Taming the Tiger by Akong Tulku Rinpoche
By taking these teachings to heart, we may re-educate ourselves to develop more compassion and understanding. Thus the value and usefulness of our lives will increase. (pp.84-5)
The first thing you see when you pick up a copy of Taming the Tiger is the cover. On the cover – as you might expect – is a tiger. And this is a very special tiger: not only is he a beautiful line drawing by Tai Situpa Rinpoche, he is also a very contented tiger, sitting calmly and with gentle dignity under a tree. He even seems to smile a bit in that way cats have. The further I read in Taming the Tiger, the more vividly that image came back to me: a wild animal that had been taught, with kindness and respect, to change his behaviour, and that had resulted in a much happier state of being. This is the main aim of Taming the Tiger: to teach us how to look at our own wild tiger – our mind – and see why the behaviour we think will make us happy is actually the very seed of what makes us increasingly less so, and then what we can do to change that.
Taming the Tiger is divided into two sections. The first ten chapters are essentially teachings by Akong Rinpoche, and they are so clear and go so straight to the heart of our motivations, that you feel they are things you have always known. And you could perhaps argue that you have. If it is merely our cultural conditioning (however solid that feels) that makes us see things the way we do – for example, the desire to possess things as a legitimate path to happiness – then what is truly there, underneath, is the absolute understanding that removing this desire is the only way to have long-lasting contentment. Rinpoche explains these concepts so directly, and with such kindness and understanding, that reading these chapters is less like discovering something new than opening a door that was always there but which you never noticed.
This is a book that teaches you how to live a happier life, and that necessarily includes making life better for others. Rinpoche begins by pointing out the vicious circle that keeps us searching for what we think is happiness, but which fades quickly, and ends up making us feeling frustrated, stressed, and even more unhappy. He shows us how to stop, step back, and look at the benefits of Compassion, Right Motivation and Right Conduct, and Mindfulness, and also why it’s so important that we realise what a unique opportunity we have in this human life of ours:
‘In a worldly way, we already consider our lives to be precious and strive to preserve our own existence. The trouble is that we generally identify ourselves by, and with, its least valuable aspects. The ordinary sense of ‘preciousness’ consists of trying to protect the body from getting old, sick, cold, or hungry […] If we limit ourselves to these pre-occupations, without seeing beyond them, we are failing to make the most of our far greater opportunities – our potential is being wasted.’ (pp.15-16)
There is so much we can do for others – Rinpoche reminds us that even a small action, or donating one pound can make a huge difference if thoughtfully contributed! He goes on to explain that once we appreciate how fortunate we are to have the ability and opportunity to change ourselves and to help others, we can really get down to work:
‘Meditation can help to allow us the space and time in which to stand back from the problem [of the selfish ego] and thus see it more clearly. It can help us begin to understand the mind and how it works, both in itself and through our body and speech.’ (p.50)
Why should you read Taming the Tiger? The second part of the book’s title, Tibetan Teachings for Improving Daily Life, answers that question. In the second part of Taming the Tiger, Rinpoche gives us a series of meditative exercises, ‘a practical manual for developing the mind so that we are able to put to use the advice in the first part’ which will, very practically ‘help us face the variety of situations which arise every day of our lives.’ (pp.84, 88)
It is this getting under – and rooting out – our automatic behaviours that is the key to seeing what truly makes us unhappy, and fixing it. And Rinpoche offers some comfort and reassurance too – because this will be hard work! We are dealing with years of ingrained behaviour that won’t be changed overnight:
‘[…] it is difficult to overcome the habits of ego-clinging. It will help us to remember that what we are doing is not just for ourselves, nor just for now, but for the good of everyone and for all of our futures. No matter how slowly we may be travelling [in our progress with the exercises] we can be confident we are moving in the right direction.’ (p.88)
Taming the Tiger is a collection of ‘Tibetan Teachings’, a secular reference that tells us they are appropriate for everyone. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to understand Taming the Tiger or find it useful. After all, fundamentally, everyone wants to be happy, and we all have the same, conditioned experiences so far.
So if you’re tired of the same old story, turn some pages.
Dr Gwen Enstam
Dr Gwen Enstam is Project Developer for The Association for Scottish Literary Studies. She is the editor of the online magazine The Bottle Imp.
Originally from Dallas, Texas, Gwen has made her home in Edinburgh. An interesting interview of Dr Gwen Enstam can be found on Books From Scotland.
Taming the Tiger: Tibetan Teachings for Improving Daily Life by Akong Tulku Rinpoche, with illustrations and calligraphy by Tai Situpa Rinpoche, is published by Rider, 1994.