Sakyong Mipham: King of His World

The Tibetan lama--also a golfer, marathon runner, and sharp dresser--on why worldly success is compatible with spiritual growth.

BY: Interview by Ted Rose

 
Sakyong Mipham is not your grandfather's Buddhist lama. The man called the Sakyong (a Tibetan honorific which translates as "earth protector") is a rakish 42-year-old who looks equally comfortable in the white oxford and khakis he wears for golf outings as he does in the brocade vest and maroon robes he assumes to travel the world to teach meditation. The Sakyong spent his earliest years in a Tibetan refugee camp living with his mother, but the majority of his childhood in Boulder, Colorado, under the tutelage of his father, the renowned meditation teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. While Trungpa introduced the poet Allen Ginsberg to the Vajrayana, he made sure his eldest son received an eclectic education mixing contemplative pursuits such as meditation practice and Japanese archery with all-American activities like movies and private school classes.

Trungpa epitomized the crazy wisdom guru, living hard, drinking copiously and dying relatively young of a worn-out liver in 1987. His son inherited the spiritual leadership of his father's Shambhala community, which includes more than 100 meditation centers around the world. The son has pursued a generally more moderate approach than his famous father. His favorite hobby these days is marathon running. I joined him on a visit to his father's homeland in Tibet last year and despite the dizzying altitude and the locals' expectations for sedentary, corpulent lamas, the Sakyong insisted on squeezing a few Himalayan training runs. (Last November he ran the New York Marathon.)

While Trungpa's popular books were compilations of his oral teachings, Sakyong Mipham prides himself on writing his books. His first effort, the national bestselling Turning the Mind into an Ally, focused on the basics of meditation.

I spoke to him recently about his second book and his contention that the familiar struggle between spiritual development and pursuing worldly success is a false dichotomy.

In your new book Ruling Your World, you dispense advice for how we can become kings and queens. It seems like a pretty radical departure from the standard Buddhist emphasis on selflessness. Why?

The title of the book is intentionally provocative. Kings and queens take charge of their world. There's a sense of power. One of the epitaphs of the historical Buddha was universal monarch. Once you are a Buddha, you are a king. We can handle everything once we've established some kind of seat of sanity in our own mind. One doesn't have to have any fear, whether one has a family and job and is totally engaged in the world.

Doesn't calling ourselves kings and queens add fuel to the egoistic fire?

It could. When I talk about kings and queens, I am redefining the terms. What do genuine kings and queens do? They bring peace and prosperity to their subjects. The word "king" has a negative connotation: Someone who has too much power. Of course that happens, but power isn't going away. The question is how one uses it. Once someone uses power to benefit others, you have a king. There is a danger of people becoming too self-obsessed, but that happens on a conventional spiritual journey too.

So each of us needs to establish a seat of sanity in our minds and engage the world from that place. That's a tall order. I have been meditating a few years and I sometimes doubt my ability to bring the wisdom I've gained on a meditation cushion into the rest of my life.

You don't have a choice. You have to engage. There's not much of an alternative. It is more and more difficult to remove yourself from the world. We need to acknowledge our engagement, instead of being scared of it, and look for ways to utilize our participation in the world to do some good. It is possible to practice meditation and look at our own minds, to develop these qualities and realize, `Oh this is actually a journey.'

We've limited these teachings to the arena of meditation retreats, but it isn't like that in Tibet. You saw on our trip. Everybody practices in Tibet. Some people practice as monks, others practice as businessmen. Worldly success isn't opposed to Buddhism. People go to lamas so they can be successful.

When we begin to have peace and wisdom in our minds, the world is a different place. It's a lot less aggressive. People have run countries based upon this approach as well as navigating their daily lives.

Is George Bush "ruling his world"?
Read more >>


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  • Continued on page 2: »

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