When a friend asks – “How are you?” – we tend to automatically reach for a standard descriptor such as “Fine”; “Not Too bad” or “Could Be Worse.” Our automatic pilot rarely delivers uplifting, generous responses. Something obstructs us from replying “I am splendid” or “I am feeling absolutely marvellous.” If we should make such an extraordinary response, we would not really believe it. A serious problem exists that requires investigation. Let me begin by breaking “Fine” down into an acronym:
F – Freaked out
I – Insecure
N – Neurotic
E – Elsewhere.
It is possible to choose other somewhat depressing terms, though I choose the Buddha’s Four Clay Pots metaphor as a starting point for this investigation.
The Buddha categorized his listeners into four different kinds of clay vessels. The first clay pot has holes at the bottom, so whatever is poured into it goes right through the bottom into the ground. No matter what wise skilful teaching or practice is offered to clay pot person number one, absolutely nothing is retained. The second clay pot is one that has many cracks in it. If water is poured in, it all eventually seeps out. The teachings may be retained for a short while, yet sooner or later they are completely forgotten. The third clay pot is one that is completely full. Water cannot be poured into it because it is already full to the brim. A person with characteristics of this vessel is so full of views, self-righteousness and wrong perceptions that they cannot be taught anything about the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Then there is the fourth clay pot – an empty vessel without holes or cracks, empty of views and attitudes. We may recognize that at different times we occupy one or another of the first three pots and thus strive to move to pot number four. How can we do this?
To be completely empty of a separate self, as the fourth clay pot, is what our mindfulness practice leads to. On the way there we are bound to have views and attitudes, but may be significantly empty enough to take in the teachings and practices that can move us along the path of awakening. Step by step we let go of clinging and attachment to views and re-build our minds so that equanimity and peacefulness arise. We discover that the art of Being Present is what all of the Buddha’s teachings, practices and trainings lead to. From this vast tool kit of transformation we then use intelligent awareness to work with strong emotions and let go of all clinging and their damaging consequences. The trio of Mindfulness, Concentration and Insight become our best friend, as we step into freedom from brainwashing. I touch base with the Shambhala Warrior training to address the matter of “Being Splendid.”
What does it take before we can relax into our inherent goodness and be authentically “Splendid”? In the teachings brought to the west by Chogyam Trungpa there is a strong emphasis on Shambhala warrior training. The fifth and final level is the sense of splendidness. It is preceded by four interconnected levels:
1. Being free of deception by recognizing afflictive emotions and discerning habit energies.
2. Truly entering the freedom of being present in each moment.
3. Embracing the vision of sacredness of ourselves and the world.
4. Bringing mind and body together because we are grounded and in harmony with the world around us. (Sakyong Mipham, 2011, Shambhala Sun, November 2011)
In the fifth level, building on these prior steps, we attain confidence in our inherent goodness and simply radiate the energy of splendidness. This visceral sense of unyielding trust in our inherent goodness, of being splendid, enables us to become spiritual hubs and beacons of an extraordinary nature. All the great spiritual masters had this sense and shared it without deception or ego. This power of transformation comes from a place of steady well-being, strength and confidence in our ability to be brilliant and to shine in the face of any adversity. Linji refers to this phenomenon as being rooted in our own sovereignty as Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us in his excellent account of Master Linji in Nothing to Do, Nowhere To Go – Parallax, 2007. Sakyong Mipham rounds out the sense of being splendid through his emphasis on being present in everything we do, choosing to no longer hide behind habitual patterns and old memory tapes. A lack of splendidness simply attracts sorry-ass individuals to ourselves and they become complicit with our hiding patterns. It makes better sense to have the lucidity to train ourselves to be splendid rather than close down and hide.