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Dec 01
Dharma Teachings
What Now?

photo courtesy of Andrea Roth

A teaching from a public talk at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco

by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

My father, Chogyam Trungpa, was one of the last great teachers to be trained fully in Tibet while it was still a spiritual kingdom. He told me that even while he was there, he had a feeling that the world was changing. When in 1959 he had to escape, leading 300 people through the Himalayas, there was a point when he asked himself, “What am I going to do now?” He had been thrust into leadership and was holding a vital spiritual legacy. At the same time, he had experienced incredible savagery — in a sense, the worst of humanity. At that moment, he decided that he still believed in the inherent goodness of humanity. Not only did he continue on to India, but for the next twenty-five years, he taught about basic goodness.

Now it has been nearly fifty years since Trungpa Rinpoche arrived in the West. Because of his bravery and determination, many people have learned about meditation and Buddhism. However, when my father came to the West, meditation was still very much a new-age phenomenon. People were skeptical. No one understood that practical people like Tibetans, whose environment is a challenge to survival, would hardly have kept meditating if it hadn’t worked. However, now that science is validating the benefits of meditation, we have entered an age when the teachings of science and spirituality are intersecting. Humanity has a rare opportunity. At only a few other moments in history, both Eastern and Western — the time of the Buddha, the time of Socrates — has the moment been so ripe for us to reflect on our future. When we wake up in the morning, it is hard to ignore the distrust and aggression of the world we are living in. What are we going to do now?

A critical element in pondering such a question is to look at human nature — not in the context of a particular religion or science, but in terms of how we feel about ourselves. This may be our most important global issue. I myself have contemplated fully the question of human nature to see if I really believe in the basic goodness my father taught. This basic goodness is not merely a sense of good versus bad; that’s why it is called “basic.” The Tibetan words, domi-ne sangpo, mean “primordially pure, full, or complete.” On a relative level, we experience this as a sense of worthiness.

When we get up in the morning, do we feel worthy?

When I am teaching in the West, people talk about self-loathing and self-aggression. Where is that coming from? A sense of unworthiness. Some philosophers long ago — or perhaps our church, school, or parents — said that life is brutish and cruel. Others have said that we are inherently selfish or bad. These thoughts now dominate how we regard ourselves. It’s hard to step out of this mindset when our culture reinforces those influences. However, at this time, if we begin to reflect on the power of thought, we can use our awareness to evolve. We can start by asking simply, “How do I feel?” “Is it possible that humanity is good?” and, “Can we create a society that is decent?”

A moment of self-reflection has a dynamic and powerful influence on our day, one with social implications.

Self-reflection is how we can transform society.

photo by Charles Blackhall

Transforming society happens one person at a time, by our willingness to be kind to ourselves, and our willingness to be kind to another. We are living in a culture where the words kindness and love seem futile, especially against greed and aggression. At this point it feels like aggression and greed taking over. Recent events have awakened us to all kinds of realities, offering us an opportunity to ask, “What kind of world are we creating?” “How we are regarding ourselves, and how we are regarding others?” “Are we worthy?”

The moment we ask these questions is a very important moment. It validates our own existence, but not necessarily in a self-centered or egotistical way. We feel more embodied, ready to engage. Feeling worthy allows us to be more magnanimous and then the feelings of kindness, love, and generosity come more easily.

We have inherited quite a bit of wisdom, which is essential for how we are going to move forward. Throughout history, the great civilizations have been characterized by an inherent confidence: they feel good about themselves. In Tibet, we call this energy lungta, “windhorse.” It’s a sense of wanting to engage in life. It is equated with the sun rising, a sense of energy. We can all cultivate such confidence by learning to feel our goodness and self-reflecting on the worthiness of humanity. It is not that we have to be perfect. A society that honors a deep feeling of worthiness can accommodate mistakes, for love and kindness naturally extend from such awareness. A society that honors a deep feeling of mistrust suppresses love and kindness, buying into anxiety and fear. Then, as the mistrust grows, animosity arises.

To self-reflect, to feel worthy, to connect with human goodness — these are brave things to do. Perhaps we can’t do it. A lot of us are fearful because we are not sure what is going to happen, so we’d rather just hunker down and ignore the mood of global despair. But there’s really no neutral stage. If we’re not engaging in progress or positivity, we’re participating in the negativity. As human beings, we have the power to shift our destiny. However, in a culture that encourages us either to be working, or seeking to recover from work through shopping and entertainment, it is hard to make time for self-reflection. In that case, we are suffocating our possibilities. As we can see in the life of my father, even one brave and determined person can have a very big impact.

Are we going to be brave? What must we do now? First, we need to make time for self-reflection, and cultivate the habit. Otherwise it’s hard to contextualize who we are. Then, we have to shift our value system, creating a climate where kindness is as valid as ambition. The root of the word kind is “kin” — family. When we are kind, we are looking at each other as brethren. Is that how we regard each other now?

When social interaction is rooted in the awareness of human worthiness and its expression — kindness — the networks we weave make a strong and resilient fabric. That is how we create an environment that expresses lightness and humor, with an appreciation of life and the goodness of who we are. Those are the building blocks of an enlightened society. It is not a utopia, but a place where we celebrate humanity, which makes life worth living. It affects education, ecology, the arts, and politics. That’s the spirit my father brought out of Tibet.

We bring such a society into being by strengthening our conviction in humanity’s goodness.

We do this by learning to take a few moments and feel what’s beneath all our daily concerns. This trains us to become familiar with the simplicity of now, the only place and time that we can touch this deep inner reality, which brings a feeling of worthiness. Even though we may not trust it or believe it, just allowing for that possibility has an impact on what we say and do. In that moment, we are determining the outcome of the universe.

On March 2, 2012, this public talk was given to 1,000 people at the historic Grace Cathedral, in San Francisco. The Sakyong introduces the Shambhala principles of Basic Goodness and Enlightened Society. You can listen to the entire talk by clicking here.

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1 response to “ What Now? ”
  1. Charles Gillard
    Dec 1, 2012

    And some would have liked to weaponize Tibet and also figure out the best way to weaponize mediatation.

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