Calligraphy by Chogyam Trungpa, Tibetan; "Oil Treasure"
Mind and the Analogy of the Horse and Rider
I often talk about the analogy of the horse and rider when I am teaching about mind and meditation.
The Tibetans have the teaching of Windhorse or Lungta.
We are riding a horse of wind or wind energy. It is an analogy for mind and the nature of mind. We have this energy system which constitutes how we feel at any moment as well as our fortune, luck, health, prosperity, and sense of well being. It has to do with a lot of things but it is how we are handling our body and mind and the fact that we have something to learn about how to be skillful with that. It is our mindfulness, our approach to mindfulness. Our awareness is growing out of our mindfulness practice. In the West we have the idea of Pegasus, the winged horse. It’s the same concept. An analogy is a flag. There’s a lot of energy, movement, a sense of upliftedness and drala. . Drala can be very complex but in it’s simplest concept it can be translated as “above aggression” or above conflict or above duality. There is joy in climbing higher and gaining freedom. At the same time the flagpole is very solid and planted in the ground. It is thoroughly grounded. We are free to soar and conquer, but at the same time our mindfulness is really planted on this earth. It comes up out of the solid ground and never loses that important connection. When our lungta is down we may become depressed or ill. We may become sloppy in our mindfulness practice. At the same time our mindfulness practice is refreshed and energized by the fresh breezes we encounter. Wind denotes energy, spiritual power, but also the rather fickle, flickering nature of the mind. It is difficult to control the wind. The symbolism of the horse is very complex, but it is steadiness, bravery, hard work, skill, capability, and intelligence. The Tibetans say the horse symbolizes all of man’s dreams and highest aspirations. The mind is difficult to define or pin down. It is everything and most people have a very tenuous relationship with the all important factor. The Tibetans find the horse and the windhorse a fruitful analogy which has a wonder of implications. Trungpa Rinpoche said that if you want to learn to meditate (or develop mindfulness) ride a horse. Probably we are referring to Eastern tack as opposed to the Western style. The easiest analogy to use for all of this is the analogy of horse and rider. Kyudo (Zen Archery) is also a very good metaphor for this, as is calligraphy, etc. Words are unnecessary when you get on the horse. There is a knowing quality which we value very much. Otherwise, it’s just words. Almost a waste of time. Anyway, there is a lot of gentleness needed for the rider. Soft hands, they say. Your hands and arms react to the movement of the horses mouth. If you are not open not much can happen. Stiffness or holding on there will stop the horse. But you can learn. Very quickly on a horse. The horse is directed, really, by the seat and motivated by the legs. The legs are long and relaxed but also working a good bit, in a way. Between the groin and the knees, anyway. For an experienced rider, it’s natural and they will say it’s not much effort, but for the beginner it can be a good bit of effort to urge the horse forward with the legs. There’s a big difference between making the effort and not knowing how to do it. Or just being lazy. The horse knows. He will not go forward. He knows he has a lazy (in effect) or unknowledgeable, or fearful rider. Let’s try and begin somewhat at the beginning. Imagine if you will a wild horse born in the paddock. There are two distinct and consequential choices to be made. It is to train the horse of mind or not to train the horse of mind. Let us take the unfortunate choice first which many people consciously or unconsciously choose. It is to not train the horse of mind. What a sad and dreadful option. It may not seem so in the moment but the consequences are dire. That wild horse, never trained, can grow up to be only one thing; a destroyer of worlds. He will tear everything up and constantly create confusion, suffering, and negative consequences to his stablemates. He has not much future but to end up in the dog food factory and the sooner the better. A harsh reality but the hard truth. Let us take a more pleasant, exciting and adventurous option. Let us choose to train the horse of mind. A lot of people, when encountering meditation, feel that they have an unsuitable horse. They feel that their mind is too wild. Other people can meditate but every time I try, I find that my mind is uncontrollable. That is a misconception and really begs the point. The point is not to win the lottery and draw the best horse of mind but to learn to become a skillful trainer of the horse of mind. It is absolutely necessary to inculcate in oneself the main two points of how to be a skillful trainer of the horse of mind. One is not to beat or berate your horse of mind for being wild. It is somewhat the nature of the untrained mind to be wild. Really, the mind will express an unpredictability and uncontrolability until the end of time. Horses are wild creatures. No matter what an old warhorse he is, he still imagines tigers and lions attacking him from the rear. They are skittish. Jumpy. You never stand behind a horse as this occurrence can leave you with no head. So the skillful trainer of the horse of mind is very gentle with his horse who is just beginning to be trained. He understands his wild nature and does not rush things. He is very patient with a wild mind.
In kyudo, we intensify the muscles between the groin and the knee. We create a warrior’s seat that way.
A lunge or horse stance in the martial arts is another example. The second quality of the skillful trainer of the horse of mind is that he keeps to a schedule and does not skip any lessons. This business of meditation is largely a matter of scheduling. If you take your horse out for training regularly, he begins to get a rhythm, but if you do a lesson and come back a month later, progress becomes impossible.
In calligraphy, we can sit in warrior’s posture.
Warrior’s posture may be the best example of all.
Try and sit a bit of your practice time in Warrior’s posture (seiza). You will discover all.
Sitting on the cushion is plenty good, also. Maybe you need a little instruction, but not much.
One thing that is good and very interesting is that your good seat on a horse is all that stands between you and disaster at any moment.
It is not so uncommon for the horse to perform an amazing maneuver and instantly relocate himself a couple of feet sideways. It’s pretty easy to dream yourself into a head plant from a good height.
Tremendous motivation for mindfulness. It’s so hard for us to get that.
We don’t realize that things happen suddenly and that things are life and death, karmically speaking. We think we have time to breeze along lost in our thoughts.
“We ride the horse of freedom from laziness. We wear the armour of infallibility. We hold the sharp weapons of prajna.”