Creating Enlightened Society, Part 2

March 24, 2009 by     Print This Post Print This Post

Creating Enlightened Society

by Dr. Robin Kornman

Part 2


Shiwa Ökar holding cosmic mirror

Shiwa Ökar holding cosmic mirror

Let’s take the first page. It’s the page [1] that you have in your manual. It begins:

From the great cosmic mirror

This is going to talk about how society comes into being. Now, ordinarily, your theory of how society comes into being is that people live together and they form tribes and then the tribes form city-states that form countries. There are a lot of interesting books. Rousseau came up with a theory, which is a theory that I personally love, which is the theory of the social contract which is that people live together and they realize that they have to specialize. Some people are going to be farmers and some people are going to be warriors, and they create a society by entering into a social contract. They form a contract and that’s the nature of their society. To some extent, that’s the way Americans view their society. The contract is the Constitution. That’s the way the French view their society, and that’s the way the liberal democracies of Europe view their societies. Those are societies that are created by some sort of contractual arrangement, some understanding or agreement. Everyone in the society has assented to follow the laws of that society.

But this approach to the development of society (points to text) is more primordial than that. It shows how society is actually a primordial idea. Society is part of the nature of the existence of your inner mind. And society comes into being when you begin to think of yourself as an autonomous individual. When you begin to perceive that you exist in a world as a separate being. So, this passage in Tibetan poetry describes that a bit. It describes the moment when people woke up to the fact that they were individuals, and had to deal with that. It’s put in terms of a Tibetan myth, that in the beginning, there was no world. There was no existence. No planets, stars, trees. It was just a vast mirror, and it was called the cosmic mirror. The si-pe me-long. So the first sentence says:

From the great cosmic mirror without beginning and without end

Human society became manifest.

Now, you have to imagine to yourself that there is no space, no time. There is just a huge mirror, and if you look in the mirror you see the universe. In the mirror you see planets, stars, people on the planets. In fact, you can see in the mirror, yourself, on a planet called Earth, in a town called Milwaukee. There is nothing but that mirror. There is actually nobody looking in the mirror. The mirror is full of images, and those images are the idea of me and the idea of you. As a matter of fact, that’s the way a mirror is. If you look in a mirror, it looks like there is space inside the mirror. It looks like you can reach into the mirror, you can walk into the mirror and talk to the people in the mirror. But actually, the mirror is just this thin (indicating a bare thickness with his fingers). The mirror is almost non-existent. It’s just an image. And the Buddhist understanding of the nature of the universe is that the universe is a vast mind, a vast unlimited awareness. That awareness is the ground of all things, and when that awareness is aware of Robin Kornman talking in this seat, Robin Kornman comes into being as a display in that mind, as a perception in that mind, as a display in the mirror. So, it says:

From the great cosmic mirror without beginning and end

Human society became manifest.

In other words, in the beginning was the great cosmic mirror without beginning and without end. The word “cosmic” is the word si-pa. (In Tibetan,) Sridpa, srid means world, it means possibility, it means society, it means politics, it means existence, and it means cosmic. There’s no way of translating srid directly into a word in English. There’s no word in English that combines all these notions. Ordinarily, if there’s a word for society, that word for society isn’t going to refer to anything primordial; it’s not going to refer to anything natural. It’s going to refer to something contractual, something that is an agreement. Something that is artificial, that people put together. But the Tibetan word for “society” is also the word for possibility, the word for existence. So the Tiebtan society is innate in the nature of mind. So you could say this is the mirror of society, or the mirror of existence.

It says:

From that great cosmic mirror…human society became manifest.

At that time liberation and confusion arose.

Simultaneously. In other words, there were people who were liberated and people who were confused. What caused the liberated people? What caused the confused people?

When fear and doubt occurred

Towards the confidence which is primordially free

Countless multitudes of cowards arose.

And that’s confusion. When people arose from the mirror, exited the mirror, pretended that they existed outside the mirror, thought of themselves as autonomous, thought of the world as real and not just a great mind, then some of them experienced fear and doubt towards the confidence which is primordially free.

Now, once again, I’ve got to explain to you a Tibetan word that doesn’t have any equivalent in English. The word “confidence” is ziji which means “splendor”, “majesty”. When a king appears on his throne, the king has a kind of light that shines about his shoulders, about his head. A majesty that awes the people who see the king. That majesty is called ziji. Ziji is literally “splendor” but it is also, in the Shambhala tradition, the word for innate confidence, innate dignity, when you have confidence in yourself, perfect confidence in yourself, beyond relativity. When you have a confidence that cannot be shaken by any facts, and it’s possible to have such a confidence, it’s possible to have a confidence in yourself based upon seeing your basic nature, a confidence that I would keep and not lose no matter how much I fucked up. I can lose all my money. I could alienate all my friends. I could burn all the food I cook. I could wreck my car. I could forget my job. I could screw up my whole life, fail at all the things we’re not supposed to fail at. The things where if you succeed at them, you have confidence in yourself. I could fail at all of those things, but seeing my basic nature, still feel confidence. That’s primordial confidence. That’s the confidence that comes from seeing your basic nature. And the word for that confidence is ziji, “majesty”, because all human beings possess an innate majesty. A majesty that comes from the fact that we are magnificent displays in the cosmic mirror, that we are innately bright, brilliant displays.

We put up colorful thangkas on the walls–all these religious icons with all their colors–to talk about display because the nature of display is ziji, brilliance, majesty, wonder. All manifestation is wondrous. All of it is the display of basic primordial ground of basic wisdom. Now, when the fear and doubt about the confidence arise in those who just emerge from the mirror, then they become cowards. Doubt of your basic nature makes you a coward. In the language of Shambhala, a coward is a person who creates a decadent society, an unenlightened society—what we call a setting sun society. And so it says “Countless multitudes of cowards arose”.

On the other hand, when the confidence which is primordially free was followed and delighted in, when people emerged from the mirror and delighted in that ziji, in that confidence, and followed after it and cultivated it and tried to enact it in their daily life, those people became warriors. So now you have two people reacting to the same thing. You emerge from the mirror, you feel that you exist as a separate person, but you know that in the background is a primordial mind and you’re just part of that mind. Your subconscious mind knows that you don’t truly exist as a separate thing, and that idea is always in the back of your mind. And if that idea is threatening to you, then you become a coward because you can’t look back at the source from which you arose. You have to constantly protect your ego, you have to protect your sense of self-existence. And if you glimpse your origins, you’ll lose that sense of self-existence. You’ll feel like you’ve fallen into an abyss. Fear of that mirror that’s in everybody’s background, fear of that brilliant abyss, that makes you a coward. But if, when you sense that that abyss is there that you arose from it and that you still live in it, if that gives you delight, if that makes you feel free, if that makes you feel creative, then that makes you a warrior. And two kinds of society are created: Countless multitudes of warriors, and countless multitudes of cowards. Then it says:

Those countless multitudes of cowards

Hid themselves in caves and jungles.

They killed their brothers and sisters and ate their flesh,

They followed the example of beasts,

They provoked terror in each other;

Thus they took their own lives.

They kindled a great fire of hatred,

They constantly roiled the river of lust

I think we originally said “roiled in the river of lust”. Roiled in the river? What does roiling mean, anyway? Actually, it was my word (laughter). I’ve never looked in the dictionary to see if it’s a real word. Everyone at the table took it for granted that was a word. I couldn’t believe it when I said: “Roil in the river of lust”, and everybody said, “Great! OK, we’ll use that word.” And I thought ‘I’ll never get away with this’, but I did and here it is, my word! (Laughter). Now, don’t you roil in lust! (Laughter) Don’t you do that!

They wallowed in the mud of laziness;

The age of famine and plague arose.

And Iraq came into being. Well, it is Iraq, isn’t it though, really? Hid themselves in caves and jungles, killed their brothers and sisters, ate their flesh, they followed the example of beasts, they provoked terror in each other.

OK now, think about it. We are shocked and horrified by what happens when a society falls apart and becomes, well, what Iraq is today. When the police arrest somebody and automatically begin to torture them right away, for no reason, even when they don’t have any information to extract. We can’t understand how people can do that. We’re horrified by the nature of such people. When I look at myself I don’t find a monster like that, and I don’t understand how there can be so many monsters like that. How can there be all those people who did lynchings in the South? What could have been in their hearts? Is it true that there were two completely different kinds of human beings: one human being is a beast and one human being is a proto-angel? Can it be? No, it can’t be. The people who became cowards are just like the people who became warriors. They’re just slightly different. The slight difference is that they had a fear of an aspect of their basic nature, and when they indulged that fear, all sorts of other emotions cascaded forth leading to aggression, hatred, destruction, the willingness to torture others and rejoicing in it. Human beings who are beasts are just like us, but for that one inability: to face the abyss. The inability to rejoice in the cosmic mirror, the inability to face our unmentionable origins, our ineffable origins. That creates an evil society. That’s what evil is. On the other hand,

Of those who are dedicated to the primordial confidence—[the good guys]—

The many hosts of warriors,

Some went to highland mountains

And erected beautiful castles of crystal.

Some went to the lands of beautiful lakes and islands

And erected lovely palaces.

Some went to the pleasant plains

And sowed fields of barley, rice and wheat.

They produced art. They produced it naturally, and they produced it in abundance. The reason they produced art in abundance is because they were trying to enact, to represent, to talk about the fundamental display nature of themselves. Sensing that they are displays in the cosmic mirror, they rejoiced in that primordial nature, and they tried to represent it, and when you represent it you produce beautiful art. Like that Medicine Buddha over there is so elegant with its red and blue.

When I was a young man, I wondered why Buddhists built such huge palaces, why Tibetan temples had all that garish red and blue, why they used all that lacquer. After all, the Buddha was a poor man and he represented his purity by not having any money. Wasn’t the essence of Buddhism to be poor and pure? And I figured that when Buddhism constructed these huge palaces, it was some kind of decadence that developed. You know, you began with an honest sangha, an honest community of poor people, getting their food from alms. And then some of those people became bureaucrats, monastic bureaucrats, and as soon as you’ve created bureaucrats, you’ve created a corrupt church. And then the church built buildings and everyone settled down and became corrupt. In my purity as a teenager I figured that was what it was all about and I understood perfectly Mahayana Buddhism as a falling away from the Buddhist ideals. But now I realize it’s not. It’s an expression of the Buddhist ideal. It’s an expression of the innate display quality of reality, of the fundamental dignity and confidence of the ziji. So the more you accept the non-existence of ego, the emptiness of ego, the more splendid and glorious is your expression. And the elegance, the delicacy of the spires and the filigree, the ropes and the pearls hanging out of the mouths of golden alligators and all of that stuff that you find in a Tibetan temple, all of that stuff is a necessary statement about the nature of the world. It is an enlightened society, and so those who are dedicated to the primordial confidence created all these beautiful things. They sowed their beautiful fields of barely, rice and wheat, they erected their palaces.

Now, to understand how you get from being dedicated to primordial confidence to having an architect build a palace, we have to understand what the word “primordial confidence” means in greater depth than we do right this second. OK, well, that’s going to take a long time. That’s the nature of the philosophical exploration of the Shambhala teachings: to take the word dö-me ziji, primordial confidence, and understand deeply what that means. So we don’t do that in an evening or a weekend. It’s something we meditate on and, over the years, develop an understanding of. In the other lecture I’m going to give I’m going to try to explore it further, and I hope we will also be able to give podcasts developing some of the particular ways Trungpa Rinpoche showed the nature of primordial confidence. In any case, I just want to show that word, let it hang there. It’s something that we’re going to try to understand more deeply, because as you understand it, you’ll understand why a certain kind of society is natural. And the society is not made up of arbitrary conventions. It’s not made up of social conventions. It’s not made up of agreements. It’s made up of direct expressions of basic nature.

It says more about these warriors. It says:

They were always without quarrel,

Ever loving and very generous.

That word “loving” is actually in Sanskrit the word maitri: friendly, merciful. They were always merciful and generous. We have the word in Tibetan: daring to give. And there’s this very important line:

Without encouragement, through their self-existing inscrutability,

They were always devoted to the Imperial Rigden.

Without encouragement is an important word in Tibetan: kulwa mepa. Encouragement in Tibetan, kulwa, means when you call somebody to work. Like you say, “Hey you guys, come over here, bring hammers and saws and let’s work on this. Let’s make a table.” People look at you and say, “Shall I go?” And you say, “I’ll pay you. Here’s materials. If you don’t come over here, I’ll kill you.” You know, whatever incentive I give you. Come forth, and let’s make a table. That’s kulwa, calling somebody forth. That’s encouragement, incentive. And modern political theory has a lot to do with figuring out what the incentives are that hold society together. For example, the incentive could be money, or the incentive could be that we all believe in the communist vision. Communism and capitalism debated for a century: what would be a natural incentive for creating a healthy society? The debate still goes on. The communists basically lost their end of the debate. The capitalists didn’t win their side of the debate. The communists just disappeared and they figured they won because nobody was arguing with them anymore. But this enlightened society has no incentivization. Without encouragement they did their work. Because when you’re devoted to the primordial essence, then you naturally build crystal palaces. You naturally work well with others, you naturally form teams. The ability for several people to form a team and to happily be part of a team, to happily be the third chair or the fifth chair or the twenty-fifth chair, to happily be at the end of the line holding up the end of the line, to happily be a non-entity in the middle of the thing, to just be a nurse in the hall. The ability to do that and feel completely fulfilled by it, that is doing something without encouragement. That’s what “without encouragement” means, and so these warriors were always without encouragement.

Without encouragement, through their self-existing inscrutability

Now, inscrutability is an English translation of a Tibetan word that means: so wise that other people can’t see why you did something.  Let’s say you’re looking at a situation, and when you see the situation absolutely clearly you understand how it works. Then it’s perfectly obvious what you should do. “I should pull this lever here.” Other people are looking at the situation and don’t see how it works and they don’t know which lever to pull. Now, when you pull that lever they say “How wise indeed you are”. You are inscrutable; your inscrutable wisdom. Inscrutable wisdom is doing what’s obvious when nobody else sees that it’s obvious which is the nature of primordial wisdom.

I always give one example. I used to be called to Montreal to give talks in French. Even though my French was pretty bad, I could give meditation instruction in French, I could give interviews in French. In the early days before we developed a lot of teachers who taught in French in Quebec, I was invited to go to Quebec quite often. Now, at the end of a long day of giving talks and having them translated and listening to the French and trying to understand the French, my ability to understand French would completely run out. I’d be giving interviews and I couldn’t understand what anybody was saying. I would just sit there, you know, completely dazed. The guy comes in and he sits down and we bow to each other, and I have a certain advantage. I’m the teacher and this is the student and he feels a certain sense of awe towards me. And if I just hold it together, I’m going to make it through this interview. He starts to talk and I have no idea what he’s saying. He could be speaking Swahili. I know he’s talking about his inner life, because that’s what everybody does. I know what people talk about in meditation and I look at him and after a little while I have to say something because there’s a pause. He’s waiting for my answer. He’s asked me a question, but I can’t understand the question either. I say something really obvious like, “You look tired”. And he says, “What a brilliant remark! That’s my problem! I’m just tired. Thank you. You’re so wise.” And they’d leave and I was the all-wise American. This lasted for a year or two before they figured out that I didn’t know what they were saying. I’ve got a feeling that my guru did that in the early days. He would sit there smoking a cigarette and every once in a while he would say something completely disconnected from what you were saying, and you would say, “Oh! What a penetrating remark!” That’s inscrutability. It’s the wisdom that sees what’s obvious to you that’s not obvious to other people, but really is obvious. If people weren’t so terribly confused and self-involved, they would see it too. Inscrutability is a Shambhalian word for “highest wisdom”.

(To be continued)

 [1]This same text appears in Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, in Part One, How to Be a Warrior, on page 23 in the standalone book editions and on page 15 in the Collected Works edition.



Creating Enlightened Society, Talk 1: Part 1 | Part 3


4 Responses to “Creating Enlightened Society, Part 2”

  1. Michael Sullivan on March 24th, 2009 12:20 pm

    Damn, I really miss Robin. The digging way deep down into vocabulary especially, and the breadth of knowledge both East and West with which to add context.

    This section is very dense, and he really gets the dzogchen meanings of the mirror.

  2. Linda Mockeridge on March 27th, 2009 8:28 am

    Wow, This was a wonderful talk! Such a clear look at confusion and awareness. I appreciate the efforts of Robin (and wish I would have met him) for giving the talk and Andrew for transcribing it so that I could have a better look at the cosmic mirror and my own mind.

  3. Tingdzin Sheltso on March 11th, 2010 9:28 am

    I miss Robin every single day. I am blessed to have his talks in my journals and memories of him to draw upon. Every year his words and wisdom sink deeper into an understanding. I will always miss his laugh 🙂 Such a joy. Robin, you are appreciated every moment of my life.

  4. Kristine on March 11th, 2010 10:08 am

    Robin I miss you too.
    I recently reconnected listening to the talks on Gesar that you gave at shambhala centre in Halifax in 2004? or 5?

    It would be wonderful if they could be put up on this site for all to share.

    Thank you for these talks.

    Kristine McCutcheon