Chaos Is Good News

I asked my father, the meditation master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, "If everything is basic goodness, why is life so confusing?" It seemed to me that the world was becoming ever more crowded, speedy, anxious, and intense. People were acting less compassionate, more aggressive, and more prideful. Society seemed painful, competitive, and confused. What if we all became so isolated and scared that we forgot to take care of one another?

Knowing this was in my heart, my father said that pain comes from people and society not recognizing their own wakeful potential. When people are not being genuine to themselves, they experience suffering. Then he said something that I think he meant to be consoling, but the statement puzzled me: "Chaos is good news."

"What could possibly be good about chaos?" I replied.

My father went on to explain that he was referring to chaos in the way that the Greeks had used the word -- to indicate a wide-open expanse. Chaos is the great space of emptiness that occurs before genesis. It is the openness where things fall apart and new creations arise. When you nearly crash your car or slip and nearly fall, your conceptual mind loses its grip and you are left in an open space. This space provides an opportunity to reconnect with what lies under the chaos and negativity -- inherent awakened nature.

Another way chaos is good news is that when things seem very bad, there is a big opportunity for something good to take place. It is only through looking at what is going wrong that we will find out how to do things right. Recognizing chaos is actually the pivot point for touching our goodness, for it is not only an ultimate principle, without beginning or end, it is also a relative principle that works through the laws of nature. Spring becomes summer; autumn leaves fall down. Those natural laws are grounded in cause and effect.

I believe that the pain and confusion of the world is now so vivid and unavoidable that we have no choice but to acknowledge it. Perhaps this means that when we are finally fed up with torturing ourselves, others, and the planet, out of our exhaustion will arise a gap in which we come to our senses and collectively rediscover a more natural state. Only by staring directly at the confusion -- examining it and absorbing its reality -- will our species discover a way forward.

The point at which we fully comprehend the problem is the point at which the solution dawns. To enlighten means to "fully illuminate." We see the problem and find a solution. In this way, being unaware of the problem is not being enlightened, but being ignorant. Even on a personal level, when we have predicaments in our life, the answer is already there; we just need to be open to it. If we are tired, we need to rest. If we are overeating, we need to stop. In terms of enlightenment, the answer lies in our confidence in goodness.

Particularly in the West, when I propose the Shambhala principle of basic goodness and how it could be the foundation of an enlightened society, people think it is impossible. Yet it is the human vocation to make the impossible possible. As a species, even our existence is in many ways an impossibility. Scientifically, we are the most under-equipped and vulnerable. We have no claws or fur. We are not that strong or fast.

What has allowed humanity to survive is our adaptability, which is rooted in society -- the communication and exchange between individuals. As a species, our ability to adapt -- "to join or fit into" -- is totally based on doing what we humans do most successfully: create social harmony through our relationships. People working together has enabled our species to make the impossible possible.

In terms of our species, I prefer to look at the idea of natural selection as "survival of the good." I call it "the goodness factor." What has given us the upper hand in nature is our ability to organize and work together by observing, listening, compromising, caring, and responding appropriately. We express thought, communicate, and take care of one another. Our species' intelligence and flexibility have carried us this far in time. In this light, it is human nature to be in harmony with one another and the environment, and our survival depends on it.

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