Excerpted with permission from "Ruling Your World" by Sakyong Mipham with permission from Morgan Road Books, a division of Random House.

As a child, I was struck by the story of the prince and the pauper. The Tibetan version of this story has it that the prince and the pauper are the same person. Through a series of mishaps, the prince grows up as a pauper, only later to discover that he is a child of the royal family and the future ruler of his kingdom. He was always a prince; he was never a pauper; the only thing that changed was his veiw. We are in a similar situation. We are all of royal birth.

We all have the potential to be enlightened rulers. The Buddha is an example of a human being who developed this potential. By sitting still and working with his mind, he uncovered essential truths and developed techniques to help the rest of us discover our ability to rule. Since I'm a Buddhist, he is my role model, but obviously basic goodness is not confined to any one tradition. It is the essence of everyone and everything.

Basic goodness, the shimmering brilliance of our being, is as clear as a mountain lake. But we're not certain about our own goodness. We begin to stray from it as soon as we wake up in the morning, because our mind is unstable and bewildered. Our thoughts drag us around by a ring in our nose, as if we were cows in the Indian market. This is how we lose control of our lives. We don't understand that the origin of happiness is right here in our mind. We might experience happiness at times, but we're not sure how we got it, how to get it again, or how long it's going to last when it comes. We live life in an anxious, haphazard state, always looking for happiness to arrive.

When we are confused about the source of happiness, we start to blame the world for our dissatisfaction, expecting it to make us happy. Then we act in ways that bring more confusion and chaos into our life. When our mind is busy and discursive, thinking uncontrollably, we are engaging in a bad habit. We are stirring up the mud of jealousy, anger, and pride. Then the mind has no choice but to become familiar with the language of negativity and develop it further.

When desire or anger takes our mind and says, "You're coming with me," we become paupers. The pauper wakes up each morning with the thought "What about me? Will I get what I want today?" This meditation resonates through our day like a heartbeat. We think, "Will this food make me happy?" "Will this movie make me happy?" "Will this person make me happy?" "Will this new sweater make me happy?" "What about me?" becomes the motivating force of our activity.

Do you have a "death grip" on life?

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  • Being fooled into trying to make things work out for "me" is called samsara. This is a Sanskrit word that describes an endless dark age in which we are completely distracted by the agitation that comes from trying to make "me" happy. Our mind is constantly volleying between irritation and desire, jealousy and pride. We are unhappy with who we are, and we are trying to destroy our own suffering, which reflects our basic discontent. As we indulge in this negativity, our mind becomes thick with contamination. This contamination manifests as stress -- lack of peace. It is fueled by fear -- fear of not knowing what will happen to "me." With the ambition to get what we want and to avoid what we don't, our mind becomes very speedy. We act in ways that hurt others and ourselves. Bewilderment rules our days and nights. We keep imagining that a love affair, a new job, a thinner body, or a vacation is going to lead to happiness. When we get what we want, we feel good, and we become attached. Then the situation changes, and we feel angry. Or somebody else's relationship, job, or body looks better than ours, and we feel jealous.

    When we're fooled by the view of "me," our attitude toward wealth is that it's all out there -- and we want some. We're like monkeys grabbing at shiny objects. We accumulate so many things that we have no room to appreciate them. Our wanting creates the habit of perpetual hunger and mindless activity. We look at people with the attitude of taking, not of giving. We'll help someone who's becoming powerful and wealthy -- somebody who's on the way up. If somebody's slipping, we start to pull away. We don't think twice about fighting with our family or community. We believe that the only way to improve our situation is to keep trying to get a little more for ourselves. We're confused, because we don't understand that we already have what we need -- the opportunity to weave the tapestry of happiness every day with the needle and thread of our own mind.

    Sometimes we think that power will make us happy. We can't rule our mind, so we try to saddle others with the heavy yoke of our aggression. Far from accomplishing the benefit of others, we can't bear it when something nice happens to them. The word for jealousy in Tibetan means "crowded shoulders." There's room for only one head on our shoulders. We can handle only one person getting things, and that's us. We take some kind of odd thrill in getting mad when the train is late or the power goes out. We're so engrossed in "me" that we forget that others are also suffering.

    The mind of the pauper is small because it is rooted in attachment -- a death grip on life. Fixating on how we want the world to be and trying to make it stay goes against the natural grain. That tightness and the sense of claustrophobia it creates is "me." Our negativity gives us something to hold on to. We think that if we hold on tight enough, we can manipulate the world to make "me" happy. We've tried being angry and desirous hundreds of times. Has anger ever brought genuine happiness? Has desire ever resulted in long-lasting satisfaction?

    Who is it that we are protecting with our anger? Who are we trying to get more for with jealousy and desire? The reason that we can't make "me" happy is that there is really no one behind that door. "Me" is just an idea, a concept, a myth. Essentially, it is attachment to a mirage. We're clinging to a fabrication and generating negative emotions in an attempt to protect it.

    The king and queen know that happiness doesn't come from out there; it comes from in here. Getting off the "me" plan is the cause of happiness, and learning to see how "me" works is where it starts. It begins with the practice of meditation -- just ten minutes or so every day. By stabilizing the mind we learn to connect with space beyond "me" -- heaven. Heaven is the natural spaciousness of our heart before we make it small with self-protection. Once our mind becomes more peaceful, we being to see how "me" is just thoughts, feelings, and emotions made solid.

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