Electronic Journal from Sakyadhita USA
Issue No. 17 Fall 2018
Karen Gelinas, Th.D. Applied Buddhist Studies. Research interests focus on the intersection of contemporary feminism, women's spirituality, and Buddhism. Her dissertation title was: Creating a Sustainable Buddhist Feminist Thealogy: Guanyin Devotion Among American Women. She teaches on the adjunct faculty at University of the West in Rosemead, CA. She is a member of the Sakyadhita USA Board of Directors and a member of the editorial board of American Buddhist Women.
The Courage to Love the World:
Discovering Compassion, Strength & Joy Through Tonglen Meditation
by Pema Chodron, an Audiobook
Reviewed by Karen Gelinas
Beloved Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron shares her latest Tonglen teachings and meditation practices with us in the April, 2018 audiobook release of The Courage to Love the World: Discovering Compassion, Strength & Joy Through Tonglen Meditation. Once again Pema’s words help us better understand why incorporating the Buddhist values of compassion and doing the practice of Tonglen is so vital for the healing of ourselves, others and the entire planet. The audio recording was from a recent retreat where Pema presented her wise and often times humorous teachings of compassionate abiding and Tonglen meditation. She talks candidly with her audience about the struggles we all share; our constant suffering from fear and the struggle to change. Throughout the talk, Pema stresses that it is the entanglement of our habitual patterns that causes us to become “frozen” and only when we recognize the dynamic capabilities of seeing life as it actually is do we become “unfrozen” from our own pain, therefore allowing us to be fully awakened in our hearts and minds.
The recordings are separated into four sessions that begin with a dharma talk from Pema, followed by a guided meditation and a Q & A session from the audience. Session One begins with a description of what Pema calls being an MBD or “Modern Day Bodhisattva” saying that we are all MBD’s in training. She acknowledges the difficulties of cultivating compassion and the “willingness to stand in the shoes of another being”. The only way we can truly offer compassion is to see in others what we are experiencing in ourselves and the way to do this is through Tonglen meditation. She suggests we start with what is closest to us...family, friends, our jobs...start with YOU! Begin with cultivating compassion in the “sameness” that is all around us, for those who suffer like me, and once we are able to do that we can practice cultivating compassion for all sentient beings in the world, remarking that the hardest part is actually just remembering to do it. Pema then guides the audience to connect with their breath...breathing in and out with their hearts, the bodhicitta that resides within us all.
In Session Two, Pema introduces the Buddhist concept of “Difficult Practices”. She begins by explaining the three steps we need to use to break our habitual patterns and responses to the triggers we are in conflict with. In order to “de-escalate” such patterns we need to: 1) acknowledge the difficulty, 2) do something different, and 3) continue doing something different. Again, Pema reinforces the idea that we are all caught up in a dance of habitual patterning, charged by triggers, and she encourages us to try to break this cycle by allowing our Buddha nature to dominate our entire being.
“If we, as human beings are not caught up in habitual response and emotional heat, we always know what’s the right thing to do.” It is within our hearts where our true intelligence lives and when we are not fully conscious we lose sight of this. Pema says we need to “drop the storyline,” the Me versus You... in order to function from this place of the heart.
In Session Three, Pema stresses that the greatest blessing is to be free from our “fixed minds”. When our citta, our “heart-minds” are blocked we are not free. It is here that she reinforces the importance of Tonglen, saying, “Tonglen practice is educating the heart, cultivating the soft spot, the tender heart of compassion.” By practicing Tonglen, we are “turning fixation upside down and fear based self-contentedness is dismantled.” Our desire to practice Tonglen and letting go is a means of allowing space in order to “stay open to the whole thing” which we call life.
Finally, Pema ends with a more elaborate Tonglen practice in Session Four, guiding her audience through “A moment of absolute bodhicitta, free of fixed mind, before any bias sets in…” encouraging all Tonglen practitioners to use the breath to access compassion for themselves, others, and eventually to every sentient being in the universe.
I am always amazed how Pema Chodron continues to inspire, encourage and help me. Her words seem to reach out to me at times when I was not aware that I need her guidance and I think we all feel this way about her teachings. The messages alone are not ideas or theories that we do not know, but her biggest message to all of us to remember to “DO” the practice, the work only happens if we commit. I listened to the audiobook while I drove six hours from Los Angeles to Berkeley to pick up my son from his first year away at college. Yes, I was excited to see him, but I cognitively knew that his desire for autonomy would cause some initial tension being home again and these teachings helped to remind me how to deal with my triggers...his triggers, my habitual patterns, his retaliation, the reverse and so on. Most importantly her teachings give me the skills to love my child’s new sense of Self.
At the end of the retreat, Pema dedicated the practice to loved ones who are suffering from disease or affliction, reading their names aloud, and I would like to dedicate these words on the page inspired by Pema Chodron to my friend Carolyn Griffin who is battling cancer for the third time.