Interviews and Media | Thubten Chodron The Thubten Chodron Teaching Archive Tue, 17 Oct 2017 01:32:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Buddhist approach to helping the dying Fri, 07 Jul 2017 20:46:42 +0000

  • An overview of Buddhist philosophy
  • Reflecting on death to make life meaningful
  • Helping others before they die so they can create good karma and die peacefully
  • Rebirth and consciousness
  • Dealing with grief in a constructive way

Funeral Fact interview (download)

“Practical Ethics and Profound Emptiness” interview Sat, 17 Jun 2017 15:58:54 +0000

  • A commentary on Precious Garland by Khensur Jampa Tegchok
  • Nagarjuna’s advice for leadership is relevant today
  • Why we should not give up on sentient beings
  • Nagarjuna emphasized the importance of truthfulness

“Practical Ethics and Profound Emptiness” (download)

Questions on practice Sun, 07 May 2017 21:50:55 +0000

  • What is the role of Buddhist monasticism in the West?
  • Is there a simple practice we can do each day to give more meaning to our life?
  • Why does The Dalai Lama want Buddhists to be familiar with all the major branches of Buddhism, not just their own?
  • Have you seen progress in Dharma practitioners in Russia and what would be beneficial for them to do?
  • Do you feel compassion should be a major force in human history at this point?

Interview of Venerable Chodron by Venerable Tenpa (download)

Venerable Lobsang Tenpa (LT): Venerable, could you please tell us what is the role of monasticism in Buddhism as it’s currently practiced in the West?

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): Historically the establishment of the sangha, the monastic community, has been very important for the rooting of the Dharma in a culture and the spreading of the Dharma, and that’s because the monastic community lives in ethical precepts and because they form a community. There is a particular place where people in a society can look and say, “Oh, there are people who are cultivating love and compassion. There are people who are working on their minds.” So it gives the rest of society a lot of inspiration, to know that there’s a group where they can actually go and practice together with those people.

I think the monastic community sets an example for how to practice as well by living in ethical precepts, and it shows that living a simple lifestyle is possible and being happy with a simple lifestyle is possible. And I think especially now, when we’re facing environmental destruction and so on and lack of resources, cause we’re using up the resources, I think the example of the monastic community living a simple life without so many things, but still satisfied, is a very good example for the rest of society.

And then also historically, because the monastics don’t have families, they have more time to study, to practice, to teach others and so they are the chief ones responsible for preserving the Dharma and passing it onto the next generation.

So now in the West there are a lot of lay teachers, which is very good, and I think very helpful for people, and I think we need a balance of lay and monastic practitioners. But I think having a community does something that a lay family can’t do. Somebody’s upset, somebody needs spiritual counseling, you can’t knock on the door of your lay teacher’s house and say “I need help,” because they have a family and kids and everything; but when you need that help, you can go to a monastery. Somebody’s always going to be there and they’ll teach you and guide you.

So I think the role of monastics and monasteries is quite important, and we get letters from people all over the world thanking us for existing and just saying they’re so happy to know that there’s a monastery and people practice.

LT: Thank you so much. Our next question is that many people come to either Buddhism or secular mindfulness with a longing for a more meaningful life. Is there something simple and practical each of us can do on a daily basis so as to give deeper meaning to our existence?

VTC: I think the practice of the four immeasurables is the best thing people can do. The four immeasurables are developing love—the wish for others to have happiness and its causes; second, compassion—the wish for beings to be free of suffering and its causes; joy—the wish for others and self not to be separated from sorrowless bliss; and then equanimity—the ability to abide free of attachment and anger and bias and prejudice.

So in Buddhism there are four phrases that express those in a very short form, and I think reciting those on a daily basis and meditating on them is very very helpful. Even you don’t sit in formal meditation position,just sitting and developing those thoughts in your mind, especially at the beginning of the day, to help us set our motivation for the day,then that really turns our mind towards something good and it influences all of our relationships during the day.

Let me just recite the four immeasurables so the people know.

May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes.
May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes.
May all sentient beings never be separated from sorrowless bliss.
May all sentient beings abide in equanimity, free of bias, attachment and anger.

LT: Thank you so much. Our next question is this: Why does His Holiness the Dalai Lama want Buddhists to be familiar with all the major branches of Buddhism and not just their own?

VTC: His Holiness nowadays is talking a lot about us being “21st-century Buddhists” and one big element of that is stepping out and really getting to know the other Budddhist traditions with much better communication, because historically the different traditions have been separated geographically, they’ve been separated linguistically, but now, with modern transportation and IT, there’s the opportunity for people to meet each other and free ourselves from very old incorrect stereotypes about other Buddhist traditions.

And so I think His Holiness, in wanting people to know about other traditions, I think there’s several reasons there.

One is that it gives us the ability as a Buddhist community, a broad Buddhist community, to speak in one voice against violence, against human trafficking, against any kind of corruption, any kind of violation of human rights, anything that destroys the well-being of others. It gives us the ability to speak as one voice about climate change and the necessity to do something about it. So I think it brings Buddhists together in that way.

Also, as individual practitioners, when you learn about other traditions, it really helps your own practice.It really broadens and helps a great deal.

LT: Thank you so much. You first came and gave teachings here in Russia back in the 90s. So have you witnessed any progress with Dharma practice, and what in your opinion would be beneficial for Dharma practitioners here to do?

VTC: When I first came to Russia, it was in 1995-96, to teach, I was at some place in Moscow. They were asking me if I could read the future, if I saw flying saucers—you know, all this mystical magical stuff and of course all I had to say was “I don’t know, but I can explain to you how to develop love and compassion and wisdom,” but people were not so interested in that, they wanted mystical magical colorful things, which I couldn’t provide.

So, very fortunately, I see there’s a big change now, and what I found especially inspiring here in Russia is to see how many young people are interested in the Dharma and just people coming together—of all ages, but a lot of young people—and then volunteering, working together as a group, inviting teachers, practicing together, not just learning something, going back home and staying alone, but building a Buddhist community, and I think that’s really really wonderful.

LT: Thank you so much. And the last question is, you co-authored a book on compassion which is currently being translated into Russian and would then be openly released in both printed and electronic forms, so I’m wondering whether you feel that compassion should become a major driving force in human history at this point.

VTC: Yes, of course. Of course. And this is something His Holiness the Dalai Lama emphasizes too, because compassion gives meaning to our own lives personally and it creates peace in society, and without compassion, if we all are just looking out for ourselves, then we’re gonna destroy ourselves and everybody else, because we live in a interdependent world, so if just look out for ourselves, while the people around us suffer, then we’re gonna be surrounded by a lot of suffering people.

Suffering people will not stay quiet. They’re going to make noise, they’re going to let us know that they are suffering, and that creates turbulence in society. But if from the beginning we really take care of each other as human beings, because we all want to be happy, none of us want to suffer, then we prevent so many social problems. So many.

And it makes for a much more stable country. People’s minds being more stable, [we will have] better institutions in society. So I think compassion is absolutely necessary for our own individual well-being and the well-being of our own countries and the well-being of the world—because we’re so interrelated now, if we don’t care for each other, how are we going to exist together? We have to care for each other.

Interview with Interfaith Voices Tue, 28 Jun 2016 19:28:47 +0000

  • The purpose of spiritual practice
  • Meeting Buddhism and deciding to become a nun
  • The precepts are ways to train our mind in virtue
  • Daily life for the spiritual community at Sravasti Abbey
  • Working on the book with the Dalai Lama and his skillfulness as a teacher
  • The ordination of women
  • Prison work and how the Dharma has transformed inmates
  • The process of becoming ordained at Sravasti Abbey
  • The difference between novice and full ordination

Interview with Sister Maureen Fielder (download)

Kindness vitamins: An interview Thu, 02 Jun 2016 13:11:00 +0000

  • Why Venerable Chodron ordained as a Buddhist nun
  • How to practice in daily life
  • What mindfulness means
  • The importance of having a spiritual mentor and a spiritual tradition
  • Listening to your inner wisdom

YouTube Video

Нам нужно помнить, что мы умрем Tue, 10 May 2016 02:26:16 +0000

Джули Рельстед: Учения досточтимой Тубтен Чодрон в Пхенделинге позволили нам кратко увидеть её впечатляющие познания – относящиеся не только к буддизму, но и тому, как мы, жители Запада, можем научиться интегрировать буддизм в свою жизнь. Что еще важнее, утверждает она, мы должны помнить, что умрем.

Retreatants with Venerable Chodron at the Phendeling Centre teaching.

Досточтимая Чодрон с участниками ретрита в центре Пхенделинг (фото – Phendeling Center for Tibetansk Buddhisme)

Что вы думаете по поводу того, что западным людям сложно интегрировать буддизм со своей повседневной жизнью? Каковы с вашей точки зрения проблемы и решения?

Люди часто говорят, что их главная проблема – отсутствие достаточного количества времени, но в сутках всегда 24 часа, так что вопрос скорее в приоритетах и том, как мы распределяем своё время.

У нас всегда находится время поболтать с друзьями, поблуждать в интернете; есть время на просмотр спортивных игр. На подобные вещи время у нас есть – но когда речь заходит о регулярной ежедневной практике, время кончается.

Не думаю, что это вопрос времени; мне кажется, дело в приоритетах. Когда вы расставляете свои приоритеты, а Дхарма оказывается из них главным, именно ей вы и занимаетесь – вместо того, чтобы вечерами выбираться в свет, а утром чувствовать слишком большую усталость, чтобы встать. Вместо всего этого вы пораньше ложитесь. Вы приносите в жертву телепередачи, жертвуете тусовками с друзьями и рано встаете, чтобы позаниматься практикой.

Есть ли у вас какие-либо соображения по поводу того, почему нам так сложно четко расставить приоритеты?

Потому что люди не помнят, что умрут – они думают, что будут жить вечно, а когда думаешь, что будешь жить вечно, то у тебя полно времени и Дхарму всегда можно будет попрактиковать завтра (ведь сегодня ты очень занят!). Когда у нас действительно присутствует чувство того, что жизнь коротка, что обрести эту жизнь и создать карму для обретения драгоценной человеческой жизни было очень сложно, что эта жизнь редка и драгоценна и не особо продолжительна, становится гораздо проще расставить свои приоритеты. Когда же мы этих вещей не помним, наши приоритеты часто таковы: “Как бы испытать удовольствие? Как бы заполучить деньги и статус?”.

В Пхенделинге люди практикуют буддизм на множестве различных уровней. Для тех из нас, кто амбициозен, но все равно хочет жить со своей семьей и так далее: какими должны быть наши цели?

Думаю, если человек практикует Дхарму, цели у всех должны быть одинаковыми. Существуют два значимых пункта: (1) стараться достичь высокого перерождения и (2) стремиться к высочайшему благу, то есть полному пробуждению. Таковы цели всех практикующих Дхарму. Цели одинаковы независимо от того, миряне вы или монахи(ни). Наша долгосрочная цель – полное пробуждения, но чтобы до неё дойти, нам необходимо множество хороших перерождений.

Вы уже много лет являетесь монахиней. Не могли бы вы рассказать нам немного о своих самых больших радостях и самых больших вызовах?

Люди задавали мне этого вопрос прежде, и мне, думаю, это не нравится. Я не размышляю над тем, каковы мои величайшие радости и величайшие вызовы; этот образ мышления мне не кажется особо полезным. Гораздо полезнее, как я вижу, просто заниматься своей практикой. Если вы думаете о радостях, то цепляетесь за наличие неких потрясающих переживаний; если думаете о вызовах, то сосредотачиваетесь на всех препятствиях: “А продвинусь ли я вообще куда-либо?”.

Ни одна из этих вещей особо практике Дхармы не способствует. Лучше просто заниматься практикой. Создавайте причины, ждите плодов – а результаты проявятся, когда будут готовы.

Мой последний вопрос таков: хотели бы вы, чтобы я вас о чем-нибудь спросила?

Да! Думаю, чрезвычайно важно изучать и знать, что такое Дхарма, потому что по мере прихода буддизма на Запад появляются всевозможные люди, считающие, что они понимают Дхарму, но при этом особо её не изучавшие и не обладающие её качественным пониманием. Они начинают объяснять Дхарму другим в соответствии со своими мыслями и мнениями – а это очень опасно, потому что тогда освобождающая Дхарма теряется, а вместо неё остаются мнения людей, не являющихся продвинутыми практикующими.

Важно не выбрасывать вещи просто потому, что они не согласуются с нашими идеями; ведь если мы начинаем говорить: “Будда не учил тому-то и тому-то, потому что это вещи старомодные”, то, по сути, утверждаем, что мы умнее Будды и знаем путь лучше, чем Будда. Поэтому нам нужно проверять: обладаем ли мы просветлением? Если мы не просветленные, лучше следовать путем того, кто просветлен, а не выдумывать свой собственный.

Нам нужно различать то, что является культурой, и то, что является Дхармой. Мы можем менять вещи, относящиеся  к культуре, но нам действительно нужно знать, что является Дхармой; в противном случае мы сочтем определенные аспекты учений культурой, хотя они ей и не являются.

Поэтому нам нужно упорно трудиться над развитием своего дхармического интеллекта, своей искренности, открытости своего ума, своей способности действительно размышлять над вещами, а не просто зависеть от того, что говорит кто-то иной. Нам нужно развивать качества хорошего ученика.

Исходное интервью: Vi skal huske, at vi skal dø

Версия на английском языке: We need to remember that we are going to die

We need to remember that we are going to die Tue, 10 May 2016 02:26:03 +0000

Julie Relsted: Venerable Thubten Chodron’s teachings in Phendeling gave us brief insights into her impressive knowledge, not only of Buddhism, but also of how we Westerners can learn to integrate Buddhism into our lives. Most importantly, she says, we must remember that we are going to die.

Retreatants with Venerable Chodron at the Phendeling Centre teaching.

Venerable Chodron with retreatants at Phendeling Center. (Photo courtesy of Phendeling Center for Tibetansk Buddhisme)

What are your considerations concerning Western people’s trouble integrating Buddhism into their everyday life? What are the problems and the solutions from your point of view?

Often people say their main problem is that they don’t have enough time, but there are always 24 hours in a day, so it’s more a question of priorities and how we choose to allocate our time.

We always have time to chat with our friends, we have time to surf the Internet, we have time to watch sports games. We have time to do all sorts of things like that, but we run out of time when it comes to having a regular daily practice.

So I don’t think it’s a time issue. I think it’s a priority issue. When you set your priorities and if Dharma is really your top priority, then you do that instead of going out at night and being too tired in the morning to get up. Instead, you go to bed early. You sacrifice your TV shows, you sacrifice going out with your friends and get up early to do your practice.

 Do you have any suggestions as to why it is so difficult for us to get our priorities straight?

Because people don’t remember that they are going to die. They think that they are going to live forever. And when you think that you are going to live forever, you have lots of time and you think can always practice Dharma tomorrow, because today you are too busy. When we really have the feeling that our life is short, that it was very difficult to have this life, to create the karma to get a precious human life, that this life is rare and precious and it doesn’t last that long, then it becomes much easier to set our priorities. But when we don’t remember that our priorities are often, how can I have pleasure, how can I get money and status?

In Phendeling people practice Buddhism in many different levels. Those of us who are ambitious, but still want to live with our family and so on: What should be our goals?

I think the goals should be the same for everybody if you are a Dharma practitioner. There are two major things: to try to have a higher rebirth, and to aim for the highest good, meaning full awakening. Those are the goals of all Dharma practitioners. The goals are the same whether you are a layperson or a monastic. Our long-term goal is full awakening, but we need many good rebirths in order to get there.

You have been a nun for many years: Can you tell us a little bit about your greatest joys and greatest challenges?

People have asked me that question before and I don’t think like that. I don’t think about what are my greatest joys and what are my greatest challenges. I don’t find that way of thinking very helpful. I find it much more helpful just to do my practice. If you think of joys then you cling to having some fantastic experience. If you think of challenges, then you will focus on all the obstacles: “How will I ever get anywhere?”

Neither of those ways is very conducive for practicing the Dharma. It’s better to just do the practice. Create the causes, wait for the results, and the results will come, when they are ready.

My last question is to ask you if there is something you would like me to ask you? 

Yes! I think it is extremely important to study and know what Dharma is. Because with Buddhism coming to the West, there are all sorts of people who think they understand the Dharma, but they haven’t studied it much and they don’t understand it well. Then they start explaining it to others in accordance with what they think and what their opinions are, and that’s very dangerous, because then you lose the liberating Dharma and what you get instead is the opinions of people who are not advanced practitioners.

It is important to not just throw things out because they don’t agree with our ideas. Because if we start saying; “The Buddha didn’t teach this or that because it is old-fashioned” then we are basically saying that we are smarter than the Buddha and that we know the path better than the Buddha. So we have to check: Are we enlightened or not? If we are not enlightened, it’s better to follow the path of an enlightened human being rather than making up your own path.

We have to distinguish between what is culture and what is the Dharma. We can change the cultural things, but we have to really know what the Dharma is. Otherwise we think that certain aspects of the teachings are culture, when they are not.

So we have to work really hard to develop our Dharma intelligence, our sincerity, our open-mindedness, our ability to really think through things and not just depend on believing what somebody else says. We have to develop the quality of a good student.

Original interview: Vi skal huske, at vi skal dø

This article is available in Russian: Нам нужно помнить, что мы умрем

Interview with Tibetan Center Hamburg Magazine Thu, 21 Apr 2016 19:52:13 +0000

  • Meeting the Dharma and becoming a nun
  • The difficulties of being a Buddhist nun in the west
  • Seeing the precepts as protection rather than repressive
  • Advice for those who are considering ordination
  • The disadvantages of using social media

Interview with Tibetan Center Hamburg Magazine (download)

Comrades in alms Fri, 26 Feb 2016 20:54:00 +0000 Tricycle Magazine interviews Venerable Thubten Chodron about the challenges and joys of being a monk or nun in America.]]>

Can traditional forms of Buddhist monasticism—which include vows of celibacy and the renunciation of worldly pursuits—flourish in a culture that’s saturated by an opposing set of values?

In October 2015, over 30 Buddhist monastics met to discuss the ways their training can serve the modern, Western mindset. The 21st Western Buddhist Monastic Gathering, held at Sravasti Abbey in northeastern Washington, brought together monastics from numerous traditions to collaborate, practice, and support one another. The theme of this year’s meeting was “The Challenges and Joys of Monastic Life.”

Portrait of Venerable Chodron

Venerable Chodron, founder and abbess of Sravasti Abbey

Venerable Thubten Chodron, who is the founder and abbess of Sravasti Abbey, recently spoke with Tricycle’s editorial assistant, Marie Scarles, about the gathering and her experiences as a Buddhist nun.

Can you tell me a little bit about the history of the Western Buddhist Monastic Gathering?

It was started 21 years ago by a Tibetan nun in the Bay Area. As the years went on, more people came and more groups were invited—it wound up becoming a really wonderful event. We see it as a gathering of friends who have a common purpose and common values. It gives us a chance to meet with people who are like us, people who really understand and appreciate the monastic way of life.

As far as I know, there’s no analogous meeting that is held in Asia or within one Asian country. What are the particular conditions of the U.S. or of the West that have led to the necessity and interest in having a gathering like this?

In Asia this hasn’t happened because people don’t speak the same language. Here we all speak English so we’ve been able to learn from one another, to see the commonalities in Buddhist traditions and to acknowledge the differences. It’s given us a chance to discuss how to set up a monastery in the West so it’s compatible with Western culture but still a Buddhist monastery. We can discuss the kinds of issues that come up in a community and how to handle them.

Also, because there are so many different Buddhist groups in the U.S., this gathering is a chance to hear about one another’s traditions. Rather than hearing things second-hand and passing down rumors and stereotypes, it’s better to meet and become friends. We have so much in common as monastics. In European countries and Australia it’s similar, because you have so many traditions together in one space. By comparison, in a country like Thailand, almost everybody is Theravada. They have their own systems and their own groups. Each group within the Theravada tradition in Thailand is going to get together with other people in their own group. The same happens in India with Tibetan Buddhists. The West is a place where people reach out and meet people who are different.

Is there a difference between the way monastics are regarded here versus the way they’re viewed in Asia?

For sure. In Asia, if you go and live in a Buddhist community, it’s a totally different ball game than living as a monastic here in the West. If you’re in a country where there is a huge Buddhist community, people understand something about your life as a monastic. When you’re living here in America you go out and you get all sorts of interesting responses. People have no idea what you are!

I can imagine! Westerners are not particularly accustomed to shaved heads and orange robes. How do you think this affects the way people relate to you?

I’ve heard some people say, “Oh, it creates a distance with other people.” But my experience is that it creates a bond with other people. I’ve always worn my robes in town; I’m always clearly identifiable. When they see us in public, people have some kind of need or curiosity or admiration, and so they reach out. I have people come up to me and say, “Do you know the Dalai Lama? Are you a Buddhist?” You find this kind of thing, especially now that His Holiness is well known in America. Some people will say it in a more tactful way, like, “What are you?” When I tell them, they say with appreciation, “Oh, I knew you were some kind of religious person.”

I’ve had people ask me about rebirth and if I could please explain it. One guy on an airplane unburdened what was in his heart to me. I guess I was a safe person!

I have some amusing stories to tell, too. [Laughs.] One time—actually, this has happened more than once—a woman came up to me and very kindly and compassionately put her hand on my shoulder and said, “It’s okay, dear. When the chemo’s over, your hair will grow back.” They say it with so much kindness that I just respond, “Oh, thank you very much.” If I’m not running off somewhere I’ll say, “Oh, fortunately, you know, I’m doing this by choice. I’m a Buddhist monastic.” People don’t know what you are, but they’re curious and they’re interested. I find that when you explain things to them, they understand and they get it. They understand why somebody might want to be a monastic and the special things that we do or don’t do.

The thing that I find most disturbing is, at times, the response from Western lay Buddhists. Lay Buddhists in Asia love the monastics and respect what we’re trying to do. But Western lay Buddhists often rely on old stereotypes and don’t understand what monastic life is and what it’s about. That is more disturbing to me personally than general people in society who have no clue what Buddhism or monasticism is.

Related: Tricycle Retreat with Thubten Chodron: Recognizing and Transforming Jealously and Envy

What are some of the stereotypes of Western monastics?

Sometimes, you hear people say, “Monastic life is old-fashioned. We don’t need it now. It’s no longer relevant.” Or they’ll say, “Oh! You’re celibate? Are you repressing your sexuality and denying feelings for intimacy?” Or, “Oh, you’re ordaining. Aren’t you escaping from reality?” It’s jarring, especially when it’s lay Buddhists in the West saying these kinds of things.

What are some of the difficulties of being ordained in a cultural climate that is not monastic-friendly?

The values of our American culture and the West, in general, are aimed toward the idea that happiness comes through the five senses. We’re called desire-realm beings for a reason. Our minds are perpetually distracted outwards toward and looking for pleasure from sense objects. That doesn’t simply mean nice things to see and smell—it also means reputation and status and love, approval and praise, all of these things that come from the outside. The whole image of a successful life in America is based on external things: having money, being famous, having good relationships with your family, and maybe being artistic. Whatever field you’re in, everybody wants to be the best and they want to be known as the best. So the world vision of a successful, happy life is very different than a monastic’s vision of a successful, happy life.

Do you think some of these pressures are unique to the U.S., as opposed to the rest of the world?

Being attached to external things is universal to living beings. We all have the same afflictions; it doesn’t really matter what society you’re in. Society will influence exactly how it looks on the outside.

Another topic you discussed at the gathering was the cultural difference between Western monastics and your Asian teachers and supporters. What were some of the issues raised?

The first one that comes to mind is the role of women and nuns in particular. There’s a cultural difference in how people feel about this. I don’t think that Buddhism itself ignores women. Rather, it’s the cultures that Buddhism has traditionally been in—just like the cultures that Christianity, Islam, and Judaism have traditionally been in. All those cultures across the board tend to neglect women.

I see this much more as a cultural thing, not so much as something that is solidified in the teachings themselves. I know you can point to passages in Buddhist scriptures that would support the opposite—you can do that in any religion. But my personal feeling is that the obstacles to change are not the few passages in the scriptures, they’re the cultures that the dharma is embedded in.

And it’s not like American culture is gender equal, either. I’ve had some interesting experiences, in that regard, where you would think that people would be more aware of gender equality in the West, and they aren’t at all. The first one that comes to mind is whenever I get a letter from someone who doesn’t know me personally. It’s usually addressed “Dear Sir.” They assume that if you’re the leader of a monastery, you must be a monk. This happens in the West.

Related: Gender Revisited: Are We There Yet?

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Yes! The joy of being a monastic and that Buddhist monasticism is something important. Not that everybody has to be a monastic—that’s their individual choice. But monasticism is an important element of the dharma and to the existence of the dharma in the West. Whether or not people are ordained, I think it’s important to have an understanding of what monastic life is—why somebody would become a monastic, what our role is, the importance of monasticism in preserving and spreading the dharma, as well as ways that the lay community and the monastic community can cooperate and learn from each other.

I think that there really needs to be broader education about monks and nuns and monasteries and things like that so that there can be better relationships and more understanding.

If you’re someone who is suited for monastic life, this lifestyle can be very joyful. You have a real sense of purpose and meaning in your life. There’s a special feeling of closeness to the Three Jewels [the Buddha, dharma, and sangha], and you can be more transparent as a human being without having to play a lot of games. You have dedicated your life to the dharma and to benefiting others; that intention steers you in a wonderful direction. Of course there are the challenges of working with our ignorance, anger, attachment, and self-centeredness and cultivating love, compassion, and wisdom, but as you see yourself and those around you change, there’s a lot of satisfaction.

Life is like sowing seeds Wed, 16 Dec 2015 19:23:22 +0000 The Times of India at a talk organized by the Garden of Samadhi Mind Centre in Bengaluru, India.]]>

Newly sprouted seeds.

Life is like sprinkling seeds. (Photo by –Tico–)

“Life is like sprinkling seeds. You don’t know which ones will blossom into beautiful flowers, as their growth depends on factors like soil and water. That’s beyond one’s control.”

Succinct and profound, the words of Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron effectively summed up the dichotomy between human efforts and reality.

A Chicago-born history teacher who got ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1975, Chodron is popular for her practical explanations on applying Buddhist teachings in daily life. In Bengaluru on Tuesday, she spoke on `dealing with situations when they fall apart’.

At the talk organized by The Garden of Samadhi Mind Centre, Chodron, 65, shared instances from her own life.” Over 18 years ago, I had a student who had potential and I was trying to help him learn more. My other students organized a party on my birthday and this particular student didn’t show up. Instead, he sent me a letter that shocked me. He said ‘he is stepping back, doesn’t want to attend classes and wants to think for himself’. This message hit me like the tsunami. It made me lose confidence as a teacher. But I learnt a lesson—that I cannot control anyone else. We see potential in people but they may not see it themselves. When you encourage them, they think you are pushing them,” Chodron said.

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No one shares your sorrow

In her two-hour talk, Chodron threw light on various aspects of human suffering and how to tackle them. “They are many who invite others to their ‘pity parties’. But no one attends them. Does anybody come and tell you that ‘your problem is my problem’? After self-pity, we become furious. But that doesn’t help either.We need to change our perspective and accept our responsibilities. Your present troubles may be a manifestation of the wrongs you have done in a previous life,” she pointed out.

Healing power of compassion

Speaking about the power of an unconditional smile, she said the impact of compassion is enormous. “This was a long time ago, when one of my friends was 26. She had some problems, which gave rise to suicidal tendencies. One day, she came across a stranger who smiled at her; she said that changed her thinking. The stranger wouldn’t even know how he she had helped her regain confidence and get on with life. That’s how compassion works. Being compassionate to others helps us understand ourselves,” Chodron said.

Hurt by world leaders

Chodron told TOI she was deeply disturbed by the decision of world leaders to bomb terror-hit countries. “Human beings have great potential. By creating fear, terrorists are hurting others and hurting themselves. I’m also upset by the response of world leaders. It is peace that gives satisfaction, not war. Violence will only escalate the problem. In Iraq, Iran and Syria, generations have suffered due to war. Each side has to give up something, to make life peaceful,” she said.