“Okay,” was how it started. President Reoch, administrative head of Shambhala International, introduced the man in the gold tunic and burgundy robes sitting high on the thrown on the left hand side of the shrine: Dharma heir to the Nyingma and Kagyu lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, as well as Shambhala, best selling author, marathon runner, living incarnation of Mipham the Great, and renowned meditation master. It brought to mind the practice of victorious Roman generals to place a slave in their chariot whose only job was to remind them they were merely mortal. I supposed had I suggested it, the response from some of those in the crowd might have been to point out that he is in a fact a reincarnated tulka, therefore, not mortal. I wonder what he would have said to that.
“Okay,” was how Sakyong Jamgön Mipham Rinpoche opened his first talk of Enlightened World, with that quintessentially American word.
The Sakyong spoke to us about engaging in enlightenment. Enlightenment is not something that happens to you, or even something you can cause to just come about, it is something which we all have the capability to do on a daily basis. The material world and the heart/mind world are the same. Even as we live in the material world we are, each of us, already enlightened, if we can just discover that and overcome all fear.
In doing this there are three steps, View, Familiarity, and Activity. View is intention and an understanding of purpose. Familiarity is the practice of meditation, both shamatha and vipassana. Activity is our conduct. Without View, he told us, without knowing what it is your are becoming familiar with, you can meditate forever and not get anywhere.
“You can’t just sit and hope for the best,” but out of the right motivation everything will come.
Each of the Nine Paths, two belonging to the Hinayana or Theravada, one belonging to the Mahayana, and six to the Vajrayana, has a larger and larger motivation, each built up on the other. The Hinayana begins with a small motivation, which is further divided into three (Tibetans do love their lists), small of small, medium of small, large of small…you get the idea. The smallest of these is seeking happiness for ourselves through worldly means, then through both worldly and spiritual means, then through spiritual means we start to look at the root of the problem and begin to see the workings of karma and our next lives.
The Mahayana is the path of medium motivation (which is also subdivided) in which we begin to see that all beings are in exactly the same predicament. We then develop loving-kindness and compassion.
“Compassion is the best motivation,” and it‘s free. Big motivation leads to big realization.
But samsara only gets worse, not better, the Buddha warned us. The world is speeding up. The Sakyong spoke of teachings he gives in Tibet, where there is literally nothing, but this year there were monks on cell phones. They bow with half anjali (prayer hands) because they are holding a cell phone to their ear. The world is speeding up, but this speed does not affect our enlightened qualities, it only means we have to be more proactive in bringing them out.
Meditation is proactive, he said. Not a word I would have used to describe it, but we all know of my problems with meditation. (There is a Zen temple in Omaha, so my friend Wendy asked me why I didn’t end up in the Zen tradition. “Are you kidding? Too much meditation!” I answered and she laughed.) The Sakyong spoke of how in meditation we are surrounding our mind with qualities we want to cultivate, thus Familiarity. The mind is like a sponge, he said.
Meditation is how you cultivate your motivation, using both shamatha and vipassana. Shamatha is calm abiding, the meditation on the breath which provides the mind with stability. It allows us to own our minds and build within them both strength and spaciousness. This must come first, but it can’t be the only part of our meditation practice. We must also use contemplative meditation. We should read or hear the teachings actively, contemplate on them, and finish with shamatha meditation, as part of our practice.
The mind is the root of all action. We must have a thought to have an action. When we are mindful, totally present, we have Lungta, or wind horse, a great energy that effects both the body and the mind. We need shamatha to learn to be present enough to raise Windhorse. We need the spaciousness in order to contemplate compassion during vipassana, so that thought doesn’t just get lost among all the others.
Compassion is a noble heart. To have true compassion we must have a mind which fully perceives. Then we will see that others act badly out of suffering. We understand and see others need our love.
After the talk was over and the crowd had broken up, I happened upon a conversation in the Dining Tent. “He never talked about contemplative meditation before.” I mentioned this later to some staff-mates. I had always thought it odd that the Dalai Lama and other traditions emphasize one third scholarly study, one third shamatha, and one third contemplative meditation, while in Shambhala it seemed all to be shamatha, shamatha, shamatha.
“Chogyam Trungpa never taught contemplative meditation,” Susan told me.
When the Dalai Lama visited in September, he told the Sakyong “teach them contemplative meditation.” It sounds like this has been something the Sakyong has been trying to introduce for some time, to varied forms of resistance. He spoke of practitioners who had been meditating for thirty years with no attainment. I think waves have been made here, but to me, they bring relief to a still pool which was in danger of becoming stagnant.
I understood when previous teachers told me shamatha was to stabilize the mind, but I always wondered “for what purpose.” It seems silly to me to sharpen a knife if all you are going to do is carry it around with you and never chop any vegetables.
I can’t say I’m not looking forward to seeing what “cuts” the Sakyong is going to make with his knife, even if some people don‘t like them.