Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Spiritual Director of Shambhala

I wrote this early in 2006 for the NW Dharma News. One of the perks of a volunteer writing gig, you get invited to attend own small version of a press pass. It was interesting to me that this teacher attracted quite an audience. Something about Tibetan teachers seems to attract an automatic celebrity status among certain Americans.

Sakyong Rinpoche

The head of the Shambhala lineage and spiritual director of Shambhala, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, visited Portland in January to give a public talk and book signing for his latest book, "Ruling Your World, Ancient Strategies for Modern Life."

Born in 1962 in Bodhagaya, India, he spent his early years with his mother in a Tibetan refugee village. Later he joined his father, Chogyam Trungpa, in the West. The Rinpoche holds the Mukpo family lineage, descending from the Tibetan warrior-king Gesar of Ling. He holds the Kagyü and Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, is the incarnation of Mipham the Great, who is revered in Tibet as an emanation of Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, and he is also the lineage holder of Naropa University.

In 2001, Sakyong Mipham visited Tibet for the first time. Huge audiences gathered to hear his teachings and receive his blessings. Through the Kunchok Foundation, he is now gathering support for Tibetan schools and orphanages.

With roots in the East and the West, Sakyong Mipham is an artist and poet as well as Buddhist leader and teacher, and he enjoys golf, running and horseback riding. The inspiration for his newest book, "Ruling Your World" are the ancient Buddhist teachings, but he joked, "I've been told 'ruling your world' doesn't sound very Buddhist." He emphasized that "everyone can have wisdom, compassion, loving-kindness…these are innate parts of our being. Life is a process of actually bringing that out," but we don't have to leave the world, become monastics, to do so.

Sakyong referred to the dark times we live in, where aggression is considered the only way to respond to certain world events, where the suggested response of compassion is treated dismissively as naïve, even though we all know and instinctively understand this law, as Sakyong said, "Karmically speaking, once you use aggression, only painful things will come about. Pain for the other person and pain for oneself."

Sakyong's message was that there is a way for each of us to rule our world. "This inherent mind that we have is the wish-fulfilling jewel. …The jewel resides in the heart." One of his teachers, "literally the wise old man on top of the mountain," said "You can solve all things with gentleness." Later he said, "If we begin to see the pattern of our lives, our mind is very powerful. If we want to change things in our lives, we have to act. We have to engage. Particularly we have to engage with our intention of mind to mindfulness and awareness."

"Really true genuine happiness in the sense of a fulfilled life actually depends on an attitude of caring for others. Uplifting others. Altruism in this particular way. It's not that we stop caring about ourselves, but when we hold our mind and we think just about ourselves, then the mind becomes very small. …When I meet great teachers, the sense of their open-mindedness and compassion is very impacting. …Everyone has these qualities; the process is that we have to bring them out."

When it is put so simply, it is hard to understand why we collectively continue to spin around the wheels of greed, anger, and delusion. Sakyong said, "If we become self-absorbed, we become tired so easily. But as soon as we have the intention of helping others, the potency and the power comes."

I guess I would ask, how do we respond to the disdain inherent in dark times, as that disdain seems to keep people from noticing and appreciating this experience of small self versus big self. Perhaps Sakyong's answer is his oft-repeated message that we don't have to become monastics to do so. We each have to create the change, and urge the change in those who represent us. Peace of mind, and peace between each of us is not just for the "wise old man on the mountain."

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