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.

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You have had an unorthodox life. What gifts and challenges has your unusual upbringing brought to your mission of teaching meditation?

I studied with real experienced masters-foremost in my mind is my father. Before the Chinese invasion, Tibet was like Shambhala. People practiced these teachings and realized things. I realize more and more how fortunate I was to study with people who literally escaped at the last minute. To be able to have been given that milk and honey of the teachings is a rare situation.

In the west, the old stuff is no good and the new stuff is always better. My job is not to give either up. That's always challenging. How do you take ancient wisdom and present it now?

You live like a king. You drive in large cars. You have an entourage. Why?

I have a lot of large people around me! You wouldn't want to be stuck in a car with these people! In Tibet, some people manifested as monks and ascetics while others manifest as God-kings. They ruled their land and they were also spiritual leaders. The Dalai Lama was such a king and there were other lineages. I inherited one of them.

People expect a Buddhist teacher to be a monk with simple robes, but you dress well. You've got very nice shoes. For many people, this feeds many people's fear of spiritual gurus: you are enriching yourself at the expense of desperate seekers. Your father faced this same criticism when he was around. What's your response?

You said it right at the beginning. It's about people's expectations. In Tibet there are married lamas and monastic lamas. There are many kinds. People like to hold onto one type that's the best kind, but you can't change the history because people have a concept about what they will and won't accept.

What do you think of George Bush? Is he ruling his world?

Well, he should read my book. I'm sure he'll only benefit.

Do you think the separation of church and state is a structural problem?

In the past, churches have abused their power. People want to be safe and separate those two. Spirituality is defined as benefiting others you can mix that with the secular world [It is an interesting challenge. We are asking politicians to do more than fix bridges and collect taxes. We're asking them to be some kind of moral leaders. We are asking them to have spiritual understanding without getting into religion. What I'm saying is if an individual doesn't have heart and mind in sync with what they doing in the world then it's always going to feel off balance. In Shambhala, there were leaders who practiced that and disseminated that. Here that's not necessarily possible, but people can do it within their own framework.

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