His Eminence the Sakyong, Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche
The Legacy of Shambhala
Public talk presented at the Royal Residence of former Bavarian kings in Munich, February 2007.
His Eminence the Sakyong, Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche, is one of Tibet’s highest and most respected incarnate lamas. He is unique in that he bridges two worlds. The eldest son of the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who was instrumental in bringing Buddhism to the West, he is the incarnation of Mipham the Great, who is revered in Tibet as an emanation of Manjushri, the buddha of wisdom. He descends from the Tibetan warrior-king Gesar of Ling. He also holds the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. He is the head of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage and is spiritual director of Shambhala, a global community of meditation and retreat centers. The lineage holder of Naropa University, he is author of Turning the Mind into An Ally and Ruling Your World.The Sakyong—literally, “earth protector”—is a dharmaraja, or dharma king. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche was born in 1962 in Bodhgaya and spent his early years receiving a Buddhist education. He later joined his father in the West, where he continued his studies of Buddhist philosophy and ritual. He has studied with HH Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and HH Penor Rinpoche. He is married to Princess Tseyang Palmo, daughter of HE Namkha Drimed Rinpoche, head of the Ripa Lineage.
I’m continually inspired by the very ancient wisdom that says we can practice enlightenment right now by integrating wisdom and compassion into our life. The main thing is that we have to want to do it, and we have to do it ourselves. Sitting down in meditation posture, crossing our legs, and wearing the right outfit—whether it’s a yoga suit or robes—are just physical components. Nothing is going to happen unless the mind and heart become fully involved.
In the meditation tradition, we say that there are two ways an individual can be involved. One is to leave the world to go into retreat, becoming a monk or nun. People don’t do this because the world is a bad place, but because they want to be less distracted. In order to simplify their lives, they take certain vows. The other way of being involved is to remain engaged in the world. People who take this path are traditionally said to be benevolent rulers, leaders. Though they may have a family and a job, such practitioners engage in the world while travelling the same path as the monastic—the path of enlightenment.
It’s inspiring that so many of us are engaging with the world. Yet we are often doing so in a way that seems to weaken our life-force energy. Because the level of speed and aggression in the world is increasing, we are driven to react constantly by taking on more and more activities. When we wake up in the morning thoughts like, “What’s going to go wrong today?” determine how we begin and therefore experience our day. The point of meditation is to learn not to be so reactionary. We could start the day more proactively by asking, “What would I like to accomplish today?”
Padmasambhava, the great master who brought Buddhism to Tibet more than a thousand years ago, predicted that in the future people’s life-force energy would decrease and weaken. He predicted that our particular time would be a dark age in which people would be more likely to try to solve their problems with aggression than compassion. In fact, the word “compassion” would begin to sound foreign; we would begin to regard being compassionate as impractical. Padmasambhava also predicted that humans would become more clever—not at developing compassion, but at inventing gadgets. He prophesied that the purpose of these gadgets would be to provide entertainment, seducing the mind to be on vacation constantly. He further warned that speed and chaos would increase and that people would rush through their lives trying to get more done, resulting in more stress. Many of his prophecies seem to have come true.
It is time for us to rise up to the legacy of Shambhala, the mythical kingdom in which enlightened individuals lived enlightened lives. People in the Shambhala kingdom engaged in the world with compassion and wisdom, which manifest as lungta, “windhorse.” Lung means “wind” and ta means “horse.” A metaphor for lungta is an elegant and powerful horse that moves forward with purpose. It is said that the way we lead our lives can either increase or weaken our lungta, or energy.
Some of you have been to India or Nepal and seen the coloured prayer flags spanning monastery roofs and high mountain passes. In the centre of these flags is lungta, depicted as a horse. At their corners are images of a tiger, a lion, a garuda, and a dragon, which symbolize four qualities we can cultivate in order to live our lives with windhorse. Sometimes we call these four elements “the four confidences.”
What is the result of developing these four kinds of confidence to strengthen lungta, our life-force energy? We experience an ability to accomplish what we would like to do, which leads to success. In what we might call our “meditation culture,” it is important for everyone to have strong lungta, whether we are engaged in the world, living in a family, or meditating in a cave. Without strong lungta, it is impossible to accomplish anything in a meaningful way. Where does strong windhorse come from? From a compassionate attitude—a mind that begins the day by thinking of other people, as opposed to being self-centred.
Many people assume that living compassionately is a spiritual matter, but compassion is actually the most effective way to do anything. In fact, it is the best way to lead one’s life fully, not just in terms of the spiritual, but also of the mundane. Yet some of us seem to think that we can’t practice compassion between Monday and Friday, or that acting compassionately just doesn’t accord with reality. When I was talking with His Holiness the Dalai Lama about compassion as the basis of a meaningful life, we both wondered why so many people mistakenly think that aggression is the way to make things work out well in a conventional sense. Everything is interdependent. Because aggression is very unstable, it perpetuates instability. It’s a very short-range solution, difficult to handle, and painful for the aggressor and everyone else. So why do we continuously try to solve our problems with aggression, jealousy, and other unfriendly reactions? Practicing compassion and propagating peace take more time than engaging in aggression, but they are much more stable and likely to last. When we engage in compassion, we feel better, and others feel better too. It is a long-range solution that stabilizes our life and the lives of others. It also has a positive influence on our society and our economy.
In these times there seems to be an unremitting tendency to focus on oneself. We seem to have entered the What-about-Me? era. “What about me?” is often the first thought we have when we wake up, and then it becomes the mantra we say all day long. We see somebody we know and react to that person by saying, “Oh, you,” but in the back of the mind we’re holding on to the thought, “What about me? What about me?” I have a favourite saying, “If you want to be miserable, think about yourself. If you want to be happy, think about others.”
So often when we want to accomplish something, we get in our own way. To have compassion is to remember that we can gradually change our mind with quite a simple technique. If we can stop thinking constantly about ourselves, we’ll be free to ask, “What about others? What do they need?” No matter who we are—practitioners of meditation or not—we all want a level of happiness and contentment. What is the cause of happiness and contentment? A compassionate mind. The mind of compassion is the source of lasting joy.
One of the texts I used to write my book Ruling Your World was the ancient instruction of a high lama to the prince of Dege, a kingdom in East Tibet. The lama told the prince, who was about to become ruler of the huge area, “In order to become successful in this world, you need three qualities: wisdom, compassion, and courage. These three will lead to a successful, happy, and fulfilled life.”
Wisdom means knowing what we are doing. Most of us go through life being fooled. The Tibetan word for “fool” translates literally as “idiot,” someone who keeps doing the same thing again and again, expecting a different result each time. A wise individual, in contrast, knows how to move forward. Wisdom means remembering the source of true happiness and living our lives accordingly.
Fools don’t know the source of happiness. Because they are mystified as to how happiness comes about, they’re always just chasing after happiness with the idea that it depends on other people or things like food and clothing. A wise individual knows the source of happiness: the mind. Thus a wise person knows that the mind needs to be developed. When the mind is curious and learning, it is happy. It needs to be used, just like the body that needs to move so that it doesn’t get stiff. If we don’t exercise our mind, if we have no purpose in life, then the mind becomes dull and distant, heavy and thick. Our energy is low and everything seems remote. We have no interest in things because our mind is held back. The mind needs inspiration and purpose in order to extend itself, which is the principle of wisdom.
In the Tibetan tradition we translate the phrase yeshe norbu rinpoche as “wish-fulfilling jewel.” The wish-fulfilling jewel is not an external object but the nature of our own mind and heart. Tibetans compare it to a jewel lying at the bottom of a lake that grants every wish, if only we think it will. Wherever we are and whatever we are doing—walking down the street or washing dishes—our precious jewel of a mind, our power spot, is there to be discovered. In one of the most beautiful poems in the Sanskrit language, the great teacher Shantideva compares our true nature to an incredibly large jewel lying in a heap of garbage along the roadside that we walk past every day. Garbage is a metaphor for the discursive mind, which lacks trust and confidence in the jewel of bodhichitta—loving kindness and compassion. It is called the wish-fulfilling jewel because it leads to wisdom and success.
When we first get a glimpse of this jewel, we can’t believe that it is with us all the time. Because we have seen a flash of our true nature but don’t quite believe that it is inherent, we embark on a spiritual journey in search of it. Some people feel that they can find the wish-fulfilling jewel only by going into some kind of deep meditation retreat; others think they can find it by going to India or Tibet. But when they get there—in addition to getting a stomach ache, jetlag, and everything else— they often wake up to the fact that they could have just as easily have found the jewel back home. It isn’t necessary to travel to exotic places in order to find the jewel that is our true heart. The profound teachings remind us that the wish-fulfilling jewel of loving kindness and compassion are already and always present wherever we are, even in our everyday life. Being wise means knowing that the precious jewel is there and relying on it to accomplish our wishes. We begin to think about the needs of others, work at developing kind thoughts and intentions, and try to lead our life based on those principles. That is compassion relying upon wisdom.
If we don’t trust our inherent goodness, we live our lives in self-centred ways. Maybe we have thoughts of compassion, but we’re not able to live up to them. So another necessary element is courage. In the unbroken lineage of Shambhala, four different ways of expressing courage are represented by the four kinds of confidence on the windhorse flag: there is the courage of the tiger, the snow lion, the garuda, and the dragon.
The tiger represents the practice of meditation. Its main element is chokshe, “contentment,” which is mindfulness and full presence. Sometimes “contentment” implies that we couldn’t get the best, so we’re making do. That’s not what we are talking about; in this context, we’re referring to the mind being satisfied with what is happening now. If we don’t develop contentment, we can never have what we want or enjoy what we have. For example, in a restaurant we might see somebody enjoying a delicious looking hamburger or some perfectly grilled tofu. The waiter comes to take our order and we tell him, “I want that.” But when we bite into our food, we’re surprised that it doesn’t taste as good as it looked. We thought we wanted what the other person was eating, but what we really wanted was their sense of contentment.
The Tibetan word for meditation is gom, “familiarity.” During meditation, the mind is getting familiar with something. In fact, we are already meditating whether we know it or not, because our mind is getting used to something all day long. Perhaps we are becoming familiar with anger, perhaps we are becoming familiar with jealousy, but in any case our mind is getting more and more familiar with whatever we choose to focus on. Why not get used to something that helps us move forward? In meditation, we develop the ability to relax the mind. This naturally leads to a certain amount of contentment, which is full and very present, like the tiger.
Meditation is an opportunity to look at the mind and harness it. Whatever we do or encounter in life, the mind experiences. The mind has to deal with hopes, thoughts, worries, fears, and just about anything else one can imagine. If we don’t train and strengthen our mind with meditation, by the end of the day we feel exhausted by carrying everything we’ve loaded onto it. An increasing amount of research is showing that meditation has a very beneficial impact on people. Cognitive researchers and neuroscientists at places like Harvard University are proving that meditation works. The research shows that bringing the mind back to the breathing improves the memory as well as decision-making ability, because the focused mind is more able to self-reflect. As a result, people are telling me, “Aren’t you relieved? Meditation works!” I can only respond, “I am extremely relieved to hear that I haven’t wasted my time by teaching meditation.”
Even without understanding the benefits of meditation, we might see that an unfocused mind—a weak mind—worries at random, gets mad at random, and is open to the arising of all sorts of other inappropriate reactions. All too often our mind wanders off into the past or into the future. In meditation we learn to centre the mind by bringing it back to the moment, focusing the mind on an object so that it does not become lost in preoccupations.
The first kind of meditation we do is breathing meditation, also known as peaceful abiding. This stabilizing meditation is very helpful in terms of relaxing the body and reducing stress. Focusing on the breath brings the mind back to what is taking place in the present moment. Life consists of a series of present moments. When we rest in the moment, we feel full and content, like a tiger. So in breathing meditation we can practice living in the moment. I recommend doing this very easy practice for at least ten minutes a day.
In practicing meditation, it is important to know what we are doing and why we are doing it. We need to keep our view. Traditionally it is said that the view is like our eyes and meditation is like our legs. If we forget where we are going or why we want to go there, we stop walking. Just so, our meditation will be successful only as long as we keep the view. For that reason more focused and brief sessions can be better than long ones.
What I am saying is that to become strong, we have to be engaged in our meditation and we have to want to do it. One Tibetan word for practice, nyamsu len, means “bring it into experience.” By meditating on peace, we are making it our peace. By meditating on compassion, we are making it our compassion.
Unfortunately, we seldom have control over our mind. We say to our mind, “Let’s go meditate,” and the mind answers, “You go meditate. I’m going to go and do something else,” or the mind tells the body, “You sit for twenty minutes. I’ll be back later to pick you up.” That’s not really meditating, it’s spacing out—just sitting there, looking good, and helping no one. We have to engage the mind. To engage, we need to know what we are doing. If we fail, then there is no progress in meditation.
There is a Tibetan saying: “Without inspiration and intelligence in your meditation, your efforts resemble a rock at the bottom of a lake.” What happens to a rock at the bottom of a lake in a hundred years? It is still a rock at the bottom of the lake. Sitting for a long time and not knowing what we are doing isn’t at all helpful. People who don’t meditate are sometimes confused about meditation because it looks as if nothing is happening. But inside, a lot is happening. We are developing a strong mind, a mind flexible enough to accommodate anything that comes along. With a stiff mind, when somebody gets mad at us, we can only respond by getting mad, too. A flexible mind has more versatility. It realizes, “I could get mad, but I could also have compassion and understanding.”
After we’ve learned to stabilize our mind on the breath with peaceful abiding meditation, we can practice contemplative meditation, which is meditating by using thoughts. Of course we are thinking all the time, making use of thoughts all day. But in contemplative meditation, we choose specific thoughts—about compassion, impermanence, the reality of death, or love, for example—and use them as the object of our meditation. Becoming familiar with these thoughts during meditation and allowing their meaning to penetrate our mind helps us to fully integrate these realities into our life, because we are no longer ignoring them.
Returning to the four kinds of confidence, to develop the qualities of a snow lion, we cultivate compassion by contemplating it. They say that the snow lion leaps with delight from mountain peak to peak because it engages in virtue—in Tibetan, gewa. The word gewa doesn’t have the moralistic quality that we in the West might associate with virtue, by the way. Rather, it connotes any beneficial activity—such as generosity or meditation—that brings delight. All happiness comes from virtue. Suffering arises from mi gewa, or nonvirtue—actions based on self-obsession. Because such actions are nonvirtuous, they give rise to obstacles.
I’ve noticed that when I am overly worried about something, I can flip my attitude by generating a mind of compassion, thinking about others instead of giving in to my own frustration. Flipping thoughts outwardly toward people in need relaxes the mind, which allows delight to arise. The mind becomes light when it is delighted. The snow lion symbolizes that nimbleness. It’s the feeling we have when we do something nice for someone else, like preparing a meal. Likewise, if someone does something nice for us, we remember it all day. We recognize virtue when we see it. The sense of delight we feel is a simple reflection that we are leading our life according to that principle.
When I think about the lightness that comes from acting virtuously, I often recall my teachers. As they grow older, they become more and more cheerful. If you ask them, “How do you manage to have that level of happiness?,” they reply that it comes from turning the mind towards others. What’s astonishing is that we never believe it. We want to think about ourselves some more, and others later. When we only think about ourselves, we get serious and uptight. Fewer things make us happy, and we become very territorial. Turning the mind towards others might sound like a lot of work, but it requires much more effort and energy to think about ourselves. That is truly high maintenance.
They say that suffering and pain arise because we separate ourselves from other beings. When we meditate on compassion, we begin to realize that we aren’t separated from others at all: they are having the same experiences that we are, because we all want happiness. None of us wants suffering. As this insight deepens, the boundary between “us” and “them” begins to melt. This melting quality is symbolized by the garuda, a mythical birdlike creature with two arms spread in flight. The garuda is endowed with the quality of outrageousness. The practitioner with this kind of confidence no longer divides the world into “me” and “you” or “us” and “them”; these conceptual boundaries begin to dissolve.
The stage of practice at which the final conceptual barrier begins to dissolve is known as dragon. That barrier is the sense of self that we have continuously carried with us. Our recognizing and transcending that myth is described as “the dragon that recognizes selflessness.”
Sometimes we say, “I don’t feel like myself today.” Perhaps such a comment arises from the underlying suspicion that in fact there is no self. A sincere practitioner keeps investigating that possibility by looking for what we call “self.” Such investigations lead to the gradual discovery that the self is illusory. We’ve been pretending that something that is not there is there, like believing in a mirage. The confidence of the dragon embodies tremendous fluidity, because we are no longer preoccupied with such illusions.
The dragon symbolizes wisdom. It lives high in the sky. One image talks about shooting an arrow into space, but there is nobody who shoots and nothing to shoot at. This poetic description reflects the quality of spacious, skylike experiences that are possible only when we have overcome the claustrophobia of “me.”
The four principles of courage describe an inner journey that meditators take in order to increase lungta and confidence, enabling us to engage fearlessly with aging, sickness, suffering, and death. Incorporating the principles of tiger, lion, garuda, and dragon into our lives doesn’t mean it will be easier to find a parking place or that everything we want will be on sale. Rather, developing these four confidences enables us to become more open and present for own lives. We develop a sense of appreciation and celebration. Each of these practices consists of a specific contemplation and meditation. This was merely a brief introduction.
Since we have been talking about these principles, I would like to take this opportunity to meditate briefly with everyone now, just an hour or two, if that’s okay? You aren’t going anywhere, are you? Again, what I would like to emphasize is that we are not doing anything strange; meditation is very normal. There are so many topics that we didn’t go through, but they are summarized in the principle of meditation. We can meditate for a short while, which is still beneficial.
In formal meditation, the body is relaxed and the gaze is directed slightly downwards. We are just like the tiger, learning to be present in the moment and coming to appreciate that we already possess the wish-fulfilling jewel, which is basic goodness. We take our mind away from whatever we are thinking about and start paying attention to our breath. Knowing what we are doing in meditation means knowing why we are doing it. Bringing the mind back to a reference point strengthens it, centers it, and makes it more flexible. We are making peace an experience.
We just breathe, exhaling and inhaling gently. When we find that our mind is thinking of other things, we remind ourselves that we are meditating for a short while and bring our mind back to our inhalation and exhalation. We develop the quality of contentment, just being here and satisfied. Our breathing is fluid, like running water or a stream. Then we can do a very brief meditation on loving kindness and compassion.
Just think about someone who is very close to you and feel the loving kindness and compassion you have for that person. Simply become gently familiar with those feelings. All beings want happiness and we wish for them to have it. All beings do not want to suffer and we wish that they will not. There are many beings in this city who are fundamentally trying to be happy, so we just meditate with the wish that they accomplish that. It is a very simple practice, but it is also a transforming practice.
My belief is that, even though we are a small number of people, our contemplating these topics does affect the world. I have a theory that I call “the ten- percent advantage.” When we get up in the morning, we can tell ourselves that throughout the day, we’ll turn just ten percent of our mind towards the thought of compassion. With the remaining ninety percent, we can still be angry and everything else. If we try just ten percent, we see that we gradually feel a little more compassionate, and we find that this little practice is helpful. It slowly begins to affect other aspects of life, too.
I am always surprised at the increasing amount of interest in compassion and wisdom. Many years ago, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was practically unknown, and now he is world famous because of his teachings on these topics. I sometimes joke with Tibetans, “We are roughly six million people and we are known all over the world. Do you think it’s because of the food?” This is a joke because Tibetan food is very simple—not much included. Then I say, “No, it is because we have the Dharma—these teachings and this wisdom. We have not given in to aggression, and that is very inspiring.” I feel that this is an important offering to make, and I hope it brings fruition. Tashi Delek!
May virtue increase!With gratitude to the Shambhala Meditation Center in Munich for having hosted this most meaningful event, to Veronika Bauer for having offered sincere and reliable help,to Emily Hilburn Sell for having edited so carefully; photo of His Eminence courtesy and copyright of Diana Church, transcribed by Gaby Hollmann.