Saykong Mipham on Attitude and Exertion

Ray: “Upon rising, have a positive and open attitude” is what you write in describing the most helpful instruction in how to be the ruler of your own life.

Sakyong Mipham with Ray Hemachandra, 2006

Mipham: Yes, your life really is determined by your intention or view — by your attitude. If you rise with a positive attitude — because everything is possible, everything is doable — if you have that level of confidence, you exude it. It inspires the people around you.

But what if you get up slightly hesitant, or you feel like, “Oh, it’s just another day,” and you get kind of down on yourself?

The only person doing that is you. It is not inherent in the day. It is not inherent in any situation.

As a leader, you have the choice to determine what you are going to do and how you are going to engage others. You can decide to act compassionately regardless of what the weather is — whether it is cloudy or sunny — or whether things are inspirational or not.

Sometimes it seems like most people are being pulled into a negative energy, but then you meet strong individuals or strong leaders and they are free from it. How does that happen? It really is by the power of their intention as developed through their practice, their discipline, and their understanding.

It’s something you cannot just hope or wish for. It is a process of intelligence and understanding what’s going on.

Ray: What surprised me most in your book Ruling Your World, and what has stayed with me most, is the passage on exertion as a virtue. Why do you describe it so?

Mipham: Exertion sometimes is seen a little bit negatively — as putting yourself to the grindstone. The exertion I am talking about is if you see the challenge of your life as something wonderful, as an opportunity. Then you want to do it. If you see life as an opportunity, or if you see helping others as an opportunity, then all of a sudden you become joyous. You want to go forward.

One of the characteristics of every great teacher I’ve known is that tremendous exertion. It’s interesting: You may see them as spiritual people or compassionate people, but the driving force is that incredible exertion — and their ability to sustain it.

Personally, developing that has been a very important aspect of my life. Once you have it, it gives you a deep confidence, because you have a sense you really can accomplish anything. It’s not going to lessen, as opposed to having to hang on for dear life. That’s why exertion brings a sense of joy.

Exertion is a virtue in that it propels you forward in life. And exertion is a virtue because it binds you to other people. It helps expand your mind and expand your heart.

Exertion also is the catalyst. It is the one thing that makes compassion doable. If you have exertion in meditation, it makes it doable. If you have exertion in love or intention, it makes it doable. If you don’t have exertion, it is not going to happen.

*Read about Sakyong Mipham and Shambhala Buddhism at his website,, and read this full interview at I did the interview for New Age Retailer magazine.

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