“Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior”, (Pages 35- 41)
“The Essential: Discovering Basic Goodness”
We have to accept personal responsibility for uplifting our lives. When you don’t punish or condemn yourself, when you relax more and appreciate your body and mind, you begin to contact the fundamental notion of basic goodness in yourself. So it is extremely important to be willing to open yourself to yourself. Developing tenderness toward yourself allows you to see both your problems and your potential accurately. You don’t feel that you have to ignore your problems or exaggerate your potential. That kind of gentleness toward yourself and appreciation of yourself is very necessary. It provides the ground for helping yourself and others.
As human beings, we have a working basis within ourselves that allows us to uplift our state of existence and cheer up fully. That working basis is always available to us. We have a mind and a body, which are very precious to us. Because we have a mind and body, we can comprehend this world. Existence is wonderful and precious. We don’t know how long we will live, so while we have lour life, why not make use of it? Before we even make use of it, why don’t we appreciate it?
How do we discover this kind of appreciation? Wishful thinking or simply talking about it does not help. In the Sham bhala tradition, the discipline for developing both gentleness toward ourselves and appreciation of our world is the sitting prac tice of meditation.
The practice of meditation was taught by the Lord Buddha over twenty-five hundred years ago, and it has been part of the Shambhala tradition since that time. It is based on an oral tradition: from the time of the Buddha, this practice has been transmitted from one human being to another. In this way, it has remained a living tradition, so that, although it is an ancient practice, it is still up to date.
By meditation here, we mean something very basic and simple that is not tied to anyone culture. We are talking about a very basic act: sitting on the ground, assuming a good posture, and developing a sense of our spot, our place on this earth. This is the means of rediscovering ourselves and our basic goodness, the means to tune ourselves in to genuine reality, without any expecta tions or preconceptions.
The word meditation is sometimes used to mean contemplat ing a particular theme or object: meditating on such and such a thing. But here we are talking about a completely different concept of meditation: unconditional medita tion, without any object or idea in mind. In the Shambhala tradi tion, meditation is simply training our state of being so that our mind and body can be synchronized. Through the practice of meditation, we can learn to be without deception, to be fully genuine and alive.
Our life is an endless journey; it is like a broad highway that extends infinitely into the distance. The practice of meditation allows us to experience all the textures of the roadway, which is what the journey is all about.
Through the practice of meditation, we begin to find that, within our selves, there is no fundamental complaint about anything or any one at all.
Meditation practice begins by sitting down and assuming your seat cross-legged on the ground. You begin to feel that, by simply being on the spot, your life can become workable and even wonderful. You realize that you are capable of sitting like a king or queen on a throne. The regalness of that situation shows you the dignity that comes from being still and simple.
In the practice of meditation, an upright posture is extremely important. Having an upright back is not an artificial posture. It is natural to the human body. When you slouch, that is unusual. You can’t breathe properly when you slouch. So when you sit erect, you are pro claiming to yourself and to the rest of the world that you are going to be a warrior, a fully human being.
To have a straight back you do not have to strain yourself by pulling up your shoulders; the uprightness comes naturally from sitting simply but proudly on the ground or on your meditation cushion. Then, because your back is upright, you feel no trace of shyness or embarrassment, so you do not hold your head down. You are not bending to anything. Because of that, your shoulders become straight automatically, so you develop a good sense of head and shoulders. Then you can allow your legs to rest naturally in a cross-legged position; your knees do not have to touch the ground. You complete your posture by placing your hands lightly, palms down, on your thighs. This provides a further sense of assuming your spot properly.
In that posture, you don’t just gaze randomly around. You have a sense that you are thereproperly; therefore, your eyes are open, but your gaze is directed slightly downward, maybe six feet in front of you. In that way, your vision does not wander here and there, but you have a further sense of deliberateness and definite ness. You can see this royal pose in many ancestral cultures around the world. Is a universal posture, not limited to one culture or time.
In your daily life, you should also be aware of your posture, your head and shoulders, how you walk, and how you look at peo ple. Even when you are not meditating, you can maintain a digni fied state of existence. You can transcend your embarrassment and take pride in being a human being. Such pride is” acceptable and good.
Then, in meditation practice, as you sit with a good posture, you pay attention to your breath. When you breathe, you are ut terly there, properly there. You go out with the outbreath, your breath dissolves, and then the inbreath happens naturally. Then you go out again.
So there is a constant going out with the out breath. As you breathe out, you dissolve, you diffuse. Then your inbreath occurs naturally; you don’t have to follow it in. You sim ply come back to your posture, and you are ready for another out breath. Go out and dissolve: tshoo; then come back to your posture; then tshoo, and come back to your posture.
Then there will be an inevitable bing! –thought. At that point, you say, “thinking.” You don’t say it out loud; you say it mentally: “thinking.” Labeling your thoughts gives you tremen dous leverage to come back to your breath. When one thought takes you away completely from what you are actually doing – when you do not even realize that you are on the cushion, but in your mind, you say “thinking,” and you bring yourself back to the breath.
It doesn’t really matter what thoughts you have. In the sitting practice of meditation, whether you have monstrous thoughts or benevolent thoughts, all of them are regarded purely as thinking. No thought deserves a gold medal or a reprimand. Just label your thoughts “thinking,” then go back to your breath. “Thinking,” back to the breath; “thinking,” back to the breath.
The practice of meditation is very precise. It has to be on the dot, right on the dot. It is quite hard work, but if you remember the importance of your posture, that will allow you to synchronize your mind and body. If you don’t have good posture, your practice will be like a lame horse trying to pull a cart. It will never work.
So first you sit down and assume your posture, then you work with your breath; tshoo, go out, come back to your posture; tshoo, come back to your posture; tshoo. When thoughts arise, you label them “thinking” and come back to your posture, back to your breath.
You have mind working with breath, but you always maintain body as a reference point. You are not working with your mind alone. You are working with your mind and your body, and when the two work together, you never leave reality.
The ideal state of tranquility comes from experiencing body and mind being synchronized. If body and mind are unsynchro nized, then your body will slump –and your mind will be some where else. It is like a badly made drum: so either the frame breaks or the skin breaks, and there is no constant tautness. When mind and body are syn chronized, then, because of your good posture, your breathing happens naturally; and because your breathing and your posture work together, your mind has a reference point to check back to. Therefore, your mind will go out naturally with the breath.
This method of synchronizing your mind and body is training you to be very simple and to feel that you are not special, but ordinary, extra-ordinary. You sit simply, as a warrior, and out of that, a sense of individual dignity arises. You are sitting on the earth, and you realize that this earth deserves you and you deserve this earth. You are there –fully, personally, genuinely. So meditation practice in the Shambhala tradition is designed to educate people to be honest and genuine, true to themselves.
In some sense, we should regard ourselves as being burdened: we have the burden of helping this world. We cannot forget this responsibility. to others. But if we take our burden as a delight, we can actually liberate this world. The way to begin is with ourselves. From being open and honest with ourselves, we can also learn to be open with others. So we can work with the rest of the world, on the basis of the goodness we discover in ourselves. Therefore, meditation practice is regarded as a good, and in fact excellent, way to overcome warfare in the world: our own warfare.