Let compassion and fearlessness guide you and you’ll live wisely and effectively in good times and bad. But that’s easier said than done. Here Pema Chödrön introduces a powerful, transformative method to nurture these qualities using a practice called lojong, which has been a primary focus of her teachings and personal practice for many years. And for centuries, Tibetan Buddhists have relied on these teachings to awaken the deep goodness that lies within us.
The lojong teachings include fifty-nine pithy slogans for daily contemplation, such as “Always maintain only a joyful mind,” “Don’t be swayed by external circumstances,” “Don’t try to be the fastest,” and “Be grateful to everyone.” This book presents each of these slogans and includes Pema’s clear, succinct guidance on how to understand them—and how they can enrich our lives. It also features a forty-five minute downloadable audio program entitled “Opening the Heart,” in which Pema offers in-depth instruction on tonglen meditation, a powerful practice that anyone can undertake to awaken compassion for oneself and others.
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The Compassion Book
Teachings for Awakening the Heart
By Pema Chödrön
Shambhala Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Pema Chodron
All rights reserved.
First, train in the preliminaries.
The preliminaries are also known as the four reminders. In your daily life, try to:
1. Maintain an awareness of the preciousness of human life.
2. Be aware of the reality that life ends; death comes for everyone.
3. Recall that whatever you do, whether virtuous or not, has a result; what goes around comes around.
4. Contemplate that as long as you are too focused on self-importance and too caught up in thinking about how you are good or bad, you will suffer. Obsessing about getting what you want and avoiding what you don't want does not result in happiness.
Regard all dharmas as dreams
Whatever you experience in your life — pain, pleasure, heat, cold, or anything else — is like something happening in a dream. Although you might think things are very solid, they are like passing memory. You can experience this open, unfixated quality in sitting meditation; all that arises in your mind — hate, love, and all the rest — is not solid. Although the experience can get extremely vivid, it is just a product of your mind. Nothing solid is really happening.
Examine the nature of unborn awareness.
Look at your mind, at just simple awareness itself. "Examine" doesn't mean analyze. It means just looking and seeing if there is anything solid to hold onto. Our mind is constantly shifting and changing. Just look at that!
Self-liberate even the antidote.
Do not hang on to anything — even the realization that there's nothing solid to hold onto.
Rest in the nature of alaya, the essence.
This is instruction for a meditation practice called There is a resting place, a starting place that you can always return to. You can always bring your mind back home and rest right here, right now, in present, unbiased awareness.
In postmeditation, be a child of illusion.
When you finish sitting meditation, if things become heavy and solid, be fully present and realize that everything is actually pliable, open, and workable. This is instruction for meditation in action, realizing that you don't have to feel claustrophobic because there is always lots of room, lots of space.
Sending and taking should be practiced alternately.
These two should ride the breath.
This is instruction for a meditation practice called tonglen. In this practice you send out happiness to others and you take in any suffering that others feel. You take in with a sense of openness and compassion and you send out in the same spirit. People need help and with this practice we extend ourselves to them.
Three objects, three poisons, and three seeds of virtue.
The three objects are: friends, enemies, and neutrals. The three poisons are: craving, aversion, and indifference. When you feel craving, you own it fully and wish that all beings could be free of it. When you feel aggression or indiVerence you do the same. In this way what usually causes suVering — what poisons us and others — becomes a seed of compassion and loving-kindness, a seed of virtue.
In all activities, train with slogans.
Recalling any of these slogans "on the spot" can dissolve our self-centeredness and unkindness.
Begin the sequence of sending and taking with yourself.
Whatever pain you feel, take it in, wishing for all beings to be free of it. Whatever pleasure you feel, send it out to others. In this way, our personal problems and delights become a stepping-stone for understanding the suVering and happiness of all beings.
When the world is filled with evil, Transform all mishaps into the path of bodhi.
Whatever problems occur in your life, instead of reacting to them in the usual habitual way, you could transform them into the path of the bodhi heart. That is to say, you could awaken your compassionate and open heart. Use the tonglen approach and breathe in the pain of the situation, wishing that all beings could be free of it. Then breathe out and send loving-kindness to all suffering beings, including yourself!
Drive all blames into one.
This is advice on how to work with your fellow beings. Everyone is looking for someone to blame and therefore aggression and neurosis keep expanding. Instead, pause and look at what's happening with you. When you hold on so tightly to your view of what they did, you get hooked. Your own self-righteousness causes you to get all worked up and to suffer. So work on cooling that reactivity rather than escalating it. This approach reduces suffering — yours and everyone else's.
Be grateful to everyone.
Others will always show you exactly where you are stuck. They say or do something and you automatically get hooked into a familiar way of reacting — shutting down, speeding up, or getting all worked up. When you react in the habitual way, with anger, greed, and so forth, it gives you a chance to see your patterns and work with them honestly and compassionately. Without others provoking you, you remain ignorant of your painful habits and cannot train in transforming them into the path of awakening.
Seeing confusion as the four kayas Is unsurpassable shunyata protection.
Through meditation practice you begin to realize that:
1. Your thoughts have no birthplace, they just pop up out of nowhere — that is called dharmakaya.
2. Thoughts are nevertheless unceasing — this is sambhogakaya.
3. They appear but are not solid — that is nirmanakaya.
4. Putting that all together, there is no birth, no dwelling, no cessation — this is svabhavikakaya.
This understanding gives the unsurpassable protection of realizing what is called shunyata, or "complete openness." There's nothing solid to react to. You have made much ado about nothing!
Four practices are the best of methods.
The four practices are:
1. accumulating merit through any actions or words that lessen self-absorption and thus create more space in your mind and heart,
2. laying down evil deeds through honest and joyful self-reflection,
3. offering to the döns by welcoming mishaps because they wake you up, and
4. offering to the dharmapalas by expressing your gratitude to those who protect the teachings that help you and your fellow beings to wake up.
Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join with meditation.
The unexpected will stop your mind. Rest in that space. When thoughts start again, do tonglen, breathing in whatever pain you may feel, thinking that others also feel like this and gradually becoming more and more willing to feel this pain with the wish that others won't have to suffer. If it is a "good" shock, send out any joy you may feel, wishing for others to feel it also. Meeting the unexpected is also an opportunity to practice patience and nonaggression.
Practice the five strengths, The condensed heart instructions.
The five strengths are:
1. strong determination to train in opening the heart and mind;
2. familiarization with the practices (such as tonglen) that help you to do that;
3. the positive seed that is within you, experienced as a yearning to practice and wake up;
4. reproach, which is a tricky one for Western students but is an important practice: realizing that ego-clinging causes you to suVer, you delight in self-reflection, and honesty, and in seeing where you get stuck; and
5. the aspiration to help alleviate suffering in this world, expressing that intention to yourself.
The mahayana instruction for the ejection of consciousness at death
Is the five strengths: how you conduct yourself is important.
When you are dying, practice the five strengths (based on becoming very familiar with them while you are alive).
1. Strong determination: Open and let go when the appearances of this world start to dissolve.
2. Familiarization: Practice opening and letting go throughout your life so you will not panic as everything dissolves at death.
3. The positive seed: Trust that you have the innate ability to let go and to feel compassion for others.
4. Reproach: Realizing that this limited identity isn't solid and is dissolving, do not indulge in trying to keep it from falling apart.
5. Aspiration: At death, aspire to spend all your future lives in the presence of your teachers and to do your best to benefit others forever.
All dharma agrees at one point.
The entire Buddhist teachings (dharma) are about lessening one's self absorption, one's ego-clinging. This is what brings happiness to you and all beings.
Of the two witnesses, hold the principal one.
The two witnesses of what you do are others and yourself. Of these two, you are the only one who really knows exactly what is going on. So work with seeing yourself with compassion but without any self-deception.
Always maintain only a joyful mind.
Constantly apply cheerfulness, if for no other reason than because you are on this spiritual path. Have a sense of gratitude to everything, even diffcult emotions, because of their potential to wake you up.
If you can practice even when distracted, you are well trained.
If you are a good horseback rider, your mind can wander but you don't fall off your horse. In the same way, whatever circumstances you encounter, if you are well trained in meditation, you don't get swept away by emotions. Instead they perk you up and your awareness increases.
Always abide by the three basic principles.
The three basic principles are:
1. Keeping the promises you made if you took refuge vows and bodhisattva vows. When we take the refuge vow, we vow to take refuge in the Buddha, as an example of how to open and let go, the dharma (Buddha's teachings) as instructions on how to do this, and the sangha, the community of those who are also on this path. When we take the bodhisattva vow, we vow to awaken in order to help others to do the same.
2. Refraining from outrageous conduct or not engaging in what is sometimes called "bodhisattva exhibitionism."
5. Developing patience in both diffcult and delightful situations.
Change your attitude, but remain natural.
Work on reversing your caught-up, self-important attitude and remain relaxed in this process. Instead of always being caught in a prison of self-absorption, look out and express gentleness to all things. Then just relax.
Don't talk about injured limbs.
Don't try to build yourself up by talking about other people's defects.
Don't ponder others.
Don't ponder others' weak points, becoming arrogant about your own accomplishments.
Work with the greatest defilements first.
Gain insight into your greatest obstacles — pride, aggression, self-denigration, and so forth — and work with those first. Do this with clarity and compassion.
Abandon any hope of fruition.
The key instruction is to stay in the present. Don't get caught up in hopes of what you'll achieve and how good your situation will be some day in the future. What you do right now is what matters.
Abandon poisonous food.
You can use these slogans to build up your ego. For instance, you refrain from talking about others' defects or maligning them but only so people will praise you. In this way, compassionate teachings designed to lessen your sense of self-centeredness become like rotten food that poisons you and deceives others.
Don't be so predictable.
Do not hold a grudge against those who have done you wrong.
Don't malign others.
You speak badly of others thinking it will make you feel superior. This only sows seeds of meanness in your heart, causing others not to trust you and causing you to suffer.
Don't wait in ambush.
Don't wait for the moment when someone you don't like is weak to let them have it. This may bring immediate satisfaction, but in the long run it poisons you.
Don't bring things to a painful point.
Don't humiliate people.
Don't transfer the ox's load to the cow.
Don't transfer your load to someone else. Take responsibility for what is yours.
Don't try to be the fastest.
Don't compete with others.
Don't act with a twist.
Acting with a twist means having an ulterior motive of benefiting yourself. It's the sneaky approach. For instance, in order to get what you want for yourself, you may temporarily take the blame for something or help someone out.
Don't make gods into demons.
Don't use these teachings and practices to strengthen your self-absorption.
Don't seek others' pain as the limbs of your own happiness.
Don't build your happiness on the suffering of others.
All activities should be done with one intention.
Whatever you are doing, take the attitude of wanting it directly or indirectly to benefit others. Take the attitude of wanting it to increase your experience of kinship with your fellow beings.
Correct all wrongs with one intention.
"Wrongs" here refers to diYcult circumstances that we encounter. Our intention is to use these situations to develop compassion for all the beings who also suffer from diYculties and to aspire to breathe in their pain with the practice of tonglen.
Two activities: one at the beginning, one at the end.
In the morning when you wake up, you reflect on the day ahead and aspire to use it to keep a wide-open heart and mind. At the end of the day, before going to sleep, you think over what you have done. If you fulfilled your aspiration, even once, rejoice in that. If you went against your aspiration, rejoice that you are able to see what you did and are no longer living in ignorance. This way you will be inspired to go forward with increasing clarity, confidence, and compassion in the days that follow.
Whichever of the two occurs, be patient.
Whatever happens in your life, joyful or painful, do not be swept away by reactivity. Be patient with yourself and don't lose your sense of perspective.
Observe these two, even at the risk of your life.
The "two" referred to here are:
1. your refuge vows (to take refuge in that which is not based on ego-gratification but on the open, unbiased nature of the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha) and
2. your bodhisattva vows (the vow to use your life to awaken in order to help all beings to do the same).
Train in the three diffculties.
The three diffculties (or the three diffcult practices) are:
1. to recognize your neurosis as neurosis,
2. then not to do the habitual thing, but to do something different to interrupt the neurotic habit, and
3. to make this practice a way of life.
Take on the three principal causes.
The three principal causes that allow us to put these teachings into practice are: a qualified teacher, a mind that turns toward awakening, and supportive circumstances.
Excerpted from The Compassion Book by Pema Chödrön. Copyright © 2006 Pema Chodron. Excerpted by permission of Shambhala Publications, Inc..
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