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Buddhism in the News


Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Wondrous Path of Difficulties

The following are excerpts from an article from the magazine BuddhaDharma lent to me by a member from my Sangha. It is an event and discussion with two of America's most respected and beloved Buddhist teachers: Pema Chodron and Jack Kornfield. I found it most helpful given my recent struggles:

Michael Krasny: We haven't had an easy time getting this event off the ground. I suppose we could look at all this as a good opportunity to find transformation within.

Pema Chodron: Yes, I think so. Difficulties are inevitable -- and helpful [...] Doesn't some problem like the one we've had tonight happen every day of your life in major or minor ways? Yet, for some reason we keep thinking something has gone wrong.

The Buddhist teachings are fabulous at simply working with what's happening as your path of awakening, rather then treating your life experiences as some kind of deviation from what is supposed to be happening. The more difficulties you have, in fact, the greater opportunity there is to let them transform you. The difficult things provoke all your irritations and bring your habitual patterns to the sufface.

Jack Kornfield: In the monastery where I trained my teacher would gather us together and then he'd be waylaid for some reason or another. Without fail, disruptions would always occur that we would have to deal with in the interim. I learned later that he was deliberately setting this up [...]

Pema Chodron: We get misled by the ads in magazines where people are blissful in their matching outfits, which also match their meditation cushions. We can get to thinking that meditation and the spiritual path is about transcending the difficulties in your life and find this just swell place. But that doesn't help you very much because that sets you up for being constantly disappointed with what happens every day at breakfast, lunch, and dinner -- all day long.

Jack Kornfield: Yes, we have these great ideals about how we've supposed to be [...] we don't have to pretend that our irritablity is not there or compare it unfavorably with our ideal version of ourselves. We could simply take a breath and say, "This is how I am -- this is anger, this is fear, this is irritation." [...] In that regard I would like to read to you my new favorite little piece: "If you can sit quietly after difficult news, if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm, if you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy, if you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate and fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill, if you can always find contentment just where you are, you are probably a dog."

There's a certain sense of humor that is absolutely necessary for our human condition. When we have that sense of humor, things become workable. It's the part that we put on top of our ordinary human experience that creates the problem -- and we all put something on top of it when we started spiritual search. You then not only have your own suffering, you have all these ideals and images that you hold up for yourself. That puts a layer of spiritual suffering on top of the basic suffering [...] One of the great blessings I see in people who have committed themselves to a Buddhist practice is that their capacity for both joy and for dealing with the sorrows and pain of life grows. Practice opens the doors for both.

Pema Chodron: [...] If you live alone -- and I am often alone in a retreat cabin or similar setting -- you have everything just the way you want it. So it's really good to have people come in and mess things up. Otherwise, you think the meaning of life is just to get everything working the way you want it. But lo and behold, life becomes increasingly irritating as soon as you add even one more thing into your life.

[...] One of the tenets of the Buddhist teachings is that every living being has basic goodness, and we can communicate with each other from that place regardless of whether or not it influences world politics or changes someone's religion. In fact, that can't be the goal [...] Trungpa Rinpoche once said that everybody knows how to love, even if it's only tortillas.

Jack Kornfield: [...] One of the great Buddhist teachings -- is to remind ourselves, and others, that we all have a great capacity to hold all the sorrows and joys of the world. An aspect of our great openness is our ability to tolerate suffering.

[...] Everybody has their own burdens. Everybody has their own measure of sorrows. Relatively speaking, some might carry an enormous burden, but everybody has a fair measure. It's just part of the human condition. When you speak of the first noble truth, you acknowledge that this is how our human incarnation is.

Pema Chodron: [...] Compassion toward yourself is something worth exploring more. [...] Without self-compassion or some kind of loving-kindness toward oneself, nothing is ever going to happen on the spiritual path. It will never get of the ground.

[...] I learned in teaching people that almost anything you say to them can get twisted into something they use against themselves: "Oh I can't do that. I'm not good enough to do that." [...] When they look into themselves, they find impatience, bad tempers, and lots of right and wrong.

Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, the teacher I am studying with right now, says that in order to progress along the spiritual path, you need to be able to self-reflect, to really look at yourself honestly. He says that's where most Western people get stopped right away. They sit down, they start to meditate, then they begin to self-reflect and to see clearly their habitual patterns, thoughts, and emotions. Then everything is immediately twisted into self-loathing, self-disapproval, or self-denigration. Consequently he teaches a lot about guiltlessness. He discusses the poison of guilt and how it never lets you grow. When you are guilty, you can never go any further. Somehow for self-reflection to work, there has to be a lot of emphasis on loving-kindness and friendliness toward yourself. But that doesn't mean self-indulgence.

[...] You find that out through self-reflection, but if it twists, and you use what you see against yourself, you will lose track and get angry at yourself without noticing it anymore: "How could I even consider myself a meditator or a Buddhist? I've been meditating now for fifteen years and look at me! I still have this bad temper and all the other stuff!!" You need to be kind as you look at yourself and not let it turn into loathing.

Jack Kornfield: One of the instructions I've loved offering to people over the past decade or two is to suggest that they do a year of loving-kindness for themselves as a practice. All of a sudden, people find out how difficult it is to do that. People feel unworthy and that they shouldn't be directing such kindess toward themselves. They cannot wish themselves happiness. So, intially, it's very painful. But after a while it does start to change people ... we do have this capacity to care for ourselves and we are worthy of it, and when we discover that, it immediately translates into generosity toward others.

Pema Chondron: [...] We need to let go of our storylines. The meditation practices teach us to notice thoughts, touch them, and let them go allow us to let go of the story lines. Then we can get in touch with the underlying raw feeling of guilt itself. That's the nowness we were talking about earlier -- being completely present with the discomfort that comes with the guilt and not simply feeding it with thoughts.

Jack Kornfield: You can do things out of guilt that are good, but that doesn't alleviate your own suffering. What we're really asking ourselves here is how do we act in a way that brings goodness and benefit to other people but that also releases all the suffering we carry in our own hearts? To do that you have to pay some attention to yourself.

-Peace to all beings-

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OORANOS said...

Have a good time

Nacho said...

James! Great excerpt. The article is fabulous. Thanks for posting it. Isn't that just the way it is. We keep thinking things have "gone wrong" when they just don't go according to what we'd like or expect. They just happen, and how we deal with things is what matters I guess. Always thinking of karma and the consequences of our actions! : )

Thanks for posting this. I really hope you are doing well James. All the best to you,


"James" said...

Nacho: Yeah it is a fabulous article and I was more then happy to share it with everyone.

Yes, we are fine where we are. We need to love ourselves more and not judge or feel too guilty about our not so positive actions. Watch them and sit with them and see where we can do different next time (without being too hard on ourselves). This is the middle path.

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