05/17/2013 01:38 pm ET Updated Jul 17, 2013

Overcoming Self-Aggression

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My father, Chögyam Trungpa, who brought the Shambhala principle to the modern world, was a great believer in humanity. In both the East and the West, he was always synthesizing the knowledge that he had gained, seeking to understand and compare not only what the Buddha had taught, but also the teachings of Plato, Aristotle, Jesus and those of Judaism and Islam, as well as the great minds of China -- Lao Tzu and Confucius. He particularly respected India's great ruler, King Ashoka, as well as Dogen of the Zen tradition and Shotoku Taishi of Japan. As diverse as these traditions are, each of them could be reduced in size but concentrated in intensity, to encapsulate two simple ideas: humanity is good, and that good is the nature of society.

Imagine what could happen if we all began to feel that we are good, and that society is good -- and to have confidence in ourselves that way. When I am teaching in the West, people talk about self-loathing and self-aggression. That is coming from a sense of unworthiness. There seems to be a lot of evil in the world, and many of us experience great skepticism about human nature. In addition, we may have been taught at home, school or church that simply by having been born, we are inherently faulty or incomplete. Without a feeling of worthiness, human society and communication naturally become vehicles of manipulation and deception, and we use every activity to shore ourselves up or to outdo someone else. Through this false sense of power, life becomes a perpetual unfolding of doubt, which only confirms the inadequacies we perceive and elicits a feeling of alienation. My father called it "the setting sun." This term describes a time when humanity's sense of dignity and purpose is diminishing, like sunlight at the end of the day. What is setting is our ability to recognize our goodness.

If humanity is to survive -- and not only that, to flourish -- we must be brave enough to find our wisdom and let it shine. We uncover it by beginning to examine our assumptions. We may never before have considered human nature, but in order to move forward as a global community, it is vital that we do it now. Is it really our nature to be fearful and aggressive, or could it be that we are actually gentle and fearless at heart? Underneath the stress and anxiety, is it possible there is peace? If our self-reflection turns up an inkling of that, we can draw power from it, daring to shift our destiny. In this way, the Shambhala principle is a socially transformative process through which confusion about human nature becomes confidence in human worthiness.

We are living in a world where global leadership in many fields is clearly necessary. To be in the vanguard, we need to understand that the purpose of being here is to engender true peace. It is not confusion that we need, but wisdom. The wisest thing to do is to realize and cultivate our nature. Let us make that primordial stroke, mixing courage with wisdom.

The above is an excerpt from Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche's new book, 'The Shambhala Principle' (Harmony, May 2013).