The Shambhala Principle (2013)

The Shambhala Principle by the Sakyong Mipham (author of The Lost Art of Good Conversation) is really helpful for understanding the importance of “basic goodness,” worthiness, and humanity’s interdependence for creating an “enlightened society.” At its heart, the Shambhala principle emphasizes “bravery from the ground of our own goodness” (xiii). (Bravery here means having courage to choose the good act instead of resorting to aggression.)  He adds, “It is about how humanity at the core is complete, good, and worthy. If we can feel confident in our goodness, it will illuminate our life and society” (x). Reading as a Christian, our “primordial” or “basic goodness” echos to me of the notion of all persons having the image of God. Basic goodness is innate and already present in all persons, it is up to them to recognize it; and this notion echos 2 Corinthians 5 where Paul says our reconciliation is already accomplished, but we must live that reconciliation. The Shambhala community has much common ground for dialogue with the church—indeed something of an overlapping vocation.

As in Good Conversation, the notion of “windhorse” plays an important role in communicating the Shambhala Principle:

When we touch our own energy [i.e., goodness and worthiness], we become available to experience the energy of the environment. We see that the world is alive with the tangible, elemental energy of windhorse—the uncontrived spirit of life. Once we are aware of this steady force of wakefulness, we can always be connecting with it (27).

“Windhorse is the energy present in each moment, which contains this force because it is the only time we can feel basic goodness” (34). The Sakyong says that “Every moment has its energy; either it will ride us, or we can ride it” (124). In order to ride our energy, we must be now. “When we ride the moment,” he writes, “our mind and body are effortlessly synchronized, and that synchronicity extends to the environment” (145).  Thus “Windhorse represents the joy of being free of a mind that is fixated on passion and aggression as a way to realize our ambitions. Its legs represent dedication, thoughtfulness, exertion, and investigation. On its back it carries the jewel of enlightenment. The energy of windhorse is completely interdependent with living in the challenge, for it connects us with unwaning and authentic bravery” (57–58). Windhorse requires virtue (124). When we move forward on windhorse, we experience “perpetual morning inspiration. It is living life with vision and inspiration” (135). In final analysis, “Riding our power is the ability to remain on our horse of goodness, secure in our worthy feeling. When doubt unseats us, we lose the ability to appreciate who and what we are” (171–172).

In addition to windhorse, several other themes appear in the book. He speaks of ceremonies as cultural habits that form us—something akin to liturgy. We are tasked with living according to ceremonies that see others’ goodness instead of ones that assume others’ to be selfish and greedy. This stands as a strong critique of notions of scarcity and the behavior it produces.

Another theme in the book is that of living in a dark age. A dark age is like a “‘setting sun.’ This term describes a time when humanity’s sense of dignity and purpose is diminishing, like sunlight at the end of the day” (21). Thus “our eyes are closed” (99) and it is hard to see our goodness. The Sakyong says, “The bottom line of this particular dark age is that we believe there is something wrong with us, or that we are not good enough, or that we are flawed in our very being” (163). The “Great Eastern Sun” is the remedy to this dark age. The Great Eastern Sun sees “the union of emptiness and luminosity. In Buddhism, this perpetually arising wisdom is called ‘ground tanta.’ According to tantra, we do not become enlightened—we discover our enlightenment, which has always been here. In the Shambhala texts, this is called ‘the dawning of humanity'” (135).

Sakyong Mipham says that “basic goodness is universal—and…many religions, as well as philosophical systems, have reached the same conclusion” (130). In our globalized world, “The best way to be global is to proclaim goodness by openheartedly extending faith in human dignity. Such faith transmits the message that through view, self-reflection, and behavior, the mind can be directed toward any goal.” We can be “friendly to ourselves and merciful to others.” And “we can use our interconnectedness to cultivate human dignity—the bedrock of all diversity” (158).

So Sakyong Mipham concludes,

Activating the Shambhala principle, we can transform the feeling of worthlessness into worthiness, ignorance into intelligence, and doubt into confidence. As a result, we can transform aggression into compassion, which eradicates fear. Out of fearlessness, we can create a world where we are all in our own diverse ways perpetually cultivating the wisdom and strength of the human family (157).

There were also a few words for family insight. The first:

By infusing our household and daily life with our conviction in basic goodness, we are ‘taking our seat,’ as my father would say. Applying values like generosity and discipline to our livelihood, finances, and family time becomes a pivotal step in how we understand basic goodness and bring it into our life—and therefore into society….In our households, if we foster values based on goodness—like patience and humor—they will flow into our relationships with others in our communities, eventually influencing our nations, and finally, the rest of the world” (166–167).

The second insight was about his experience with his father, Chögyam Trungpa: “One of the many things I admired about my father was that every moment with him was a learning experience. We could be doing the most mundane activity, and he would have a lesson for me to learn” (169). I find this an inspirational statement for parenting.

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