The Transformative Power of Sadness in Buddhist Practice

“The Genuine Heart of Sadness” is the third chapter of Part One of the book “Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior.”

The author of the book is Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. He is considered one of the leading Buddhist spiritual teachers of the 20th century.

Books written by him include Journey without Goal [*Amazon], Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness, The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation, Meditation in Action and The Tibetan Book of the Dead (translation) etc.

Summary of Chapter-3 (the Genuine Heart of Sadness):

The genuine heart of sadness states a deep and true acknowledgment and getting our own sorrows and sorrows of others. Basically, it classifies the essential weaknesses and transitions of life without refusing or winning our feelings and emotions. To fully experience this life as a human being, we should be mindful and observe ourselves deeply.

We should try to identify our own faults and rid ourselves of those faults. These practices will soften our mind.

Genuine sad feelings arise from compassion for others, not pitying oneself. A tender heart is open to the world just as the heart of the Bodhicitta was open.

As we practice, a kind of fearless attitude develops within us. And this is how we, each of us, can eventually become a “Shambhala Warrior.”

Pema Chodron Talks about The “Genuine Heart of Sadness”

Famous Buddhist teacher, author and nun, Pema Chödrön also mentions the concept in her book “The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times” [*Amazon].

She explores the tender heart of warrior-bodhisattvas based on Chögyam Trungpa’s text. Pema Chödrön says,

This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion. It can humble us when we’re arrogant and soften us when we’re unkind. It awakens us when we prefer to sleep and pierces through our indifference.

In the same book, she further mentions,

Interrupting our destructive habits and awakening our heart is the work of a lifetime.

Pema Chödrön

This is a good time to remember that when we harden our heart against anyone, we hurt ourselves.

Pema Chödrön

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche Talks about The “Genuine Heart of Sadness”

The book “Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior” is considered as a classic in the history of Tibetan Buddhist meditation and spirituality. The first part of the book is called “How to be a Warrior.”

In the third chapter of this part, the author gives a pretty enlightening discussion on how we can awaken the pure heavenly sadness in our heart.

According to him, a Shambhala warrior is a real brave man. He conquers the world through sheer courage and perseverance. He is very brave but also gentle at the same time.

He is always grateful and satisfied for what he enjoys on earth. At the same time, he wants to share what he has with others. His selfless love wishes happiness to all beings without exception.

The heart of sadness is genuine when there are no hidden agendas.

The book shows how a Shambhala warrior conquers the world through his personal spiritual practices and mindful kindness without resorting to violence or aggression.

It is a book about letting go of aggression and being brave in the face of life’s difficulties. The feeling of anger or jealousy is not really “our heart.” It is just a temporary emotion that comes from somewhere else and occupies our mind for the moment.

When we awaken to our insubstantiality and develop renunciation without attachment, then true bravery arises on its own accord. 

In order for us not to feel any pain or guilt from our effort we must be able to weep with genuine feeling. The genuine heart of sadness arises when we are exposed and unprotected.

When we talk about unconditional love, this kind of sadness or tenderness could be called unconditional sadness or unconditional tenderness.

The sense that our heart is overflowing with sadness and tenderness makes us feel no longer concerned about ourselves but interested in others.

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Techniques to Promote Genuine Heart of Sadness

Mindfulness practices like deep breathing and meditation can help to promote awareness. It encourages us to accept all our emotions, especially sadness. By detecting our emotional states and feelings, we can grow a more balanced and concerned relationship with our personal experiences.

Furthermore, by practicing loving kindness meditation comprises to increase love, sympathy, kindness and goodwill towards ourselves and others. It helps to support genuine hearts of sadness but also adopt a sense of interconnection, sympathy and kindheartedness towards all human beings.

Chapter Quotes and Explanation:

A while back, I compiled a list of selected quotes from the chapter and shared it on my notion account.

Here’s the link: The Genuine Heart of Sadness (Quotes from the Chapter)

Below, I will discuss a few selected quotes in more detail. I hope you find this helpful.

Basic goodness is very closely connected to the idea of bodhichitta in the Buddhist tradition. Bodhi means “awake” or “wakeful” and chitta means “heart,” so bodhichitta is “awakened heart.” Such an awakened heart comes from being willing to face your state of mind. That may seem like a great demand, but it is necessary.

We often take for granted the basics, but it’s important to stop and reflect. We should appreciate what we have in this world.

There is goodness inherent in a basic thing. It is of natural law and of effective rules; therefore it is good, not as if it were good compared with bad.

We should acknowledge the good in the world. The basics of life are good because they are so fundamental. They work. They are natural. That means they are good.

The consistency of order in the universe is good for us. It allows us to feel secure. This sense of safety is important in our daily lives. It helps us go about our day without fear.

If you’re wondering why good is good, think about it this way. Good is consistent. Good is normal.

The fact that the universe even exists is good. The fact that the universe is stable is good. The fact that life can evolve is good.

We should appreciate the simple goodness in our life, rather than take it for granted. Also, appreciate the fact that things come with limitations because without those limitations nothing can function properly or at all!

So the first step in realizing basic goodness is to appreciate what we have. But then we should look further and more precisely at what we are, where we are, who we are, when we are, and how we are as human beings, so that we can take possession of our basic goodness. It is not really a possession, but nonetheless, we deserve it.

There are a lot of ways to look at life. Some people believe in fate, others in randomness, and still others in a higher power.

Yet when it comes down to it, what is life all about? While there is no way to answer that question, one thing that we can do is appreciate life and the people in it. That’s what makes life beautiful.

But for this to happen, we must realize our basic goodness.

It’s important for all of us to appreciate the good things we already have in our lives.

We tend to get angry or angry or feel sad when things don’t work out how we want them to. When things are going well, we still think that there are things that could be better.

But if we tried to appreciate more of what we do have, we would feel more content with our lives. But it’s not the only thing we need to do; we should look further into where we are, who we are, and how we are as human beings.

It’s important to take the time to reflect on this. Once we do, we will feel more at peace with who we are and who we can become. We deserve that peace.

It’s easy to get distracted by the things we think we don’t have or the things we think we can’t have. Look around and appreciate the people and things you do have because this is where we can begin to claim our basic goodness.

Basic goodness is very closely connected to the idea of bodhichitta in the Buddhist tradition. Bodhi means “awake” or “wakeful” and chitta means “heart,” so bodhichitta is “awakened heart.” Such awakened heart comes from being willing to face your state of mind. That may seem like a great demand, but it is necessary.

The awakened heart of bodhichitta is called that because it is directly connected to being awake to what is happening in your mind.

There are ways to practice this kind of presence. The classic form is what is known as meditation. You hold your mind to one point. If it begins to be distracted, you simply acknowledge the distraction, acknowledge the thought, bring it back, and let it go.

You can also use the breath as the focus. This kind of meditation brings one into the present. Once you can do that, you can practice staying with your emotional state.

Basic goodness means being able to face your state of mind right now. It’s a very difficult practice to accept ourselves as we are, but it is absolutely essential.

In order to have real joy, we have to be willing to be as we are. If we reject ourselves, we reject the possibility of basic goodness, of being able to have a genuine experience of joy.

In the Buddhist context, the word “heart” is being used both in a psychological sense and a spiritual sense. In a psychological sense, the word “heart” emphasizes the emotions and feelings associated with an individual.

From a spiritual sense, the word “heart” describes the central or essential nature of an individual. Thus, the awakened heart is the true nature of one’s awareness, which is clear and pure.

In Buddhism, morality is very much about trying to be as compassionate as you can. When you take that as a starting point, then the rest of the Eightfold Path is a natural development of that.

The first step is to learn how to not harm yourself and other beings. It is thought that the best way to do that is to understand what a source of harm is, and therefore a source of suffering.

The sitting practice of meditation is the means to rediscover basic goodness, and beyond that, it is the means to awaken this genuine heart within yourself.
So through the practice of sitting still and following your breath as it goes out and dissolves, you are connecting with your heart. By simply letting yourself be, as you are, you develop genuine sympathy towards yourself.

The practice of meditation has the capacity to bring us to greater understanding of our authentic self.

Through the integration of diligence, mental discipline, and self-awareness, we cultivate the ability to live freely in the moment. When we sit still and practice mindfulness, we open our heart to understanding that we can all heal.

Meditation allows us to take a step back, even if just for a few moments, and really see the world around us.

By recommitting to mindfulness, we become more grounded in our heart’s intelligence, creating compassionate action in our lives.

Allowing yourself to be who you are as you are is the key to developing genuine sympathy towards yourself. By doing this, you are also able to build deeper relationships with others.

Whether you’re just looking to relax after a long day of work, or you’re looking to find peace within yourself, meditation is for you. The process can be as simple as sitting still and following your breath.

There are so many methods and tools for this practice. Regardless of how you go about finding and choosing a method and and tool that works for you, meditation is a virtue that will allow you to rediscover yourself.

Conventionally, being fearless means that you are not afraid or that, if someone hits you, you will hit him back. However, we are not talking about that street-fighter level of fearlessness. Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart. You are willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face the world. You are willing to share your heart with others.

Fearlessness is the ability to look deeply into the unknown with curiosity, courage, and acceptance.

Being fearless means looking at whatever life brings you without resistance, while finding ways to be kind to others while doing it. Being fearless means opening your heart while understanding the tenderness of it.

It’s about having the courage to be loving and allowing it to grow.

Fearlessness is not a product of a tough, leathery hide. It’s a product of tenderness.

You wake up in the middle of the night and become aware of a thought or a feeling that thrills you. This is the beginning.

Having the guts to go after such a feeling takes courage, and such courage requires a willingness to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is not a weakness, but a strength. The willingness to be open and real and present is a strength.

Fearlessness is not about being able to fight another man. It’s the ability to know that you are safe in this world.

Physical fighting is not necessary to be fearless, since what do you need to prove? You can stop fearing the world, you can stop fearing the people by not fighting. That’s true freedom.

A large part of being fearless is that you have the capacity to love. You open your heart to others. You allow others to see your vulnerability.

But when you have this capacity to love, you are able to face the world with a childlike tenderness. And with this tenderness, you are able to change. You are able to change a situation that is aversive. You are able to change a situation that is not loving.

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The book is available at The link is attached below:

Alternatively, I found an audio book version (only chapter one though) available on Youtube. Enjoy it with someone reading out to you aloud!

Real life applications and benefits

To implement sadness with an open heart, we can produce emotional flexibility and power. Being overwhelmed by problematic emotions, we learn to cross them with grace and wisdom.

When we encourage genuine hearts of sadness, we become more agreed to the emotions of others and prepared to offer support and compassion. This deep connection nurtures more expressive and pleasing relationships in our lives.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a genuine heart of sadness lead towards happiness?

By accepting sadness and promoting sympathy and kindness, we can easily experience a great flexibility in our emotions. Basically, it provides you a profound connection with ourselves and others that leads us towards happiness.

How can we cultivate a genuine heart of sadness?

If you practice mindfulness, meditation, and loving gentleness are effective ways to promote genuine heart sadness.

Is sadness promoting negative emotions?

Implementation of sadness does not mean promoting negative emotions, It basically comprises acknowledging and accepting our feelings with empathy and compassion.

What does Chogyam Traungpa mean by ‘’Basic goodness’’?

Basic goodness is a term by Tibetan spiritual teacher Chogyam Trungpa that is used to discuss the experience of genuineness. It is also basic human nature and rises as a central virtue.

Does sadness associate with depression?

Sadness is not as much associated with depression as it is. Actually sadness is a normal emotional response to life’s challenges and depression is a clinical condition caused by feelings of sadness and loss of interest in day-to-day activities.


While studying the genuine heart of sadness, we get on a journey of deep self-discovery and sympathetic consideration. We realize that sorrows and liabilities are not a sign of weakness, but relatively evidence to our humanity.

The genuine heart of sadness clarifies that we should hold life with open arms and tender hearts. It reminds us of the connection of all beings and the transformational power of sympathy. The implementation of the genuine heart of sadness, we not only get emotional flexibility within ourselves but also have deep connection with others. So, we can direct all complexities of life with grace, sympathy, kind heartedness and a profound sense of inner peace.

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  1. Hi, this is probably the best review available for this chapter. Thanks for that. Shambhala warriors are those who bring a tender heart to the world and cultivate compassion for others. Practicing compassion leads us down an enlightened path and eventually with courage we can be Shambhala warriors too!

    1. Sally, thank you for your kind words!
      Yes, this book is an inspiring read, and I’m glad to hear that it’s resonating with you.

  2. I enjoy reading Trungpa’s books very much. This book was an insightful read because of its unique approach … we need not live our lives with fear or pain, but find peace within ourselves through compassion rather than pitying ourselves, and be open to our surroundings just like Buddha was when he saw suffering beings around him.

    1. Hi Faith, it’s great to hear that you actually enjoy reading Trungpa’s books. And you are totally right that compassion is the solution to suffering and it is the key to being happy.

      Wishing you a happy and prosperous day!


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