Read an Excerpt
Finding Joy in Every Breath
By Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche
New World LibraryCopyright © 2012 Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche
All rights reserved.
Whether we realize it or not, our deepest aspiration is to experience the richness and fullness of our being in every moment. Each of us has the capacity to live fully, but how do we recognize our potential? We usually think that the surest way to fulfillment is to satisfy our desires for the objects that bring us pleasure. However, when we grasp for pleasure in hopes of finding happiness, it will elude us. For instance, an ice cream sundae, a thrilling movie, or a glass of fine chardonnay can distort our natural quality. We may devour an entire chocolate bar when we feel lonely and unappreciated. Although we savor the taste of the chocolate and momentarily feel euphoric, the lonely, empty feeling soon returns. We do not experience the pure fulfillment inherent in every moment, and therefore, we tend to use sense pleasures as a temporary salve.
In the United States, we are proud of our freedoms and we frequently congratulate ourselves on the great liberties we enjoy. But it seems that we often do not make the best use of the leisure and opportunity that our freedom affords us. We tend to believe that free choice gives us the license to indulge. This may provide fleeting satisfaction. However, incessant pleasure-seeking is not the true way to enjoy our freedom.
When we know how to surrender, we can truly appreciate our freedom. The ability to surrender comes from a disciplined approach to life. In this case, surrender is not submitting to a higher authority, like an army recruit saluting a drill sergeant. Rather, we surrender when we give up trying to satisfy all of our hopes and expectations. If we can abandon our efforts to fabricate a "perfect" world, we will experience genuine freedom that is not corrupted by endless craving for something better. The more conviction we gain in our inner potential, the more willing we are to surrender in this natural way. We may begin to find pure pleasure in the most unexpected places.
Self-discipline provides us the space in which to surrender. It brings confidence in our inherent wealth. It is not about making stringent demands on oneself. Fasting and praying all day in a dark cave are not always necessary. Real discipline is not punishment; it is a peaceful path to insight and understanding. Lacking this kind of mental training, our habitual thinking gains the upper hand and imprisons us in our ordinary ways. Essentially, all of the myriad methods of spiritual practice are nothing but tools that help us leap beyond ourselves. With training, we can develop these skills. When we practice mindfulness and sharpen our awareness, we will not become trapped in mind-numbing routines and narrow views. We will open up vast reservoirs of fresh, self-renewing energy. Then we can live fully in the vitality of every breath.
Protecting and defending our self-image drains us of this sacred energy. Striving to define and validate our identity precipitates anxiety and stress. When we know who we are, we will be content. In the movement of each breath, we will enjoy natural freedom. Our disciplined way of life will become relaxed and effortless, and we will appreciate how simple it is to experience inner peace and lasting happiness.
Our most pressing challenge is to live fully. Our lives will not be truly satisfying if we cannot live each moment deliberately and grasp the essence of our precious human nature. Temporarily we may enjoy good health and material comforts, but our lives are rushing by, like sand running through an hourglass. What's more, there is no guarantee that we will awaken from our sleep tomorrow morning!
With this in mind, I sincerely advise you to breathe fully right now! Live mindfully, as if there were no tomorrow. Even if others think that seizing each moment makes you a little crazy, it's all right to be crazy once in a while, as long as you are crazy in a good way. There is no reason to always follow the norm. After all, what is the norm? Who creates the norm? When you clearly understand the preciousness and impermanence of life, you will live in a way that is most beneficial and meaningful to you. You will not depend on others for validation.
You may have friends and family who love you. But remember that you came into this life naked and alone, and you will leave naked and alone. So why not live nakedly? Why not live without any cover, without any pretense? Living nakedly means living each moment in your original, fresh form. When you are familiar with your unconditional self and not limited by relative circumstances, you will see everything as perfect.
Life is not a rehearsal. Don't compromise when it comes to living in the present. Don't compromise with your past or future, with right or wrong, with good or bad. With a self-centered perspective, our minds are agitated by the extremes of hope and fear. We hope that things will work out for our benefit or we fear that they will not. Living fully means living without compromise. Do not allow your thoughts, feelings, or emotions to corrupt you. Attempt to honestly confront all your neuroses and negativity. If it helps, retreat to a secluded place where you can practice the teachings of the enlightened ones and investigate the workings of your mind.
Those who follow the Buddhist tradition are referred to as practitioners because they do not simply accept the Buddha's teachings without question, but instead apply the teachings and test their veracity, like a goldsmith examining gold to ensure that it is genuine. A Buddhist practices by training his or her mind, much like an athlete trains the body to compete in a marathon. Consistent training will gradually free you from unwholesome thoughts and negative emotions. The quintessential practice is to skillfully liberate your confusion on the spot, no matter where you are or what you are doing. This is the best way to live and the true way to practice.
The True Purpose of Being
The spiritual journey enables us to discover our innate intelligence — the essence of our being. When we behold this inner radiance, suffering and darkness will vanish from our lives. In this very moment, we have the opportunity to dispel our ignorance and enjoy a truly wholesome way of living. When our obscurations are purified, confusion will disappear. If being in this human form has any purpose, it is to make good use of our lives so that we never get trapped in dark and hopeless realms, with little opportunity to utilize our intelligence.
However, we must be clear on one crucial point: we are all capable of deceiving ourselves. If we have suffered in the past or are suffering now, it is not someone else's fault; it is our own doing. Thinking we are clever, we fool ourselves. The teachings of the Buddha show us how to utilize our basic intelligence and avoid self-deception. Even if you spend years in solitary retreat, recite millions of mantras, and emerge as a great philanthropist, you might still be deceiving yourself. These days, many practitioners of the spiritual path — both Westerners and Easterners — claim to have meditated for many years and believe they have experienced great realization. However, some do not seem to know why they are meditating or how their practice enhances their way of living. This is a sign they have not yet realized the true purpose of being.
It is our good fortune as human beings to have the intellectual capacity to understand the meaning of impermanence. We should always remember that this human life is as transient and unpredictable as a summer rain shower. It is uncertain when life will end, but it is absolutely certain that it will end. Therefore, we should urgently pursue a spiritual path that helps us to actualize our innate, enlightened qualities. Only then will we know complete contentment and feel certain that we have fulfilled our purpose in life. I believe this is the best way to tackle our daily problems and embody an authentic way of spiritual living.
We often attempt to apply conventional thinking and methods to solve our problems and find satisfaction, but this approach never seems to provide us with a truly effective solution. Will this ever bring us closer to unconditional joy and freedom?
In the West, we are free to do whatever we want and purchase whatever we please if we have a few dollars in our pocket. We can accomplish almost anything if we are resourceful enough. But placing our trust in achievements that are contingent and ephemeral is like believing in the reality of a mirage. We may rely on conditional circumstances for fulfillment, but we will always be left feeling thirsty for more. Everything in the relative world is conditional. Everything is dependent on causes and conditions that lack stability and are constantly shifting.
We fool ourselves when we think that achieving conditional goals will promise us lasting satisfaction. But we tend to get ensnared in our clever schemes and unwittingly waste our precious time. We run around in circles and maneuver in limited and self-serving ways.
Please do not misunderstand — we should be free to do what we like. However, the most pressing issue is this: we need to liberate ourselves from self-centeredness by subduing our pride and arrogance. Like prisoners escaping from shackles, we need to break free from the confusion and negativity that torment us. Then we will rediscover the beauty of our natural state of being, released from all burdens and limitations.
Our true nature is pure, all-pervasive awareness. This awareness has no form, yet it reflects and manifests all appearances. Our quest in life is to discover our true nature and bask in the freedom of the unconditional, beyond limitations. Then we will never forget that every moment we are spending a priceless gift — our breath. The inhalation and exhalation of our breath, moment by moment, is precious. Here, there is always fresh discovery and continual revelation. Here, there is genuine satisfaction. So let's not rely too heavily on anything external. Let us always remember what is ours from the very beginning: the capacity to breathe deeply and to live our lives fully.CHAPTER 2
The Intelligent Way to Begin
The First Step
Life is indeed a precious opportunity. If we aspire to live fully, it is important to be clear about our intentions. It is best to begin every activity by examining our motivation. When we set out on a journey, we usually have an objective in mind. Is the trip for business or pleasure? Are we traveling for a job interview or to visit friends? What are we hoping to accomplish? Do we expect to have a good time, or are we anxious about the trip?
Examining our motivation is meaningful because the purity of our intention sets the tone for everything that follows. In our tradition, we say that everything rests on the tip of a wish. The quality of our motivation will govern the course of our journey and determine its eventual outcome.
Perhaps your motivation for reading this book stems from your interest in learning how you can live a happier life. If you feel this way, you must sense that everyone yearns to suffer less and live more joyfully. Everyone wants to be happy! We will find more satisfaction in whatever we do when we begin with the sincere wish that we all find happiness together.
Although we have periods in our lives that are relatively happy, we are rarely free from stress or anxiety. Everyone is struggling; everyone suffers. In a very real sense, we are all victims of our agitating thoughts and emotions. We may feel sorry for ourselves, but it is helpful to remember that all human beings are in the same predicament. We are all traveling companions on a sometimes perilous and difficult journey. When we journey together toward the goal of mutual happiness, we can ease our burdens and the burdens of others.
Taking your first step in this sublime way, your life will be enriched, like a beautiful tapestry being carefully sewn together with golden threads. Tenderly embrace the whole universe and recognize everyone as your partner on the journey. We are all in the same boat, so we should care for everyone equally. Elevating our thinking in this way is not always easy, because we spend so much time looking out for ourselves. Training your mind to think more of others will broaden your vision and soften your heart. Taking your first step with a kind heart is the intelligent way to begin.
To live our lives fully, we need to do everything completely. Complete activity begins with a pure intention. In other words, give rise to a kind heart.
When our actions are not imbued with kindness, we will not achieve perfect results. When our activities do not emanate from a pure heart, we limit our potential. Our lives feel empty and devoid of meaning. On the other hand, if we act with the aim of serving others, our lives will be uplifted and each breath will feel like a wonderful gift. A positive attitude beautifies our lives, just as a precious jewel beautifies the person who wears it. In the Buddhist tradition, the metaphor of an elixir is used to illustrate the transformative power of the kind heart. A benevolent wish is like an elixir that transforms ordinary base metals into precious gold.
When our activities are not guided by pure intentions, we soon lose enthusiasm and interest. No matter how exciting a project may seem initially, it ends in disappointment. A selfish thought is not a pure thought. Therefore, from the beginning, strengthen your resolve, purify your intentions, and awaken a kind heart. Your actions will shine with virtue and integrity. You will never feel defeated or discouraged. You will have respect for yourself and for others, a respect that is rooted in the fundamental goodness within all of us.
Whatever you plan to do, begin by taking a moment to reflect before you act. Generate a pure thought and nurture it within your heart. Keep it always in your mind. Have the sincere wish that every interaction you have with others will be the cause for their happiness in this and future lives, and that ultimately it will lead others to the unsurpassed happiness of complete enlightenment.
Unlock the Chains of Self-Cherishing
When our motivation is pure, we can accomplish everything easily, like an eagle soaring effortlessly on the wind. When we lack the noble aspirations of a compassionate heart, we will not achieve anything worthwhile in our spiritual practice, even if we sit in meditation day and night for over a hundred years. What matters most is not what we do, but how we do it.
Put a drop of poison in a glass of milk and you would not drink it. If you are motivated purely by selfish aims, the results could be just as deadly. On the other hand, if you are sincerely interested in relieving the suffering and pain of others, your life will flourish.
A miserly person who hoards wealth and cares nothing for others feels lonely and unloved. If we focus too much on our own desires and interests, we limit our chances for happiness. Caring about others is the way to hone our emotional intelligence. If we start with the noble aspiration to be helpful to all of humanity, our lives will be blessed with joy and graced with purpose. We begin with the sublime intention to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all. As we say in our tradition, sublime in the beginning, sublime in the practice, and sublime at the conclusion.
A genuine spiritual path loosens the chains of self-cherishing, the tightness in our hearts that narrows our vision and limits our horizons. True compassion illuminates our lives and helps us to guide others, just as a lighthouse signals a safe path for ships lost at sea. Always appraise your intentions by asking yourself, "Is this kindhearted?" Make this your natural way of living.
Excerpted from Living Fully by Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche. Copyright © 2012 Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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