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Shambhala Sun | September 2009
You'll find this article on page 17 of the magazine.

Ready, Steady, Go

One of the crucial qualities of the bodhisattva warrior, says Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, is the steadiness of mind that fosters strength and confidence. We harness the energy of mind through the practice of meditation.

In one of the most beautiful Buddhist poems ever written, the great Indian teacher Shantideva talks about the bodhisattva warrior. The Tibetan term is changchup sempa, meaning “the warrior with the mind of enlightenment.”

Such a warrior dedicates his or her life to others, using compassion as a vehicle, and one of the main qualities of a warrior with this kind of mind is steadiness. A strong, determined mind has a profound effect on our body and affects every aspect of how we live. Without steadiness, it is hard to move forward.

In terms of the six paramitas, the transcendental perfections, steadiness is related to exertion because it manifests in incredible determination and fearlessness. On the other hand, lack of steadiness results in fickleness. One characteristic of this particular dark age is that we are becoming more and more clever. But we are also constantly changing our minds. We all have the potential to be strong and centered in ourselves, but when we live our life with such speed and distraction, our energy becomes scattered.

From a meditation point of view, the predominant energy is located in the center of our body, in the core. But if our mind is constantly changing and we are trying to accomplish many activities at once, our energy becomes diffuse. We experience this diffuse energy as a lack of willpower and direction. We are unable to focus—not only within a spiritual practice or a relationship, but even within friendship or work. We are not able to maintain any strength anywhere, because lack of steadiness weakens our windhorse.

In the warrior teachings of Tibet, windhorse, or lungta, means vitality. When we have windhorse, our life moves forward in the way we want. On the inner level, windhorse is connected with good life-force energy, which is connected with being able to have a proper feeling for our mind. If we have the ability to feel at home in our mind and direct it, the mind becomes a support and a friend. If we are unable to harness the mind, it becomes a nuisance to us, aggravating our lives with worry and bad dreams. It can even make us sick. Happiness comes from actions that take us forward.

To move forward in daily life, we must be steady and brave. To create this bravery inside, we must learn how to handle our mind. Knowing this, the warrior practices meditation every day to know the mind and harness its energy for the good of all. If we are so busy that we do not even have a feeling for our mind, meditation is the first step toward developing that feeling.

The approach to harnessing our mind is by using the wind, or the breath. We sometimes regard meditation as an activity of pacifying or calming the mind, but it is also a way to gather and direct the mind. We gather the energy of hearing, seeing, feeling, and so forth, and place it on one object, the breath, which is steady and always available as a gathering point. Gathering our sense perceptions is like working with a group. If everyone has a different idea, the energy is scattered. But if everyone is inspired in the same direction, it is easier to accomplish something. In the same way, if we gather all the consciousnesses and bring them to the breath, that focused energy moves us forward.

According to the teachings, the mind can only do one thing at a time. In this age we want to do many things at once, which weakens the mind. When we gather the mind and come back to the breath, the mind becomes stronger and more present. The whole point of meditation is to be relaxed, and as we relax, our inner strength comes out.

Meditating in this way begins to unwind the mind. As we start to see the mind’s highs and lows, we are not constantly afflicted by them. We begin to have moments of peace. Then, just like clouds coming into the sky, thoughts again begin to percolate. Part of the practice is to recognize those thoughts. We remember that we are meditating, and we go back to the breath. We don’t feel bad for thinking; it’s just happening. To recognize the thought and come back—that will be our practice most of the time. In the beginning, there will only be a few peaceful moments. But after we do this little dance for a while, there are fewer thoughts and more moments of being present.

Why is it important to manage our thoughts? Thought and intention are the beginning of any karmic action. Generally speaking, we are spooked by our own thoughts. Self-doubt arises, and then we start doubting others. We forget about practice and our mind becomes consumed, unstable, and fickle. Saying and doing negative things begins to make sense, and developing our warrior’s mind seems completely unrealistic. We have fallen into the lower, cowardly realms, where the mind is trapped and depressed.

The cowardly state of mind buys into aggression as a way to accomplish things. We have great confidence in anger; we are really certain it is going to work. We don’t try patience or compassion because we haven’t cultivated enough confidence in these qualities. But this negative state of mind is not natural. In fact, it’s continually recreated. Maintaining it is an exhausting process, but even though this negative state of mind does not result in lasting happiness, it perpetually fools itself into thinking that it will. Pursuing happiness in this cowardly way is like licking honey off a razor blade—it hurts.

To break out of that cycle we need windhorse, vibrancy, the energy that uplifts and moves us forward. All the great practitioners of meditation have taught us that the enlightened qualities of the mind are right here. Beginning to trust them depends on our steadiness, because as we build steadiness we have more confidence and strength.

The confidence of the warrior is a non-created confidence. The practice of shamatha, peaceful abiding meditation, helps us access it in three particular ways. First, it steadies us in terms of all the activities in this life. Next it helps in the bardo, the intermediate state between dying and being born again. It also helps in terms of determining our future lifetimes. Even if we are not sure we believe in future lifetimes, developing steadiness of mind and having something to come back to is definitely helpful in this life.

When we see great teachers, we get a very strong feeling from them. Their confidence in compassion radiates out as strength. When we practice meditation, we are deepening that same kind of confidence, strengthening our conviction in the ways of warriorship—kindness, patience, and generosity. By meditating for even a short while every day, we steady ourselves in these aspects of enlightened mind, developing the fearless mind of the warrior.

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

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