Shambhala Friday evening talk Jay Lippman April 27, 2012 – DC Shambhala Center

For this evening, I have been working on talk based on Sakyong Mipham’ s book Ruling Your World, which is quite an important book for the community and the teachings. It is important because Sakyong Mipham spells out the path to Enlightenment by way of Shambhala explanation. There is only one enlightenment, not Shambhala enlightenment and a Buddhist one. There is only one ultimate nature of reality, but the way we go about it is different. The understanding and approach need to be clarified. That is one reason it is a good base to talk about path to enlightenment in Shambhala. And I need to connect to weekend program on Nagarjuna. Have to figure out as I go along. (Laughter)    Questions? Please ask.

Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso asked me to teach courses based on Sun of wisdom. I am also a Shambhala teacher. I used to live in D.C. I was a member of the D.C. center when it moved from Wisconsin Ave to Silver Spring. That was the first time the Center was in Silver Spring. That location was since torn down. (Laughter)   This is my first time back to the D.C. Shambhala center since then.

The book Sun of wisdom about Buddhist philosophy and emptiness goes back in time to the First century, to one of the greatest figures in Buddhism: Nagarjuna.

This is Lots of fun. In the past, I have taught many times. In the beginning, everybody was floating eyes, but by the end of weekend, people said “oh, that was great.” So, over the years, I‘ve added more insight into the real meaning of teachings, which has made it easier to talk about. So, I am excited to share it.

I have been exposed recently to some yoga studios employing mindfulness practice as what they do in yoga classes. As many of you may know, mindfulness is hot topic these days, it’s becoming popular. It seems clear from research there are health benefits to mindfulness practice. This is all true, but what is different between mindfulness as a yoga activity and the kind of practice we do in Shambhala? I want to point out the difference, because it is a very big difference. Shambhala teaches beginning with Basic Goodness.

Basic Goodness is a little mysterious. Basic Goodness is our inherent sense of worthiness as people. It is our Natural wisdom, our kindness, our compassion, all our good qualities. But we also say Basic Goodness is a state, an aspect of ourselves that is always accessible, even though we don’t access it. It is always intrinsically a part of who we are as people.

And Basic Goodness is what we uncover through our path in Shambhala. Shambhala offers a path to Enlightenment from A to Z, from an ordinary person like us to a completely realized, omniscient Buddha. The process involves uncovering the basic nature of Basic Goodness. When Basic Goodness is fully uncovered, we are inseparable from Buddha.

This is profound, and immediately accessible. We touch Basic Goodness every time we let go of our inner warfare and relax into the present moment. Every time you just let go of the stuff in your mind at that moment. That moment you let go and experience clear, fresh mind. It is not a big deal, but it is different. If you are not caught up, if you let go and experience the present moment, you are touching Basic Goodness (according to the teachings).

What is unique about the Shambhala teachings is we make a science of the present moment. The path to becoming a Buddha takes place in the present moment. This is not a fantasy in your mind, in your imagination, or in your contemplation, though that is part of it. The actual experiences toward Enlightenment, Wisdom/compassion, take place now in the present moment. Mindfulness is a technique, a technique to become present, let go of inner warfare. This is true. But with Shambhala, we have more understanding of what the possibilities are in the present moment. We have a better understanding of what is possible as humans cultivating the present moment. What is possible is the entire path to Enlightenment.

So when you meditate, you bring yourself back to the present moment. That is the practice. The Shambhala teachings say, the qualities of the present moment are there for you to discover, uncover in yourself. It is not obvious, it is right in front of you and you go “oh,” one minute you let go of discursive thinking, won’t hit on head. But the qualities are there. It is possible to connect with them, discover those qualities.

For example, gentleness. When we teach about it in Shambhala, people think ‘work at being at gentle. Struggle to be gentle.’ Sometimes, this may be appropriate, but the Shambhala teachings say ‘in the absence of struggle you can discover gentleness. Your own gentleness is inherent.’ Letting go is unnecessary. Discursive thinking, inner warfare of what did, what will. Gentleness is what is left. This is a very different approach of giving up something instead of making something up. And also there is tenderness, which is not obvious. But let go of thoughts and rest in the moment, in the present, and you can find tenderness right there. Gentleness and tenderness are naturally present in all of us to uncover in the present moment.

What happens is we let go of inner warfare, for a moment, and then are back at it in the present moment.

Hesitation, Doubt, and Fear

Teachings talk about suffering and struggle originations. There is a moment of hesitance about the present moment. We don’t quite trust it. We think we need to figure it out, we what we did, what we will do. Just hanging in present moment sounds good on paper. But we try it, and think, ‘yeah, right.’ (Laughter) We have lots of doubt. The Habit of doubt makes path so challenging. Hesitation and doubt. Underneath that is fear. Fear is afraid of just letting go inner warfare. Fear is a big topic in Shambhala. In Buddhism, attachment is the cause of suffering in life. Attachment is on a lot of levels: personality, being, and understanding of self, reality.

In Shambhala, we say in every moment of attachment, is also a moment of fear. We don’t want to let go. You are afraid of giving up what you are attached to.

In Buddhism, the focus is on attachment. In Shambhala, the focus is on fear. It is the same thing, from different aspects.

The Shambhala teachings say hesitance and doubt keep us churning in our discursive minds and not going forward on the path of uncovering our innate human potential.

This kind of problem is historic. As long as there have been humans, there has been discursive thinking. But there are better times and worse times. Now is a particularly bad time for discursive thinking. (Laughter)   Hesitance and doubt are so powerful. We are convinced we aren’t good people, and there is something wrong with us. If the problem is not with us, then it is with everyone else. To a certain point, our culture is built around that idea. In America, we are convinced our nature is selfish and greedy. Everyone is out for Number One. What we think of (very solid) ‘ourselves’ and ‘others.’ Is tremendous problem from a Shambhala perspective that we have such negative view of humanity. If it were true that people were basically selfish and greedy, then we can’t change it. If you can’t change human nature, it Means humanity is doomed. But if you look at history. It’s about cooperation. Without cooperation, we would have killed ourselves off long ago. It is because of goodness and kindness and cooperation that we have managed to produce all this. (Gestures at room, light fixtures, technology)

There are Qualities of cooperation and organization in all species. I was watching a show on bees, and they talk about cooperation and self-sacrifice. The message of Sakyong Mipham that we are trying to contemplate is that there is another way to look at people. In a sense, Shambhala is offering a spiritual remedy to the crisis of the times. There are different levels of remedy (required): social, economic.  For Shambhala, it is a spiritual solution. As humans, we need to get back to innate quality of goodness and use that as basis for being together, versus believing we are all greedy and selfish.

Thinking is part of the problem. When you let go of discursive thinking, and find … here, all the qualities of Basic Goodness are not self-evident. It’s a long path. The first moment, you let go of discursive thought. But the next moment, discursive thought is back, and you don’t trust letting go.  So it’s a path. As a path, it is necessary to learn about it first. If we hear about it, it is laid out in front of us, and we can say “I know how to go, what will happen, and how to get there.” That is teaching on the path.

In Shambhala, the path is broken into 4 parts. (Gesturing at Shambhala 4 Dignities flag) Bottom right. Top left garuda, top right dragon.

Tiger lion garuda dragon are 4 stages of path to Enlightenment.  


Buddhism also describes this in great detail. These are equivalent according to the Buddhist path, but we have a Shambhala way of talking. In the first stage of tiger, there is a notion of meditation practice. Meditation practice is not just mindfulness; it is not just sitting on cushion. Letting of of thoughts, coming back to the breath, being taken away, and coming back is good. But the path is not to become great breathers! (Laughter)   It’s to be used to be present. To be more present, to be more comfortable, to begin to trust the present moment. That aspect is not obvious, but it is there.

From a Shambhala point of view, it isn’t just the hours you meditate. That is less of a concern than:

  • “How sensitive are you becoming to yourself?”
  • “How sensitive are you becoming to your mind?”
  • “How sensitive are you becoming to your life?”
  • “How sensitive are you becoming to the present moment?”

Are you able to cultivate being present through course of day? That is the real question. Sitting one hour of day, you may feel like a real hero, but there are 23 hours left! Is essential to think about how you relate to day. Sakyong Mipham gives pragmatic advice. When you wake up; tell yourself, “I will be more present.” Set a goal “be more present.”

Just setting that attitude is helpful process.

So the path of tiger starts with becoming familiar with being present, but is a lot more. We also need to contemplate the nature of things. In the Buddhist tradition, what is taught is our genuine happiness depends on our understanding of reality. If we understand reality correctly, then there you go. There is a correct and incorrect way to understanding reality that is fundamental to the Buddhist view (and Shambhala). We have to know what we need to contemplate, and then contemplate those things to gain more accurate understanding of reality. Through that process, we can discover genuine happiness for one’s self and be of benefit to self and a benefit to others.

So what do we contemplate?

First century Nagarjuna! Tomorrow. (Laughter)

Today, we will talk about contemplating other things.

Contemplation # 1: Causes of Suffering, Causes of Happiness

First, contemplate our experience in meditation practice, the experience of own minds. When we reflect, we discover this discursiveness, this Inner warfare, is all repetition. We are chewing some things again and again, anticipating what might happen, bouncing between them. Those thoughts are for the most part useless. They are actually expressions of negative emotions of anger, jealous, pride, passion, lust. These are the underlying emotions that color those thoughts. Thoughts and emotions are experienced as one thing most of time.

We are very attached to these thoughts, because they are familiar. We think by working it over, we will make ourselves happy. That’s what we think. But it never works out for us. That kind of inner warfare always leads to irritation, unhappiness, discontent, stress. That kind of inner warfare is a source of misery, but we think it is the only way to be happy.

So this is first thing to contemplate.

Are we going about things the right ways or not? Is our habitual way of going about, reverence to our thinking process; is it a path to happiness? Or is it a path to unhappiness? We need to look at this. Meditation practice pulls the curtain on this.

You are sitting there, so you see what is going on. The question is: “Is this what reality is, or are we missing it?”

The teachings say, “You are missing it.” All that thinking is “it’s all about me.” All suffering is in relationship to self. So, we are always trying to work it to make ourselves feel better. Does it work or not?

There is a suggestion. Worrying about other people does take care of thinking. There have been surveys of job satisfaction. Those directly involved in taking care of other people have the highest job satisfaction. Yet we know those are usually among the lowest paid. We know it and we don’t.

So the first thing to contemplate is happiness and unhappiness. The second thing is more difficult: karma.

Contemplation # 2: Karma: Cause and Effect

Shambhala and Buddhism both share teachings on karma. It is a big, big, difficult topic, especially for Westerners. I have a weekend course on karma, and have come across all kinds of minds in teaching that course. It is funny; people have a knee- jerk reaction to karma and reincarnation. “I can’t buy it.” So I ask, and “What do you think happens when you die? Where do you think you start?” It is very interesting. Yet the ideas our culture presents are even further out there*. If you really study karma, it makes the most sense, since it is based on cause and effect. In our lives, we know cause and effect in lots of ways. We are certain of the reality of cause and effect in many ways through our lives. Karma is the same process as a much bigger way over many lifetimes, in ways not obvious, but still happens. This is quite profound and provocative. You have to contemplate karma. If you take the teachings on karma to heart, and start to get it, you start to understand what to accept and what to reject. You know what lead to happiness and what to sorrow. The whole basis of ethics and morality in Buddhism and Shambhala tradition comes down to ‘what you do to avoid the cause of harm and the effect it has on self and other’. It seems difficult. It is not easy in the West, since we have weird ideas about the word ‘karma’ having nothing to do with what it really is.

Contemplating karma leads to an appreciation of how to live life. The Law of karma says that happiness only comes from virtuous actions. Virtue in Tibetan is gewa, which also means ‘harmony and joy’. This is NOT moralistic. It is what produces a mind that is harmonious and joyful vs. what created mind of disharmony.

Actions based on the motivation of benefiting others plants seeds that ripen in future lifetimes under the right conditions. Past actions plus conditions of the present time lead to happy or unhappy future circumstances. The Positive circumstances you experience now are only the result of past actions and present conditions.

Conversely, all difficult and unhappy circumstances are the result of previous non-virtuous actions combined with current conditions.

In one sense, this is straight forward and linear. In another sense, this is difficult. It needs to be chewed on. I have for a long time. It starts to get under your skin and makes sense. And then you start adjusting your life. Give up hunting, things like that. (Laughter)

So, understanding Karma requires contemplation. The path all the way through is a combination of meditation experience and contemplating. Hearing a teaching explaining the nature of reality, self, mind and contemplating those and putting into meditation, or into practice Is the way one goes on this path. We combine direct experience in meditation with contemplation and study.

After karma, we contemplate impermanence.

Contemplation # 3: Impermanence

Again, this comes out of our meditation experience. Trying to hold on all the time, and the world keeps changing. What is nature of world? Are you not quite good enough at holding on, or is it constantly dissolving through finger? Life is a fluid situation, always changing.

According to Sakyong Mipham’s approach in Ruling Your World, the thing you glean from all this work of contemplating and meditation is that you have choice how to act. Could choose to devote self to benefiting others. Could be stronger part of picture, when you do that, on this particular path, there are lots of people helping others. But on this path, is a combo of being present and helping others. You have to infuse the present moment with thoughts and actions to benefit others. Quite unique about this path.

Discipline is required on both sides. You should not lose self in helping others. Bring the concern and caring and so forth of others with discipline of being present, of letting go of inner warfare. When you start, it has its own momentum. Life has certain energy. We call it windhorse. Energy of combining strong presence with virtue, caring about others. That energy moves you forward. Feel like your life is riding that energy. At that energy, you have moved on to the level of the lion.


Lion. Not much changes, but not as difficult. More energetic, more delightful, almost joyous. Experiences of love that are blissful.

Path start off battling discursive mind goes somewhere, develops. Don’t always have to be the same.
Can do it by following instructions.

Small mindedness and meditation. Less control over our minds see things in bigger way, larger way, less concerned about me, more about others. Also more and more present, less discursive, to point of joy and love.

Path goes beyond that, through process been letting go of me, from first moment of letting warfare go. Continues with letting go of me. But at higher stages. Garuda. Understanding of ‘me’ becomes more profound, lots more teachings.


What you understand about me is there ain’t any me. (Laughter)   Me is a myth, not actually true. There are lots of teachings about the absence of self, teachings of emptiness in Buddhism. But when you ‘get it,’ and it starts to transform who you are, you are at stage of garuda. When we realize there is no self, no self of myself of me or anything else either, our attachment to our personal self and external world disappears. Such attachment has no reason to hold on. This is very profound. This is what we will be talking about tomorrow and Sunday: (Laughter) The emptiness teachings.

When you reach stage of the garuda, you have been transformed. You have realized directly the truth of the teachings. Then you start to find freedom. The Image of the garuda is a bird that flies in fathomless space with nothing around. It soars with a lack of reference point that characterizes the mind of freedom you attain when you realize the truth of the teachings of the absence of self. Until that point, in Buddhism, we talk about the 8 worldly dharmas: Loss and gain, pleasure and pain, praise and blame, blame and disgrace, basically winning and losing. We are attached to pleasure and attached to not feeling pain, And so forth. At this point of Garuda, you get free of all that. You are no longer attached, and the 8 Worldly Dharmas become insignificant: that is freedom. You are able to function in a profound way. You are no longer limited by them, no longer limited by thinking of self. There is no more hope and fear. This is the stage of a bodhisattva, a profound stage. There are very few bodhisattvas. But on the other hand, you never know who might be one.

Garuda is the path of the bodhisattvas. The 10 bhumis are described. At the end of that, we come to the fully accomplished person, the warrior in Shambhala, the path of the dragon.


Warrior in Shambhala is on the path of the dragon at the Point where person has completely let go of not just self, but duality. The most fundamental perception of self and other, at that level all the problems start. Final accomplishment is to overcome that. It is not real, is just an expression of confusion.

Would they walk in front of a bus? I don’t think so. (Laughter)  It is difficult to know what non-duality is like. Nevertheless, this is what the teachings say. Duality is fully transcended. We recognize everyone else as Buddhas and dance with the elements in every situation.

Shambhala. Language is inscrutable. Ordinary people can’t understand what they do. If you saw the movie “Crazy Wisdom” about Trungpa Rinpoche. I thought it was good. The term ‘crazy wisdom’. That term. Another video of his early days. They were interviewing the consort of one of his teachers. She said “we heard this teacher had stepped to crazy wisdom. This is a final stage of realization; NOT something to play around with.

The dragon is inscrutable. Manifestations of limitless wisdom and compassion. The purpose of the path. To uncover wisdom and compassion for everyone.

So that’s the talk, description of Shambhala path. Hope you can see how Nagarjuna fits into that. (Laughter)

Q and A

Q. when I read Ruling Your World, it really affected me. I decided to work with it. “This month tiger, then next month…” (Laughter)   gave that up after a week (Laughter)   “no way to go about it.” Way you talked about it was in sequence. If it is so, why is the curriculum like it is? One month meek /perky, next outrageous/inscrutable…how does it work?

A. I describe how you become it. It’s one thing to learn about it, another to be it. You need to learn where we are going first. Don’t just strike out.

The intro courses are there to give the flavor of these stages. Then you have to walk it. That’s a different story.

That is one. Half the answer. The other half is that. Sakyong Mipham is talking about these particular stages of the path in a number of ways. Way I described it was as the path to enlightenment. It is very important we don’t lose sight of that.

But there are also principles. Meek discipline, joy of lion, etc., qualities you can find in things.

Got 4 burners of stove. Tiger lion garuda dragon. That is logic. But what is that about? I think it about creating a culture in which the path to enlightenment is the dominant part, it permeates the culture. It’s a part of what you are, and what you do. For example, that flower arrangement, what are the qualities of a dragon in it? The qualities you can connect to tie back to path of transformation of the individual.

Q. for benefit of those of us who can’t come, could you please summarize what you are going to say? (Laughter)

A. You can read the book at your leisure. And then write me your questions. Too wonderful, can’t squeeze it all down. (Laughter)   very special opportunity. (Laughter)

Q. A basic question. What is relationship between Shambhala and Buddhism?

A. Trungpa Rinpoche said it’s like a stupa. If Buddhism is a stupa, Shambhala is a coat of paint on a stupa. Does that Make sense? Not so much. (Laughter) It’s the same truth. There is only one ultimate nature of reality. And a path to that. That’s the same. But there is a kind of a particular flavor of that, it involves others. Buddhism historically has strong core of monasticism. Been many other aspects. Not strictly monastic, but monasticism has been at the core. Certainly in Tibetan Buddhism, individual practices as a vehicle to enlightenment, Shambhala emphasizes community. We are all going to get there together. (Laughter)   There are more teachings of Shambhala. These teachings are said to be right for this time. In this particular time, it doesn’t look like monasticism is going to catch on. (Laughter) We are not all rushing out to shave our heads and don robes, which is tragic in many ways. These people have tremendous wisdom. And they have dumpy little presence in this country, and in the world. The Dali lama is one exception. He is well known, but does not have much influence.   Shambhala is saying, there is a different way going forward.   The expression will be different. Sakyong Mipham is a monarch who is a family man, with a child, a wife, a court. And interested in governance. That is the future.

Q. follows on. Buddhism makes the ordinary profound, and Shambhala makes the profound practical.

A. I don’t know the sound bites. Sounds good. (Laughter)

Q. Going back to the previous comment. contrast. Best of times and worst of times. It’s the worst of times, but we have achieved what we have from cooperation. We seem to minimize successes of cooperation. Tied to that. Read about Dali lama and interest in science. Neuroscience.  We are still hardwired to be aggressive. Protective. Look out for oneself. What would Sakyong Mipham say about that? How the path will mitigate those aspects?

A. we all know about those aspects. But I’ve heard we are hardwired for compassion. I think the science is bearing us out. I’m not as interested in biology as physics. (Laughter)   physics is coming around to our point of view. . Book I read. “Tibetan Buddhism and modern physics”. Rick Mansfield. Looks at similarities in thinking process in physics and Buddhist tradition are similar. Not substantiating each other. But similar. Some of the really bizarre things being uncovered closely match what Buddhism understands.

The problem is, if you woke up tomorrow and saw “Scientists discover everything is empty,” nothing would change. But in Buddhist path, if you discover everything is empty, it changes everything, because it also leads to limitless wisdom and compassion.




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