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.
“The life force called windhorse is the unlimited energy of basic goodness, buddhanature, inherent wakefulness. We connect with it through meditation practice.”
During hard times, people often ask me for advice. They feel destabilized and scattered. They’re often caught up in examining who they are, what the world is, and how they fit in. They’re questioning their understanding of buddhadharma, as well as their commitment to acting in the world as a true practitioner. They seem to hope I’ll be able to offer some secret antidote or remedy to make their hard time easier, because it’s draining them of life force.
In the Shambhala teachings of warriorship, this life force is called windhorse (Tibetan: lungta). Lungta is the unlimited energy of basic goodness, buddhanature, inherent wakefulness. Basic goodness is the most fundamental secret in any situation-difficult or not-and it’s something that we already possess. We connect with it through meditation practice. Every day we need to contemplate our own inherent wakefulness. Then we’ll have the confidence to raise our windhorse and ride it through life with joy and delight. This is how we become the kings and queens of our own lives.
The beauty of meditation is that it gives us direct experience of the Buddha’s discovery that suffering arises from the basic misunderstanding that the self is a solid entity. This basis prepares us for the real possibility of encountering our own basic goodness and raising windhorse. Shambhala Buddhism is based on maintaining a short consistent daily practice throughout the ups and downs, ebb and flow, waxing and waning of our ordinary lives. This is how we learn that none of it is solid. Because being caught up in a difficult situation can feel very solid, meditation practice is the ideal preparation for hard times. We can then use such situations to inspire our practice and gain strength for the future.
When other people talk about Buddhists, they say we believe in impermanence, suffering and egolessness. We know that impermanence and suffering are the hallmarks of our lives, of course, but it’s not that we want them. We’re no fools. Just like everybody else, we want joy and happiness. The basis of Buddhism is that appreciating certain truths about existence allows us to live our lives with joy, strength and dignity. For example, we know that happiness doesn’t come from thinking about ourselves, because through meditating we’ve seen that we don’t particularly exist-and neither do those people who are talking about us.
It all comes back to knowing basic goodness, which is the mind of enlightenment. It’s the lightest mind we could have, because it’s no longer burdened by the concept of “me.” Living without the concept of “me” frees space in our hearts from which we can naturally generate love and compassion for others. The mind of enlightenment is the best mind we can have-not in an intellectual sense but in the sense of bringing benefit to others and joy to ourselves.
When we trust our basic goodness, we naturally gain perspective on our own situation. We can say, “I’m making a journey. This life is interesting. Many things will happen, but I’m not the events that are happening. I’m an individual who, at my core, is loving and caring. How am I going to access that love and care, expand it, and generate it to others?”
We can then begin to see the predicament of others. These days one of my favorite phrases is: “If you want to be miserable, think about yourself. If you want to be happy, think of others.” We try so hard to be happy; we just go about it the wrong way. The more we think of ourselves, the more pain we feel and the more unhappy we become. When we begin to think about others, there’s delight, there’s openness, and lo and behold, we have peace of mind.
This is a courageous perspective. It means that from now until we attain enlightenment, we can act in service of the happiness of others. We can get up in the morning and think, “What a wonderful day. I have this whole day to dedicate myself to serving all beings.” Just by having this intention of a warrior bodhisattva, we broaden our view and soften our future. If it feels impossible or overwhelming, as if we’re going to be crushed under the vastness of such an approach, we can remember that this mind of enlightenment is bigger than “me.” We do this by rousing the energy of windhorse.
We raise windhorse in our meditation practice to stability, clarity and strength. We raise windhorse in everyday life to stretch ourselves so that we make some progress in serving others. If we’re well trained, this approach will ease whatever hard time we might encounter. If we don’t make progress in this way, we’ll make the hard times harder, doing the same self-serving things year after year, getting closer and closer to death. That’s a waste of time, a waste of life force. When we live life in service to ourselves, we diminish lungta, we diminish windhorse.
How do we avoid wasting ourselves? By training our minds in meditation, which means “to become familiar with.” What do we become familiar with? Our inherent courage, our basic goodness. From that ground we nurture our compassion, our love, our wisdom, which are easily shattered in difficult times. A regular meditation has the power to connect us with connects us with our wakefulness as we live our lives.
When we don’t connect with our wakefulness, what is it that we’re thinking about? We’re thinking about ourselves: our own safety, our own needs. Obviously, we do need to think about eating, dressing and staying warm. But beyond that, if we continue to think only of ourselves as we engage with life, our circle becomes very small. Our focus on our own lives becomes so tight that we begin to ignore other things.
During difficult times, our tendency is to grow tighter. For practitioners, here lies the challenge. Connecting with basic goodness enables us to look beyond ourselves and to think about others, and raising windhorse allows us to extend ourselves to them.
If we feel disheartened or depressed, we can visualize a horse running through a beautiful meadow to stimulate a sense of empowerment. It gives us lightness and levity, as though anything is possible. That image stimulates an incredibly potent life force in us. That’s windhorse. We always have the opportunity to raise it here and now.
There are many practical details, but this journey starts with the basic attitude of thinking about others. All of us can generate this intention in our own particular way. Let’s begin by connecting with basic goodness-not tomorrow, but today. By discovering this quality in ourselves and seeing it in others, we can create a sane environment for everyone, even in challenging times. This doesn’t have to be overwhelming. We can start by looking at our own life and see what we can do, one step at a time.
We have a limited amount of time on Earth, and every day we should appreciate who we are and what we have. We are human beings who are inherently awake. Through meditation we can rest in basic goodness and rouse the motivation of a bodhisattva warrior, which means not being so obsessed with ourselves and thinking of others. We can raise our windhorse, which brings health and delight. Being human is what gives us this opportunity, so let’s make the best of it with discipline, humor, and courage.