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Lions Roar : November 2009
47 SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2009 life came from her devoted border collie. For the first time in my life I identified with the old lady rather than her children. This was a major shift: a whole new world of understanding, a new area of sympathy and kindness, had suddenly been revealed to me. This can be the value of our personal suffering. We can under- stand firsthand that we are all in the same boat and that the only thing that makes any sense is to care for one another. When we feel dread, when we feel discomfort of any kind, it can connect us at the heart with all the other people feeling dread and discomfort. We can pause and touch into dread. We can touch the bitterness of rejection and the rawness of being slighted. Whether we are at home or in a public spot or caught in a traffic jam or walk- ing into a movie, we can stop and look at the other people there and realize that in pain and in joy they are just like us. Just like us they don’t want to feel physical pain or insecurity or rejection. Just like us they want to feel respected and physically comfortable. When you touch your sorrow or fear, your anger or jealousy, you are touching everybody’s jealousy, you are knowing every- body’s fear or sorrow. You wake up in the middle of the night with an anxiety attack and when you can fully experience the taste and smell of it, you are sharing the anxiety and fear of all humanity and all animals as well. Instead of your distress be- coming all about you, it can become your link with everyone all over the world who is in the same predicament. The stories are different, the causes are different, but the experience is the same. For each of us sorrow has exactly the same taste; for each of us rage and jealousy, envy and addictive craving have exactly the same taste. and so it is with gratitude and kindness. There can be two zillion bowls of sugar, but they all have the same taste. Whatever pleasure or discomfort, happiness or misery you are experiencing, you can look at other people and say to yourself, “Just like me they don’t want to feel this kind of pain.” or, “Just like me they appreciate feeling this kind of contentment.” When things fall apart and we can’t get the pieces back to- gether, when we lose something dear to us, when the whole thing is just not working and we don’t know what to do, this is the time when the natural warmth of tenderness, the warmth of empathy and kindness, are just waiting to be uncovered, just waiting to be embraced. This is our chance to come out of our self-protecting bubble and to realize that we are never alone. This is our chance to finally understand that wherever we go, everyone we meet is essentially just like us. our own suffering, if we turn toward it, can open us to a loving relationship with the world. ♦ For more teachings by Pema Chödrön, plus resources and links, go to www.shambhalasun.com. time between the U.S. and england. When in the U.S., she lived at Chögyam Trungpa’s center in San Francisco, where she followed Chime rinpoche’s advice to study with Trungpa rinpoche. She and Chögyam Trungpa had a profound connection, and he be- came her root guru. he had the ability, she has said, to show her how she was stuck in habitual patterns. Trungpa rinpoche supported Pema when she decided not to re- marry or to get involved in another relationship. “my real appetite and my real passion was for wanting to go deeper,” she told lenore Friedman in Meetings With Remarkable Women. “I felt that I was somehow thick, and that in order to really connect... with things as they really are... I needed to put all my energy into it, totally.” For Pema, this meant, in 1974, ordaining as a novice nun under the Six- teenth Gyalwa Karmapa, head of the Tibetan Kagyu lineage. as full ordination is denied to women in the Tibetan tradi- tion, Pema didn’t think she would ever take the full bhikshuni vows that would make her a fully ordained nun. But in 1977, the Karmapa encouraged her to seek out someone who was au- thorized and willing to perform the ceremony. This search took several years and finally brought her to hong Kong, where in July 1981 she became the first american in the Vajrayana tradition to undergo bhikshuni ordination. The next big step in Pema Chödrön’s life was to help Trungpa rinpoche establish Gampo abbey in nova Scotia. The abbey, completed in 1985, was the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery in north america for Western men and women, and she took on its directorship. Pema’s first book, The Wisdom of No Escape, was published in 1991, followed by Start Where You Are in 1994, and When Things Fall Apart in 1997. readers were moved by her earthy, insightful teachings, and her retreats were suddenly full to overflowing. She was now constantly being asked to give talks and to take part in media events. meanwhile, in 1994 she was diagnosed with chronic-fatigue syndrome and environmental illness—sicknesses she was still struggling with when she met dzigar Kongtrul rinpoche, a young Tibetan Buddhist teacher. “There was this longing that I had since Trungpa rinpoche died—to have someone to ask my questions of,” Pema said in an interview in Crucial Point. Today, Kongtrul rinpoche is Pema’s teacher and she devotes herself to his rigorous training methods. She is also an acharya (senior teacher) in the Shambhala community. In a 2006 interview with the Shambhala Sun, Pema explained that she had learned from Kongtrul rinpoche that everything we seek was like shifting, impermanent clouds, yet behind that the mind was workable. “The underlying state of openness of mind has never gone away. It has never been marred by all the ugliness and craziness we’re seeing.” Under Kongtrul rinpoche’s guidance, Pema spent several years focusing on her practice and on recovering her health. re- cently, she has taken on an increasingly full schedule of teaching and fund-raising, including leading this year’s yarne (rainy sea- son) retreat at Gampo abbey, where she will teach on the four foundations of mindfulness. ♦