The Second International Conference on Gross National Happiness
Local Pathways to Global Wellbeing
St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada
June 20 to June 24, 2005
|June 20, 6:30 pm||
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
Dear friends, as the final part of our gathering this evening, it gives me tremendous pleasure to introduce to you Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. For a number of you who come from different cultures, traditions and walks of life, these three words may be a little bit of a mystery so I’ll explain them briefly.
The first word, Sakyong, is Tibetan for “Earth Protector.” The word Mipham signifies that he is a reincarnation of the esteemed Tibetan scholar and meditation master Mipham the Great, whose works form the foundation for contemplative and academic study throughout all the schools of Tibetan monastic life. The word Rinpoche means “Precious One.” As such, Rinpoche is the head of the Shambhala mandala.
Shambhala evokes a legend—some would say a myth; some would say one of the deepest archetypes in the human psyche—which is the belief in the possibility of an enlightened society. A society in which not only the governance but all those who are governed share a profound belief in what we in Shambhala call our “Basic Goodness.” And that the foundation of life together is a union of what some would call the sacred and what others call the secular. There is no separation between these two, and the changes that we wish to see in the world around us are inseparable from the changes that we must experience and bring to fruition within us. And it is because we know that this is at the foundation of the very idea of happiness, be it national or otherwise, that we invited Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche to lead us and inspire us for these days of work with whatever guided meditation words he would like to offer to us.
Thank you, everyone. It is a wonderful privilege and delight to be here.
I have been asked to lead a group meditation. As a person who has grown up with the practice of meditation, I felt that it was important for me to say that, for myself, meditation is very normal, and it is a daily activity—which probably makes you feel good about it, since I’m leading you!
As a Buddhist practitioner, the kind of meditation that I have been most inspired about is a very basic meditation that you could say is a pre-Buddhist meditation, a very basic one. It is working with the strength of the mind. No matter what kind of journey we are going to go on—whether it be a spiritual journey, or a daily activity of family and life—the most important thing we have as individuals, as human beings, is our mind. Daily we go through the process of using the mind. Obviously, this particular time together we will be using our mind and our heart, and share and express that.
The view of the practice of meditation here is that within our own mind we have our strength, happiness and clarity. In the Tibetan tradition we often talk about those qualities of clarity of mind and strength of mind; and also that our mind is our own possession. What I mean by that is that often we have a mind that doesn’t behave the way we would like it to. So it is thinking while we don’t want it to think. Currently, we may be saying, “I’d like to meditate. I’d like my mind to be here.” If it is truly our mind, we should be able to have it do whatever we wish—that is the idea. Yet a lot of times, in a very basic way, we say, “I don’t want to get angry”; but our mind says, “I’m going to go off and get angry anyway, despite what you want.” So it goes off and gets angry and then we get into an argument and so forth. We have gotten so used to this kind of mind that when we get up in the morning the questions we ask ourselves are: “How is my mind going to behave? Is it going to be obnoxious or is it going to be pleasant in a particular situation?”
The basis of a lot of what we do is the ability of people to settle with their own mind. Are you willing to go along with the repercussions of what you say and think if you are unable to control your own mind?
Moreover, it is not just about controlling, but also about repossessing. In Tibetan we say, lesu rungwa, which means “flexible mind.” The mind in the context of meditation is just like the body. Clearly, everyone thinks the body should be fed, rested, exercised and so forth. In the culture I have grown up in, you need to be able similarly to pay attention to the mind. The mind needs to be nurtured, the mind needs to have flexibility, and the mind needs to be able to develop.
That is really the quality of meditation. I always try very hard to say it is not something that is mysterious or bizarre and so forth. It is very basic. The Tibetan word I’m going to use for meditation, even though in English there are many words, is gom. It basically means “familiarity.” So the word meditation here means that our mind is always getting familiar with something.
People tell me, “I do / do not meditate.” I say that if you look at the definition of the word, really we are always meditating because our mind is always becoming familiar with something. From that perspective, I think the main interest here is the question: “Is what our mind becoming familiar with helpful?” In the context of meditation, we become familiar with things that are helpful, such as compassion, such as a stabilizing mind, such as wisdom, such as loving kindness. When you have meditation it is an opportunity to be able to put your mind in an environment that is nurturing and supportive.
If we can do this individually then we are able to do it in a more public manner also. People often say, “You should be more loving.” It is almost like my saying (I may not look like it, but I’m a runner): “I’d like to run a marathon.” And you reply, “If you have not trained, how could you go that far?” It is a basic thing—you should be more loving; when was it that you practiced loving kindness in your mind? It is an aspect of the mind. Is it there? It is there but it needs to be developed. So many times we put pressure on ourselves without having gone through the preparation.
Certainly, in the Buddhist tradition, these aspects are very much deep in our mind and they need to be cultivated and brought out. So the process of meditation is that time where we are able to strengthen. I like to think and reflect that when we engage in life we have a basis by which we are entering the world as opposed to always being reactionary. It gives you the proactive ability.
So meditation, from this point of view, and I believe this is the premise here, is how we meditate on things that are helpful. I feel strongly that mind is a very sensitive thing. A lot of times it is like a sponge—whatever environment it is in, it is going to absorb. So how can we put our mind in the correct environment?
In the kind of meditation that I am going to go through with you, what actually transpires in our mind is the basis by which we engage in the world. I also think that contemplative meditation is very important.
Generally speaking, there are two kinds of meditation. One is a stabilizing meditation where your mind is strong and with you. I often like to say that it is like riding a horse. If the horse is your mind, when you get on your mind and you kick your mind, is it going to go into the direction that you want? So it is almost like two things. The first is getting the ability for your mind to stay here. Ironically, I also feel that is what we call freedom. True freedom is the ability to do whatever you want with your mind. You can sit here and say, “I would like to generate compassion; I would like to generate understanding”—and that will transpire. So that really is a notion of not getting distracted. We often use breathing as a technique. We become familiar with our breathing. This is the most well-known meditation. People use it for stress reduction and for overcoming anger, and all kinds of things. It is simply breathing. Breathing settles the mind; it brings a focus point. We notice that our mind generally goes from past to future. So we are using the present breathing to settle the mind.
The next kind of meditation is contemplative meditation, using thought, where we go over an idea such as loving kindness or compassion. Once our mind begins to become familiar with this it begins to adapt and change, and develop and nurture it. Then we have the ability to actually have an action. Often, in this way of meditation, we talk about view and meditation in action. Meditation is only the middle step. Once I become familiar with loving kindness, next is how to enact it.
A lot of people who meditate do not necessarily know what they are doing. I really feel like all meditation is the act of developing your mind. So if you don’t know what you are doing, then you are certainly wasting your time. One of the main things about meditation is that it does not happen by osmosis. People like to sit in front of beautiful shrines and have all kinds of incense—that’s not going to do a thing. The mind must know what it is doing and say: “Yes, I want to develop compassion and wisdom.”
One of the aspects I was asked to talk about here is interdependence. There is a relationship between what happens in our minds and in our environment. We have a direct result. A lot of times what happens is that everyone is so overwhelmed that, in our reactionary world, we are continuously unable to take the extra step to say, “This is what I don’t want to do, and this is what I do want to do.” If we do not have the space in our mind, then it is going to become reactionary. From this point of view, this type of meditation is developing that strength, developing that flexibility.
So, shall we give it a go? Sitting on a cushion that you are comfortable with is just fine; sitting on chairs is kosher. I always like to joke that the future Maitreya sits in a chair, and the current Buddha sits cross-legged. The main thing is to try to remain awake if you can; otherwise it is called sleeping! I just want to clarify that. People like to think it’s meditation, but…
This notion of sitting is that it’s between lying down and standing up, so that your body is not stressed, but at the same time it does not become too tired. So we are awake. The breathing is important because breath itself is able to relax us; our whole body is designed to breath. The notion of the breath serves two functions: one, for the purifying—that’s what people enter into in the science of meditation, purifying the organs and blood—so that definitely helps. The other aspect of breath is that it is always immediate; it is happening now.
The first meditation is for us to just sit naturally. You can put your hands on your thighs. The posture is somewhat upright. The gaze, meaning the eyes, is somewhat down. You are not staring out of your eyes, looking at the floor or at the person in front of you. It is a light, relaxed seeing—but not looking.
What we are trying to do now, as we have been very busy hearing and seeing and all kinds of things, is to begin to feel our mind. Our mind is generally always thinking about things. We are now, in a sense, taking the reins of the horse and bringing it back to the trail. So what are we bringing it back to? To the breathing. We are beginning to feel the breathing coming out of our mouth and our nostrils. We’ll notice that it is rhythmical: it leaves and it comes back in. And just that simple act begins the process of strengthening and repossessing our own mind. As we do that we also notice that we are present and we are developing the ability to repossess, and meanwhile to strengthen, our mind. The breath itself doesn’t have to be particularly accentuated; you can just be relaxed.
Some of us are beginning meditation tonight. We will have many different kinds of thoughts. The point is not to get rid of all the thoughts; the point is to say, “During this period, I don’t need to be thinking about all of those things.”
Just say “thinking” and come back to the breathing. Just for a minute let’s try that. We are relaxed, with an upright posture, and we are just breathing. This is known in Tibetan as Shi-ne. Shi means “peace”; ne means “to abide.” So we are abiding naturally and peacefully.
We should not expect perfection. Our mind will be thinking a little bit, but try to remain more or less focused on the breathing. If that is too difficult, too much right now, then just try to be present in this room. We want to have the ability to not be totally fantasizing or leaving.
During this course of meditation, if we have a thought on how to save the world, some very aggressive thought, in this context it doesn’t matter; we don’t need to be thinking about it. Feel the breathing in your body as it begins to relax. There may be many important subjects but, right now, most important is being able to have a sensitivity of the mind. Most likely our mind will be breathing and then slightly fading off. Just gently bring it back. We don’t want to try too hard to bring it back. If we find ourselves trying too hard to focus on the breathing our mind might revolt and we might find ourselves leaving, and thinking about something. We need to be gentle. If we are too lax, we may fad away and fall asleep. So it is just having that right medium and the ability to pay attention.
This is developing our own peace so that we are able to understand that personally and then are able to generate that to others. Usually I tell people to do this in your day, even if it is for 10 minutes, for a very brief period.
Now, having developed some kind of relaxation with the breathing, I want to introduce just one contemplative thought, which is a generation of love and kindness. We say champa in Tibetan. It is the ability to have a thought in our mind and a good intention. The quality here is not so much whether we can follow through with our loving kindness; but in meditation as a practice, let our mind become familiar with the feeling of kindness. Kindness here means a wish. If we had a wish—if someone asked, “What is your wish?”—we would say, “My wish is for others to be happy.” In whatever way: in a mundane way; in a spiritual way; whatever way it is. That is my basic approach.
So we say often, “May all sentient beings be happy. May they have happiness and the root of happiness.” That is just our very simple, basic approach—our motivation. “May all beings have happiness and the root of happiness”: that is my wish. Every mind has a motivation; every mind has an approach. This, we are saying, is the most basic approach. Similarly, just as we were focusing on the breathing to stabilize our mind a bit, now we bring the contemplative aspect: a sentence, a phrase, an idea. As everyone in this particular conference has a wish to generate and help through ideas and so forth, this basic thought is at the base. It doesn’t matter so much what kind of happiness an individual has.
Often I find it is very hard, without context, to start having a thought like this. So we may think of someone who is very close—mother, father, brothers, sisters, friends, spouse. Just one person about whom you immediately think: “Oh yes, I wish they were happy. I don’t want harm to come to them.” So we think about that person as the object of our meditation. As soon as we get that feeling of a little bit of love—it may not be falling in love, but just a sense of caring—as soon as we have that feeling, we meditate. We become familiar with that feeling. So we have that feeling. It stays in our heart and our mind. Then it may dissipate; it probably will. Then we think of that person again.
This is what we call nurturing and developing the innate qualities of the mind. If we begin to rest there, in an almost unconscious way, that motivation and wish is in our mind.
We were talking about very positive aspects, whether they are effective or not. The other approach is to say, “We are always thinking about things. It is usually ‘what about me’, or ‘I don’t like that person,’” and we act on that. This meditation is trying to develop the positive qualities. We say that this kind of thought (because all thoughts have a result) has a tremendous effect on our environment and on our consciousness. Often when people meditate on the kindness for others, which may seem like a drain, the result is that we actually feel better. It gives us a sense of delight. Our mind feels happy. In Tibetan we often say dewa or dechen: a sense of bliss and happiness, with the thought of caring for others. Just stay with that feeling.
This is the basic meditation that the Buddha has done, and many great beings have done. Once we have that feeling for our loved ones, now we say, “Not only our loved ones, but also all beings. May I have the ability to generate this kind of love and compassion to beings that I know, and those whom I don’t know, and even those toward whom I have animosity.” This is a practice generating that kind of strength.
If we have difficulty with the contemplative meditation and we find our mind wandering a lot, we can come back to just the breathing. We established the feeling in our mind, and we just pay attention to the breathing. Then: generating compassion and loving kindness. Kindness and loving kindness is considered to be incredibly powerful. Only a strong mind can generate this. Again, it is a matter of enjoyment. We try to relax our body. It is focused, but not serious in that way. Even as we do this, we are developing our mind, changing our mind, churning our mind.
From this kind of meditation we eventually get up from our meditation seats and go into the world and do our various activities; and we have this feeling. We know what this feeling is, we have had experience with it, and we are able to engage in it. This feeling of compassion and love will be challenged but at least we have a basis where we can try to engage in it again.
Our mind—in this kind of settledness of compassion and love, and our breathing—begins to affect our body. It kind of cleanses the body; we feel cleaner or better. We are, in a sense, not polluting our bodies as much; we are processing. Even though this meditation may be, in the beginning, almost innately created—we are trying to focus on compassion—these qualities are there. So this approach of kindness has the quality of stabilizing our mind—feeling confident about our mind, and thus being able to go out.
I wish everyone here much luck with this conference. I hope this meditation is helpful. Again, I send my incredible gratefulness that all of you have made the journey to come here. I wanted to personally express that to you. My wish is that this kind of gathering can happen again and again. I really feel that, these days, we can’t underestimate how much it means for all these wonderful minds and intentions to have come together. It has power and incredible validity to change the world.
Thank you very much.
|Richard Reoch||Rinpoche, thank you so much for blessing this gathering and for giving us this inspiration of the internal strength that we need to accomplish our extraordinary aspiration.|
|Next:||Photo Essay: Monday ~ Opening Ceremonies|
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