Filed in Tibetan

The Good Shepherd

Strengthening our natural capacity for awarenessYongey Mingyur Rinpoche with Helen Tworkov

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"The Good Shepherd" is an excerpt from Turning Insight into Clarity: A Guide to the Foundation Practices of Tibetan Buddhism. Accompanying the excerpt is a four-part video teaching, "The Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind." Mingyur Rinpoche gave the teaching shortly before embarking on a three-year wandering retreat in June 2011. His whereabouts remain unknown.

You can view the first segment of the four-part teaching here. Supporting and Sustaining Members can view a new segment each week this month. You can become a member here.


I want to discuss meditation. This is because meditation provides the essential tool for all our practices, including the ngondro practices [the foundation practices of Tibetan Buddhism], and because nowadays meditation means different things to different people. In order to establish a common understanding, I want to recount one of my own earliest introductions to meditation.

My father compared the effects of meditation to the behavior of a good shepherd. From the big window in his small room at the hermitage of Nagi Gompa, we could see a vast expanse of sky and the sprawling city of Kathmandu below. Sometimes we sat together and watched boys graze their flocks. “Good shepherds sit on the hill watching over their flock, alert and aware,” my father explained. “If an animal strays, they scramble down to provide guidance. They do not race around pushing their flock this way and that way, so that the poor animals cannot get enough to eat and become exhausted, and the shepherd too becomes exhausted.”

“Do good shepherds meditate?” I asked.

“They are not working with their minds in a direct way,” he said. “So they are not meditating, but they are relaxed and undistracted. They look outward to their flock while maintaining an inner steadiness. They are not chasing after the sheep. When we meditate, we do not chase after thoughts. A bad shepherd has a narrow view. He might chase after one sheep that strays to the left but miss the one moving to the right, so he ends up running in circles like a dog chasing its tail. When we meditate, we don’t try to control all our thoughts and feelings. We just rest naturally, like the good shepherd, watchful and attentive.”

One time my father pointed to a boy sitting in the sun with his back against a flat rock watching his flock below. The boy untied the cloth that held his lunch and ate slowly, raising his eyes to check on his goats. When he finished eating he took out a wooden flute, and my father opened the window to listen. Everyone seemed so happy: the boy, my father, and the goats. “Does that boy meditate?” I asked my father. He shook his head. “But still he’s so happy?” I asked.

“The good shepherd is free to make choices in his behavior,” my father explained. “He has a calm mind, which keeps his flock calm. Since he does not make the animals nervous, they don’t run away. This gives him time to sit down, eat lunch, and play his flute.

“But don’t confuse relaxed behavior with mind. Today the sun is shining. It’s not too cold, not too windy. The circumstances for this shepherd could not be better. What happens if they change? What happens to the mind if the owner sells those goats? To know true freedom of mind, we must meditate in order to recognize the nature of mind itself. Then we will not be carried away by thoughts, emotions, and circumstances. Stormy weather or sunshine, the mind stays steady.”

To cultivate a steady mind independent of circumstances, we must work with the mind itself. Working directly with the mind uncovers the inherent quality of meditative awareness...

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