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By Pema Chodron
Published by Shambhala on 2018-11-06
RELIGION, SELF-HELP, HEALTH and FITNESS, BODY, MIND and SPIRIT
Pema Chödrön’s perennially helpful guide to transforming the pains and difficulties in our lives into opportunities for genuine joy and personal growth
We all want to be fearless, joyful, and fully alive. And we all know that it’s not so easy. We’re bombarded every day with false promises of ways to make our lives better—buy this, go here, eat this, don’t do that; the list goes on and on. But Pema Chödrön shows that, until we get to the heart of who we are and really make friends with ourselves, everything we do will always be superficial. Here she offers down-to-earth guidance on how we can go beyond the fleeting attempts to “fix” our pain and, instead, to take our lives as they are as the only path to achieve what we all yearn for most deeply—to embrace rather than deny the difficulties of our lives. These teachings, framed around fifty-nine traditional Tibetan Buddhist maxims, point us directly to our own hearts and minds, such as “Always meditate on whatever provokes resentment,” “Be grateful to everyone,” and “Don’t expect applause.” By working with these slogans as everyday meditations, Start Where You Are shows how we can all develop the courage to work with our own inner pain and discover true joy, holistic well-being, and unshakeable confidence.
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? ix? ? p r e f ac e This book is about awakening the heart. If you have ever wondered how to awaken your genuine compassionate heart, this book will serve as a guide. In our era, when so many people are seeking help to relate to their own feelings of woundedness and at the same time wanting to help relieve the suffering they see around them, the ancient teachings presented here are especially encouraging and to the point. When we find that we are closing down to ourselves and to others, here is instruction on how to open. When we find that we are holding back, here is instruction on how to give. That which is unwanted and rejected in ourselves and in others can be seen and felt with honesty and compassion. This is teaching on how to be there for others without withdrawing. I first encountered these teachings in The Great Path of Awakening by the nineteenth-century Tibetan teacher Jamg'n Kongtr'l the Great. Called the lojong teachings, they include a very supportive meditation practice called tonglen and the practice of working with the seven points of mind training, which comes from an old Tibetan text called The Root Text of the Seven Points of Training the Mind, by Chekawa Yeshe Dorje. (See appendix.) Lojong means 'mind training.' The lojong teachings are organized around seven points that contain fifty-nine pithy slogans that remind us how to awaken our hearts. Working with the slogans constitutes the heart of this book. These teachings belong to the mahayana school of Buddhism, which emphasizes compassionate communication and compassionate relationship with others. They also emphasize that we are not as solid as we think. In truth, there
x? '? p r e f ac e is enormous space in which to live our everyday lives. They help us see that the sense of a separate, isolated self and a separate, isolated other is a painful misunderstanding that we could see through and let go. Tonglen means 'taking in and sending out.' This meditation practice is designed to help ordinary people like ourselves connect with the openness and softness of our hearts. Instead of shielding and protecting our soft spot, with tonglen we could let ourselves feel what it is to be human. By so doing, we could widen our circle of compassion. Through this book I hope others may find such encouragement. When I first read the lojong teachings I was struck by their unusual message that we can use our difficulties and problems to awaken our hearts. Rather than seeing the unwanted aspects of life as obstacles, Jamg'n Kongtr'l presented them as the raw material necessary for awakening genuine uncontrived compassion: we can start where we are. Whereas in Kongtr'l's commentary the emphasis is primarily on taking on the suffering of others, it is apparent that in this present age it is necessary to also emphasize that the first step is to develop compassion for our own wounds. This book stresses repeatedly that it is unconditional compassion for ourselves that leads naturally to unconditional compassion for others. If we are willing to stand fully in our own shoes and never give up on ourselves, then we will be able to put ourselves in the shoes of others and never give up on them. True compassion does not come from wanting to help out those less fortunate than ourselves but from realizing our kinship with all beings. Later I heard these instructions presented in a more contemporary mode by my own teacher, Ch'gyam Trungpa Rinpoche. (These have now been published in the book Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness.) Trungpa Rinpoche pointed out that he had first been given these teachings when he was quite young and that it was a great relief to him to find that Buddhism could be so practical and so helpful in everyday life. He was inspired to find that we could bring everything we encounter to the path
preface? '? xi? and use it to awaken our intelligence, our compassion, and our ability to take a fresh look. In the winters of 1992 and 1993, I led one-month practice periods, called dathuns, completely dedicated to these lojong teachings and to the meditation practice of tonglen. Most important, those of us participating wanted to put these instructions into practice continually as the inevitable frustrations and difficulties of daily life arose. We saw the dathun as a chance to take the instructions to heart and apply them in all situations, especially those in which we usually prefer to blame or criticize or ignore. That is, we saw it as a chance to use the teachings to relate on the spot with an open heart and an open mind to the aggression, the craving, and the denial that we find in ourselves and in others. Even for those who are unfamiliar with meditation, the lojong teachings present the possibility of an entire change of attitude: we could relate compassionately with that which we prefer to push away, and we could learn to give away and share that which we hold most dear. For those who feel prepared to practice sitting meditation and tonglen meditation and to work with the lojong slogans in an ongoing way, doing so may be the beginning of learning what it really means to love. This is a method for allowing a lot of space, so that people can relax and open. This is the path of unconditional compassionate living. It is designed especially for people who find themselves living in times of darkness. May it be of benefit.
'? xiii? '? ac k now l e d g m e n t s I would like to acknowledge the help of Pat Cousineau and Lynne Vande Bunte, who did most of the typing, and of Judith Anderson, Marilyn Hayes, Trime Lhamo, Lynne Vande Bunte, and Helen Tashima, who did the transcribing. Also thanks to Pam Gaines, who not only typed but also found people to help, and especially to Migme Ch'dr'n, who did the first edit of the original manuscript and was a constant support to me during all the steps of preparing this book. Last but certainly not least, I want to thank Emily Hilburn Sell of Shambhala Publications. I feel extremely fortunate that she once again agreed to transform the talks into their final form.
START WHERE YOU ARE