Why is the absence of frivolity so important?

Frivolity 001_editedWe started a new class at the Shambhala Center last Wednesday based on The Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma by Chogyam Trungpa. The Profound Treasury is a three volume set of teachings taken and organized from the thirteen three month long seminaries that Trungpa Rinpoche taught in North America from 1973-1986. Described as a spiritual atomic bomb, this work, in my opinion, will come to be known as the ultimate and best source for learning the complete path of Tibetan Buddhism in the English language.

Anyway, in our first meeting we worked with contemplations from Lesson 1 of the online offering from Acharya Emeritus Judy Lief, who compiled and lightly edited these teachings, and the topic my group received to contemplate and discuss was, “Why is the absence of frivolity so important in the hinayana path?”

We jotted down our thoughts during the contemplation period so that we could share them with our group. I jotted my thoughts down on this envelope, and thought I’d write them out here.

At the beginning of the path, emphasized by a commitment to sitting meditation practice in our lineage, we begin to learn what to accept and what to reject. We begin to see what was causing our suffering and begin to move towards the light, so to speak.

My thoughts on the absence of frivolity consisted of these three points:

  • One of my favorite practices is contemplating the Four Reminders that Turn the Mind Towards the Dharma. Two of these are Precious Human Birth and Impermanence. In contemplating impermanence we see clearly and consciously that we only have a short time to be alive in this life. The years seem to fly by the older we get. Precious Human Birth is about recognizing how fortunate we are to have been born human and to be living in a situation where we have heard the teachings of the Buddha, and have the opportunity to practice (having our basic needs met). Considering these two factors we can learn to appreciate the time we do have and try not to waste it. Frivolity is not recognizing these factors and acting in a way that creates further suffering for ourselves and others.
  • Discipline is the mechanism of actually doing what is of benefit to ourselves and others and not letting ourselves fall into our harmful patterns. In this way discipline leads to joy, which leads to further discipline, and so on. From taming our mind with our practice we begin to be able to have some control over our state of mind. In this way discipline leads to increased productivity. Also, this discipline becomes natural and something that we appreciate and take pride in. It is not imposed from anywhere or anyone else, as Trungpa Rinpoche states in The Profound Treasury.
  • Finally, the activity of our mind becomes less frivolous as we begin to practice on the hinayana path leading to a happier, more sane, and meaningful life. So much of my own suffering in the past was caused by all of the nonsensical, erroneous thoughts that were constantly playing in my mind. These thoughts led to depression, nihilism, and the inability for me to enjoy my life and be of benefit to others. By learning to be present, content, and appreciative of life as it is, the frivolity of my own mind began to significantly fall away to be replaced by sanity, clarity, and peace. This has been the biggest gift of my life and is why the absence of frivolity is so important.

5 thoughts on “Why is the absence of frivolity so important?

  1. hello, my name is Karen and I live in Baltimore-I am something of a spiritual mutt, having been raised in a secular Christian home, then converting to Judaism as a young woman, and practicing that pretty fully for almost 30 years. In recent times, because I began practicing Yoga, I started meditating. One thing leads to another, and I began reading Pema Chodron’s books. I have visited the Shambhala and the Kadampa meditation centers. I feel more drawn to Shambhala, but some of the things I have heard about the personal lives of the founders of your lineage make me uncomfortable. Because I have a little bit of a social relationship now with the Baltimore Shambhalians, I feel uncomfortable asking them how they jive that stuff with the teachings. So, since I stumbled onto this post b/c I get stuff from ElephantJournal, and b/c I think from your writing that you seem a very serious (non-frivolous) sort, can you please explain to me how YOU perceive and integrate the early history of the Shambhala movement with the obviously very wise and valid teachings. thank you, and you can answer me privately, if you prefer.

    • Hi Karen,

      Thank you for your question. When I think about how to answer this I keep running into something that sounds like making excuses or justifying, and I don’t really think Chogyam Trungpa’s behavior requires either, or that I’m the person to do it.

      What I would say is that I am a student of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. Chogyam Trungpa has been dead for 25 years and I never met him. I think the Sakyong is an amazing teacher. The dharma is flowing from him at this time, as he writes more and more texts, practices, and takes the lineage further than it has ever been. There is no other place I’d rather be.

      What I have of Trungpa Rinpoche are his words from his books. I’ve studied quite a bit of dharma and I think that his teachings are better than anyone else’s. He was a brilliant, brilliant person. He was thoroughly trained in the traditional way in Tibet, and he realized the teachings and was able to communicate in English from his learned knowledge and his realized experience. No one I have ever seen comes close to his presentation.

      What I also truly appreciate is the Shambhala path- the way that it is designed. It has been the best thing I have done in my life. This path was created by Trungpa Rinpoche, his senior students, and now is developed further by the Sakyong and his senior students.

      Ultimately, Buddhism, waking up, is something that each of us has to do ourselves. We have to study the best teachings available and then actually do the practice. There is no other way.

      Also, they say that a mark of a great teacher is how well trained their students are. The Western students that trained closely with Trungpa Rinpoche and/or the Sakyong are the most impressive Western practitioners that I have seen- especially the Shambhala acharyas. They are such great role models to me. They are Westerners who came to the dharma later in life, like me, and are truly processed and manifesting the teachings.

      For further reading on the life of Chogyam Trungpa, I highly recommend Warrior King of Shambhala: Remembering Chogyam Trungpa by Acharya Jeremy Hayward; Recalling Chogyam Trungpa an anthology edited by Fabrice Midal; and, also, Dragon Thunder by Diana Mukpo (his widow).

      Best Wishes to you on your journey,


  2. thank you, Travis, for your good explanation….I sense that what you say is valid-having read and watched a lot of the teachings of Pema Chodron, it is very hard for me to imagine she would have revered someone who was a total fraud. I understand what you say about enlightenment-another meditation center I visited here kept stressing “happiness”, which is a very pleasant thing, of course, but not what I understand the Buddhist path to be about. Perhaps that is why I DO feel drawn to Shambhala- because it seems like a very TRUE way to be in the world.

    I will continue to read and to study.

    all the best,


  3. Travis,
    Thanks for your thoughtful words on this contemplation topic. Studying this work and going through the class is having a profound effect on me…mostly by pointing out how much my discursive mind still rules the roost around here! It seems like the more I practice meditation and learn about the dharma, the more my ego wants to grab hold. The difference is I am able to see through those moments of conflicting emotion more clearly, but often only after the fact.

    I still struggle with the reality of sitting meditation actually giving me joy and “control over (my) state of mind.” This seems to happen only sporadiclaly for me, with the old habitual patterns or dullness of daily life and stesses taking the upper hand most of the time. I do get it that appreciation for the opportunity to hear the Dharma and practice, since my situation in this life allows me that freedom, is the key to inspiring the discipline to actually do the meditaiton practice which leads to joy and further confidence.

    Is there a specific practice you can recommend for contemplating the Four Reminders?

    • Hey Elizabeth!

      Thanks for your comment!

      I think one thing that may help is to look at your whole life as meditation practice. Not in a heavy handed way, but just as an opportunity to practice mindfulness and awareness. There’s a sense of relaxation and contentment that arises in sitting practice; it’s a sense of not needing anything else in this moment. When we’re going through our daily life we can try to notice that state- it’s there all the time. It’s an attitude too, in a sense, and being in touch with it can affect how we experience the monotonous parts of our life and allow us to experience them in a new way.

      I love the Four Reminders! You can contemplate them in the same way as any contemplation. It is recommended that you bookend contemplation practice with sitting. So, depending on how much time you have, you could sit for 5-10 minutes, then have a 5-10 contemplation period, and then end with 5-10 more minutes of sitting. You could either spend a couple of minutes on each one, or do one each day, or do one for a week, and then switch to another one.

      I used to just do one for a week, or so, and then switch. But, now, as part of another practice I’m doing, I do all of them- each for about 5 minutes. I think you could try different ways and see what works best for you. You might feel that you get more benefit from contemplating all of them, or maybe you’ll feel like you don’t get to spend enough time on any one, and will want to do them separately. It’s personal preference, I think.

      So, for example, you could take the first one, precious human birth, and you could use the phrase, “Precious human birth, free and well favored” as a mantra, of sorts, and then really consider how lucky you are to be alive, to be healthy, to live in a place where the dharma is taught, to have the time and circumstances to be able to practice, etc., and realize that this is a precious situation, not to be wasted. And through that realization you may get a certain feeling in your body that goes with that. Then after your contemplation period, you drop all of the words and images and just sit with that feeling for a minute.

      And, so on, for the rest of them. Rinpoche talks a lot about them in Turning the Mind Into an Ally. There’s a chapter on each one.

      Is that helpful?

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