Confined by Cowardice
way to free ourselves, says Sakyong Mipham, is to face life head-on
without the seductive companionship of habitual patterns.
father, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, introduced the teachings of Shambhala
to the West. These teachings are called “the sacred path of the
warrior” because they emphasize bravery as an important factor in
determining not only our personal future, but that of the world. Bravery
is defined as “the act of both personally and socially manifesting.” If
we manifest our potential, liberation will arise. If we do not
manifest, confusion arises. Bravery is that moment when we manifest 110
percent. It is the act of wholeheartedly having the courage, relaxation,
and insight simply to be. We arrive at this ability to be by
cultivating a steady and forthright attitude toward the present moment.
be a warrior is to experience life on our own two feet, without the
companionship of habitual patterns. To engage in bravery, we must be
willing to be free of deception. The Shambhala tradition regards any
aspect of life as a potential path of warriorship. But if we use our
activities as a buffer that prevents us from being, those same
activities become a nesting ground for habitual patterns and cowardly
traits—elements of deception that allow us not to be fully present.
our lives are based on deception, they are rooted in a serious
fabrication. To equate deception with riding posture, we are slightly
askew. In a jousting match with an oncoming rider—who we could equate
with genuineness, egolessness, and cheerfulness—we would fall out of the
saddle. If we are to face these principles and incorporate them, we
must be properly mounted in our minds and in our lives.
self-deception that prevents us from being brave is based on not living
wakefully, in the moment. It is the result of avoiding relative virtue
and absolute virtue. At the relative level, because we cannot be strong
in our social and personal situation, we deceive our spouse, children,
or friends. Then, at the ultimate level, when it comes to following a
spiritual path, we are already accustomed to a somewhat deceptive
momentum. It is hard to be totally honest, and difficult to follow the
makes sense that the prerequisite for facing the facts is known as
bravery, for to face the facts is brave. We cannot continuously hide in
excuses. The excuses we use fall into three categories.
first is speaking with a double tongue. Because we are unable to face
the facts, we avoid them. The schism in our mind has reached our lips,
and we are constantly saying one thing and doing another, using words to
cover our life with a web of deception. There is a feeling that if we
continue to elaborate the deception, it will eventually become true.
second is being cowardly. Being cowardly means being content within our
own cowardliness. We have no motivation to go beyond it with bravery.
It is similar to being lazy or stuck, when we feel as if we can be no
other way. In meditation practice, we have no real intention of
stabilizing our mind, generating kindness, or discovering our inherent
goodness. Socially, we have no desire to meet new people or experience
new things. Therefore, just as bravery is a state of being, cowardliness
is a state of being. We actually feel like we are simply being, but
because it involves tremendous deception, we are only fooling ourselves.
third is deception itself. Deception has become our game plan. We might
even take a perverse thrill in it. While a feeling of embarrassment may
mark the previous excuses, this one is tinged with pride. It takes on
an intellectual twist, whereas being cowardly is more emotional, and
speaking with a double tongue is slightly more paranoid. Deception
indicates some cleverness. It has a hint of inscrutability. Thus we
attract other people with similar intellectual deceptiveness.
self-deceptive patterns allow us to hide in any experience. For
example, we can use our religious belief as a place to hide. Rather than
becoming more compassionate and considerate, we contort the doctrine
into a veil to support our narcissism. We can use any religion to
perpetuate deception when we are not relating to its deeper principles.
we can hide in a scientific black hole. Because we feel uncomfortable,
especially in the body, we try to have a sense of being in the mind.
Since science in general relates to two areas—the micro level and the
macro level—we are therefore always in another dimension. We have not
learned how to be. In science there is a tendency to relate to nihilism.
Therefore, to be brave is to relate to the manifest quality of goodness
that is imperceptible, hard to locate, and impossible to measure—but is
nonetheless absolutely necessary if one is to engage in life fully.
can also engage in deception at the kitchen-sink level, where cooking,
cleaning, and parenthood become a form of escape. When layered with a
self-engrossed pride in staying busy, these worthy but mundane aspects
of life shelter us from a greater sense of bravery.
obvious form of deception is relying on drugs, alcohol, and other
stimuli. This indicates the basic inability to relate with our minds,
and thus with our lives. We feel high and good, but we are not moving
forward. This form of deception can penetrate all walks of life, keeping
us hibernating in a certain cowardly attitude. Eventually we have to be
brave, sober up, and move on.
is not a sign that we have karmic difficulties. Rather, it indicates a
lack of honesty and insight. Constantly seeking a high in a desperate
search for love or some fantastic new experience, we lack bravery
regarding our lives. Trying to avoid boredom, pain, hard work, aging,
and other traits of samsara and impermanence, we lack bravery regarding
the reality of the world. Tricking ourselves into thinking we are having
various meditation experiences because we are unable to sit with the
simplicity of our mind, we lack bravery regarding the fathomlessness of
our own being. In all these cases, deception is the result of a general
state of cowardice, which indicates a lack of strength. It keeps us from
relating to things in a forthright, steady way.
reality, life is perpetual motion. We cannot apply the slow-motion
feature, or push the “save” button and deal with it later. Life is
always coming at us, or more accurately, we are always heading into
life. Being hesitant, not approaching life engaged in forwardness, has a
ripple effect. Life buckles behind us and builds up pressure, forcing
us to move forward. With cowardice, we are then forced to deal with
issues at an accelerated rate, beyond what is comfortable or convenient.
Shambhala vision is that human beings possess basic goodness, and
therefore, like birds, are designed to move forward. In an interesting
twist of logic, the teachings tell us that in order to always be
journeying forward, we must first turn back to our origin: the primeval
ground of basic goodness. That reverse journey begins with the
steadiness and forthrightness we apply in our meditation. Here we become
familiar with bravery free of deception—no hidden corners in our mind
or our life. Such intimacy with ourselves eventually brings the ability
to engage in life without manipulating, glad-handing, or squirming. Free
of deception, we can move forward on every level—with vision
manifesting as bravery.
Mipham Rinpoche is the spiritual leader of Shambhala, an international
network of Buddhist meditation and retreat centers. He is the author of Turning the Mind into an Ally and Ruling Your World.
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