Keep It Simple

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is the spiritual head of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage. In this new book, The Shambhala Principle, he discusses his relationship with his father and teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.


When I became overwhelmed, I would ask my father what to do. He said, “Keep it simple.” This was one of the most powerful spiritual transmissions I ever received. He was communicating to me that I already had the answer: I could always come back to goodness.

The technique my father was offering was not complicated. I had already learned that in the midst of an argument, taking a deep breath and asking myself a question like “Exertion or laziness?” or “Jealousy or letting go?” could return me to goodness. Wisdom recognizes that the answer is already here, and simplicity is the result. In this light, the wisdom of the Shambhala principle of basic goodness has the power to bring true realization and meaning.

It is important not to overthink the problem. Through overanalyzing the world’s issues, we become depressed and lose faith because we are no longer in touch with windhorse, the ability to attain success that comes from acting virtuously. My father told me, “As a warrior, you should clean up your act. Simply work on the spot, properly. Very straightforward.” With this approach, simple can understand complicated because it knows that it contains the answer, but complicated cannot understand simple because it doesn’t know it exists.

Simplicity indicates that a particular feeling resonates with us in a very deep way: We are hungry and we want to eat, we are tired and we want to rest, we are dirty and we want to shower, we are lonely and we want a relationship. At the root of these most basic elements of life is a greater simplicity: We all want success and happiness, and we’d like to be free of fear and pain. However, obtaining these simple objectives can get complicated.

When my father said, “Keep it simple,” he was not instructing me to ignore the world’s complications, but to be strong and demonstrate the principles I had studied and contemplated. Simplicity became the notion of conviction– a feeling of being completely singular in my mental prowess. It is like shooting an arrow: One focuses, one aims, and all peripheral hesitation drops away. In the Shambhala teachings, the arrow represents the intelligence of a completely confident warrior. Most of life’s challenges can be met with a mind that is simple and confident in its principle. For example, approaching a relationship with a mind of wholehearted kindness or generosity often allows it to progress. Therefore, simplicity is an indication of the strength and health of the mind.

When my father said, “Keep it simple,” he was giving me instruction on simplicity as a method for enhancing my confidence. Humanity could now use this simple instruction. When we do not feel confident in our simple worthiness to be here on the planet Earth, the world becomes infinitely complicated as we attempt to placate some unresolved inner dilemma about our own existence.

Thus, in this time of great complication, it is through the fearless and simple message of basic goodness that we can understand the heart of the matter. With such simplicity, all answers are revealed and all questions fall away.

The above is an excerpt from Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s new book, ‘The Shambhala Principle‘ (Harmony, May 2013). The Sakyong will be teaching in New York City this November. Click here for more information.