American Buddhist Nun, Author and Teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist Lineage
Pema Chödrön, born Deirdre Blomfield-Brown
American Buddhist Nun, Author and Teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist Lineage
The most important aspect of being on the spiritual path may be to just keep moving.
There are many changes in the weather of a day.
Trying to run away is never the answer to being a fully human. Running away from the immediacy of our experience is like preferring death to life.
We don't have to be harsh with ourselves when we think, sitting here, that our meditation or our oryoki or the way we are in the world is in the category of worst horse.
When people start to meditate and work or to work with any kind of spiritual discipline, they often think that somehow they're going to improve, which is a sort of subtle aggression against who they really are. It's a bit like saying, 'If I jog, I'll be a much better person.' 'If I could only get a nicer house, I'll be a better person.' 'If I could meditate and calm down, I'd be a better person.' Or the scenario may be that they find fault with others; they might say, 'If it weren't for my husband, I'd have a perfect marriage.' 'If it weren't for the fact that my boss and I don't get along, my job would be great.' And 'If it weren't for my mind, my meditation would be excellent.' But loving-kindness, or maŒtri, toward ourselves doesn't mean getting rid of anything. Maitri means that we can still be crazy after all these years. We can still be angry after all these years.
When you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha? means that when you see that you?re grasping or clinging to anything, whether conventionally it?s called good or bad, make friends with that. Look into it. Get to know it completely and utterly. In that way it will let go of itself.
The Buddha?s principal message that day was that holding on to anything blocks wisdom. Any conclusion that we draw must be let go. The only way to fully understand the bodhichitta teachings, the only way to practice them fully, is to abide in the unconditional openness of the prajna, patiently cutting through all our tendencies to hang on.
The natural warmth that emerges when we experience pain includes all the heart qualities: love, compassion, gratitude, tenderness in any form. It also includes loneliness, sorrow, and the shakiness of fear. Before these vulnerable feelings harden, before the storylines kick in, these generally unwanted feelings are pregnant with kindness, with openness and caring. These feelings that we?ve become so accomplished at avoiding can soften us, can transform us. The openheartedness of natural warmth is sometimes pleasant, sometimes unpleasant. The practice is to train in not automatically fleeing from uncomfortable tenderness when it arises.
There are six ways of describing this kind of cool loneliness. They are less desire, contentment, avoiding unnecessary activity, complete discipline, not wondering in the world of desire, and not seeking security from one's discursive thoughts
Usually we think that brave people have no fear. The truth is that they are intimate with fear.
We have a choice. We can spend our whole life suffering because we can't relax with how things really are, or we can relax and embrace the open-endedness of the human situation, which is fresh, unfixated, unbiased.
When something is precious, instead of holding it tightly, we can open our hands and share it.
When you start to take the warrior's journey, you're going to find that it's often extremely inconvenient. When you start to want to live your life fully instead of opting for death, you discover that life itself is inconvenient. Wholeheartedness is a precious gift, but no one can actually give it to you. You have to find the path that has heart and then walk it impeccably. In doing that, you again and again encounter the inconvenience of your own uptightness, your own headaches, your own falling flat on your face. But in wholeheartedly practicing and wholeheartedly following the path, this inconvenience is not an obstacle. It's simply a certain texture of life, a certain energy of life. Not only that, sometimes when you just get flying and all feels so good and you think, "This is it, this is that path that has heart," you suddenly fall flat on your face. Everybody's looking at you. You say to yourself, "What happened to that path that had heart? This feels like the path full of mud in my face. Since you are wholeheartedly committed to the warrior's journey, it pricks you, it pokes you. It's like someone laughing in your ear, challenging you to figure out what to do when you don't know what to do. It humbles you. It opens your heart.
The cultivation of the noble heart and mind of bodhicitta is a personal journey. The very life we have is our working basis; the very life we have is our journey to enlightenment. Enlightenment is not something we're going to achieve after we follow the instructions, and then get it right. In fact when it comes to awakening the heart and mind, you can't get it right.
The next time you encounter fear, consider yourself lucky. This is where the courage comes in. Usually we think that brave people have no fear. The truth is that they are intimate with fear. When I was first married, my husband said I was one of the bravest people he knew. When I asked him why, he said because I was a complete coward but went ahead and did things anyhow.
There are three habitual methods that human beings use for relating to troubling habits such as laziness, anger or self-pity. I call these the three futile strategies?the strategies of attacking, indulging, and ignoring. The futile strategy of attacking is particularly popular. When we see our habit we condemn ourselves?we criticize and shame ourselves. The futile strategy of indulging is equally common. We justify or even applaud our habit: ?It?s just the way I am. I don?t deserve discomfort or inconvenience? The strategy of ignoring is quite effective, least for a while. We dissociate, space out, go numb. We do anything we can to distance ourselves from the naked truth of our habits.
War begins when we harden our hearts, and we harden them easily whenever we feel uncomfortable. It?s so sad, really, because our motivation in hardening our hearts is to find some kind of ease, some kind of freedom from the distress that we?re feeling. We can do everything in our power, but war is never going to end as long as our hearts are hardened against each other.
We insist on being Someone, with a capital S. We get security from defining ourselves as worthless or worthy, superior or inferior. We waste precious time exaggerating or romanticizing or belittling ourselves with a complacent surety that yes, that?s who we are. We mistake the openness of our being?the inherent wonder and surprise of each moment?for a solid, irrefutable self. Because of this misunderstanding, we suffer.
When the Buddha taught, he didn?t say that we were bad people or that there was some sin that we had committed?original or otherwise?that made us more ignorant than clear, more harsh than gentle, more closed than open. He taught that there is a kind of innocent misunderstanding that we all share, something that can be turned around, corrected, and seen through, as if we were in a dark room and someone showed us where the light switch was. It isn?t a sin that we are in a dark room. It?s just an innocent situation, but how fortunate that someone shows us where the light switch is. It brightens up our life considerably. We can start to read books, to see one another?s faces, to discover the colors of the walls, to enjoy the little animals that creep in and out of the room.
When you wake up in the morning and out of nowhere comes the heartache of alienation and loneliness, could you use that as a golden opportunity? Rather than persecuting yourself for feeling that something terribly wrong is happening, right there in the moment of sadness and longing, could you relax and touch the limitless space of the human heart? The next time you get a chance, experiment with this.
The essence of Bravery is being without self-deception. However it?s not so easy to take a straight look at what we do. Seeing ourselves clearly is initially uncomfortable and embarrassing. As we train in clarity and steadfastness, we see things we?d prefer to deny ? judgementalness, pettiness, arrogance. These are not sins but temporary and workable habits of mind. The more we get to know them, the more they lose their power. This is how we come to trust that our basic nature is utterly simple, free of struggle between good and bad.
The next time you lose heart and you can?t bear to experience what you?re feeling, you might recall this instruction: change the way you see it and lean in. That?s basically the instruction that Dzigar Kongtrl gave me. And I now pass it on to you. Instead of blaming our discomfort on outer circumstances or on our own weakness, we can choose to stay present and awake to our experience, not grasping it, not buying the stories that we relentlessly tell ourselves. This is priceless advice that addresses the true cause of suffering?yours, mine, and that of all living beings.
There are three truths- traditionally called three marks- of our existence: Impermanence, suffering and egolessness.
We act out because, ironically, we think it will bring us some relief. We equate it with happiness. Often there is some relief, for the moment. When you have an addiction and you fulfill that addiction, there is a moment in which you feel some relief. Then the nightmare gets worse. So it is with aggression. When you get to tell someone off, you might feel pretty good for a while, but somehow the sense of righteous indignation and hatred grows, and it hurts you. It?s as if you pick up hot coals with your bare hands and throw them at your enemy. If the coals happen to hit him he will be hurt. But in the meantime, you are guaranteed to be burned.
We think that by protecting ourselves from suffering, we are being kind to ourselves. The truth is we only become more fearful, more hardened and more alienated. We experience ourselves as being separate from the whole. This separateness becomes like a prison for us - a prison that restricts us to our personal hopes and fears, and to caring only for the people nearest to us. Curiously enough, if we primarily try to shield ourselves from discomfort, we suffer. Yet, when we don't close off, when we let our hearts break, we discover our kinship with all beings.