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A Reign of Goodness

By A peaceful, stable world is built on freedom of mind and openness of heart, says Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. The place to begin is with our own basic goodness.

I’ve just finished writing a book called Ruling Your World. Although I drew from ancient texts and teachings, I wanted to write about how we live right now. Speed rules us. Entertainment and consumption have diluted our sense of dignity and decency. Our days and nights are full of distraction. Under such conditions it is easy to be fooled into thinking that life is only about accomplishing short-term goals for short-term satisfaction, based on keeping “me” happy. But when we’re each saving the last piece of pie for ourselves, we are constantly undermining the possibility of true stability and happiness.

Trying to achieve happiness without understanding the cause of happiness is like looking through the wrong end of the binoculars—happiness doesn’t get bigger and closer, it gets smaller and further away. When we are bewildered about the source of happiness, we act in ways that bring more confusion and chaos into our life. Aggression, greed, and fear become our language. Being dragged around by emotions destabilizes our mind, our day, our life, and ultimately, the welfare of our planet.

The legendary kingdom of Shambhala arose from the Buddha’s observation that for a society to be truly harmonious, it cannot be based on jealousy, greed, and anger. Beautiful old redwood trees do not come from planting the seeds of a cactus. If we want a productive and peaceful world—one that generates love and happiness—it must be rooted in the freedom of mind and openness of heart that bring genuine stability. Such stability comes from certainty in basic goodness, the awakened nature of our mind that cannot be bought and sold.

Like a crystal, basic goodness is all colors, yet it is no color. It is profound, without beginning or end. It is fathomless—beyond words, even beyond thought. Basic goodness transcends the concepts of good and bad. That is why it is called basic. It doesn’t wax or wane from one moment to the next. If we’re feeling depressed, basic goodness doesn’t diminish. It is beyond mood or manipulation. To rule our world is to connect with this deep, unshakeable inner strength, the nature of everyone and everything.

We think of rulers as being very concerned with territory. But rulership begins when we see that there is nothing to possess but our own awareness.

We all possess basic goodness already, but we’re not certain about our nobility. Our instability and confusion keep it hidden. Like paupers, we begin to stray from it as soon as we wake up in the morning, looking for the world to make us happy. Our thoughts drag us around by a ring in our nose, as if we were cows in an Indian market. This is how we lose control of our lives. We don’t understand that the origin of happiness is right here in our mind, just waiting to be discovered.

The Buddha is an example of a human being who developed the potential to rule his world. By sitting still and working with his mind, he realized his basic goodness, uncovered essential truths about reality, and developed techniques to help others do the same. Since I’m a Buddhist, he is my role model, but obviously basic goodness is not confined to any one tradition. It is the essence of everyone and everything. Practicing meditation and contemplation is how we purify our mind, just as we polish a crystal ball, so that we can actually see the full display of radiance.

The Shambhala teachings tell us to begin by placing our mind in “the cradle of loving-kindness.” We do this by stabilizing our mind on the breath. As we watch our thoughts arise and fall, we begin to see their inherent instability. At the same time, we begin to connect with the space around the thoughts: the strong, clear, and stable energy of mind that is bigger than our mental drama, where we begin to experience moments of freedom from the discursive agitation of “me.” Becoming familiar with this space is how we lay the ground for genuine stability.

Next we practice strengthening our mind by contemplating thoughts that will fortify our understanding of reality. By contemplating karma, suffering, the truth of impermanence and selflessness, and the compassion and wisdom that are true freedom, we continue to expand our view. When our mind has become familiar with thoughts that reflect reality, those truths become the foundation of our life. Seeing the landscape of life clearly, we create the conditions for wisdom and compassion to naturally arise.    

Practice means “bring it into experience.” The Shambhala teachings tell us that if we bring the view of formal practice into the nitty-gritty reality of daily life, we will create the conditions for stability and happiness—personal power, harmony with others, strong life force, and prosperity. The energy that arises when we do this is called lungta, windhorse. Lung is wind and ta means horse. You see the image of windhorse printed on the prayer flags that flutter in the breeze all over Tibet. It is ultimate confidence, certainty in basic goodness. On its back windhorse carries a wish-fulfilling jewel, the wisdom and compassion that we need to rule our world. With windhorse, we can accomplish our wishes like a warrior racing across the plains.        

The teachings of Shambhala offer all kinds of practices to raise windhorse. The most effective lies in virtuous activity, embodied in the qualities of the mythical tiger, lion, garuda, and dragon. Each time we act with discernment, generate love and compassion, let go of attachment, or relax into the natural vastness of our mind, we are breaking through the stress and confusion that keep us trapped in suffering and instability. The point is to use our worldly lives to create spiritual success. The secret of success is to keep putting the welfare of others before our own. Some may consider this approach unrealistic, but the ruler knows that getting off the “me” plan is the most expedient and practical element in any social or economic system. Life tastes good when we are moving forward, free of self-interest, in tune with the glory of our being.

An economy based on compassion infused with wisdom will not self-destruct. Trying to create stability without the foundation of these qualities will only condemn us to perpetual friction and we will continue to pollute our world with the fumes of self-interest. The wish-fulfilling jewel is the best pollution control, because it brings spaciousness to the mind, which allows windhorse to arise.

We can’t rule the whole world, but when we rule our minds and thus our environment, our peace and power do begin to spread. The effect may be gradual, but even a ten percent effort by a small number of us could enlighten the world sooner than we think. Virtue has the power of a hundred-thousand suns. If even some of us turn our minds toward virtue just ten percent of the time, we will soon be living on a planet illuminated by the power of several billion suns. The Shambhala teachings tell us that when that light shines, the happiness of all sentient beings will be accomplished, and the new golden age will dawn. When we create the right conditions for success, windhorse doesn’t just gallop, it flies.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is the spiritual director of Shambhala, an international network of meditation and retreat centers. He is the author of Turning the Mind into an Ally and Ruling Your World.

A Reign of Goodness, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Shambhala Sun, September 2005.

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