Stabilizing and strengthening the mind through a regular meditation practice can help accomplish this.
~ Excerpt from “Take the Big View” by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
Meditation isn’t really about getting rid of thoughts, it’s about changing the pattern of grasping on to things, which in our everyday experience is our thoughts. The thoughts are fine if they are seen as transparent, but we get so caught up judging thoughts as right or wrong, for and against, yes and no, needing it to be this way and not that way. And even that might be okay except that is accompanied by strong, strong emotions. So we just start ballooning out more and more. With this grasping onto thoughts we just get more caught, more and more hooked. All of us. Every single one of us.
It’s as if you had vast, unlimited space—complete openness, total freedom, complete liberation—and the habit of the human race is to always, out of fear, grasp onto little parts of it. And that is called ego and ego is grasping on to the content of our thoughts. That is also the root of suffering, because there is something in narrowing it down which inherently causes us a lot of pain because it is then that we are always in a relationship of wanting or not wanting. We are always in a struggle with other people, with situations, even with our own being.
That’s what we call stress. When Trungpa Rinpoche came to the West and was teaching in the early days in Vermont at what used to be called Tail of the Tiger (now Karme Chöling), he used to tell the students: “Just sit and let your mind open and rest— let yourself be completely open with an open mind, and whenever you get distracted and find yourself thinking— in other words when you are no longer fully in the present and are carried away— simply just come back again to resting your mind in an open state.
Personal practice time does not have to last for hours and hours. Even a quick ten minutes is good, and half an hour is excellent. The important thing is that there is a period in every day in which we practice waking up to the fact that we are living, breathing beings capable of developing the qualities of enlightenment. Meditation practice is the basis of our sanity, of our happiness.
It is the basis of sound and fruitful relationships with our friends and family, who themselves will benefit from our personal practice time. Without a personal practice, our life is a series of mundane and often disorienting moments in which we are skimming the surface of our mind, living on the surface of our perceptions. We are absorbed in how things appear.
Problems, issues, and relationships appear to be real, solid, and immovable. Everything appears to be stuck. As a result of what we experience in deep meditation, we begin to experience the world in a different way. It’s not that our compassion and wisdom manifest dramatically. They simply appear as the most natural way to behave and feel. When the sun warms our face on a cold day, it feels natural.
~ Excerpt from “The Importance of Personal Practice” by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
Solitary retreat remains one of our most poignant practice experiences. To go on retreat is to abandon our usual routine and enter into a world of simplicity, focused meditation practice and inspired contemplation. While solitary retreats are recommended for those truly seeking realization, even those just entering the path will find retreat practice valuable.
A practice program, such as dathun or sesshin, is an excellent was to prepare for a retreat. During group retreat programs you will gain experience with extended periods of sitting and receive a full measure of meditation instruction. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche emphasizes that one should go on retreat
when things are relatively smooth. It is not a time to figure out what you are going to do next with your life. To do so you must be able to settle in and not be distracted by too many worldly concerns. Before leaving for a retreat meet with your teacher, a meditation instructor, or another senior practitioner who regularly does retreats, and get guidelines from them.
If you do not have a regular routine of practice and study, it would be good to establish one a few weeks ahead of the retreat. Learn all the practice procedures so you can do them with confidence. These days the boundaries between the secular and religious worlds are melting. Most people go on retreat to deepen not only their appreciation for practice, but also to nurture themselves. Usually one leaves retreat feeling refreshed and renewed and one brings that inspiration into one’s life and relationships.
When we use our ability to hear, at a basic level we take in information, but truly hearing something means that we understand it, or as the phrase goes, we “get it.” Further, when we truly hear something, we also remember it. Because truly hearing enables us to have an object to hold in mind, we can explore the next step, contemplation. The good news is that it is easy to do contemplation practice because we only need the power of our thoughts. The mind is always alive with thoughts; the mind is always moving with its natural energy.
Fortunately, we are in no danger of using up that particular natural resource. To contemplate, in our sense of the term, means both to hold your mind to something and to relax. If you want to understand something more deeply, you focus your attention on it. But for it to really penetrate, you need to relax, which gives it a chance to permeate your conceptual thought process.
If you are reading teachings, you need to take time to study and think about what you’ve read. It can be very helpful to pick a section that’s thought-provoking, close the book, and reflect on the meaning of that one thing. When we hold our mind to a particular object, our understanding of it gets deeper and deeper, as if we were an explorer becoming immersed in a new environment.
The practice of meditation is a way of unmasking ourselves, our deceptions of all kinds, and also the practice of meditation is a way of bringing out the subtleties of intelligence that exist within us. The experience of meditation sometimes plays the role of playmate; sometimes it plays the role of devil’s advocate, fundamental depression.
Sometimes it acts as an encouragement for birth, sometimes as an encouragement for death. Its moods might be entirely different in different levels and states of being and emotion, as well as in the experience of different individuals—but fundamentally, according to the Buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha, there is no doubt, none whatsoever, that meditation is the only way for us to begin on the spiritual path. That is the only way. The way.
Meditation is a way of realizing the fundamental truth, the basic truth, that we can discover ourselves, we can work on ourselves. The goal is the path and the path is the goal. There is no other way of attaining basic sanity than the practice of meditation. Absolutely none.
The evidence for that is that for two thousand five hundred years since the time of the Buddha, down through the lineage of enlightened teachers from generation to generation, people have gained liberation through the practice of meditation. This is not a myth. It’s reality. It actually did exist, it does exist; it did work, it did happen, it does work, it does happen. But without the practice of meditation, there is no way.
“Let us discuss the term meditation at this point. When we talk about the practice of meditation, we are talking about a way of being. Unfortunately, the term meditation is not quite an adequate translation of the Sanskrit term dhyana or samadhi. Whenever we use a verbal form like “to meditate” or “meditating,” that automatically invites the question “What are you meditating upon?” or “What are you meditating in?” That is a common question that always comes up.
But according to the Buddha’s philosophy, there is no verb “to meditate.” There is just a noun, “meditation.” There’s no meditating. You don’t meditate, but you be in a state of meditation. You might find it very hard to swallow this distinction. We have a linguistic, a grammatical problem here. Meditating is not part of the Buddhist vocabulary, but meditation is.
“Meditation” is a noun that denotes that you are being in a state of meditationalready. Whereas “meditating” gives the idea of an activity that’s taking place all the time, that you’re meditating on this or that, concentrating on flickering candlelight, watching an incense stick burning, listening to your pulse, your heartbeat, listening to the inner tunes of your mantric utterance going on in your head—whatever. But according to the buddhadharma, meditation is a simple factor.
You don’t meditate, you just be in the meditation. Dhyana is a noun rather than a verb. It refers to being in a state of dhyana, rather than “dhyana-ing.” Meditation in this case has no object, no purpose, no reference point. It is simply individuals willing to take a discipline on themselves, not to please God or the Buddha or their teacher or themselves. Rather one just sits, one holds oneself together. One sits a certain length of time. One just simply sits without aim, object, purpose, without anything at all. Nothing whatsoever. One just sits.
You might ask, “Then what does one do if one sits? Shouldn’t one be doing something? Or is one just sitting there hanging out?” Well, there’s a difference between sitting and “hanging out” in the American idiom. The termhanging out means something like “grooving on your scene.” And sitting is just being there like a piece of rock or a disused coffee cup sitting on the table. So meditation is not regarded as hanging out but just sitting and being, simply.
Sitting practice is the basic point, before we embark on any spiritual disciplines at all, especially in Buddhism. The teachings of Buddha are presented in a threefold way, as we mentioned. And on the hinayana level alone, we have shila, samadhi, and prajna—discipline, meditation, and intellect. And before we begin with shila—discipline—of any kind, we have to learn to slow down.
That is the basic discipline of how to be. So the basic way to learn to behave in a buddhalike way is sitting practice. Then, after that, we develop meditation (samadhi) and knowledge (prajna). Before we learn to spell words, we have to learn our ABCs. We have to be actually willing to accept the boredom of sitting, willing to relate with that particular sanity, which is unconditional sanity. This sanity has nothing to do with fighting against insanity or trying to exorcise it. It is just fundamentally, basically, trying to be simple as what we are. That is the basic point according to Buddha.
TR: Well, it’s like removing a cloud. The sun is there already, but this is removing the clouds. So you have the sun already, but ego is a layer or covering rather than anything fundamental. Therefore, basically we are good but we’ve been covered up. So we are removing coverings. That’s why you can actually undo them. Otherwise, if the clouds were permanent, you couldn’t do anything with them, right?
S: It’s like have[ing??] a clear mind.
TR: Absolutely, that is clear mind.
TR: Well, we might say that we know there is a sun, but still it is very cloudy. You see that is the only reason that enlightenment is permanent: it is not manufactured. It’s there all the time. And anything beyond that, such as ego and passion, aggression and ignorance, are impermanent. They come and go. Therefore we can handle them. And they come back too: sometimes when you remove them, they come back. So you keep on clearing out.
There are many international problems, and throughout the world chaos is taking place all the time-which is obviously far from the expression of enlightened society. The world is beginning to turn sour. Our measures may be small at this point, but we’re trying to sweeten the world up. In the long run, we want to offer something beyond a token. We want to make a real contribution to the development of enlightened society. That begins right here.
There’s always the primordial dot: that spark of goodness that exists even before you think. We are worthy of that. Everybody possesses that unconditioned possibility of cheerfulness, which is not connected purely with either pain or pleasure. You have an inclination: in the flash of one second you feel what needs to be done. It is not a product of your education; it is not scientific or logical; you simply pick up on the message. And then you act: you just do it.
Similarly, when you experience depression, it is possible to cheer up. That situation is genuine and quite workable. From depression and its terror, we can step right into basic goodness. We learn to reject the terror of depression and to step into basic goodness, right on the spot. The result is that you have a better relationship with your mate, your kitchen is cleaner, your daily schedule is accomplished on time-all because you don’t have a tremendous struggle, even on the smallest, most mundane level. You might think this is purely a “Dear Abby” concept of happiness, but in fact we’re talking about developing enlightened society. Enlightened society comes from the kitchen sink level, from the bedroom level.
In the Shambhala teachings of warriorship, this life force is called windhorse (Tibetan: lungta). Lungta is the unlimited energy of basic goodness, buddhanature, inherent wakefulness. Basic goodness is the most fundamental secret in any situation-difficult or not-and it’s something that we already possess. We connect with it through meditation practice. Every day we need to contemplate our own inherent wakefulness. Then we’ll have the confidence to raise our windhorse and ride it through life with joy and delight.
When other people talk about Buddhists, they say we believe in impermanence, suffering and egolessness. We know that impermanence and suffering are the hallmarks of our lives, of course, but it’s not that we want them. We’re no fools. Just like everybody else, we want joy and happiness. The basis of Buddhism is that appreciating certain truths about existence allows us to live our lives with joy, strength and dignity.
For example, we know that happiness doesn’t come from thinking about ourselves, because through meditating we’ve seen that we don’t particularly exist–and neither do those people who are talking about us. It all comes back to knowing basic goodness, which is the mind of enlightenment. It’s the lightest mind we could have, because it’s no longer burdened by the concept of “me.”
Living without the concept of “me” frees space in our hearts from which we can naturally generate love and compassion for others. The mind of enlightenment is the best mind we can have–not in an intellectual sense but in the sense of bringing benefit to others and joy to ourselves. There’s a saying: “If you want to be miserable, think about yourself.
If you want to be happy, think of others.” We try so hard to be happy; we just go about it the wrong way. The more we think of ourselves, the more pain we feel and the more unhappy we become. When we begin to think about others, there’s delight, there’s openness, and lo and behold, we have peace of mind.
When we don’t connect with our wakefulness, what is it that we’re thinking about? We’re thinking about ourselves: our own safety, our own needs. Obviously, we do need to think about eating, dressing and staying warm. But beyond that, if we continue to think only of ourselves as we engage with life, our circle becomes very small. Our focus on our own lives becomes so tight that we begin to ignore other things.
According to tradition, the Kingdom of Shambhala was a kingdom in Central Asia where this wisdom was taught and an excellent society was created. In that society, the citizens’ conduct and their behaviour were based on having less anxiety. Essentially, anxiety comes from not facing the current situation you are in. The Kingdom of Shambhala and the citizens, the subjects, of Shambhala were able to face their reality.
The Kingdom of Shambhala could be said to be a mythical kingdom or a real kingdom—to the extent that you believe in Atlantis or in heaven. It has been said that the kingdom was technologically advanced and that the citizens had tremendous intelligence.
Spirituality was secularized, meaning that day-to-day living situations were handled properly. Life was not based on the worship of a deity or on vigorous religious practice, as such. Rather, that wonderful world of Shambhala was based on actually relating with your life, your body, your food, your household, your marital situations, your breath, your environment, your atmosphere.
According to the legends, the vision and the teachings of Shambhala were embodied in that Central Asian kingdom. If we go deeper, we could say that such a situation of sanity comes about because you connect with your own intelligence. Therefore, the Kingdom of Shambhala exists in your own heart right at this moment. You are a citizen of Shambhala and part of the Kingdom of Shambhala, without doubt. We are not trying to bring a myth into reality, which would be the wrong thing to do.
Actually, I have even written a book to that effect, entitled The Myth of Freedom. (2) On the other hand, as human beings, we do possess the sense faculties: We can see, we can hear, we can feel, we can think. Because of that, we can do something to bring about the Kingdom of Shambhala once again.
This time, it doesn’t have to be a Central Asian kingdom. We aren’t talking about going over there and digging up graves, digging up ruins, to find the remains of the truth of Shambhala. We are not talking about conducting an archaeological survey. On the other hand, we might be talking about some kind of archaeological survey, which is digging up our minds and our lives, which have been buried and covered with layers and layers of dirt. We have to rediscover something in our lives. Is it possible? It is very possible, extremely possible. How should we go about it?
From the very day of your birth, you have never really looked at yourself, your life, and your experiences in life. You have never really felt that you could create a good, decent world. Of course, you may have tried all sorts of things. You may have marched in the street in the name of the happiness of humanity, complained about the existing political system, written up new ideas and manifestos to prevent this and that— that pain, this pain, this confusion, that confusion. You may have been somewhat heroic, and you could say that you’ve tried your best. Nonetheless, have you found any real peace or rest? A real, dignified world has not been created.
The point of the Shambhala training is to get out of the cocoon, which is the shyness and aggression in which we have wrapped ourselves. When we have more aggression, we feel more fortified. We feel good, because we have more to talk about. We feel that we are the greatest author of the complaint. We write poetry about it. We express ourselves through it.
Instead of constantly complaining, can’t we do something positive to help this world? The more we complain, the more concrete slabs will be put on the earth. The less we complain, the more possibilities there will be of tilling the land and sowing seeds. We should feel that we can do something positive for the world instead of covering it with our aggression and complaints.
The approach of the Shambhala training is to do something very concrete, very basic, very definite, and to begin at the beginning. In the Shambhala tradition, we talk about being a warrior. I would like to make it clear that a warrior, in this case, is not someone who wages war.
A Shambhala warrior is someone who is brave enough not to give in to the aggression and contradictions that exist in society. A warrior, or pawo in Tibetan, is a brave person, a genuine person who is able to step out of the cocoon—that very comfortable cocoon that he or she is trying to sleep in.
From the dictionary’s point of view, sadness has negative connotations. If you feel sad, you feel unfortunate or bad. Or you are sad because you don’t have enough money or you don’t have any security. But from the Shambhala point of view, sadness is also inspiring. You feel sad and empty-hearted, but you also feel something positive, because this sadness involves appreciation of others. You would like to tell those who are still stuck in their cocoons that, if they got out of the cocoon, they would also feel that genuine sadness.
That empty-heartedness is the principle of the brokenhearted warrior. As an ex-cocooner, you feel it is wonderful that people of the past have gotten out of their cocoons. You wish that you could tell the cocooners the story of the warriors of the Great Eastern Sun and the story of the Kingdom of Shambhala. All the warriors of the past had to leave their cocoons. You wish you could let the cocooners know that. You would like to tell them that they are not alone. There are hundreds of thousands of others who have made this journey.
Once you develop this quality of sadness, you also develop a quality of dignity or positive arrogance within yourself, which is quite different from the usual negative arrogance. You can manifest yourself with dignity to show the degraded world that trying to avoid death by sleeping in a cocoon is not the way. The degraded world, in which people are sleeping in their cocoons trying to avoid the pain of death, is called the setting-sun world.
In that world, people are looking for the sunset as a sign that there will be a peaceful night ahead. But that night is never peaceful: It is always pitch-dark. Those who arise from the cocoon are called the people of the Great Eastern Sun. They are not blinded by opening their eyes, and they are not embarrassed about developing head and shoulders and stepping out of their cocoons. Such people begin to breathe the fresh morning air. They experience brilliance, which is constant and beautiful.
The fixation of ego is manifested in the words I am. Then there is the conclusion: “I am . . . happy” or “I am . . . sad.” There is the first thought (I) and the second thought (am), and finally the third thought is the conclusion. “I am happy,” “I am sad,” “I feel miserable,” “I feel good”— whatever the thought may be. The Shambhala idea of responsibility is to drop am. Just say, “I happy,” “I sad.” I know there’s a bit of a linguistic problem here, but I hope that you can understand what I’m saying. The point is to be responsible to others, without self-confirmation.
To put it slightly differently, suppose your name is Sandy. There is “Sandy,” and there is the “world.” You don’t need a verb between them as confirmation. Just be kind to others. Sandy should be genuine. When she is the real, genuine Sandy, she can help others a lot. She may not have any training in first aid, but Sandy can put a Band-Aid on someone’s finger. Sandy is no longer afraid to help, and she is very kind and on the spot. When you begin to help others, you have raised your head and shoulders, and you’re stepping out of your cocoon. The point of the Shambhala training is not to produce fake people. The point is to become a real person who can help others.
As decent human beings, we face the facts of reality. Whether we are in the middle of a snowstorm or a rainstorm, whether there is family chaos, whatever problems there may be, we are willing to work them out. Looking into those situations is no longer regarded as a hassle, but it is regarded as our duty. Although helping others has been preached quite a lot, we don’t really believe we can do it.
The traditional American expression, as I’ve heard it, is that we don’t want to get our fingers dirty. That, in a nutshell, is why we want to stay in the cocoon: We don’t want to get our fingers dirty. But we must do something about this world, so that the world can develop into a nonaggressive society where people can wake themselves up. Helping others is one of the biggest challenges.
In the ordinary sense, when we talk about a work of art, we generally regard it as requiring talent. Some people begin to reject themselves because they feel they don’t have talent. It could be even sewing, cooking, painting, interior decorating, photography, or anything that involves aesthetics. Of course, flower arranging is included. But we are not talking about talent as such.
Generally speaking, we believe that everyone who possesses the appreciation of sight, smell, sound, feelings, is capable of communicating with the rest of the world. In Buddhism we talk about the sense perceptions, the sense organs, and the sense objects, which actually work together.
The perceptions begin to project, through sense organs toward sense objects. It could be regarded as film in your camera. The film could be regarded as sense consciousness, and the camera itself could be regarded as sense organs, and the view that you see could be regarded as sense objects. Anybody is capable of doing this and perceiving such perceptions.
What does it mean to be fully awakened, what does it mean to be truly liberated? What does it mean to be a Buddha? On the one hand, THE Buddha was A historical person who went on a profound journey that inspires us to do this same. In him we have a historical EXAMPLE. On the other hand, buddha is a reference point within all of us; everybody fundamentally is buddha–awake.
There is no higher being as such. The word “buddha” literally refers to our awakened state of mind, our true mind, our mind of enlightenment. This mind of enlightenment has many aspects–profundity, wisdom, compassion, awareness, mindfulness. We train and work with all these aspects, and as we go along, we eventually encounter our experience directly, like seeing the ocean for the first time. We have to see the ocean ourselves. When that happens, it’s intimate, it’s nonfabricated, and it’s direct.
The word “karma” means action. Every decision we make creates action, and every action creates a reaction. Whatever we decide to do will have some kind of effect. The outcome is sometimes obvious and immediate—we knock over a glass of water and the floor gets wet.
Other effects may take longer—we gossip about somebody and later, people gossip about us. With other actions, it isn’t clear when the result will come about. Karma works in two basic ways. If we act virtuously, the effect is happiness.
If we act unvirtuously, suffering results. If we’re at the cosmic bank and we give a couple of nonvirtues to the teller, what they give us back is based on the currency of pain. If we give the teller virtue, what we get in return is in the currency of happiness. The happiness we get in exchange for virtue could happen on the spot or in the future. In the Tibetan tradition, “virtue” doesn’t have a heavily moralistic or religious overtone. It is a process of developing the wisdom to see clearly how the world works, and the compassion to always hold the welfare of others in mind.
In his journey toward enlightenment, the Buddha saw that human existence is characterized by three qualities: impermanence, suffering, and selflessness. He discovered that we suffer because we try to make ourselves solid and permanent, while our fundamental state of being is unconditionally open and changing—selfless. The Buddha encouraged others to discover this open state of being for themselves in the process of sitting meditation.
In practicing meditation we rejoice in the possibility of developing a clear view of the facts of life, an unconditionally loving heart, and the wisdom to know the right thing to do always. Everything we need is already here. Our human potential is to realize this truth and consciously root our activities in it. Centering ourselves within this state of contentment is how we become totally happy.
With a healthy sense of self, we feel wholesome, balanced, confident, pliable, at ease. The mind is more robust. Now we can meditate on qualities like love and compassion, deep aspects of being human that represent the genuine health of the mind. The stronger and more stable the mind, the more compassion and kindness we can generate.
Every day we wake up and tacitly take refuge in something that we think will offer us security and protection. Most of the time we put our poker chip on the little thing that says “desire.” We spend our time chasing worldly gains. We take refuge in money, in having things, in winning, in avoiding loss.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with external pleasures, when we believe that our happiness depends on them, we’re engaging in samsara–a Sanskrit word describing a circular and endless process that results in pain, suffering, and disillusionment. We work hard for what we think we want and when we get it, we don’t feel the happiness we expected.
In formally becoming Buddhists we take refuge in the three jewels: the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha. We take refuge in the Buddha as teacher, our example of an awakened being. We also take refuge in the dharma–the truth that the Buddha expounded. The third jewel is sangha, a community of individuals who come together to practice and study the Buddha’s teachings.
Some say that spirituality is a way of attaining a better kind of happiness, transcendental happiness. Others see it as a benevolent way to develop power over others. Still others say the point of spirituality is to acquire magical powers so we can change our bad world into a good world or purify the world through miracles. It seems that all of these points of view are irrelevant to the Buddhist approach.
According to the buddhadharma, spirituality means relating with the working basis of one’s existence, which is one’s state of mind. There is a problem with one’s basic life, one’s basic being. This problem is that we are involved in a continual struggle to survive, to maintain our position.
We are continually trying to grasp onto some solid image of ourselves. And then we have to defend that particular fixed conception. So there is warfare, there is confusion, and there is passion and aggression; there are all kinds of conflicts. From the Buddhist point of view, the development of true spirituality is cutting through our basic fixation, that clinging, that stronghold of something-or-other, which is known as ego.
In samsara—the endless cycle of suffering—we are always winning and losing the same game, somehow expecting to make progress. We spend part of our life trying to get it together, and the other part watching it fall apart. We don’t realize that if we try to gain something, we had better be ready to lose it. As soon as we have time—“I have a whole hour free”—we are losing it.
We work hard to have a relationship, and then it breaks up. We come together for a holiday party, and then it’s over. We buy a new car, and the fender gets a dent. We’re playing the game of “’What about me?’ If I gain something, I will be happy. If I lose something, I’ll be miserable.” Competition is unstable.
Even when we win, we have not really won. We always have to prove ourselves again. Gain and loss are meaningless preoccupations. True victory is not being caught by the illusion of permanence. It is not being hooked by negative emotions. It comes about when we free ourselves from the illusion of “me.”
The view that is presented in the Buddhist teachings is not one of becoming a better person, or finally getting it right, but is a view based on trusting what we already have, of starting and staying where we already are. So with letting go of an addiction, the instruction is the same, it is instruction to get in touch with our basic nature, to get in touch with the basic energy of the moment in which we are all caught up.
Addictions can be to anything: we can use this process with what we traditionally call addictions or we can use this working with so-called negative feelings of all kinds. The moment in which we give in to our addictions is a moment in which we are all caught up —in which there is tremendous karmic momentum to go forward in the same old way —to scratch the wound. This can be a wound which really bothers us —we can see the wound bleeding, we can see it getting worse and we will not stop scratching.
We can actually even feel quite nauseated by what we are doing, but we just will not stop! What allows us to stop is maitri, which in this case means a basic feeling that we do not have to be afraid of what we are feeling right now, that we do not have to look for alternatives, that we aren’t ashamed of what we are feeling in this moment. We are scared of what we are feeling. Instead, we can just let our warmth toward the wound, or the warmth toward that instant of time just be there as the working basis. Maitri is settling down with the situation without looking for alternatives.
The tantric discipline of relating to life is based on what are known as the five buddha principles, or the five buddha families. These principles are traditionally known as families because they are an extension of ourselves in the same way that our blood relations are an extension of us: we have our daddy, we have our mommy, we have our sisters and brothers, and they are all part of our family.
But we could also say that these relatives are principles: our motherness, our fatherness, our sisterness, our brotherness, and our me-ness are experienced as definite principles that have distinct characteristics. In the same way, the tantric tradition speaks of five families: five principles, categories, or possibilities.
Those five principles or buddha families are called vajra, ratna, padma, karma, and buddha. They are quite ordinary. There is nothing divine or extraordinary about them. The basic point is that at the tantric level people are divided into particular types: vajra, ratna, padma, karma, and buddha. We constantly come across members of every one of the five families—people who are partially or completely one of those five.
We find such people all through life, and every one of them is a fertile person, a workable person who could be related with directly and personally. So, from the tantric point of view, by relating directly with all the different people we encounter, we are actually relating with different styles of enlightenment.
The buddha family, or families, associated with a person describes his or her fundamental style, that person’s intrinsic perspective or stance in perceiving the world and working with it. Each family is associated with both a neurotic and an enlightened style. The neurotic expression of any buddha family can be transmuted into its wisdom or enlightened aspect. As well as describing people’s styles, the buddha families are also associated with colours, elements, landscapes, directions, seasons—with any aspect of the phenomenal world.
As our technology becomes more sophisticated, we sometimes seem to think that our emotional responses need to be more sophisticated as well. But what seems best is simple, direct feeling that is not padded with of logic or twisted concepts, such as “Maybe they deserved it,” or “I’m glad it’s not me,” or “They should have known better.”
These contorted responses reflect poorly on our own state of mind. If compassion feels unnatural, it’s probably because we’re still thinking of ourselves. We want the suffering to go away because it scares us, or it causes us personal pain. According to the Buddhist teachings, concern and compassion for the welfare of others is the source of our own happiness. When we try to distance ourselves from the pain or the joy of others, we are distancing ourselves from our own happiness. For genuine joy lies in caring for the welfare of others—having direct compassion when others have difficulty and delight when others are doing well.
Becoming a bodhisattva is a matter of opening our hearts, and that can be as simple as opening our eyes. When we open our eyes to the truth–that people are in pain at a very basic level–we feel a natural response. This response is called compassion. It’s called love. We want to help. Compassion and love have no limit, especially if we encourage their growth with the practice of stepping beyond ourselves. This is bodhisattva activity, which is endless, for as we practice this way, our courage and willingness to help others grow.
Our mind and motivation only get bigger. The way we proceed on this path is with prajna, the inquisitive mind that sees the wisdom in each situation. We practice and study to sharpen this mind so that we can know what is appropriate action. Taking the appropriate action is a powerful tool: in one moment we can cross into the mind of enlightenment.
What do we do in that one moment? We move from being self-centered to considering the other person. There are six ways to do this on the bodhisattva path. They’re called perfections or paramitas, a Sanskrit word that means “that which has reached other shore.”
Tonight, I would like to introduce the Shambhala warrior’s cry. Chanting this cry is a way to rouse your head and shoulders, a way to rouse a sense of uplifted dignity. It is also a way to invoke the power of windhorse and the energy of basic goodness. We might call it a battle cry, as long as you understand that this particular battle is fighting against aggression, conquering aggression, rather than promoting hatred or warfare. We could say that the warrior’s cry celebrates victory over war, victory over aggression.
It is also a celebration of overcoming obstacles. The warrior’s cry goes like this: Ki Ki So So. Ki is primordial energy, similar to the idea of ch’i in the Chinese martial arts. So is furthering or extending that energy of ki and extending the power of Ki Ki So So altogether. Let us close our meeting by shouting “Ki Ki So So” three times. (3) Sitting in good warrior posture, with your hands on your hips, hold your head and shoulders and shout: Ki Ki So So Ki Ki So So Ki Ki So So
Student: Rinpoche, you mentioned that dharma art is nonaggressive. One of your installations is a drum room that contains many weapons and a set of Japanese armor. How can a display of weaponry be nonaggressive?
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche: It is a question of how you relate with your teeth and your nails and the expression on your face, which are basic to man’s existence. Human beings have a question about how they can actually handle that kind of situation.
Specially produced weapons, such as swords and bows and arrows, are not particularly a problem at all. The whole question of weapons is basically a question of not being afraid of having sharp teeth, or long nails. It is not a question of creating warfare as such, but of overcoming your own cowardice.
As we know, it has been said that if you are placed among warriors, and you are a coward, you are constantly petrified because the warriors are carrying weaponry and you are expected to carry a weapon as well. It is a question of not being able to use your weapon properly. You are so frightened of your own weapon, you are afraid that you might trip over it or step on it, that you might kill yourself with it.
The question here is how to overcome cowardice so that your handling of weaponry is free from accidents of any kind, so that you don’t kill anybody by accident or by mindlessness or by cowardice. Once the warrior knows how to use the weapon properly, there is no particular problem at all. The weapon begins to become an adornment.
Perhaps we’ve had a hard day and just want to relax. That would be a very small motivation. We are just trying to cool off, like a cow standing under a tree. There is nothing wrong with that motivation. But with that attitude— “I don’t want to suffer”—can we achieve perfect realization? It might take a really long time. Through the course of our practice career—even in the course of the day—we move through different levels of motivation.
Through the hinayana to the mahayana to the vajrayana, our motivation expands. The hinayana motivation is based on wanting our own suffering to cease. If I am meditating for the benefit of all sentient beings, then I am practicing the larger motivation of the mahayana. Vajrayana is taking a fruitional approach: to regard everything we experience right now—and the whole world—as perfect and pristine.
Having problems come up is a way of destroying our credentials as well as our comfort and security. Then we can begin relating with the emotions and accepting our life situation, accepting all the chaos that happens. So the chaos, and relating to the chaos, should be regarded as good news, extremely good news, utterly good news. Enlightened experience is not exclusively for pacifists.
Enlightened experience also means relating with energy, how to handle this eruption of tremendous energy, waves and waves of energy. In the third turning of the wheel of dharma, the Buddha speaks of the lion’s roar. The lion’s roar is the fearless proclamation that anything that happens in our state of mind, including emotions, is manure. Whatever comes up is a workable situation; it is a reminder of practice, and it acts as a speedometer. It is a way to proceed further into the practice of meditation.
Feeling the nitty-gritty of the emotional energy, you can touch it, relate with it, and realize that, after all, emotions are not particularly either destructive or creative. Rather, they are just a self-existing situation, just upsurges of energy–whatever particular forms they might take: aggression or passion or depression. If we are able to deal directly with the emotions arising in our life situation, and relate with them as a workable situation, then everything becomes obvious and immediate and workable.
Nowness, or the magic of the present moment, is what joins the wisdom of the past with the present. When you appreciate a painting or a piece of music or a work of literature, no matter when it was created, you appreciate it now. You experience the same nowness in which it was created. It is always now.
The way to experience nowness is to realize that this very moment, this very point in your life, is always the occasion. So the consideration of where you are and what you are, on the spot, is very important. That is one reason that your family situation, your domestic everyday life, is so important. You should regard your home as sacred, as a golden opportunity to experience nowness.
Appreciating sacredness begins very simply by taking an interest in all the details of your life. Interest is simply applying awareness to what goes on in your everyday life—awareness while you’re cooking, awareness while you’re driving, awareness while you’re changing diapers, even awareness while you’re arguing. Such awareness can help to free you from speed, chaos, neurosis, and resentment of all kinds. It can free you from the obstacles to nowness, so that you can cheer up on the spot, all the time.
The principle of nowness is also very important to any effort to establish an enlightened society. You may wonder what the best approach is to helping society and how you can know that what you are doing is authentic or good. The only answer is nowness. Now is the important point. That now is a real now. If you are unable to experience now, then you are corrupted because you are looking for another now, which is impossible. If you do that, there can only be past or future.
When corruption enters a culture, it is because that culture ceases to be now;it becomes past and future. Periods in history when great art was created, when learning advanced, or peace spread, were all now. Those situations happened at the very moment of their now. But after now happened, then those cultures lost their now.
You have to maintain nowness, so that you don’t duplicate corruption, so that you don’t corrupt now, and so that you don’t have false synonyms for now at all. The vision of enlightened society is that tradition and culture and wisdom and dignity can be experienced now and kept now on everyone’s part. In that way there can never be corruption of any kind at all.
Enlightened society must rest on a good foundation. The nowness of your family situation is that foundation. From it, you can expand. By regarding your home as sacred, you can enter into domestic situations with awareness and with delight, rather than feeling that you are subjecting yourself to chaos.
It may seem that washing dishes and cooking dinner are completely mundane activities, but if you apply awareness in any situation, then you are training your whole being so that you will be able to open yourself further, rather than narrowing your existence.
You may feel that you have a good vision for society but that your life is filled with hassles—money problems, problems relating to your spouse or caring for your children—and that those two things, vision and ordinary life, are opposing one another. But vision and practicality can be joined together in nowness.
Too often, people think that solving the world’s problems is based on conquering the earth, rather than on touching the earth, touching ground. That is one definition of the setting-sun mentality: trying to conquer the earth so that you can ward off reality.
There are all kinds of deodorant sprays to keep you from smelling the real world, and all kinds of processed food to keep you from tasting raw ingredients. Shambhala vision is not trying to create a fantasy world where no one has to see blood or experience a nightmare. Shambhala vision is based on living on this earth, the real earth, the earth that grows crops, the earth that nurtures your existence.
You can learn to live on this earth: how to camp, how to pitch a tent, how to ride a horse, milk a cow, build a fire. Even though you may be living in a city in the twentieth century, you can learn to experience the sacredness, the nowness, of reality. That is the basis for creating an enlightened society.