Shambhala Sun | May 2013
Are We Basically
The question of human nature is the most important global
issue that we face today, says SAKYONG MIPHAM RINPOCHE. If we conclude that humanity is not basically good— that we do not
possess inherent wisdom—what hope does the future hold?
It has been fifty
years since my father, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, came to the West to
introduce his vision of how to create a good human society. On this
anniversary, I have been reflecting on the meaning and purpose of his
intention, particularly since my life has been integrally mixed with the
development of the Shambhala vision.
has led me to write The Shambhala
Principle: Discovering Humanity’s Hidden Treasure. The book is a
first-person narrative revolving around questions I asked my father when I was
a child. Whether his responses were direct, poetic, whimsical, or mystical, he
continuously returned to the topics of basic goodness and enlightened society.
This book highlights
the question Do we, as humans, believe and trust in the basic goodness of
humanity, as well as of society? It identifies the question of human nature as
the most important global issue that we face today.
Humanity has come to
a crossroads—we can either destroy the world or we can create a good future. At
this time, there is tremendous doubt regarding the inherent goodness and
worthiness of our species. If we draw the conclusion that humanity is not
inherently good—that we do not possess inherent wisdom—what hope can the future
possibly hold? In that case, it seems inevitable that the forces of fear and
doubt will escalate, creating an internal environment that is detrimental to
the human mind and heart, as well as to the external environment.
In these challenging
times, it is tempting to collapse into our own personal existence, hoping the
world’s woes will not affect us too harshly. However, it is difficult for any
of us to escape the social and climatic changes that color this particular
crossroads. Whether intentionally or not, we are all forced to contemplate the
nature of our existence, and more importantly, the nature of humanity. The
conclusions we draw will affect our global future.
The Shambhala Principle presents the
dialogue I had with my father regarding how basic goodness relates to society,
economics, and politics, as well as to health and the environment. Trungpa
Rinpoche did not approach basic goodness from a naïve point of view. Before
bringing this perspective to the modern world, he had experienced tremendous
savagery and degradation while losing his culture and country. But instead of
despair and a sense of doom, he saw that human existence does not have to be
mired in aggression, selfishness, and deceit. As humans, we have the worthiness
to exist on planet Earth. We communicate this by creating good society,
expressing genuineness and bravery.
The Shambhala vision
teaches that all aspects of life can be approached with appreciation, virtue,
strength, and sacredness. This is the principle of warriorship: overwhelming
odds do not daunt us. In fact, as more challenges arise, the courage and vigor
of the warrior increase. So with the proper training, we are able to see the
confusion of this dark age as an opportunity to sharpen our weapons of
gentleness, fearlessness, and precision.
Because of my own contemplation of basic goodness, The Shambhala Principle is written as a
personal journey. The story opens one morning at a poignant moment in my development,
when my father called me into his bedroom. There he gave me a hug and declared
that I would be the next Sakyong, a Tibetan term meaning “Earth Protector.” The
book describes my coming to terms with this great responsibility—from that
pivotal morning to the present. Can I take my father’s instructions and ground
my heart and mind in the principle of humanity’s goodness? Can I inspire others
to do the same by reflecting on this theme? I examine these challenges.
However, this book is not a memoir, nor even a message. Rather, it is an
invitation for all of us to reflect on our own basic goodness and the basic
goodness of society. Can we rouse our energy and confidence to create a good
world that is founded on this principle?
My father taught that
the way to effect genuine transformation is not by telling others what to do
but by manifesting these principles. Although at times we may feel deficient in
our ability to embody basic goodness, even glimpsing such a possibility can
have an immediate and profound effect on us, both personally and societally.
Even without a full understanding of enlightened society, simply discussing the
possibility broadens our horizons.
It is my hope that in
such a complicated time, the simplicity of basic goodness can become a true
source of guidance. One of the book’s core messages is that how we feel about
ourselves has a direct effect on society. Acknowledging our own basic goodness
is the grounds for creating a culture. A culture is a community that shares
similar values and principles. It is a powerful demonstration of a group’s
principles. At the same time, it greatly influences the personal principles of
the individuals in the group.
It is clear that in
our modern era, the foundations of older cultures are dissolving, even as new
ones arise. These intangible shifts are based on the changing values and
principles within our global community. Yet even as cultural shifts occur, the
nature of humanity remains the same. What leads to a climate of
unpredictability is not knowing our intangible nature. It is time for humanity
to connect with this universal principle, the basis for all human culture, so
that basic goodness can become a healthy and grounding element.
In that light, The
Shambhala Principle explores basic goodness not only in Eastern thought but
also in Western philosophy and culture, acknowledging that basic goodness has
no borders. It has genuine potential to benefit the multicultural nature of our
modern geopolitical landscape because it is dynamic, alive, and energetic—the
nature of life altogether. With this understanding, basic goodness is not
simply a concept to be explored but an immediate and tangible experience that
we encounter every time we breathe, smell, touch, or look. Because it is
instinctual, it is not a premeditated decision but the essence of our humanity.
When we personally
lose contact with what makes us human, we naturally lose touch with the fabric
of society, and society devolves into an individualistic struggle where people
are disconnected from themselves and others. This leads to a lack of care
toward nature and the environment. In contrast, basic goodness is an expression
of the natural harmony that exists when humanity connects with its own internal
environment. This leads us to connect with the external environment. This is
what my father meant by “enlightened society.” In discovering basic goodness,
we have a great opportunity to influence how the world moves toward the future.
We can use our understanding to create enlightened society.
The Shambhala Principle invites the reader
to share my journey by reflecting on these core principles. This journey leads
beyond personal transformation, to the understanding that basic goodness is a
socially viable principle that could stabilize and transform our world. I hope
it will inspire the reader to reflect and to gain courage, exploring the real
possibility of effecting social transformation by demonstrating the principle
of basic goodness at home, at work, and in society.
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is the spiritual
leader of Shambhala, an international network of meditation and retreat
centers. His new book, The Shambhala Principle: Discovering Humanity’s Hidden
Treasure, will be published in May by Harmony.