Saturday, July 21, 2012

We All Want to Be Good Kings and Queens

I'm a big geek when it comes to stories about brave warriors battling the forces of darkness and tyranny. So naturally, I was excited about Game of Thrones, the mini-series on HBO about several medieval kingdoms battling for rule over a fantasy world full of aggression, fear and materialism. The House of Stark is the family you are supposed to root for. They are not perfect, but they are noble, take care of their people and believe in justice. 

At one point in the story, one of the Stark men feels lost. He doesn't know whether to march his army north or south. He is being pulled in different directions, not knowing whose counsel to listen to, not knowing whom he can trust. When a young maiden shows him kindness, he lets out his frustration. Then he apologizes. He says, "that's not the kind of king I want to be." When the maiden asks what kind of king he would like to be, he says, "I don't know... the good kind."

I can relate to Lord Stark. Most of us want to be good, even if we are not totally at ease with the responsibilities we bear. Nobody ever says, "I aspire to be lazy, cruel and useless."

We can choose to look at the world in such a way that we are all kings and queens. Whether you like it or not, you have a profound influence over your world. We are all empowered to rule over some little kingdom, even it only means you are the king or queen of your kitchen, the set of tables you attend to as a waiter, the tiny apartment you sleep in, your pets, your family or the employees you manage.

Whether you like it or not, you rule over something, and many of us have no idea how far that influence reaches. If you have studied the dharma, then you might have heard teachings about the interdependence of all things. If you have tested this teaching for yourself and you find some truth in it, then you know your influence over your little kingdom extends inscrutably into other kingdoms, even the kingdoms of the most powerful rulers.  

While the Shambhala Buddhist lineage pays homage to great yogis and mystics from the Kagyu and Nyingma schools, one thing that makes it unique from other Tibetan lineages is that Shambhala shrines are decorated with a thangka painting of the Rigden King. In other words, one of the enlightened beings that Shambhalians hold in high reverence is a monarch. To drive the point even further, the current Shambhala lineage holder, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, wrote a book called Ruling Your World.

Some people take issue with the idea of monarchy, associating it with political backwardness and tyranny, but that is not what we are talking about. We aren't paying reverence to tyrants, obviously. We are recognizing that we are all rulers, and like lord stark, we aspire to be, "the good kind," even if there are no black and white rules in Buddhism on how to be "good." 

Dawa Sangpo's Kingdom
The historical Buddha had a great following of monks, whom he taught. But if you were a layperson in those days, with children or other responsibilities, it was difficult to immerse yourself in the Buddha's teachings. As the legend goes, Dawa Sangpo was the king of Shambhala and asked the Buddha to teach him, however, he 
explained to the Buddha that he had a great responsibility to look after his people and he couldn't leave his throne to take up the life of a monk. The Buddha recognized his sincerity and gave Dawa Sangpo the kalachakra teachings, which are an important part of Vajrayana Buddhism to this day. In doing this, the Buddha acknowledged that enlightenment is not just possible for monks, it is for enlightened rulers as well. It can be for all of us. 

As rulers, our best compasses are sensitive, tender hearts. We have a vast array of skills and tools that we need to practice in order to use our hearts as a reliable compass. We have to develop our abilities in mindfulness, discipline, fearlessness and compassion

When we are feeling low, we need to remember that we are all kings and queens, whether we like it or not. We have a great burden on our shoulders to realize not just our own enlightenment, but to realize an enlightened society, to reduce suffering and awaken compassion. None of us want to be lazy, cruel and useless kings and queens. We all want to be "the good kind" of ruler. 

No comments:

Post a Comment