Note: In 2018, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche became the subject of a number of allegations of sexual assault and misconduct and stepped back from the community he led, Shambhala. While Lion's Roar does not endorse him as a Buddhist teacher, we understand that some may want to access his past teachings in light of recent events, and so we are continuing to make this article from our archive of past issues available for those who wish to do so.
We can brighten the future of modern society, says Sakyong Mipham, by cultivating our communal basic goodness.
When people ask me what practices I’m doing, I say that I’m working on a conundrum — “creating enlightened society.”
Every society is a ceremony that reflects the attitude of individuals toward themselves and others. We have been participating in somebody else’s ceremony — a ceremony of being asleep. But we have the power to shift the direction of our destiny by engaging in enlightened society — a ceremony of being awake. Its foundation is acknowledging our subjective and communal experience of basic goodness. Together we root our activity in further illuminating that core principle. Thus society is enlightened.
This is the vision of the Shambhala teachings introduced to the West by my father, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. He felt they had arisen in our particular time because humanity is at a crossroads. These teachings, he said, have the power to shift the direction of our global future. He offered many meditative practices to help us do this, but behind them all there is a fundamental view: We are basically good. Enlightened society is rooted in an underlying feeling of goodness.
Modern culture does not support the view of basic goodness. We are living in an atmosphere of heightened speed and superficiality, characterized by constant reaction. We are bombarded with stimuli telling us we need something else to feel complete. Many people have been taught at home, school, or church that they are bad. To move beyond these constraints, we must learn to value the principles of basic goodness and enlightened society as much as the feelings that now drive our world — such as fear and selfishness. Only by making time to self-reflect each day can we deepen our awareness in this way. Through the regular practice of contemplating our elemental nature, returning to a moment of self-possession and self-respect, we can become brave enough to manifest basic goodness, our most valiant quality.
Conventionally, “good” is the opposite of “bad.” But basic goodness precedes good and bad. It is goodness in the sense that fundamentally there is nothing wrong, nothing incomplete, and nothing missing. At the root of our being there is a beating heart that can manifest awakenment.
“Basic” means “fundamental.” Basic goodness is fundamental because it is primordial. The nature of humanity has remained unchanged from beginningless time. Underneath all the confusion we witness, the character of humanity is inherently stainless, without fault.
Belief in basic goodness doesn’t come from a convoluted moral position; rather, it arises from discovering a feeling that underlies everything. This inherent wakeful energy desires to communicate. It resides in our hearts, where we experience it as fresh, genuine, and delightful.
Basic goodness sounds very simple. We are whole. When we wake up in the morning, we don’t have to address some elemental mistake in the depths of our being. However, if we contemplate this, we might see that we often don’t feel this way. We think we are basically bad, not basically good. Our life is an unfolding of the view we take, and our personal outlook has social ramifications. At this time on earth, entire cultures are completely unsure about their own humanity because people do not feel basic goodness in themselves, and thus are unable to see it in others.
In meditation, we discover basic goodness and practice relaxing with this view. However, I’ve noticed that especially in the West, even meditators have difficulty believing in basic goodness. Inevitably thoughts and emotions come up, and we should never feel bad about that. Thinking “I don’t know” is part of the process. Fortunately it is simple to return our mind to the basic goodness that is present in every moment, like the sun behind the clouds. However, it is also simple to take the other route, believing in the clouds and forgetting the sun.