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Shambhala Sun | July 2009

It’s Not Us and Them

The fear so many of us are feeling these days can stress us into freezing our world and getting caught up in dualism. But, says Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, we can get past that by practicing mindfulness and gentleness.

In the face of the economic hardship the world is now suffering, it is possible for us to spin out and become very dualistic. When we are not sure what’s going on, we react with fear and start labeling things black or white, good or bad, doomed to fail or destined to succeed. The process of labeling something because we are not sure what it is further increases the illusion of duality. Dualistic mind creates an aggressive scenario because we project a “self” and “other,” and this process becomes a cycle: the heavier the dualism, the heavier the fear.

Egolessness, or practicing now, frees us from this cycle. But when fear has taken over and we can’t control the negative emotions that arise, the internal freedom that comes from egolessness is beyond our means. Instead we become fixated. We live in the memory of the past or the fantasy of the future. We are stuck, unable to see the fluid truth of now.

At the heart of the dharma is the truth that the world is fluid. When we practice now, we see the flow clearly. Now is now. There is not another now. If we realize that truth, we stop putting things off and engage in our life wholeheartedly. The Shambhala teachings call this the quality of windhorse, lungta—we unstick what has been stuck and move forward.

At this particular time, we are dealing with a high level of fear. We have mistaken material freedom for freedom itself, and now the natural laws of the universe are catching up to us. The law of interdependence is showing us that really nothing is free; somebody is always paying for it. Although there are many intricacies in how we have arrived at this situation, in essence the cause is not complicated. It is the result of the habitual pattern known as ego.

The point of the dharma is egolessness, which is more than just an isolated situation on a meditation cushion. Especially during the current financial instability, there needs to be a level of egolessness. That is something that we can bring into our daily life. We are living in a world that is already too crowded and small for a lot of big egos, yet in stressful times like these, we tend to isolate ourselves and refortify the ego. Fortunately, we have the tools to turn this pattern around.

What virtues can we develop to overcome the fear that freezes life into a dualistic illusion? Gentleness is key in overcoming the aggression that results from the process of fixating. We’re living in a time when even within our own mind, it is difficult to find peace. We label many faults in ourselves; we become harsh with ourselves. When we’re unable to find peace with ourselves, it becomes difficult to find peace with each other. So we must begin to practice peace by being gentle with ourselves. When we are gentle with ourselves, we are naturally gentle with others.

Part of being gentle with others is not blaming them. Finding someone to blame is a sidetrack that derails us from the path. If we are gentle with others, we are not trying to fight with the world. This is how we engage in enlightened society.

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