Shambhala Day Address

February 13, 2002
Year of the Water Horse
Halifax, Nova Scotia

Good morning everybody. A cheerful Shambhala Day to everyone, wherever you might be. Once again, we find ourselves at the cusp of change, at an interesting intersection in life. Having just spent three months in retreat myself, I've had the opportunity to see and reflect on what is really important: to train the mind and train the heart. My message for the Year of the Horse is about renewal, about using the opportunities we already have as practitioners of buddhadharma, practitioners of Shambhala, and practitioners of life.

All of us are in the same boat. We have a limited amount of time on Planet Earth, and every year we should appreciate what we have and who we are. We have our health. We have a sense of path and journey. It is important to focus on this more than ever. Terrible things happened last year and we've had a radical shift in our reality. We were forced to examine our notions of what is good and what is bad, who we are, what the world is, and how we fit into that world. This has brought a lot of destabilization, not just in terms of the disruption of the world's balance, but also of our personal lives. This destabilization can scatter our energy, drain it, and reduce our standards regarding how we conduct ourselves and how we choose to live.

When we experience a challenge and difficulties arise, we often question and even doubt the fundamental principle of basic goodness. We question who we are. We question our understanding of buddhadharma and the Shambhala teachings. What does it all mean? On one hand, we each have our own way of relating with life and our own karmic situation. But at a deeper level, these experiences are reminders of the realities of death, impermanence, and suffering that mark our basic situation.

When we're challenged like this, we naturally ask what we can do. I think it's important to strengthen our principles even more. We need to strengthen windhorse, compassion, love, and bodhichitta-all the principles we trust, believe, and practice. We need to train ourselves even more. We need to stabilize our understanding even more, because we tend to get absorbed in the exterior shifts of the world and lose our windhorse. We lose our own energy and our ability to deal with things. It all comes down to how strong our minds are, how strong our hearts are, and how much effort we have put into stabilizing them.

When we're in a difficult situation, we have to maintain our seat. This principle works well with the Year of the Horse. Even as we're looking at who we are, we have to maintain our seats. We have to stay in the saddle, whatever practice we may be doing. Whether we engage in basic humanitarian activities or Buddhism or Shambhala-it's time to meditate, to "become familiar with." We must spend time with ourselves and become familiar with compassion, understanding, and open-mindedness. These are easily shattered; they take a lot of practice to maintain and develop.

Frankly, when people ask me about the meaning of the challenges we're facing, they ask as though I'm going to offer some sort of secret. But what's the most fundamental secret in this whole situation? It's something that we already possess. It's basic goodness, buddha nature, fundamental wakefulness. This is something that we have to develop every day. Every day we need to contemplate basic goodness, extend it, and begin to engage it.

When we don't think about our wakefulness, what is it that we're thinking about? We're thinking about ourselves: our own safety, our own needs. Obviously, we need to think about eating, dressing, and staying warm. But beyond that, if we continue to think of ourselves as we engage with life, our circle becomes small. Our focus on our lives becomes so tight that we begin to ignore other things. The Great Eastern Sun and basic goodness enable us to expand, to look beyond ourselves, and to think about others.

At this time, people are struggling with family, finances, and all kinds of personal issues. This is a time when most of us will tighten. But as practitioners, here lies our challenge. The waxing and waning of suffering will continue over decades, but within that continuum we can maintain our seat and trust basic goodness, develop bodhichitta. We can say, "I'm making a journey. This life is interesting. Many things happen to me, but I am not all the events that are happening. I am 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 out to others?"

When we look at ourselves and trust ourselves, we naturally see the predicament of our own situation. We can then begin to see the predicament of others. One of my favorite phrases these days 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 about 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 tradition isn't based on a whimsical approach, a "love-and-light" kindness. It doesn't simply hope for the best. Instead, this tradition says, "The reality is that a confusion has started because we believe ourselves to be real."

As this year begins, let's define our journeys. In the realm of worldly gains, of course we need to make aspirations that we and our families and communities prosper. But internally, our journey is to be liberated, to let go and relax. We could go through life becoming tighter and tighter every year. Generally, that is what happens because we feel there is a life to be had. But unfortunately, there is no life to be had. We keep saying, "I need a life." I know I say that (laughter).

People frequently ask me what I would do if I weren't doing this. Would I want to do this, that, or the other thing? I know too much at this point to think that way. I want to do what I'm doing and understand the truth. That's the point: unless we have some sort of peace of mind about what we are doing, none of us is happy.

When other people talk about Buddhists, they say we believe in death and impermanence and suffering. "Yahda yahda yahda." But Buddhists don't want that. Buddhists want joy and happiness. We're no fools (laughter). But how we go about getting our happiness, that's the interesting part. We don't attain it by thinking about ourselves, because, by the way, there is no self (laughter).

"Please," people ask me, "tell me what's going to happen to me next year." "Who?" I say (laughter). "Who is talking to whom? Let's start with the basics."

But we are also Shambhalians, and the notion of Shambhala is that we recognize the ups and downs, ebb and flow, waxing and waning of the human dilemma. When we get caught up in that, we have to acknowledge it and say, "Yes, this human dilemma is incredibly vast and deep." The more we take our inspiration from working with such situations, the more strength we gain for the future.

It comes back to the notion of bodhichitta, thinking 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." It may feel impossible or overwhelming, as if we're going to be crushed under the vastness of such an approach. But just by having that intention, we gain strength. So here in the new year, we have the opportunity to think of ways to push ourselves, to make ourselves stronger. We can find ways to stretch ourselves so that at the end of the year we can say, "You know, I made some progress in serving others." If we don't make progress in this way, we are strengthening the cycle of samsara instead: doing the same things every year, just getting closer and closer to death. That's a waste of time, a waste of a life.

How do we avoid wasting ourselves? How do we help? We need to maintain our energy by applying the practices we already have. We need to stay on the horse and maintain our life force. The notion of windhorse is very simple: if we visualize a horse running through a beautiful meadow, there's a sense of empowerment. We feel lightness and levity, as though things are possible. That image stimulates an incredibly potent life force in us-windhorse. Due to the nature of our own approach, most of what we encounter is the diminishing of windhorse. We have the opportunity to raise it here and now. We are the kings and queens of our own lives.

As a community, we can help. There are many practical details, but it starts with the basic attitude of thinking about others. As a community we can generate this intention. There are thousands of us: we each have our own style and will carry out that intention in our own particular way. Let's begin right now.

What we are engaging this year is joy and exertion. Exertion is one word for it, courage is another. What does this mean? It means not tomorrow, not in a few minutes, but right now. This year, we will do it right now. And then we'll enjoy the process. We'll enjoy creating a sane environment; we'll enjoy creating enlightened society. It doesn't have to be overwhelming. We could do it for one person, or even for an animal. Each of us has a particular mission in life. I want you to look at your own mission and see what you can do. It begins with one thing at a time.

Everyone participating in the events of the New Year: please rouse your energy, rouse your windhorse, which means not being so obsessed with ourselves. Think about others. That brings delight, which is what Shambhala Day is all about. We have this opportunity, so make use of it with a healthy balance of humor and courage. Thank you, enjoy your day, and I wish you lots of good luck and good eating. Not to sound too religious, but I will be doing prayers for all of you, because that's what I do.

© Mipham J. Mukpo 2002
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