According to Chogyam Trungpa, a great mindfulness meditation teacher, our true nature is unconditional human goodness. We glimpse this basic goodness countless times everyday, but since we may have not been properly introduced to it, we tend to not recognize or fully appreciate it. When we see colours – blue, red, green; smell fragrances – pungent, delicate, acrid; taste flavours – sweet, bitter, spicy; hear sounds – soft, rhythmic, harsh; or touch textures – rough, smooth, sharp, we directly experience our true nature. Every perception is made out of basic goodness, and the perceiver is basically good, as well. Our perceptions are infinite because the manifestations of basic goodness are limitless.
In childhood, we had many experiences of running in a field, climbing a tree, listening to birdsong, watching the wind rippling the long grass, seeing the moon rise – moments when we perceived the ordinary magic of our world. For many of us, the world was a naturally magical place. It was mysterious, powerful, tricky, beautiful, scary, and playful. Our senses felt fully alive. These were experiences of unconditional goodness. They were also completely ordinary and accessible as everyday occurrences. When a child is looking up at a tree, observing the trembling of the leaves and the scattering light, she is not self-conscious, not watching herself looking at the tree. There is no barrier between the child and the totality of the tree and no barrier between the tree and the totality of the child. There is just direct perception, without subject, object or the self-conscious act of looking, hearing, smelling, tasting or touching.
Basic human goodness has us. We are in the embrace of basic goodness. We have an unconditional nature. Everything conditional changes, and yet the nature of that which changes is, itself, changeless. The elements of earth, water, fire and wind are expressions of this changeless nature. Relatively speaking, these elements appear to change constantly. At the same time, as we know from physics, energy is never truly lost or gained; it is just reconfigured — a rearrangement of the energy of the cosmos. The sunshine, rain, clouds, wind, day, night, stars, moon, plants, minerals, animals and human beings are all expressions of goodness. The cycles of the seasons are basically good. Our planet works well when the human systems are in balance with the natural systems. Our bodies work well when they are in balance within themselves and within the natural environments they depend upon for survival and exchange.
There is vivid, natural clarity within us and around us. That is how we know whether we are really awake, connected to basic goodness or not. If we look closely at anything, we realize that there are infinite gradations of colour. There are an infinite number of shapes and textures, an infinite number of sounds and smells. We did not have to manufacture our senses. They are part of our natural equipment. They are magical as they are.
If we do not judge our perceptions or prefer one perception to another, if we do not take our perceptions for granted, we see, hear, smell, taste and touch basic goodness directly. We have true perceptions. True perceptions are an endless source of energy, a conduit to re-energize and re-empower our connections to life.
We can plug into the energy of the universe simply by making ourselves available to each perception. Everything, including human-made objects or sounds, are capable of waking us up in a powerful way. It can cheer us up to hear the hum of a lawn mower in the distance, the hiss of car tires on a rainy street, the sound of our mate’s step in the hallway. And when there are no noticeable sounds, it moves us to hear the silence – deep, vast and powerful. Silence is the background or basis for all sounds and more penetrating than any.
If as adults we can reconnect with life in a fresh, child-like (not childish) way, we can rediscover the world of limitless perception, and allow that world to rediscover us and what we have to offer that may be of benefit. This mutual rediscovery can bring delight to ourselves and to our world.
All human beings have unconditional goodness as our most fundamental, basic nature. We don’t have to be religious in order to connect to this goodness. In fact, just being human provides us with all that we need to be authentic and joyful. All it takes is to be present in one’s body, with one’s heart open, inquisitive, and one’s discursive mind relaxed in order to glimpse this sense of all-pervasive goodness.
Not only is basic goodness experienced through our senses; it’s experienced through our thoughts. When we drop whatever judgments and interpretations we have and allow things to be exactly as they are, then that goodness can shine through as insight – precise and clear. Mindfulness practice is the act of letting unconditional goodness seep into our bones and also seep out of our bones. We are unconditionally good already. It’s our basic nature.
Unconditional human goodness has three intrinsic qualities: gentleness, fearlessness and intelligence.
Gentleness is the capacity for caring for oneself and others with sympathy, tenderness, honesty, and vulnerability. It is humble, modest and vulnerable. It doesn’t need to make a big deal of itself; gentleness is content simply to be fully gentle. But this gentleness is not weak. It has the power to penetrate and soften whatever is rigid or stuck. This basic human gentleness is what often attracts us to other people, and what others may find attractive in us. It’s what makes good communication possible: openness, warmth, honesty, vulnerability, and the capacity to appreciate.
Fearlessness is our inherent strength to lean into every experience, to feel the edge or boundary of it, whether it’s pleasurable or not. It is also the willingness to be vulnerable, to not only reach out and touch our experiences, but also to be touched by them. It takes a lot of bravery to be gentle, to be touch-able. Fearlessness is not the absence of fear. Rather, it is the willingness to relate directly to fear, however and whenever it manifests. Fear carries, at its core, the impulse to immediately shy away, run away or fight. Fearlessness is cognizant of this impulse, and without reacting to, fixing or amplifying that impulse, touches the fear itself. It’s not put off. It’s interested and wants to explore fear, as well as its absence. Fearlessness protects the integrity and authenticity of experience, so that it isn’t corrupted by cowardice or manipulation.
Intelligence is our mind’s inherent capacity to know itself, to be self-aware, observant, inquisitive, non-judgmental and responsive or sensitive. This innately aware mind can sense what is needed in each situation. Do we need to be a little more gentle, more yielding and open, or do we need to apply more fearlessness, precision, sharpness or toughness? Our natural intelligence can apply the “accelerator” or “brake” depending on what it perceives is required, with both skill and compassion.
Whether we are discussing gentleness, fearlessness or intelligence, it is important to recognize that these three qualities of basic goodness are not separate things. We are not mixing some intelligence with some gentleness and adding a dash of fearlessness for spice. They are not three separate threads being woven together. These three qualities are inseparable. They are like three facets of one jewel, or three qualities of one delicious drink. In the next chapter, we will explore these three qualities in our approach to mindfulness practice.
Basic goodness is not a “thing.” It is the natural state of openness that is gentle, brave, sensitive and perceptive. It is nothing in particular while being everything, at the same time. It is ours and, at the same time, it is everyone else’s, although it cannot be possessed. Since we are basic goodness, there is no possibility of one person accumulating more than someone else. Mindfulness practice is a process of stripping away what is unnecessary, rather than building up a layer of extra stuff. And when we strip away what is unnecessary, what is revealed is our natural intelligence, bravery and gentleness.