Two years ago I didn’t know much about Pema Chodron. It wasn’t until I started to write for elephant journal that I started falling in love with so many snippets of Shambhala wisdom.
I’m not a person who gathers gurus lightly. Although I adore quite a few and quote them liberally, the only thing I do religiously is to not do anything religiously.
Whenever I’ve tried to digest Buddhism, I’ve felt that it was inaccessible, and some tenets just did not fit my groove. But they say that the teacher appears when the student is ready, and one day I was browsing a bookstore and there was The Pocket Pema Chodron.
Pema Chodron is an American Buddhist nun, born Deidre Bloomfield-Brown in New York, who studied intensively under the Tibetan meditation master, Chogyam Trungpa. Looking beyond religion, Pema’s interpretation of Buddhism can enrich any walk of faith.
I love small things, like coffee cups and little books and tiny bowls. Pema’s tiny book came home with me right then and there. I read it in a garden I love, amidst sunshine and vegetable beds and the sound of summer humming.
I admire her forthrightness, her ability to distill Buddhist thought into bite-sized morsels and above all, the sense of humor that is evident from behind her words.
Here are some quotes that literally kicked my ass, as they opened my eyes to the fact that I’d closed my mind. And she’s done it so well, that now I am adding her teachings to my most treasured spiritual cache.
One can never have enough teachings to choose from, can they?
This one gives me hope in humanity:
“The Noble Heart; Bodhichitta is a Sanskrit word that means ‘noble or awakened heart’ It is said to be present in all beings. Just as butter is inherent in milk and oil is inherent in a sesame seed, this soft spot is inherent in you and me. It is said that in difficult times, it is only bodhichitta that heals. When inspiration has become hidden, when we feel ready to give up, this is the time when healing can be found in the tenderness of the pain itself. ” ~ The Pocket Pema Chodron
This quote helped me to understand not knowing. For a Scorpio, that is truly a genuine lesson.
“The Path of the Bodhisattva Warrior; Wherever we are, we can train as a warrior. The practices of meditation, loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity are our tools. With the help of these practices, we can uncover the soft spot of bodhichitta, the tenderness of the awakened heart. We will find that tenderness in sorrow and in gratitude. We will find it behind the hardness of rage and in the shakiness of fear.
A warrior accepts that we can never know what will happen to us next. We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping for the comfortable and safe. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty.” ~ The Pocket Pema Chodron
I’ll be a better friend to myself after this:
“We Don’t Need to Change Ourselves; When people start to meditate or to work with any kind of spiritual discipline, they often think that somehow they’re going to improve, which is sort of a subtle aggression against who they really are. But lovingkindness, or maitri, toward ourselves doesn’t mean getting rid of anything. Maitri means that we can still be crazy after all those years. We can still be timid or jealous or full of feelings of unworthiness. The point is not to try to change ourselves. Meditation isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and becoming something better. It is about be-friending who we already are.” ~ The Pocket Pema Chodron
Accountability to oneself:
“At The Beginning and At the End; In the morning when you wake up, 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, think over what you’ve 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.” ~ the Pocket Pema Chodron
I am grateful for both of these in my life:
“Gloriousness and Wretchedness; Life is glorious but life is also wretched. It is both. Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, energizes us. But if that’s all that’s happening, we get arrogant and start to look down on others, and there is a sense of making ourselves a big deal, and being really serious about it, wanting it to be like that forever. The gloriousness becomes tinged by craving and addiction.
On the other hand, wretchedness—life’s painful aspect—softens us up considerably. Knowing pain is a very important ingredient in being there for another person. The wretchedness humbles and softens us, but if we were only wretched, we would all just go down the tubes. We’d be so depressed, discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn’t have the energy to eat an apple. One inspires us, the other softens us.” ~ The Pocket Pema Chodron
This speaks to my peace-loving heart in so many ways:
“Am I going to add to the Aggression? Every day we could think about the aggression in the world, in New York, Los Angeles, Darfur, Iraq, everywhere. All over the world, everybody always strikes out at the enemy, and the pain escalates forever. Every day we could reflect on this and ask ourselves, ‘Am I going to add to the aggression in the world?’ Every day, at the moment when things get edgy, we can just ask ourselves, ‘Am I going to practice peace, or am I going to war?'” ~ The Pocket Pema Chodron
Surrender is a practice dear to me, and a journey it is at that. But reading this, I see where my surrender practice gets caught up in my ego.
“A Process of Surrendering; The journey to enlightenment involves shedding not collecting. It’s a continual process of opening and surrender, like taking off layer after layer of clothes, until we’re completely naked, with nothing to hide. But we can’t just pretend, making a big display of disrobing, then putting everything back on when no one’s looking. Our surrender has to be genuine.” ~ The Pocket Pema Chodron
You know that moment when you realize that you don’t even know what you don’t know? After reading Pema Chodron’s words, I was awakened to the fact that I was right there, on the edge of some exciting new discovery—I just had to unfold into that space where the unknown lived.
My mind has opened to more questions, and in the end, that is the gift of the very best teacher.
**Source: The Pocket Pema Chodron
Author: Monika Carless
Image: Flickr/Tommy Klumker
Editors: Yoli Ramazzina; Renée Picard