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 world needs people who are wholeheartedly engaged with life, says Sakyong Mipham. That takes bravery.
These days I am struck by the speed of life. As we get speedier, we do things in half steps. Therefore, the practice of wholehearted engagement is important. How can we be steady and complete, and what kind of wisdom does that bring? In Shambhala warriorship we practice being on the spot: we do things precisely and thoroughly. In meditation, our mind and body are joined and we access and protect our wisdom mind by being present. Then we extend our training into other aspects of our life.
Bravery is the key instruction in the Shambhala teachings. This is why these teachings use the image of a warrior: when confronted by great challenges, warriors rise to the occasion. When cowards are confronted by difficulties, they withdraw. The challenge of being brave points to one specific instruction—that we stop cowering from our basic goodness.
To be brave is to actualize our nature as an offering to others. In paying attention to the details of our daily lives in relation to each other and the environment, we proclaim our worthiness to be alive and to inhabit this planet. We empower our relation- ships with presence and appreciation, because when we see the goodness in ourselves, we recognize it in others. This form of warriorship builds and creates; it does not destroy. Being brave enough to fully embrace our humanity is how we will accomplish good things.
The process of engaging life with bravery has an outer level, an inner level, and a secret level. In terms of the outer level, fifty percent of it is being there, showing up. Whether it is showing up on the meditation cushion, showing up at work, or showing up in a friendship, relationship, or family, how we show up is important. The most important element is care—having respect for what we are doing. Without respect for our own mind, we are not fully engaged, and even the act of meditating becomes hollow. When we pay attention to what we are doing, we naturally care.
Because of all the distractions and trauma in the world these days, it is getting harder and harder to show up for the present moment and engage in our lives. Our kindness and care are on the wane. Our culture tends to lull us into a sense of false security: we think that somehow life is going to get easier. It is like the idea of retirement—we work hard and then there is a lull when we can flop and let everything hang.
The path of engagement does not get easier, and there is no retirement. But when we surrender to the reality that we have to keep showing up to make progress—and that being present takes effort, discipline, and dedication—then we discover a sense of delight. In the language of Shambhala warriorship, this is called trangpo—steadiness, resolve, not having a lot of ups and downs. That steadiness is one of the basic qualities of a warrior. It means that once we have decided to be present and engage in our lives with awareness, we stay with it.
In this culture we are constantly flip-flopping—mentally, physically, and every other way. That is anti-trangpo. So many distractions and obstacles have the power to drag us away from the spot—it is easy to feel helpless, overwhelmed by traffic on the highway or the Internet. The process of truly being on the spot takes energy: we have to surrender our habitual pattern of wanting to escape to the past or the future. Right now the world needs steady people who can show up for the present moment. It is the only time we can touch our basic goodness, which requires wholeheartedly being here.
Steadiness is the inner aspect of the practice of bravery. These days, when people pursue a spiritual journey, they can be very enthusiastic at first. But at a certain point they want to just shelve it and revert to their comfort zone. We seem to want a spiritual path on our own terms. Wanting to be on a path is really just the beginning. To become true warriors and practitioners, we have to repeatedly come back to being present when our attention wanders. This sense of steadiness reflects our decision to hold the view of basic goodness.
The secret aspect of engagement is the inherent strengths on which we draw. Humility is at the top of the list, for boasting about our patience, discipline, or generosity diminishes them. It’s the same with talking too much about our practice. As we mature in our practice of warrior- ship, we grow as individuals, and there is a quality of richness, both internally and externally. This is the ripening of our protector mind—something we need to guard as it develops. Bandying that about in conversation is like opening the door of a sauna: the heat gets out and the intensity dissipates.
Particularly at this time, there is a tendency for us to become sloppy, lazy, and discursive. Even as we practice the dharma, it is easy to have little places to which we escape, becoming comfort- or cocoon-oriented. Personally, the more my path unfolds, the more I see the need for the kind of discipline, structure, and paying attention that keeps us on the spot: how we dress, how we speak, what we do, and how we engage with others. Without that sense of discipline, we are always looking in the back of our minds for our retirement. The training of warriorship helps us to be precise in those neutral and uncomfortable moments. Being on the spot pushes us into a profound form of practice. Even smiling at a stranger can bring us into the present moment, which contains our own simplicity.
We should not shy away from this tradition of enlightened activity of being on the spot. As warriors, engagement is our main buddha activity, trinle. This Tibetan word means that when we are in the process of engaging, we are actually giving our body, speech, and mind to the world. Whether we are meditating, riding the bus, or doing our daily work, we can attain great depth and profundity through engagement. With precision and thoroughness, we also waste less time.
The Shambhala and Buddhist teachings contain examples of enlightened activity in the warrior-king Gesar and the yogi-saint Milarepa, as well as the Shambhala sovereigns. In looking at their lives, we see that they were trained and pushed all the time. That’s what made them great: they all faced challenges. Recently I was looking at the memoirs of Yung-lo, emperor of the Ming, who was a great warrior-bodhisattva king and patron of Tibetan Buddhism. It is amazing to see how early his day started, how late it went, and how he went through the process in a dedicated and exalted way.
Whatever kind of role we are in, we have the potential to bring to it that quality of being there and giving. That doesn’t mean burning ourselves out. We will go through different phases of life, but whatever the phase, we can enrich it with a quality of steadiness and presence.