Engaged Buddhism | Thubten Chodron http://thubtenchodron.org The Thubten Chodron Teaching Archive Thu, 25 May 2017 21:40:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Practicing compassion in helping professions: A Buddhist perspective http://thubtenchodron.org/2016/12/buddhism-for-therapists/ Sun, 04 Dec 2016 22:22:08 +0000 http://thubtenchodron.org/?p=77134

  • The importance of setting a beneficial motivation
  • How to communicate to benefit others
  • Caring about clients without attachment
  • Compassion requires internal strength free from expectations
  • Tuning into our feelings and needs

Practicing compassion in helping professions (download)

Meditation in a psychiatric hospital setting http://thubtenchodron.org/2016/12/rebalance-calm/ Sun, 04 Dec 2016 20:22:44 +0000 http://thubtenchodron.org/?p=75782

In November, 2016, I visited Eastern State Hospital at the invitation of one of the administrators. She wanted the administration to experience meditation in the hope that meditation could be offered to the staff and patients of the psychiatric hospital. As a former Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, this gave me the opportunity to share my knowledge of meditation in an environment that I was very familiar with.

Hallway of a hospital.

This gave me the opportunity to share my knowledge of meditation in an environment that I was very familiar with. (Photo by Bradley Gordon)

Eastern State Hospital is one of two inpatient psychiatric hospitals in Eastern Washington State. Eastern State hospital serves 18 counties and was established in 1891 in Medical Lake, a small community 20 miles south of Spokane.

The hospital provides evaluation and inpatient treatment for individuals with serious or long-term mental illness who have been referred to the hospital through the Behavioral Health Organization (which coordinates mental health and substance use treatment services), the civil court system (where individuals have received a civil court order for involuntary treatment), or through the criminal justice system. It has 287 beds including a forensic services unit. This unit serves clients who have been committed to the hospital and includes defendants who are undergoing an inpatient evaluation for competency to stand trial and/or mental state at the time of the criminal offense. This unit also provides treatment for clients who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity.

The second hospital, the Psychiatric Treatment and Recovery Center (PTRC), serves clients who have been civilly committed to the hospital. The center is divided into 3 areas:

  • PTRC-EAST; which contains treatment units serving older adult clients.
  • PTRC-CENTRAL; which contains treatment units serving adult clients who have been newly admitted and/or continue to experience acute psychotic symptoms.
  • PTRC-SOUTH; which contains treatment units serving adult clients who experience more chronic mental illness symptoms. 

I met with six of the administrators and led them through a simple body scan and breathing meditation, and concluded with a brief loving-kindness meditation. I described the research initiated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and prominent neuroscientists that has demonstrated the many benefits of even brief meditation. They experienced the calming result of a short meditation and were open to a discussion about offering meditation to staff and patients. A week later I met with the chaplain who gave me a tour, and we talked about how best to introduce meditation to the facility.

Many of the patients have no family or friends that visit them. Those who are committed by civil court have an average stay of 45 to 60 days and then are released to the community. Others are too ill to be released and live out their lives in the hospital.

I found Eastern State hospital’s mission and core values very compatible with the values and worldview of Buddhist practitioners. Their mission is to transform lives by supporting sustainable recovery, independence and wellness.

Their vision: People are healthy, safe, and supported, and taxpayer resources are guarded.

Core values

  • Honestly and integrity
  • Pursuit of excellence
  • Open communication
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Commitment to service
  • Respect
  • Teamwork and collaboration

Recovery Principles

  • Hope
  • Self-management and autonomy
  • Dignity and self-respect
  • Tolerance and forgiveness
  • Adaptability and capacity to change
  • Restoration and personal growth
  • Personal responsibility 
and productivity
  • Peer support and community life
  • Acceptance and self-awareness

Traditionally, those who are mentally ill are not afforded the resources of other patient populations and as a group are stigmatized in our society. Offering methods to help them cope with severe illness as well as social stigma would be a wonderful opportunity for them. Caring for those who are severely mentally ill is a demanding and stressful job, so teaching staff methods to rebalance and calm themselves would be beneficial. I look forward to teaching staff and patients meditation so that they can experience its many benefits.

Connecting with those we disagree with http://thubtenchodron.org/2015/11/compassion-for-enemies/ Mon, 30 Nov 2015 01:34:26 +0000 http://thubtenchodron.org/?p=65740

  • Our self-centered attitude makes it hard to connect with others and makes us miserable
  • Assignment: talk to people you would not normally talk to
  • Trying to connect with radical politicians and religious extremists
  • We don’t want to limit our love and compassion to only those we agree with

Connecting with those we disagree with (download)

Compassion and social action http://thubtenchodron.org/2015/11/social-engagement/ Sun, 29 Nov 2015 22:57:49 +0000 http://thubtenchodron.org/?p=65728

  • Self-centeredness is one of the biggest hindrances to compassion
  • We can’t just sit on the meditation cushion and think about compassion, we have to act on it
  • Having a balanced life while being socially engaged
  • Realistic expectations will help avoid discouragement in social action

Compassion and social action (download)

True liberty for all beings http://thubtenchodron.org/2015/11/thanksgiving/ Thu, 26 Nov 2015 14:06:18 +0000 http://thubtenchodron.org/?p=65254

  • About compassion for animals
  • A discussion about American ideals

YouTube Video

Cultivating peace from the inside out http://thubtenchodron.org/2015/08/compassionate-engagement/ Wed, 26 Aug 2015 14:22:02 +0000 http://thubtenchodron.org/?p=65221

  • How to generate sustainable compassion for social engagement

YouTube Video

White privilege http://thubtenchodron.org/2015/07/dealing-with-racial-issues/ Sun, 19 Jul 2015 22:47:32 +0000 http://thubtenchodron.org/?p=59122

  • Clarification on the talk about the mindfulness craze
  • Sharing a student’s request to speak about racial identity
  • How our identities are constructs that cannot be found in our body or mind
  • Developing sensitivity to others’ feelings about racial identity
  • Responding with compassion when the term “white privilege” is used as an accusation
  • Open discussion with retreat participants

YouTube Video

The first talk in this retreat series can be found here.

Compassion in action http://thubtenchodron.org/2015/04/hospice-prison-work/ Mon, 13 Apr 2015 18:56:43 +0000 http://thubtenchodron.org/?p=57450

  • The importance of cultivating a good motivation
    • This is usually not taught in a society that values appearances
    • Checking whether we are motivated to help others out of fear
  • Knowing our own mind helps us to cultivate internal sensitivity of others
    • How our self-centered thought hinders us from tuning in to others
  • Sharing on prison work and seeing inmates as human beings
  • Staying open to being challenged, especially when doing hospice work
    • How attachment is a hindrance when helping someone who is dying
  • To be effective in helping others, we have to work on our own fear and attachment
    • Doing the meditation on death and applying Dharma antidotes
    • How non-violent communication can support our efforts
  • About the book An Open-Hearted Life
  • Note: The question and answer session was not recorded

YouTube Video

Connecting with compassion http://thubtenchodron.org/2014/10/self-acceptance/ Fri, 03 Oct 2014 04:12:09 +0000 http://thubtenchodron.org/?p=19899

When I see how I disconnect from the parts of myself that I dislike, I start to understand why Japan refuses to acknowledge her part in the atrocities carried out throughout Asia during the Second World War. The attachment to reputation and the fear of blame and shame are just too strong. By refusing to acknowledge the truth, however, we deny ourselves the opportunity to grieve, heal, repair and move on. We remain stuck in a limbo of pain that eats away at us, no matter how we hard throw ourselves into material growth and success.

I don’t feel angry when I think about the stories my grandparents have told me about their experience of the war. Just sad that this period of history is going unacknowledged, like so many other painful parts of Singapore’s history hiding behind the veneer of success. “It doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong,” said one of my friends. “At least just hold a funeral.”

Even as my grandmother starts to slip into dementia, her memories of the war remain strong. She remembers what it was like for the men to line up for inspection, and how those whose hands were smooth and soft were separated out, driven to the beach and shot. If their hands didn’t have calluses, it meant they were intellectuals, whom the Japanese didn’t want plotting against them. My great-grandfather was a laborer and so survived.

One day, my great-grandfather was riding home on his bicycle, when he passed a Japanese soldier and forgot to salute. The soldier asked him to get off the bicycle and slapped him. Then he made my great-grandfather carry the bicycle on his shoulders, and drew a circle around his feet. If my great-grandfather stepped out of the circle, he would be shot. He stood there until night fell. Somehow he eventually made it home, but he was so traumatized that he never dared to leave the house again.

Every family had to send people to work for the Japanese, and with my great-grandfather out of commission, my grandmother stepped up to the plate as the eldest child. She was thirteen. She did hard physical work outdoors, and received a bowl of rice each day, which she shared with her mother and younger siblings. They were so hungry they started to eat the food that was meant for the pigs, and eventually turned to eating grass.

Candle offering to small statue of Chenrezig.

I send Chenrezig back into time, to bear witness to the war. (Photo by Wonderlane)

I send Chenrezig back into time, to bear witness to the war. What would Chenrezig do, watching the men getting shot on the beach, the women getting raped, the babies being thrown into the air and impaled on bayonets? I imagine Chenrezig looking into the minds of the soldiers, and seeing that they’re just trying to be loyal subjects of the emperor. They want praise, a good reputation, power and money. The soldiers and I are not so different. Looking into their minds, Chenrezig can also see that it’s not the right time to teach them the Dharma. I mean, what is Chenrezig going to say, “For you embodied beings bound by the craving for existence, there is no way for you to pacify the attraction to its pleasurable effects, thus from the outset seek to generate the determination to be free”?

At the same time Chenrezig sees very clearly where these soldiers are going to be reborn, the kinds of sufferings they will undergo, and for how long. All this for a little bit of pleasure that doesn’t last. Chenrezig promises, “I alone will go to the hell realms and liberate you.” When the soldiers are ready, in some future lifetime, Chenrezig appears in the form of a perfectly qualified Mahayana spiritual mentor, and teaches them how to purify their negativities.

12 ways to apply compassion http://thubtenchodron.org/2013/07/how-to-benefit-society/ Mon, 01 Jul 2013 20:47:27 +0000 http://thubtenchodron.org/?p=1365

Venerable Chodron sitting outside, holding the cat Manjushri.

We need to practice shifting into a kind, wise, compassionate perspective.

Compassion is an inner attitude; it exists in our hearts and minds. We are beings who also have bodies and verbally communicate with others. How can we reflect our compassion in our physical and verbal actions and how can we apply compassion to other areas of our lives?

Since caring for the poor and ill instantly come to mind and are familiar to us, we won’t go into those here. We can discuss some other applications of compassion that we may not have considered before. While some of the areas mentioned below have become politicized, compassion doesn’t dictate having certain political opinions or advocating particular policies. Rather, we suggest that all of us consider how to apply compassion to these areas of common concern. This is a brief list; please consider other areas in which compassion could be applied. The key is to find ways to get our internal wheels of compassion turning.

1. The environment

Wanting all living beings to be happy, we must care for the environments in which they live. One way to do this is by using only our fair share of the world’s resources. This may mean reducing our consumption. When we care about others that we share this planet with now and those who will live on it in the future, we are willing to bear whatever “inconvenience” it may entail to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

2. Vegetarianism

Eating meat is eating the bodies of others. I don’t think any of us would happily offer our bodies for someone else’s lunch, so why should we expect them to do so for us? It is possible to remain healthy on a vegetarian diet, or if you consume meat, then make sure that the animals are treated well while they are alive.

3. Capital punishment

Research has shown that capital punishment does not reduce crime rates. In the heat of the moment, people rarely think, “This action could result in someone’s death and put me on death row.” People who are incarcerated are human beings like the rest of us and can make useful contributions to society when they receive a good education and learn the life skills necessary to support themselves and manage their anger. In fact, older and wiser inmates are often the ones who can best teach the young reckless ones how to calm down and consider the effects of their actions. Having done prison work for about fifteen years, I have seen many people who have made grave mistakes change their lives. All of us appreciate the opportunity to make amends and to change our lives.

4. Family harmony and education

With compassion, we can work together to reduce poverty, increase parenting skills, and give children a good education. Doing so will lead to happier citizens, fewer unwanted pregnancies, less substance abuse, and less need for prisons.

5. Suicide

While in the midst of emotional turmoil, ending your life may seem the best way to stop your suffering, it’s not a good option. Some people may feel that they will be happier after death, but who can see into the future and know that? Suicide ignores the fact that many people care about you and will suffer if you take your life. With compassion for yourself and others, it is best to stay alive and put effort into discovering and actualizing your inner human beauty and to focus on the good things that do exist in your life. Everything is impermanent, including pain, and you can consult with a variety of people—therapists, suicide survivors, spiritual advisors, friends, family—hearing their suggestions on how to alleviate or transform pain. According to the Buddhist perspective, the fundamental nature of your mind is pure and untainted, and that pure nature can never be destroyed. Learn how to tap into it. Each human being is valuable. Each of us has the potential to be of great benefit to others, and we can learn how to do this. Connecting with others by reaching out to help them gives meaning to our lives and is fulfilling.

6. Distribution of wealth

While it may not be practically possible for everyone to have equal wealth no matter what economic system we follow, more equal distribution of wealth will lessen the causes for social unrest within each nation and war between nations. With a compassionate attitude that knows our happiness depends on the happiness of the people with whom we share our community, city, state, country, and planet, we do what we can to support more equal distribution of wealth, educational possibilities, job opportunities, and so on.

7. National and international dialogue

In recent years, national dialogue in the U. S. has deteriorated, with people ranging from politicians to talk show hosts encouraging anger, disrespect, harsh speech, and exaggerated accusations that only stir people up. It seems that rudeness, blame, and demonizing others is passed off as entertainment in the effort to gather votes. This extends to international politics as well, with aggressive posturing and even terrorist acts being utilized in the pursuit of political goals. This lack of basic human manners, petty squabbling, and in some cases outright aggression interferes with finding solutions to very real national and international problems. Compassion helps us be more respectful and considerate so that we work together for the benefit of everyone.

8. Business ethics

Children, and adults as well, need good examples of people who act with integrity and consider the effects of their actions on others. In banking, politics, pharmaceuticals, and other occupations that strongly affect many people, it is important to conduct business with compassion, honesty, and generosity, rather than to pursue profit regardless of the effect on others. This plays out in countless ways, from the ways employees are treated to decisions about how to manage pollution.

9. Interfaith harmony

Each religion teaches ethical conduct and encourages love, compassion, and forgiveness. H.H. the Dalai Lama points out that when we were born, others greeted us with kindness and compassion. They sustained our lives and educated us with kindness and compassion. These human qualities lie at the heart of our life experience—theology is something secondary that we learn later. Therefore, it’s advantageous to focus on our commonalities. As the Dalai Lama succinctly says, “My religion is kindness.”

10. Media

The media—from the news to the cinema to video games—has a tremendous influence in shaping our ideas, behavior, consumption, personal relations, and work ethic. The media’s goal of increasing sales and profits plays on the people’s insecurity, fear, and greed. Responsible media considers the effect on people of the way it reports events and the entertainment it creates.

11. Medicine

With compassion, doctors encourage their patients to make living wills so that they can have their desired type of medical care should they later become incapacitated or unable to express their wishes. It is well-documented that patients who know their doctors care for them as a human being heal better than others who are brushed aside. Recently there have been direct efforts to bring compassion into healthcare settings, both in terms of making sure that all who need it receive health care, and in the way that care is administered. We need to thoughtfully consider ways to support and provide incentives for healthcare professionals to carry out their work in compassionate ways. It would be good to remind people entering health care and public health professions that providing medical services should be seen as a compassionate profession, not a lucrative business. Since everyone equally wants happiness and to be free from suffering, let’s use our human intelligence to find ways so that all citizens have equal access to good quality health care.

12. Stopping harm

Compassion can be a strong motivator to stop harm and injustice. While anger may give us an adrenalin rush and a lot of energy, it also clouds our minds so that we cannot make wise decisions. Compassion, on the other hand, wants to stop harm in order to protect both the victim and the perpetrator. Perpetrators harm themselves by harming others: they often experience self-loathing afterwards, face imprisonment, and are shunned by their families and society in general. With compassion for everyone involved in a conflict, we try to activate our capacity to think creatively of ways to deal with situations that will bring better results for everyone in the long term.

Other areas

Many more areas in society can benefit from cultivating a compassionate perspective: civil rights, international relations, and the treatment of animals, to name a few. Whatever area we work in, whatever hobbies we enjoy, all these can be positively influenced by incorporating compassion. When we play sports with compassion, we train well and do our best in competitions, but we avoid gloating when we win or feeling despondent when we don’t. Company management that treats employees with care and consideration creates a better work environment and are rewarded with employees who will go the extra mile for the company.

A compassionate perspective recognizes that some issues are very complicated and cannot be solved by taking into account only one part of the equation. Social problems such as poverty and pollution are complex, and compassion for all parties involved will stimulate us to educate ourselves regarding the nuances of these issues and then act to facilitate solutions that address the concerns of everyone involved.

Reflection: applying compassion

Now it’s time to apply our compassionate thinking and problem solving to the world around us. Bring to mind an issue raised above or another issue that is important to you. Consider how compassion might be applied to it and to the various parties involved in it. How might the situation be approached from the perspective of a kind motivation that truly desires to address suffering, benefit all parties involved, and harm none? Consider watching the news, and choosing one of the issues discussed, and looking at it from a compassionate perspective. The more often you practice shifting into a kind, wise, compassionate perspective, the easier it becomes, and eventually you’ll notice that this way of thinking arises automatically.

This article is available in Spanish: Las aplicaciones de la compasión.