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As part of my own contemplation on basic goodness, I reflected on my father’s life. He experienced the loss of his culture, the destruction of his home, and the knowledge that his friends and family were being tortured. One of the most brilliant minds of his generation—the last to be fully trained in Tibet— he became a refugee in places where nobody understood who he was or what he knew. Of all people, he had the right to say, “I have been given this transmission of basic goodness, and I’m beginning to doubt it. People are not good.” Instead, he showed us basic goodness and urged us to create enlightened society. In fact, he asserted that society itself is the expression of basic goodness.
 
Society is the relationship between two beings. We naturally come from a mother and a father, and when we are born, we cannot survive without the love of another. Our sense faculties themselves are society—here to communicate with the world, which is itself communicating through the power of the elements. The constant interplay of communication in all our relationships is the energetic expression of goodness.
 
This radiant wish to communicate is known as lungta, “windhorse.” It is the ability first to overcome doubt about our basic goodness, and then to connect with the natural longing of our hearts. Like the sun and the moon, basic goodness is perpetual. Somewhere along the line all of us touch that inner confidence, even if it’s just for a moment. When we have the bravery to stay with this primordial ground of goodness and the kindness that naturally arises from it, our relationships with others are marked by simplicity and warmth.
 
Enlightened society is not a utopian view. When we are awake, we see clearly, and so we have insight. Therefore we don’t fall into the trap of simply highlighting the positive and ignoring the negative. As the word enlightened indicates, the totality is illuminated.
 
What keeps the illumination bright? Having knowledge about basic goodness. With such knowledge we contact the sacred, the whole—that which cannot be transgressed, violated, or divided. As people embody it, kindness, wisdom, and strength reverberate, and society is in a perpetually awakening state.
 
Thus enlightened society is characterized by constantly maintaining the ethos of awake, inherently acknowledging that if we do not maintain “awake,” we will be asleep. Sleep takes place when people either forget or ignore basic goodness. Then, acting on the insecurity, guilt, and fear that arise, people do horrendous things.
 
We see in Mahayana Buddhism that the power of raising the supreme thought to benefit others created a flourishing culture that celebrated human goodness. This changed Buddhism from an individual pursuit to a cultural pursuit. It happened through the power of bodhisattva warriors turning the mind toward others and focusing above all on their happiness.
 
Like the Mahayana bodhisattva, the Shambhala warrior has the bravery to take on hardship because of conviction in a superior and universal principle. This makes us completely simple, which empowers our intention to awaken others. Simplicity is not a lack of understanding, but intelligence and profound heart based on experiencing basic goodness. “Complicated” cannot understand simple, but simple can understand complicated.
 
Enlightened society can happen in any culture. The past offers examples. The future depends on our view. When we recognize basic goodness, the world is a constant support for awakening, and there is no limit to society’s enlightenment.
 

Sakyong Mipham 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. His new book, Running With the Mind of Meditation, will be published this spring.


From the January 2012 Shambhala Sun magazine. Click here to browse the entire issue online.






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