America and Me/Shambhala and Me, Pt 3
Part three of a three part series describing one Shambhalian’s experience growing up as part of an interracial family
by David Ken Engelbrecht
Who is this “I” that appears to exist? It might be helpful to ask a similar, but different, question: What do I think our true nature is? What can I find out from the books on my bookshelf? Would racism and hatred be a permanent part of our true nature? I want to start with three things that seem different but are really the same: Basic Goodness, Buddha Nature, and Bodhichitta. These are described as our inherent nature. I have heard that it is similar to how oil is inherent in sesame seeds. However, our basic nature can be covered over. Are racism and hatred part of the ignorance that covers our true nature? Do both the victims of racism and the racist have basic goodness? I ask so many questions. Here are some answers from my books.
Pema Chodron, in Comfortable with Uncertainty, describes the way it is covered this way: “Based on a deep fear of being hurt, we erect protective walls made out of strategies, opinions, prejudices, and emotions.” She then continues to describe how our true nature is inherent: “Yet just as a jewel that has been buried in the earth for a million years is not discolored or harmed, in the same way this noble heart is not affected by all of the ways we try to protect ourselves from it. The jewel can be brought out into the light at any time, and it will glow as brilliantly as if nothing had ever happened.” She describes Basic Goodness as natural intelligence, natural warmth, and natural openness in her book, Taking the Leap. So, is our true nature wisdom, love, gentleness, compassion, and empty of concepts?
In Sacred World, Jeremy and Karen Hayward explain it this way: “Since we are all part of the sacred world, we also possess basic goodness, hidden deep within our conditioned, rigid, narrow ways of believing and acting — like a jewel hidden in a heap of garbage….” Later in the chapter, they write: “…the dross, the tendency to dualistic thinking in terms of ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ ‘me’ and ‘you,’ that covers our buddha nature.” Finally, they give us hope that the covering is not permanent: “…however, the dross, the garbage, is like manure, which can be transformed into food for a beautiful flower bed, rather than something that forever keeps us from our basic goodness.”
This would be very interesting if we talked only about individual liberation. In Shambhala, we also talk about social liberation. In his Treatise on Enlightened Society, the Sakyong describes enlightened society as a flower covered by dust. The flower is inherently beautiful and natural. The dust and its ugliness is temporary. Just as the confusion and bewilderment (e.g., mental illness and addiction) had covered my true nature, the true beauty of society can be covered by racism, sexism, ageism, violence, riots, terrorism, wars, genocide, socio-economic inequality, privatized prisons, and fear. I don’t know what my true nature or the true beauty of society would actually look like yet, but maybe one day I will experience it.
What would an enlightened society look like? How would we create it? Chogyam Trungpa described it this way in Shambhala: the Sacred Path of the Warrior: “the stories say that all of the people of Shambhala began to practice meditation and to follow the Buddhist path of loving kindness and concern for all beings.” Would taming our minds help us see clearly enough to not hate someone because they are different? Could it be possible that this “I” (this identity we cling to so tightly) does not exist?
In Turning the Mind into an Ally, the Sakyong lets us know: “Our root fantasy is that “I” am real and that there’s a way to make “me” happy. The reason we meditate is to let that fantasy unravel. After a while, we notice that much of what we took to be real and permanent about ourselves isn’t so solid — it’s a string of thoughts we hold together with tremendous effort. We’ve built an identity out of a thin web of concepts.”
Could it be possible that once I believe I am real, I start to believe I am also separate from everything? When “I” exist, “you” exist. This “you” might be different than “me” and “my group.” “You” might look different, eat different kinds of foods, be from a different religion or no religion, and have different worldviews. At what point does this separation turn into bigotry and hatred? How could it turn into something as horrific as genocide?
The Sakyong describes in Turning the Mind into an Ally how difficult it is to plant a flower on a rock: “There is an old saying that bringing Buddhism to a new culture is like bringing a flower and a rock together. The flower represents the potential for compassion and wisdom, clarity and joy to blossom in our life. The rock represents the solidity of a bewildered mind. If we want the flower to take root and grow, we have to work to create the right conditions.”
He continues to describe the process this way: “The problem for most of us is that we’re trying to grow a flower on a rock. The garden hasn’t been tilled properly. We haven’t trained our minds. It doesn’t work to just throw some seeds on top of the hard ground and then hope for the flowers to grow. We have to prepare the ground, which requires effort. First we have to move the rocks and hoe the weeds. Then we have to soften up the earth and create nice topsoil. This is what we’re doing by learning to peacefully abide in sitting meditation: creating the space for our garden to grow. Then we can cultivate qualities that will allow us to live our lives in full bloom.”
Before he talks about enlightened society, he gives us a description of what unenlightened society looks like: “A society of hard and inflexible minds is a society that is incapable of nurturing the flowers of love and compassion. This is the source of the dark age. We tend to question our goodness and our wisdom. When we question these things, we begin to use seemingly more convenient ways to deal with our problems. We are less ready to use love and compassion, more ready to use aggression.”
He concludes the chapter by letting us know how we can create enlightened society: “The teachings are always available, like a radio signal in the air. But a student needs to learn how to tune in to that signal, and how to stay tuned in. We can begin the process of personal development now by including short periods of meditation as part of our everyday lives. Tilling the ground of our own minds through meditation is how we begin to create a community garden. In doing so we are helping to create a new culture, a culture that can thrive in the modern world and can at the same time support our human journey in an uplifted and joyous way. Such a culture is called enlightened society. Enlightened society is where the flower and the rock will meet.”
The Portland Shambhala Diversity Working Group met for the first time on Thursday, May 26, 2016. The meeting started with a short period of meditation. We shared our experiences at our center. One of us had experienced racism. I had a difficult time fitting in when I first came to the center. If we don’t till the ground of our minds through meditation, how can we ever create a community garden? One of the things Michaela suggested was that we should take a look at our own prejudices and contemplate what they mean. What insights would we receive? Maybe one of our layers of confusion and bewilderment is fear of “others” who are different from this “me.” Or maybe it is a form of hatred. Either way, we seem to see a “me” and a “them.” Maybe I don’t like the “other” or I desire “them.” Will Shambhalians around the world be willing to honestly look at their fears, prejudices, and hatred? As we become familiar with our minds, will we acknowledge those parts of ourselves, or will ignorance dominate and we continue to live in the dark age?
The other option is to shine the bright light of awareness on these layers that cover our basic goodness. As awareness shines, perhaps we can see how we harm others. With this new insight, we could choose to love instead of hate. We could choose to understand instead of judging. We could choose to welcome everyone into the kingdom of Shambhala instead of hiding in our cocoons. Level II is called “Birth of the Warrior.” Level III is called “Warrior in the World.” By growing out of our cocoons, we can become Warriors in the World.
I started this blog with a quote from Chogyam Trungpa and want to end with another one from him:
“Such awakened heart comes from being willing to face your state of mind. That may seem like a great demand, but it is necessary. You should examine yourself and ask how many times you have tried to connect with your heart, fully and truly. How often have you turned away, because you feared you might discover something terrible about yourself? How often have you been willing to look at your face in the mirror, without being embarrassed? How many times have you tried to shield yourself by reading the newspaper, watching television, or just spacing out? That is the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question: how much have you connected with yourself at all in your whole life?
The sitting practice of meditation is the means to rediscover basic goodness, and beyond that, it is the means to awaken this genuine heart within yourself.”