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Meditation is a very personal practice. Just like the Buddha, we can approach it by way of valid cognition: "What is truly valid? What is the truth of my experience?" We begin to realize what we don't know, and we become curious.

In doing so we leapfrog from question to answer, with each new answer leading to a new question. And if we persist we begin to experience another truth that the Buddha also discovered: in every situation there is the continuum of the truth. Each answer is followed naturally by the next question. It's seamless.

With this kind of practice and inquisitiveness, the Buddha learned to look at the landscape of life in a clear, unbiased way. When he began to teach, he was just reporting his observations: "This is what I see. This is the truth about how things are." He wasn't presenting any particular viewpoint. He wasn't preaching dogma; he was pointing out reality. We forget this. For example, most people would say that one of the key teachings in Buddhism is karma. But the Buddha did not create karma; the Buddha just saw it and acknowledged it. Saying that karma is a Buddhist belief is like saying that Buddhists believe water is wet. And if you're a Buddhist, you must also believe that fire is hot!

In meditation, what we're doing is looking at our experience and at the world intelligently. The Buddha said that this is how we learn to look at any situation and understand its truth, its true message, its reality. This is what a Buddha does—and we are all capable of being Buddhas, whether or not we are Buddhists. We all have the ability to realize our naturally peaceful minds where there is no confusion. We can use the natural clarity of our mind to focus on anything we want. But first we have to tame our minds through shamatha meditation.

Perhaps we associate meditation with spirituality because when we experience a moment of peacefully abiding, it seems so far-out. Our mind is no longer drifting, thinking about a million things. The sun comes up or a beautiful breeze comes along—and all of a sudden we feel the breeze and we are completely in tune. We think, "That's a very spiritual experience! It's a religious experience! At least worth a poem, or a letter home." Yet all that's happening is that for a moment we are in tune with our mind. Our mind is present and harmonious. Before, we were so busy and bewildered that we didn't even notice the breeze. Our mind couldn't even stay put long enough to watch the sun to come up, which takes two-and-a-half minutes. Now we can keep it in one place long enough to acknowledge and appreciate our surroundings. Now we are really here. In fact, this is ordinary. We can bring the mind under our own power. We can train it to be useful and workable.

This is the not just the point of being Buddhist, it's the point of being human.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is holder of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage established by his father, the late Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

Originally published in the May 2002 Shambhala Sun magazine.

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