Although we’re intelligent people in a technologically sophisticated world, we’re often confused about the meaning of success, because we are caught in the cycle of thinking that outside factors will bring us what we want. We’re in a very materialistic society. Our mind is trained to naturally adhere itself to everything and anything. It wants things to be a certain way. So we mistakenly associate worldly activity with negative emotion: success comes from using ambition and greed to make things go our way. Our first thought in the morning is often some variation of “What about me? Will I get what I want today?” And when the world gives us what we want, we call it a good life, a good day, success.
In Shambhala, what we call a good life and a good day is something different. True success is having a fulfilled, meaningful, and permanently happy mind. To achieve this kind of success, we have to continually point ourselves in the right direction. If we want to be successful, we need to learn what our own mind is and how it works, no matter what beliefs we hold. Without the ability to rule our thoughts, we are seduced or abducted by every whim that walks through the door. Being trapped by negative emotions and perpetuating them is not success—it is ignorance. The magnet of “What about me?” dulls our mind and draws away windhorse—the ability to bring about true success.
We are taught at such a young age to fight for everything, and to hold on to what we get. The time of death is painful because everything we fought for is taken away. We’re left with anxiety, suffering, and not knowing. The Buddha said we need to look beyond this: What can be gained that we can truly have? True success is beyond our conventional level of expectation. It requires a slightly different approach to life, one in which we’re letting go a little bit.
We have to learn to think beyond our immediate satisfaction.
In meditation, we train the mind to wake up. First we train it to focus on what is happening in the moment, underneath our habitual self-absorption. The mindfulness and awareness we learn offer the revolutionary opportunity to observe the movement of the mind without being swept into it. In following the breath we soon see that thoughts are mere vibrations of the mind, not our personal identity. In relaxing our grip on “me,” we’re laying the foundation for a shift in attitude that has the power to change our lives. For a short time each day, we are cultivating peace rather than anger and jealousy.
That feeling of peace lays the ground for seeing clearly where we are: Our life is precious, and it will end. The power of karma is as inescapable a force as gravity. Continually making decisions in the name of “me” keeps us on the wheel of suffering, the opposite of success. We also begin to realize our inherent noble qualities, such as love and compassion. What is happening with others? Just like us, they want happiness. Like us, they do not want to suffer.
When we contemplate these qualities in formal meditation, compassion and love may feel overwhelming. We’ve been doing “What about me?” practice for so long that opening up is scary. But as we visualize our mother, our child, or someone else we love, we start to feel a little bit of caring. We want that person to be happy, and to know the good mind that brings happiness. That feeling is considered to be the source of a limitless love that we all have. We stabilize it, enlarge it, and practice taking it off the cushion and into our day. Eventually we might be able to say, “May that driver in front of me enjoy happiness and the root of happiness,” instead of honking our car horn.
Wishing others happiness at school or in the office may bring up jealousy, agitation, and other emotions. Although the point of thinking of others is not to heighten our own negativity, seeing how we hang on to “me” can deepen our feeling for what others are experiencing. Everyone suffers in the same way for the same reason: we’re all thinking of “me” because we mistakenly believe that it will bring success and happiness. As we generate compassion, we can keep this in mind, but not with a sense of one-upmanship, as in, “I see you doing it, too.” Genuine compassion is not demeaning to others. There’s an element of letting go.
Specifically wishing happiness for people we don’t like can make them easier to deal with. If we have a list of ten people we are angry with, as we work our way through the list, we will find it becoming easier to forgive. We can use the strength of mind we’ve built through practice to let go of negative elements instead of being used by them. We begin to see the transparent quality of our grudges.
We may feel compassion in just the heart or mind, but this practice is transforming our whole body, putting us in tune with the nature of things. The nature is selflessness. When we solidify thoughts, feelings, memories, projections, assumptions, and opinions into a solid “self,” we butt our head against reality. This tension creates discursiveness, which inflames the emotions, which leads to suffering. When we respond to situations with compassion, wisdom arises and cuts through the habitual pattern of selfhood. Our infatuation with “me” becomes a little less compelling.
Helping others will bring us the success we want, because extending ourselves to others increases our life-force energy—lungta (Tib.), windhorse. You see the image of windhorse printed on the prayer flags that flutter in the breeze all over Tibet. It is the ability to bring about long life, good health, success, and happiness. When we have windhorse, we are able to accomplish what we want without many obstacles.
On its back, windhorse carries a wish-fulfilling jewel. This jewel represents the ability to extend love and compassion. Love means that we want others to experience happiness. Compassion means that we wish for them not to suffer. If we extend ourselves to others with this attitude, our life will be successful in both a spiritual and a worldly way. Learning to balance the worldly with the spiritual has nothing to do with vocation, and everything to do with intention.
Some may consider the Shambhala approach unrealistic. But in fact it is the most expedient, smooth, and practical way to run one’s business and one’s life. Our ability to relax into the bigger mind of compassion creates space. It gives us the ability to see the magic in the world, because we are no longer blind with self-interest. Conversely, the environment becomes infiltrated by our strength, and we begin to attract what we need—even on a material level—to extend ourselves further. An economy based upon compassion does not self-destruct. Because it binds with love, it is stable and long lasting and brings benefit to all.
Considering others is the basis of success, spiritual or worldly. This is the secret that we don’t learn in school.