The below appears on audio form here
The Sakyong Jamgön Mipham Rinpoche
15 November 2008, Boulder, Colorado
Thank you for throwing this birthday party. Today is really my birthday—at least I certainly
hope it is [as seems to be the case with many exiled Tibetans, the exact date of his birth is for some reason unknown. But he’s about 44? ~ ed] In any case, I know that I feel older and somewhat heavier with the weight and blessing of the lineage and of our group endeavor. I appreciate the very sincere wishes from
everyone for my health and practice and so forth. It’s all intricately linked with all of you, the
community, and how we go forward.
We always talk about interdependence in the teachings. There is a definite interdependence
between myself, what I’m able to do, and everyone here. I feel that in the last few years, there
has been a tremendous shedding, combined with a shifting momentum and uplifting of
everything we are doing within our mandala. That makes me feel more inspired; particularly,
it makes me feel more ready to live, work, and try harder. I often joke that in my job, there is
no retirement policy, even though I’ve been looking for it furiously. It’s a lifelong journey; as
practitioners, we are all in this thing together. I feel grateful that we have the Dharma [teachings and practices of Buddhism]. As we go through life and inevitably get older, it gives us a way to incorporate that experience and a way to mature. We have a way to look at all of the suffering and questions that come up. We
don’t have to just hope or hide.
On my birthday I always try to reflect and see where we are and where I am. This last year I
was able to teach some of the main terma teachings and the Scorpion Seal [an advanced solitary retreat mediation practice], for which I’ve waited a long time. So this has been a particularly important year. I also feel that there is a transition taking place; as Shambhalians, we have a different life cycle that is beginning to
occur—not only in the younger people, but also in the older people. One of my main wishes is
that we as individuals within the practice lineage and the lineage of warriorship truly try to do
what we can to embody and enhance the qualities of these teachings in this particular time.
I feel that there is a tremendous amount of optimism right now, especially after the recent
[U.S.] elections. People have hope, knowing that in some ways things need to be different.
It’s easy for us to get lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that things will take care of
themselves. One of the main components of our lineage is courage and confidence.
So it is really up to our generation to mature and to fully understand these teachings. We need to be
leaders, beacons, who help by contributing what we can to this particular society.
For some time we seem to have lost hope geopolitically. One of the main roles of Shambhala
in the West is to help geopolitically and ecologically. We have to apply these teachings to
helping what’s actually happening. This is a deep spiritual tradition, which is represented by
our shrine room and our ceremonies.
But in this time we are being called on to do more. I give lots of teachings and talks, and in a sense, we never know which seeds are going to blossom. I was just talking with Carol Halpern, who is from Kansas. I mentioned to her that Obama’s mother was from Kansas, and she got excited. That mother didn’t know what her seed was going to become.
Sometimes when we put effort into our children and into each other, if there is no fruition, we
become disheartened and feel that nothing is going to change. We have to take the wisdom of
the teachings and know that we are all worthwhile, and that it’s important for us to put effort
into all sentient beings. I try to practice by these principles; it has as much to do with what we
do privately as with what we do publicly. How we practice at home and how we manage
ourselves in public is the notion of Shambhala. It’s more than just being politically correct;
it’s a matter of actually caring about what we do.
If we care about what we do, then we try to do everything properly. That doesn’t mean being
uptight, but looking at all the activities in our life and asking if they are meaningful. That’s
one of the greatest things about practice: it has the capacity to become our great tester that
quickly shows us when we ourselves are becoming fake. It shows us when we are just putting
on a good face but not committing internally. We are in that situation together—looking at
how we integrate the practice into our lives and how we ourselves look at it.
I think our Shambhala society is becoming more democratic, in that there are fewer
individuals to whom we may look for guidance. The onus is more on how we manage
ourselves, on how we regard and respect ourselves. That’s not a matter of pride or arrogance.
If we respect character as being a worthwhile value and follow through with that, we make
progress on the path. In the older societies, a sangha [Buddhist community] would be satisfied if the teacher alone was doing good things. The attitude, “At least my teacher is doing something decent. I can do
whatever,” got them off the hook.
Now we are in a society where we are trying to take equal responsibility, which means, “I better do something.” It has always been somebody else.
We have been given [meditation, contemplative] practices to awaken our ability to realize what we have and to develop it. A birthday is a good time to see who we are; it’s almost like we’re setting out on an adventure
and looking in our backpack to see what we’ve got. We have a little bit of patience, some
irritation, a bit of compassion, and a healthy amount of jealousy. We look at these qualities
and say, “This is what I have got. How do I work with it? It’s not going to change just
because I wish for it to change.”
That’s one thing I’ve discovered—if you want to hear some words of wisdom, and I’m not
sure you do—Dharma is totally, unfairly, and completely based upon our own actions. And
that’s what karma is, too. People imagine that by practicing, change is somehow miraculously
going to happen, but that’s not the way it works. We have to wake up to the responsibility of
what we do. When we wake that quality up, we begin to make progress. Under the guise of
Dharma, it’s very easy to be lulled into feeling that something is going to happen purely
because we’re pretending to be a practitioner.
Mortality is always a good standard for seeing where we are at. In terms of our approach to practice, the feeling of mortality is important. So thank you for being here. I love you all, and wish you well on this particular birthday. It’s important to get up at least in the morning and think, “Today is going to be a good day.”
That’s my Hallmark tip. Thank you.