From Chapter: Four Dignities

…I remember Rosa Parks. As the civil rights movement was beginning in the United States, one day she said, “No, not today. I’m very tired, and I’m not going to the back of the bus today.” Day after day she went to the back of the bus, and then one day, “No, not today.” At that moment in that bus on that day I think Rosa Park had meek, perky, outrageous, inscrutable dignity [a specific teaching from the Shambhala tradition]. If she had taken her action without an inner journey, I don’t think it would have had the same impact. Instead, her dignity that day was not simply Rosa Parks’ dignity, or African American dignity, or ex-slave dignity, or a woman’s dignity, or a poor person’s dignity, or a tired person’s dignity. It was everyone’s dignity — black dignity, white dignity, yellow dignity, brown dignity, red dignity, tired dignity, slave dignity, slave owner dignity, young dignity, old dignity, poor dignity, rich dignity. Every human being could stand a little taller because that day, without rage, without animosity, without shame, without a small self, she said, “No, not today. I’m not going to the back of the bus today.”

No, not today. Sometimes [Chogyam Trungpa] Rinpoche called this meek, perky, outrageous, inscrutable dignity, “Couldn’t care less.” Usually, couldn’t care less means just toss the coke can out of the car window. Just one-up the other person. Just steal what you want. “Nothing matters. I won’t get caught. Couldn’t care less.” But here couldn’t care less means you’re not trying to get something out of your action. You’re not trading tit for tat. It’s more generous than that. You act. You communicate. You take responsibility for the situation’s well-being. You just do it. I once had a boss who said, “Don’t worry if people like you or not. They won’t like you anyway. Just do your job. Just try to move the company forward, and be optimistic up until the day it doesn’t work.” Couldn’t care less. Meek, perky, outrageous, inscrutable dignity takes out your hope and fear. You go beyond yourself, are inspired, and that’s the dignity.

There is something in couldn’t care less that is essential to being a courageous, powerful and dignified human being. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, the current Shambhala lineage holder, said, “Couldn’t care less is what allows you to get up in the morning and work for others’ benefit without having a stake in the outcome. It allows you to transcend grasping. It allows you to take a fresh look. Without it you wouldn’t be able to go beyond the dogma of basic goodness and really be of benefit.” The artist Marcel Duchamp said that as an artist he created a work, but once the work was finished it was out of his hands. It no longer belonged to him, so he never listened to the critics. It’s not that he felt superior. It’s that now his work belonged to the public — couldn’t care less. Couldn’t care less is caring enormously. It is relaxing, expanding and working with whatever comes up. Couldn’t care less lets you step into fear. Couldn’t care less provides the strength you need to shrug off your commentator and your cocoon. Couldn’t care less allows you to open your senses and enjoy. Couldn’t care less allows you to live and die with dignity. Couldn’t care less means every moment is not separate from basic goodness. There is a totality of basic goodness in everything you do. Basic goodness depends on nothing. It just is what it is. Therefore your integrity, dignity, courage and character are their own proof. Your genuineness is beyond logic — couldn’t care less.

With meek, perky, outrageous, inscrutable dignity you are not trying to win over the other person or conquer the world. Everything is more carefree and egoless than that. You work tirelessly with everything, yet you do what you do for its own sake, so reality takes place directly. Your action is powerful, because you couldn’t care less.

There is a phrase in show business — “Do your best, and forget about the rest.” This expresses basic goodness and couldn’t care less. “Do your best” is your activity in the moment, which always has purpose. And, “Forget about the rest” is the wisdom that you don’t live for a purpose. You live because you live. Because of the pervasiveness of basic goodness, you can actually relax and celebrate your life. An interviewer said to Fred Astaire, “It must be wonderful to be able to express yourself!” And he replied, “I don’t dance to express myself. I dance because I dance.” This is meek, perky, outrageous, inscrutable dignity and couldn’t care less. When Mother Theresa said, “God doesn’t want you to succeed, he only wants you to try,” she was expressing immense purpose and couldn’t care less. When a lion roars in the jungle, all the other animals stop and listen. The lion isn’t roaring to intimidate the other creatures. It roars because it roars, because that’s what lions do. They are kings of the jungle, and they couldn’t care less.

There is no authority for life. A vision of human goodness is intrinsic, but you can’t come up with scientific evidence to prove it. Your unique vision is an expression of freedom and inspiration. Relaxing your concept of vision into the practice of your everyday life is attaining dignity and couldn’t care less. The message of Buddhism and Shambhala is that you can relax into general, non-specific goodness. This is how to create a dignified atmosphere around you and a decent common ground between you and your world.

Excerpted from Awake Mind, Open Heart: The Power of Courage and Dignity in Everyday Life. © 2002 by Cynthia Kneen, published by Marlowe & Company, a division of Avalon Publishing Group Inc. This excerpt may be freely distributed electronically, as long as it contains all the above information.


From Chapter: A Lineage of Bravery

No one is maturing solo. No one is a turquoise flower blossoming exquisitely in the air without the help of dirt, water, sunshine and roots that came from seeds that were cared for and produced an effect. We blossom because others help us.

In Shambhala, Buddhist and other humanist traditions, simply by being decent you absorb the transmission of wisdom from the world around you as you gain growing confidence and dignity. Also, the transmission of wisdom [can be] a traditional and deliberate process where one human being passes their understanding to you in a direct and simple way. They share their realization, which is based on their own trials and tribulations and what was handed down, person-to-person, to them by someone else. It is a gift. Yet when you receive it, it’s not that something foreign is being given to you. You don’t say, “Gee, this is completely foreign to me! I didn’t have this until you came along, and now I do.” Instead, it awakens a power that’s already in you. Your role in receiving the gift is to acknowledge what you already have. It’s as if you were being reminded of something that you forgot, and you say, “Oh, you’re talking to me. That’s my heart you’re talking about.” You feel that you can realize the same thing if you stretch or shift a little bit.

The traditional analogy is as if you were a human being growing up among apes, and another human being came through the forest and told you, “You could be going upright. You could be cooking with pots and pans and wearing clothes like me. You could speak the human language, too.” At first you’d be uncertain. Then you’d try it, and you’d find out that it’s natural, and it works. You are not receiving confirmation as if you completely possessed what you’ve been told. It’s more like awakening something in you,which transcends your present circumstances.

This is the experience of belonging to a lineage. Lineage means belonging to a family, inheriting what is yours, continuing something that has gone before. It is an ongoing situation. It is a process of being helped, learning, maturing, working with your potential, and inspiring yourself. Something awakens your potential, which you then have to bring into being, so in this sense you are the creative force. Still, you are empowering yourself based on the guidance, example and generosity of a long line of other human beings.

Traditionally there are three ways of experiencing a lineage and receiving or hearing teachings. When you first hear the teachings, you’re like the child who grew up in the forest with apes. Up to now your life has been whatever it has been. You have your friends and your patterns, and you do what you do. Then someone comes through the forest and talks directly and bluntly to you. It awakens your curiosity, and you try to understand. “Uh, uh, uh …,” but you don’t get it. You feel puzzled and uncertain. “What are you saying? Why are you bothering to talk to me?” This is one way to experience lineage and hear its teachings.

The second way is that you take the teachings in, and somehow you get the whole thing upside down. You don’t get it right. It’s as if you were told, “You could be a fully human being like me,” and instead you think, “You mean I can beat on pots and pans, and put those khaki shorts on my head?” When the lineage figures say, “Be yourself,” you hear, “Change who you are.” When they say, “Slow down your impulses,” you hear, “Go with the energy in you. Act it out.” When the lineage says, “A gentle light touch,” you tell yourself, “Toughen up, and do it right.”

The third and final way is when inspiring and empowering yourself finally begins to take root irreversibly. You hear something that sparks a fresh and precise experience in you. There is a gap where something sinks in. Finally, you understand that it’s up to you to change. The result is that you begin to partially understand what’s being given to you. Now your curiosity changes into longing, because you long to realize yourself in a certain way.

There’s no fourth way to experience a lineage and hear its teachings. This makes total sense! If you fully understood, you’d be the teachings. They wouldn’t be separate from you anymore. If you realized something 100%, the teachings would disappear. The wisdom would no longer be outside you. This is called realization, when you and wisdom are the same. Until then, you go with what you do understand, and the rest gradually comes along. You ponder, examine, test, make mistakes, learn, practice, take things personally, are objective, are subjective, mix teachings with your familiar world, and are brave and extend as you relax into a lineage’s hospitality and engage more with your world. That way you make what has awakened in you immediate and real. You bring together what you’ve been told and what you’ve experienced. You take the teachings personally in order to find their meaning. “What does this mean to me? Is what I’m hearing true? Can it help me? Can I use it today? Does it apply in the situations I have? Can I use this in my home, in my work, with my peers, with my kids?” As you do this, you develop a sense of truth and strength. This is an instantaneous experience, like having spontaneous insight. It is also a gradual process that unfolds throughout your life. In belonging to a lineage you are trying to bring these two together — understanding directly what’s being presented, and also testing what’s been told within the context of your own experience, being objective and also trying out things personally, in order to gain confidence and stability in what you realize.

This process is like … learning anything that’s meaningful. You take it in, digest it and make it part of you. You wear out the concepts like you wear out an old shoe, until finally you know what something means, both in your life and in the lineage it came from. Now if someone asks you, you can say what’s been told, what’s been experienced, and what it means to you. “My grandfather told me this, and his father told him. It’s come to make a lot of sense to me.”

You can never fully capture the depth of what’s been handed to you, just as you can never fully capture the depth of yourself, and so this journey never ends. You realize a lineage of bravery has always been there for you, helping and providing guidance and direction by example, for a very long time. If you remember to keep a sense of this with you, in the atmosphere, constantly, all the time, you can develop a sense that this world actually is a friend. You will realize a sense of richness and purpose to your life.

Excerpted from Awake Mind, Open Heart: The Power of Courage and Dignity in Everyday Life. © 2002 by Cynthia Kneen, published by Marlowe & Company, a division of Avalon Publishing Group Inc. This excerpt may be freely distributed electronically, as long as it contains all the above information.


From Chapter: Change and Transformation

I’d like to introduce briefly three ways of looking at change. One way is change where the situation has clear rules. For example, you are building a fence in your yard, giving a presentation at your church or work, washing your car, cooking a meal, fixing a faulty rocket or pouring a cup of tea. It doesn’t really matter. The situation you have is coherent. It has clear boundaries and a clear purpose. The rules are pretty much known, the time frame is somewhat short, and the process you are using is pretty well laid out. You feel you can operate in a manual, step-by-step way, because the causality in front of you is clear. “If I do A, B will happen, because that’s what has happened in the past.” “ If I don’t check tomorrow’s weather first, it doesn’t make sense to start on the fence. It may snow or become too hot.” “ If we don’t check the weather first, it doesn’t make sense to launch the rocket, because the O-rings may fail.” “If I cook this meal, I’ll need to buy groceries first.” “If I invite him to dinner, I’d better not serve shellfish, because he’s allergic.” As far as action is concerned, you feel you can make a plan, and if you follow the plan, you’ll get the results you predict.

This is closed-ended change. The cycle of learning is clear. You can run the process, look at the results it gives you, and learn what you need to learn for the next time. If it’s too hot to paint the fence, next time start earlier in the day. If you need oriental sauce and you don’t have it, just change the recipe. If you want your boss to think about causal relationships, make the message from the data jump off the page. Each time you complete the process — build a fence, cook a meal, launch a rocket — you have an opportunity to learn. The more often you run the process, the more you increase your knowledge of the process in different conditions, and the more opportunity you have to learn about how to get your desired results. In closed-ended change, you are a spectator of change. You look at the results, learn, and over time you become more proficient at what you do. Depending on the situation and your vision, this is definitely a way of helping this world.

Another way of looking at change is like standing on a beach, looking at the open horizon. This situation is more open-ended. You are still a spectator of change, only now you’re not so focused on results alone. The task is to be open moment-to-moment in order to learn what you need to know to accomplish what you intend. Examples are figuring out a murder mystery, exploring a trend in the market, trying to understand a trend in your teenager’s behavior, planning the attendee list for a negotiation, or brainstorming a new product, process or system at work. Because you are investigating, inventing, innovating or trying to understand something new or unknown, the causality is less certain. “If I do A, I’m not sure what B will be.” The opportunity to learn is more pervasive, and the consequences of your actions are less predictable. This is a more creative situation, because the rules of change are more questionable. This is open-ended change, and there are different ways to deal with it. In addition to the desired results, your objective is to be flexible, strengthen your learning capacity, and be able to improvise what’s needed. Depending on the situation and your vision, this is also a powerful way of helping this world.

A third way of looking at change is more personal. Now you are in the middle of the change, and it’s more penetrating to the heart. Your point of view is still objective like being a spectator of change in the examples above, but it’s also subjective at the same time, because you realize you’re at the center of what’s happening around you. You have change happening at the level of events, change happening at the level of patterns of events, change happening at the level of the whole system, and now there is change happening at the level of you. “Holy Cow, I’m in the middle of this. What’s happening? And what should I do?” This change is more like you have parachuted out of a space ship. Here change isn’t an option, because it’s happening already. You are floating in space, and you can’t cultivate or prevent anything. The change is happening to you, but so what? Who cares? It’s choiceless. There’s nowhere to go, no one to praise, and no one to blame. Things are what they are, like it or not. Whether your parachute opens or not is not the point. Even when it opens, you’re still floating in space. Like it or not, you are alone with it. Now your heart has to work hard and not purely your brain. This kind of change is personal and transforming. Depending on your point of view, the situation is either cause for celebration or a bad joke.

This third kind of change is profoundly open-ended change. It is a very penetrating experience. Now the change is at the level of raw reality, where the environment isn’t separate from you, and you don’t control anything, not in the mechanical sense anyway. This is now change you are in. The causality is irrelevant, because so what? What’s happening is happening beyond cause and effect. No matter what you do, all you get out of the situation is yourself. In profoundly open-ended change your only choice is to be real, open, confident, courageous — all the things we’ve talked about — and to stay in touch with real reality. So you become completely pragmatic. Finally you are free, and equally you are trapped. Your mind is awake. Your heart is open. You can project your warmth and clarity fearlessly, because you have nothing to gain or lose, so you can be brave, relaxed and expand. And that’s it.

Excerpted from Awake Mind, Open Heart: The Power of Courage and Dignity in Everyday Life. © 2002 by Cynthia Kneen, published by Marlowe & Company, a division of Avalon Publishing Group Inc. This excerpt may be freely distributed electronically, as long as it contains all the above information.