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Training in Courage
 
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Training in Courage
by Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche
Training in Courage from “Its Up to You”, Chapter 6

Practitioners who train in courage become true warriors. The war we wage is not with enemies outside of ourselves but with the powerful forces of our own habitual tendencies and negative emotions. The greatest of these is fear. In order to become fearless, we need to experience fear. Facing fear changes our perspective and gives rise to the courage to face our neuroses as well as our enlightened qualities.

Fear and worry are understandable at times. It would be stupid not to be concerned for our personal well-being, and selfish not to be concerned for others. Feeling concern is a natural part of human goodness. But when it prevents us from accepting our life, fear is crippling. We find ourselves saying no to the world; no to our karma; no, no, no to everything—which is a very painful way to live. When we spend our life wishing it were different, it’s like living someone else’s life. Or, we could say, it’s like living our life despite ourselves. Meanwhile, the full spectrum of our life experience goes by unnoticed.

Someone asked me recently if I am afraid to die. Truthfully, I am more afraid of not living my life fully—of living a life dedicated to cherishing and protecting myself. This fear-driven approach to life is like covering your couch in plastic so it won’t get worn. It robs you of the ability to enjoy and appreciate your life.

It takes courage to accept life fully, to say yes to our life, yes to our karma, yes to our mind, emotions, and whatever else unfolds. This is the beginning of courage. Courage is the fundamental openness to face even the hardest truths. It makes room for all the pain, joy, irony, and mystery that life provides.

We especially need courage to face the four streams of human life: birth, old age, sickness, and death. A mother can’t say after nine months, “I don’t want to deliver my baby because I am afraid.” Afraid or not, she has to go to the hospital and give birth. Mothers do this very beautifully. It’s hard nowadays to find a truer sense of courage.
We cannot say, “I don’t want to get old.” We’re getting older day by day. The way to grow old beautifully is to accept our aging and do it well. Everything is impermanent and comes to an end. Every moment that comes into being is a moment of destruction. If we accept aging as the natural process of impermanence, we will still have a sparkle in our eyes when we’re old.

We cannot say, “I don’t want to get sick.” Sickness is an integral part of having a body. Our body is like a complex machine with many moving parts; it is subject to the suffering and impermanence of all compounded things. Think of how often you have to repair your car, which is a much simpler machine; you’ll be amazed that your body functions as well as it does. If we accept this compounded body, surprisingly, we might experience illness in a very different way!

Finally, we cannot say, “I don’t want to die.” Everything that is born is subject to decay. We will all need tremendous courage and acceptance on our deathbed. No matter how much our loved ones care for us, we must leave them behind. Clinging to them only makes our parting more painful. We must make this journey alone. No one can experience our pain or prevent it from happening. Our death is part of our life. If we accept it with courage and joy, we will make the transition from this world to the next beautifully.

Going against the four streams of existence is like building a castle of sand by the ocean. The waves will inevitably knock it down. If we don’t accept the ebb and flow of the tide, we will persist in building our castle—all the while fearing its destruction. Then we will never enjoy our life, let alone fully experience what it’s like to age, fall ill, or die. But if we accept and reflect on the natural flow of aging, illness, and death, we will have nothing to fight or reject. We will not be disappointed when confronted with the inevitable—and we will have nothing to fear.

With an open mind, fear can become your greatest ally—because facing fear means facing your life, and facing your life means living your life. You become courageous and victorious over the world of good and bad, right and wrong, comfort and pain. This notion means a great deal to me, as my birth name, Jigmé Namgyel, means “Fearless Victory.” But I think it is good advice for everyone.


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