I saw Pema Chodron speak the other night. It was a fund raising event for Gampo Abbey. Here are notes I took.
The following description is from www.pemachodronfoundation.org/gampo-abbey/
“Gampo Abbey is a Western Buddhist Monastery in the Shambhala Tradition, Nova Scotia, Canada. Founded by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1984, it is an affiliate of the Vajradhatu Buddhist Church of Canada and Shambhala International. Under the spiritual direction of the Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, the spiritual head of Shambhala International, Gampo Abbey is guided by our abbot the Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche and our principal teacher Acharya Pema Chödrön.”
Cultivating wakefulness, fearlessness and gentleness: Monasticism in the 21st century: a public talk with Ani Pema Chödrön given in Halifax, Nova Scotia, May 1, 2009.
Notes on the talk, by Jerry Katz
Before Pema Chodron came onto the stage there was a ten minute slideshow narrated by her. It may be watched here:
Here are quotations from the slideshow:
“One could ask, ‘Why would someone choose to live at Gampo Abbey?’ It is a popular notion that people choose to live in a monastery to escape or hide from the world. In reality, the intensity and simplicity of Abbey life demand that we become more intimately involved with life, a life not driven by personal concerns and habitual patterns. The intensity of community life lived passionately and courageously in accordance with the precepts, demands that we wake up. At first, life at the Abbey seems rather idyllic, but when you make the commitment to stay for six months or when you decide that this is your life’s journey, then all those places within yourself that you don’t want to surrender become highlighted. One might want to relate to those areas in a habitual way and complain about a lot of things, but it is like complaining in a house of mirrors.”
“All who live at the Abbey live by the five Buddhist precepts: Refraining from taking life, refraining from stealing, refraining from sexual activity, refraining from lying, and refraining from intoxicants, and in general using all that arises in our lives as the path of awakening.”
“In the words of one of the nuns, ‘Abbey life has a certain simplicity and unclutteredness that makes one’s personal resistance all the more apparent and therefore all the more workable.'”
“If you become a monk or a nun you put the desire to wake up at the center of your mandala. Everything else, whatever it may be, stands in relation to that and becomes a vehicle for opening up further. Thus monastic life is actually an opportunity to make full use of your precious human birth… .”
Pema Chodron’s Introduction
We were instructed to stand up when a gong rang, and in such a way we greeted Pema Chodron as she took the stage. We all stood.
The introducer said suffering is clinging to self. Cessation is possible with insight into who and what we are. Ignorance of these truths is avoidance of liberation. He said the purpose of Buddhism is to face the questions, What causes suffering? and What causes freedom? He said Pema Chodron is a great teacher of the truths of Buddhism, known for her humility, and that he was in awe of her, upon which she gave a funny smile which got people laughing.
Pema Chodron’s talk
Listen to the teaching with the intention that you’ll hear something that will benefit you in benefitting others.
[I have not included much that was repetition of the quotations above taken from the slideshow of Gampo Abbey.]
Aspirants at the monastery are to create a mini enlightened society. Life there is like a container with reminders of sanity. If we can’t create enlightened society here at the monastery, how can we judge governments and other groups that go astray? The kick in the butt aspirants give each other is based on that demand.
There is a program for young people at the monastery which sets “a beautiful tone” for their lives.
Wakefulness: commitment to yourself to connect with your Buddha nature. Buddha nature is being awake. Opening your mind and heart to everything you encounter, even that which is unpleasant and stressful, and not faking that opening up. Be open to the experience without the story line coming into play. Opening your mind means you don’t close your mind. Keep your mind and heart open to the beauty and pain of the day. Wakefulness is learning what it means to keep open. You discover the potential for openness and bravery, and you also discover how entrapment works. Practice involves being as present as possible with rawness and harshness and letting it be without feeding it a story line.
Entrapment starts with the arising of a feeling, then a habitual pattern starts and that’s when you’ve bitten the hook and you become more entrapped.
We can choose wakefulness or habit. Wakefulness is not about rejecting one part of experience and accepting another. It is about staying present with rawness longer than before.
Try to stay present. She told the story (originally told by Tara Brach in one of her books) of a tiger in a small cage. It took many years to get funding to build a large space for the tiger’s housing. When the large space was completed, the tiger was released into it, however it would confine it’s place to the same dimensions as the small cage. We, too, are constricted by habit when around us is vast space and capacity. Due to our hurts we remain confined and fearful to move. Eventually the tiger did explore it’s new surroundings.
The movie the Truman Show is similar in that it shows how we can walk beyond the boundaries of our habitual patterns.
Commit to becoming intimate to your wakeful nature.
As you leave Halifax and go north toward the monastery, everything gets more spread, vast, and in that way, like the vast space given to the tiger, wakefulness is encouraged.
Connect with the vastness of heart and mind. It is always accessible.
Fearlessness: Open to fear itself. Stay with anger and fear and find the tenderness of sadness. You don’t that by discarding fear. Fear is the gateway to fearlessness. Stay open to all strong emotions and find the tenderness. It hurts. You need role models and encouragement. “Turn towards that which hurts.” It is not a matter of wallowing in misery. It gives birth to love, smiles, listening, tenderness, and the realization that everyone has this capacity. “What you do that bothers me is what I do that bothers you.” Train to keep yourself open even a minute longer than before.
Gentleness: Place the fearful mind in the cradle of loving kindness. She spoke of the monastery again. The material you work with is what comes up every day. At the monastery, everyone is working to promote and cultivate sanity. They’re always developing deep training for everyone. It is an ongoing process and doesn’t stop.
On wearing Buddhist robes: The robes make you feel self-conscious. You have to be genuine. You have to live up to the robes through wakefulness, fearlessness, and gentleness. “It is a powerful and wonderful path.”
This is a pep talk for people with a gap in their life, of all ages.
Questions and Answers
A question by someone in the audience had to do with having confidence in the permanent. Pema Chodron said the permanent is not some thing. It is the capacity to be awake. Think of it as awakening or as something you know. For example, you get mad and then you calm down. The calming down is the wakefulness. When you wake up from a habitual pattern, there it is. It’s like the sky. It’s not yours. What’s yours is the bubble, the pacing of the tiger in the confined area, the strategies of living. All that is illusion and a gateway to discovery of wakefulness.
A question was asked about doing service in a disadvantage part of the world versus meditating at the monastery. The questioner thought it would be more valuable to do service in the world helping people. The response from Pema Chodron was that if you work on wakefulness, fearlessness, and gentleness, it will help you help others. You can stay right here and face the suffering. If you go away to help others and aren’t awake yourself, you won’t be able to benefit the others. She said people would rather travel around the world to face suffering rather than stay at home with their families.
There was a question about receiving criticism at work. Pema Chodron asked what the questioner’s habitual response was to criticism. She said anger, getting upset, gossiping. PC said that for one day do not express anger. In that way you learn to communicate from the heart. This is Buddha nature. You come to see the soft spot in another person’s cruelty.
How do you know when you’re ready for the monastery? You apply and are screened. Apply and see where the process goes. There has to be the right fit.