Open Heart, Clear Mind study guide

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Based on notes from an introductory course on Buddhism taught by Venerable Thubten Chodron, all referenced readings in this guide are from Open Heart, Clear Mind by Venerable Chodron. The book and study guide offer a foundational understanding of Buddhism that is both profound and accessible.


IV. Our potential for growth

Buddha nature and precious human life

Reading: Open Heart, Clear Mind: IV, 1-2

The nature of mind

The mind has two qualities:

  1. Clarity: it is formless. Also, it allows for objects to arise in it.
  2. Awareness: it can engage with objects.

Calm your mind by observing the breath, then turn your attention to the mind itself, to what is meditating, experiencing, feeling, i.e. to the subject, not object of the meditation. Observe:

  1. Does your mind have shape? color? Where is it?
  2. Try to get a sense of the clarity and awareness of what is perceiving, feeling, experiencing. Focus on that alone.
  3. If thoughts arise, observe: Where do they come from? Where are they? Where do they disappear to?

Precious human life

Check if we have certain conditions which are conducive for spiritual practice. Consider the advantage of each quality, rejoice if you have it, think of how to gain it if you don’t.

  1. Are we free from unfortunate states? Do we have a human body and human intelligence?
  2. Are our sense and mental faculties healthy and complete?
  3. Do we live at a time when a Buddha has appeared and given teachings? Do those teachings still exist in a pure form? Do we live in a place where we have access to them?
  4. Have we committed any of the five heinous actions which obscure the mind and make practice difficult?
  5. Are we naturally interested in spiritual practice? Do we have instinctive belief in things worthy of respect, such as ethics, the path to enlightenment, the Dharma?
  6. Do we have a supportive group of spiritual friends who encourage our practice and who act as good examples to us? Do we live near a sangha community of monks and nuns?
  7. Do we have the material conditions for practice – food, clothes, etc.?
  8. Do we have access to qualified spiritual teachers who can guide us along the correct path?

Conclusion: Feel like a beggar who just won the lottery, i.e. feel joyful and enthusiastic about everything you have going for you in your life.

Points for contemplation and discussion

  1. Do you believe human beings are inherently bad or evil? Why or why not?
  2. How can an awareness of every beings’ Buddha nature help you to be more tolerant and patient with yourself and others?
  3. What things in your life do you usually take for granted? How can they be useful in your spiritual practice?

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