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Oct 06
Dharma Teachings
The Summer of Basic Goodness, part one

photo by S.LiptonShastri Column: This is the second in a series of articles by Shastris – senior Shambhala teachers – on themes that Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche has been emphasizing in his teaching since he ended his year-long retreat in early March, 2011.This article is by Shastri Betsy Pond who is from Schertz, Texas, and is a member and teacher at the San Antonio Shambhala Center. In this two-part article, Shastri Pond expounds upon the teachings of basic goodness and what ultimately turns out to be “good news.” She invites us to join her in taking the plunge…read on to find out what that means.

This has been a powerful summer for Shambhala. Following a year-long retreat, bringing us a host of sparkling, clear teachings, the Sakyong is back. The teachings that are unique to Shambhala are being clarified – made unerringly accessible and we are the fortunate recipients. One of these powerful clarifications touches our core teaching – that of basic goodness, the fundamental worthiness that is the nature of our being. We are introduced to this in Level I of Shambhala Training. In Shambhala, we get the good news right up front. So, we might wonder, if this is a fundamental teaching and it is such good news, why does it need clarifying?

Even though this is, indeed, good news, we have a whole variety of reactions to hearing that we are complete, whole, and have everything we need to live full, capable, deeply satisfying lives. It’s possible to hear this as confirmation of something we already know, or as a tremendous relief from what we’ve feared was true about us. It’s possible. Often, however, we hear this teaching and wonder where in the world this fundamental wholesomeness has been hiding. When I attended the early Shambhala Training levels, I felt certain that other people “had” basic goodness, but I was equally sure that I did not. Many meditation sessions have been spent “looking” for something that might resemble this ultimate truth, full of power and potential. By definition (mine), it couldn’t resemble me. I’ve heard that I’m not the only person to have this reaction. This summer, the Sakyong has cut through this fruitless pastime.

Feeling Basic Goodness
As he has in many of his programs this year, in the sangha retreat (Being Brave: with Ani Pema Chodron and Acharya Lobel), the Sakyong began by saying, “I want you to feel.” In fact, keenly aware of our cultural hesitation with being aware of body and feelings, he playfully emphasized the word: “I want you to “feeeeeel.” We all laughed – that nervous laughter that arises at some point in every one of the Sakyong’s talks these days. Of course, he is serious.

The Sakyong is not inviting us to think about how it feels in our body, nor is he asking us to imagine how it feels, rather, he is inviting us to directly experience what is right here. This, alone, is a powerful instruction. Rinpoche noted that we tend to think of our bodies only as something to carry our brains around from place to place. In psychology, the image that is used is a balloon with a string that trails along behind. In this analogy, the balloon represents our head and the string is the superfluous body. In short, we have venerated our ability to think while viewing the body as being a lot more demanding than it’s worth. All the same, the Sakyong did not attempt to talk us out of our collective awkwardness about body and feelings. He simply pointed out that, “There is a powerful moment when we are able to feel, touch and experience ourselves.”

Before we knew it, he was guiding us in feeling basic goodness. But first, the ground was prepared with very clear, accessible teachings on basic goodness. Gentleness and openness, the skillful means called for in relating with our own experience, was introduced and practiced. One might say we were learning good manners for sitting with what it feels like in our own body. The Sakyong then guided us away from the realm of thoughts and metaphorically turned us around into ourselves to meet basic goodness face to face – through feeling – by feeling what is simply… here… here in this body we tend to ignore.

Of course, we can have a variety of reactions to this instruction. We might be able to genuinely let the Sakyong’s words lead us to our own direct experience of basic goodness. Or, barring that, perhaps we manage to not distract ourselves quite so thoroughly, so we can at least hear the words, if not genuinely feel our body and our own feelings. Or, maybe, just as we are about to distract ourselves, it suddenly dawns, at some very deep level, that basic goodness feels like… me!

I know that’s what the teachings have been saying all along. I’ve read a lot about basic goodness, as have we all. We listen to the Sakyong, we really do. Some of us take copious notes. Sometimes we even read those notes after the program. Yet, it feels like, at least in my case, that the point keeps getting lost.

Stay tuned for part two of The Summer of Basic Goodness…

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