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37 Practices: Verses 10-15

37 Practices: Verses 10-15

Part of a series of teachings on the 37 Practices of Bodhisattvas given during the Winter Retreat from December 2005 to March 2006 at Sravasti Abbey.

  • Continued discussion of the 37 Practices of the Bodhisattva, Verses 10-15
  • Seven-point cause-and-effect instruction for bodhicitta
  • Equalizing and exchanging self for others in a variety of circumstances

Vajrasattva 2005-2006: 37 Practices: Verses 10-15 (download)

This teaching was followed by a discussion session with the retreatants.

So let’s start with the text [The 37 Practices of Bodhisattvas]. By the way, Geshe Sonam Rinchen has an excellent book out on this text. Also Geshe Jampa Tegchok’s book, Transforming Adversity Into Joy and Courage is wonderful and I highly recommend it for understanding this text. Verse Ten…

10. When your mothers, who’ve loved you since time without beginning,
Are suffering, what use is your own happiness?
Therefore to free limitless living beings
Develop the altruistic intention—
This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

This is another one of those verses that always gets me. There are two ways to develop bodhichitta, one is the seven-point instruction of cause and effect and then the other way is equalizing and exchanging self and others. Verse ten is referring to the first method, the Seven-Point Instruction on Cause and Effect. That’s based on equanimity and then on the basis of that, you have:

  1. recognizing sentient beings as your mothers,
  2. second is seeing them as kind,
  3. third, wanting to repay their kindness,
  4. fourth is generating love and kindness towards them,
  5. fifth is compassion,
  6. sixth is the great resolve, and then
  7. seventh is bodhicitta.

All those are in the lamrim, so I won’t go into them extensively now. If you haven’t had teachings on those before, then listen to the tapes that are on the Three Principle Aspects of the Path. I go into it there.

To talk about this verse: your mothers, who’ve loved you since time without beginning. Thinking of all mother sentient beings, all sentient beings as having been your mother… It doesn’t matter what form they are in this life, or how they treat you or anything like that; it doesn’t matter if they’re humans or they’re kitties or stink bugs or spiders or coyotes. They’ve all been our mothers in previous lives, and as our mothers they have been kind to us. So this involves training our mind in not only seeing our mothers as kind but to see sentient beings as our mothers.

Seeing the kindness of our parents, who gave us this body

Westerners can sometimes have some difficulties, because ever since Freud came along we’ve been trained to see our parents as mean and as the cause of our problems and to blame everything on them. I think it’s very unfair, and that perspective screws us up just as much as anything our parents did! It puts this mentality of blame onto people who have actually been quite kind to us. I think taking some time and really meditating on the kindness of our parents—and we all have stories to tell from our childhood—but bottom line, our parents gave us this body. That is bottom line.

Without our parents giving us this body and assuring that we were brought up and didn’t die in childhood—which we very easily could have done—just that fact alone means they have been kind. It doesn’t matter what else happened. The fact that we have a precious human life with which we can practice the Dharma is only possible due to the kindness of our parents. Giving us this body and making sure that either they or somebody else took care of us… To make sure, when we could not take care of ourselves as infants and toddlers, that somebody took care of us— That’s the bottom line for kindness.

If we can train our mind to see that kindness and then, on top of that, for example, the kindness in teaching us how to speak… just simple things like this. It doesn’t matter what else happened; they taught us to speak, they taught us to tie our shoes, they potty trained us, all this kind of really useful stuff! [laughter] If we can see their kindness and see what they gave up in order to bring us up, then it puts in a totally different perspective every other thing that may have happened.

If we had problems with our parents or dysfunctional families or abuse or whatever, it puts that stuff in a totally different perspective. I once heard somebody say that in America now we talk about childhood as something that you have to recover from. I think that’s because we’ve been trained to look at what goes wrong.

What I have found across the board with the inmates I write to is an incredible love for their parents, especially their mother. These are the same people when they tell me the stories about how they grew up, dysfunction in the family, who knows what kind of chaos went on—and they treated their parents horribly when they were growing up, especially their mother. And once they land in prison, their mother is the person who sticks by them, no matter what. Society has abandoned them, everybody else also; friends turn against them—their mother still has unconditional love. The kindness of their mother finally dawns on them, and it’s really very touching.

When we can open our mind to see that kind of kindness, it’s something that frees us tremendously. And then when we see that it’s not just that one person—because that one person was kind to us in that way in this life—but that every single other living being has also been our mother, and been kind to us in the same way, then it brings this incredible feeling of closeness and familiarity with other sentient beings.

It’s said that Atisha, the great Indian sage who helped to bring Buddhism to Tibet, would call everybody “mother.” The donkey, the yak—whoever it was, it was “mom.” I think that’s a very nice way to train our mind when we see other living beings, because then we don’t feel alienated, we don’t feel separate from them.

We may not remember when they were our mother, but we can infer that we’ve had beginningless previous lifetimes—plenty of time for everybody to have been our mother, and to have been kind to us at that time. This whole perspective really changes how we see other people. It also helps us not to see people as just who they are in this life, and in the relationship we have with them in this life. It helps us remember that there was a time when there was this incredibly intimate relationship of parent and child.

I remember when I was hearing teachings about this at Kopan, and there was a dog at Kopan named Sasha. Sasha was crippled; she couldn’t walk on her hind legs. She dragged herself around everywhere, using just her front paws. It was so pathetic to see… this dog suffered so much. And then she had a litter of puppies in that state, and she nourished her puppies, and she took care of the puppies. I have such a vivid memory—almost thirty years later—of her kindness to her babies, in spite of her own incredible suffering. And then to think that every sentient being has been kind to us in that way: it’s just mind-boggling. It’s impossible to hold grudges, impossible to hate anybody when you see that we’ve had this kind of relationship with people.

When our kind mothers are suffering, partying is unthinkable

When these beings who’ve been that tremendously kind to us are suffering, of what use is it going around just looking for our own sense-pleasure happiness, our own reputation, our own feel-good fun? There’s this feeling of, “I can’t do that when somebody who’s been tremendously kind to us is suffering.” And here, it’s the suffering of samsara, which is so horrible. When they’re suffering, can we go out and go to a party? It’s unthinkable. For me, I find this a very good remedy when the mind is getting very selfish and very “I just want some happiness; I want some pleasure!” When it’s quite self-centered like this, to think, “here are all these other beings who’ve been so kind, wallowing in samsara, and I want to go out and just have a good time? That’s ridiculous!”

When I was sixteen or seventeen, my boyfriend had invited me to the high school prom. And then the Six-day War broke out a couple of days before the prom. I just felt, “Wow. Here are all these people killing each other. How can I go to the prom? What a ridiculous thing to do—go to a prom—when people are killing each other over such stupid things, and causing each other and themselves so much suffering!” Everybody told me I was crazy, and I couldn’t do anything about it, so I should ‘just shut up and go to the prom!’ But it just felt so weird to me: how can you do this?

When you have that feeling, then, automatically what comes to the mind is to free limitless living beings, develop the altruistic intention. When there’s suffering, the only thing to do is try to become Buddhas so we can benefit them in the most effective way. It’s the only thing that makes sense to do. Having a good time doesn’t make any sense. Liberating just ourselves and forgetting about everybody else doesn’t make any sense. Following the bodhisattva path is the only thing that makes any sense to do when you have that kind of understanding. It helps us see past how people are treating us in this particular life. Achie [one of the Abbey’s cats] scratches me, and I think “oh, this ridiculous cat.” You can make a whole court case… But you can also say “that’s my mother who got born in that cat body, trapped by afflictions and karma in a body like that, not knowing what in the world she is thinking or doing. And here’s this person who took incredible good care of me in a previous life. Then okay he scratches me, no big deal!”

Equalizing and exchanging self with others

Verse Eleven:

11. All suffering comes from the wish for your own happiness.
Perfect Buddhas are born from the thought to help others.
Therefore exchange your own happiness
For the suffering of others—
This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

This verse focuses on the way of equalizing and exchanging self and others. Here we see that ourselves and others are equal in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering. We see the disadvantages of cherishing ourselves, and the advantage of cherishing others. When we say “the disadvantages of cherishing ourselves”, it doesn’t mean we should have low self-esteem and flagellate ourselves. It means the disadvantages of being self- preoccupied and the benefit of cherishing others.

Then, from there, we exchange self and others, which means—it doesn’t mean I become you, and you become me, and your bank account becomes mine, and my bank account becomes yours—it means this: what we usually hold most important is my happiness. We exchange who we call “my” and who we call “you,” and what used to be called “others,” we call “I” or “mine.” And we call what used to be called “I,” “others.” So when we say, “I want happiness,” we’re referring to all other living beings. And when we say, “I’m number one, and you can wait,” we’re meaning “other sentient beings are most important, and fulfilling my own pleasure can wait.” That’s exchanging self and others. Then we do the Taking and Giving meditation, tonglen, and that leads us to generate bodhichitta. I won’t go into all these steps in detail—look at Geshe Tegchog’s book. He has quite a wonderful explanation there.

The thing is to see very clearly that all suffering comes from the wish for your own happiness. That should be one of the prime things you realize from this retreat. Is that coming up in your meditation at all, when you’re looking back on your life and the things that you have to regret, that you’re purifying—when you ask yourself, “why did I do those things that I did that I have to purify?” –isn’t it always because I was caring for myself more than others? (Rs nod) Behind every single—every single—negative karma we created wasn’t there the thought, “I’m more important than others”? There we see very clearly the disadvantages of the self- centered mind: all the negative karma, all the causes for our own suffering, are generated by it.

You can even see day-to-day in the retreat: e.g. when you’re having a bad day, when you’re going through something, isn’t there also a certain amount of self-preoccupation then? [laughter] “OOHHH, nobody is going through what I’m going through in this retreat! I’m having so much stuff come up! Unbelievable! Nobody else is going through this!” [laughter] That’s what we’re all thinking, right? True or not true? We all think like that. Is that an accurate reflection of reality— that nobody else is going through all the stuff we’re going through, that we’re the only ones who are suffering so much from our afflictions and our karma? That’s just our self-centered melodrama, isn’t it? Everybody in the whole retreat is going through stuff. But who do we get stuck on? My drama, my guilt, my uncontrolled emotions, my suffering! On and on, session after session. [laughter] It’s incredible, isn’t it? Absolutely incredible. And there you have it—right there—the experiential proof of the disadvantages of self-centeredness: there it is, right there in living color.

“Perfect Buddhas are born from the thought to help others.” So what have Buddhas done? They’ve said, “all this stuff about me—it’s just hopeless: trying to make the world the way I want it, trying to get everybody to recognize how much I suffer, how lonely I am, how alienated I am, and how they ignore me and they ostracize me, and they exclude me, and they don’t pay attention to me [very weepy voice].” [laughter] Trying to get other sentient beings to acknowledge that is just useless. It’s useless. Just drop it! Just go, “clunk.” Drop it.

The Buddhas have the thought to benefit others. And in all the space that remains in your mind— when you’ve let go of your own melodrama— there’s so much room to really love other people, and other living beings. It comes very, very naturally—very automatically. Especially when you can see them suffering from their own self-centeredness, just like you used to. You can look and see, “wow! This person is making themselves so miserable.

Their self-centeredness is making them so unnecessarily miserable.” You can really begin to have some compassion for them. And then on that basis, you can do exchange of self and others and the Taking and Giving meditation: take on their suffering, and use it to squash our whole melodrama inside—this whole hard rock of “ooohhh, my suffering.” Bring on everybody else’s suffering and then just transform it into this lightening bolt that clobbers that self-centered lump at our heart, and just totally obliterates it. And then there’s just so much space, so much incredible space… So we develop bodhichitta that way, as well. Because then it becomes clear that if we really cherish others, the best way to work for their happiness is to eliminate our own obscurations so we can be of the most effective benefit—then attaining enlightenment makes sense.

The next verses are about thought training. They are very practical, and very good to employ while you’re doing retreat. Verse Twelve:

12. Even if someone out of strong desire
Steals all your wealth or has it stolen,
Dedicate to him your body, possessions,
And your virtue, past, present, and future—
This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

What do we usually feel like doing if somebody steals our stuff? What’s our usual reaction?

Audience: Rage, anger

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): Right, and we’re going to take it back—“no way are we going to let this thief have it! It’s not theirs, it’s mine!” and “how dare they take it!” and “they violated me and went into my space!” and blah, blah, blah. We just want to go snatch it back and clobber the other person. What’s this thought-training saying to do? Give them not only what they stole, but dedicate to them your body, your possessions, and your three times’ virtue. Now, that’s the last thing self-centered mind wants to do, isn’t it? And that means it’s the best thing for us to think about doing. It doesn’t mean we go and commit suicide in front of them and give them our body; it means mentally dedicate our body and our possessions and our virtue towards that person who ripped off our stuff.

So you do the opposite of what self-centered mind wants to do, and you do it not begrudgingly—(like) “this verse said I had to”—but you do it happily. How? Because you see that this person who stole all your stuff—why do people steal stuff? Because they’re miserable. People who are happy don’t go stealing other peoples’ stuff! So this person who stole our stuff, why did they steal it? Because they’re miserable; because they’re unhappy. That means they’re in need of happiness. How are we going to give them happiness? We dedicate our body, our possessions, and our past, present, and future positive potential for their welfare.

I was doing retreat once at Tushita and I went out for a walk at lunch and I came back and somebody had come in and stole my clock and pen. That was the only thing I had of value in the room. It was a little clock and a pen, and initially this thought came up: “Somebody came in MY room, how dare they do that and take this!” And then I thought, “no they must have needed it, so give it to them. Anyway, I don’t have it, might as well give it to them!” [laughter] My holding onto it mentally isn’t going to get it back, it’s only going to make me more miserable, so I might as well give it to them…

Verse Thirteen:

13. Even if someone tries to cut off your head
When you haven’t done the slightest thing wrong,
Out of compassion take all his misdeeds
Upon yourself—
This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

Togmey Zangpo thinks of these great situations: somebody wants to decapitate you when you haven’t done anything wrong! Usually we get accused of doing things and we haven’t done anything wrong and people make accusations, but how often has someone wanted to decapitate us because of it? It’s usually not such a severe thing that we are facing… But even if that were something, that somebody wants to cut our head off and we haven’t done anything wrong, what is it that our natural ego mind wants to do? “THAT’S NOT FAIR! I didn’t do anything wrong, he did it!” What do we do, we blame somebody else. “Go cut his head off—not mine! I haven’t done anything wrong!” We pass the buck. Even if we have done something wrong, we pass the buck don’t we? “Who me? Oh, I didn’t do that.”

Even animals do that. When I was a kid we had a German Shepard dog and my mother had a salami out on the table—she was making salami sandwiches—and the door bell rang. She went to answer the door, and she came back and there was no salami there, and the dog was looking very guilty, kind of like looking at the kids saying, “oh, the kids did it.” [laughter] So that’s what we all do… Even if we have done something wrong we blame somebody else, we pass the buck.

Here we haven’t done anything wrong, and somebody is really out to get us and what do we do? Instead of fight and scream, and accuse them back and beat them up and everything like that, out of compassion take all of his misdeeds upon ourselves. Again here’s this person who’s really suffering a lot, really suffering. Somebody who holds a grudge and wants revenge, or somebody who’s misinterpreted something and wants to harm somebody back, even if that person hasn’t done anything, that person’s miserable, aren’t they?

So again what’s the appropriate Bodhisattva reaction? Take all of their misdeeds upon our self, all the negative karma that they would create by this action, all the negative karma that they’ve created in the past, take this all on our self and just heap it right on top of our own self-centeredness, and use it to destroy our self-centeredness. Again, it’s the opposite of what ego mind wants to do. So you can see how these kinds of thought-training practices are used to destroy ego mind… They’re very clear aren’t they?

Verse Fourteen:

14. Even if someone broadcasts all kinds of unpleasant remarks
About you throughout the three thousand worlds,
In return, with a loving mind,
Speak of his good qualities—
This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

There is somebody criticizing you, all sorts of unpleasant remarks, shredding you, telling everything you ever did wrong, making up lies about things that you did, criticizing you up, down, and across—to the three thousand worlds! Forget the three thousand worlds—if they even do it to one person behind our back, we can’t stand it—let alone the three thousand worlds. Somebody saying bad stuff about us: ego says, “that’s impossible! How can anybody do that? Ok, sometimes, I make mistakes, but that’s just because I was foolish and silly, and you’re supposed to have compassion for me when I’m like that and forgive me. It was because I just didn’t know any better. And then also, so many times, you blame me for things I didn’t do—well, maybe a little bit I did something, but really it was nothing—you just exaggerate it all…”

Isn’t it like this? Whenever we hear the smallest bit of an unpleasant remark, even when somebody has no intention to insult us, we hear what they’re saying as an insult. Again and again and again… We discover that all the time living here at the Abbey! (laughter, especially by residents) The things that nobody at all meant as an insult, but because we’re all ego- sensitive, we think, “That’s a personal accusation—an unpleasant remark! Questioning my right to be alive!” [laughter] We just blow it up into this huge, enormous thing.

Or what do we do instead of blowing it up into this big thing, when we’re on our soapbox, “who do you think you are, saying those kinds of things about me behind my back? If anybody has a right to criticize anybody, I have a right to criticize you because you’ve done this, and this, and this, and this…” And we pull out our whole big computer file of every small thing they’ve ever done wrong, because we’ve been keeping track of it just so we’ll have ammunition for a situation like this. [laughter] We hold on to everything, and we store it away so we can take it out and really lambaste the other person.

So what do we do instead of doing that? In return, with a loving mind, speak of his good qualities. It doesn’t say, “with a begrudging mind.” It says with a loving mind. That’s what you were talking about in the example you gave last week [to retreatant]: about starting to look at somebody, and at the beginning it was difficult to see their good qualities, but the more you did it, the more you saw—wow—there were a lot of good qualities there that you never really even noticed before. Really doing that, even for somebody who’s trying to criticize us: see how many good qualities they have. And point them out; praise them! It’s the last thing you want to do, isn’t it? But with a loving mind—again, not with, “oh, I’m doing it just because Togmey Zangpo told me I should,” or “I’m doing it because I have to, but I really want to slug the guy”—not like that. [laughter] Really with a loving mind, pointing out their good qualities.

15. Though someone may deride and speak bad words
About you in a public gathering,
Looking on him as a spiritual teacher,
Bow to him with respect—
This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

This verse is similar to the previous one. Though someone may deride and speak bad words about you in a public gathering. There you are, with your Vajrasattva group, and somebody takes you to task, and really derides you and makes fun of you. Or you’re at a family gathering, and somebody in your family really ridicules you and criticizes you. They’re not just saying something to you directly, either; they’re spreading it out to all sorts of other people. Again, for ego-mind, this is just intolerable, totally intolerable.

I think sometimes for people, they cherish their reputation and their image much more than they cherish their very life. People will go to war, and people will get into fights over image and reputation. If you look, a lot of the gang warfare that happens in various places—it’s not so much because somebody stole something from somebody else, but somebody criticized somebody else. What was it, the Hatfields and the McCoys, the ones who for generation and generation were killing each other? You see this even in former Yugoslavia, even though people didn’t do anything, because this prejudice had been passed on from one generation to the other generation, just hearing stories about how bad the other group was, then people fight. And it’s all over reputation and image, and not over anything that’s even happened this life, anything substantial. Just over reputation and image…

The inmates tell me about this all the time, because that’s one of the things that is so important for them: not being respected. In a prison setting—forget about a prison setting, anywhere—somebody cuts in front of you in line, people will start a fight in a public place about it, won’t they? I’ve been on trains where somebody takes somebody else’s berth, and they will scream and holler at each other on the train. Just small, small things. Any kind of reputation thing where we feel we’re not being respected, then, boy, we get livid. We will fight to the death over our reputation. It happens all the time. Think about it: I’m sure you can think of many examples. Look at our governmental policy. Don’t you think part of the reason we’re in Iraq is because of the first Bush’s reputation, and the second Bush wanted to show that “you can’t do that to my daddy”?

This thing about being so sensitive to our image—it’s really poisonous. So what’s the antidote? Look upon that person as a spiritual teacher and bow to him with respect. So you’re going to say, “What? George Bush should have bowed to Saddam Hussein with respect?” [laughter] Well, a lot of people wouldn’t have gotten killed if he did… But I think that what it’s emphasizing here is, in these kind of things, listen to what the other person has to say, instead of attacking back and wanting to destroy them. Start listening. Try to hear how the other person is seeing the situation, and what’s going on. If we can show some respect—if we can take the other person seriously, even if we think their way of thinking is totally off the wall—if we can show respect to them, it can actually very often bring them around. Very often, what somebody wants—somebody who’s acting out—what they really want is some respect and some acknowledgment.

Think about kids in the classroom. The kids who act out in the classroom very often, what they’re just needing is some acknowledgment as a human being, and they can’t get it any other way than disrupting the whole class. I remember one time actually saying that to one student, saying, “You don’t need to act that way for me to talk to you.” This happens all the time.

Anyway, so what this verse is getting at is, listen to the other person. Take them seriously. Respect them as a human being even if you disagree with what they’re doing and what they’re saying. That should give you something to practice this next week. [laughter]

Think about your non-negotiables

Now, something else I wanted to talk about. Some of you were here last year, and the others have probably heard us talk about Bo, one of the inmates, and how we were reading Bo’s letters. His letters stimulated such incredible discussions. He is serving a 20-year sentence—they’re going to let him out after 16 years—and last year he was already in for 15 years. He went in when he was 32; he was 47 last year, so all those years spent in prison looking forward to getting out.

He was talking about his “non-negotiables,” i.e. what he wants to do in his life when he gets out that is just not negotiable. Things that he was feeling so strongly that were going to bring him happiness, and that he wanted so badly to do, that no amount of anybody saying anything was going to make him re-evaluate that.

And when I wrote back suggesting that those things don’t bring you actual happiness, he got pretty angry at me. His whole thing about “non-negotiables” sparked an incredible discussion among the retreatants. Everybody—all of us—started looking at our own lives, asking, “what do we consider non-negotiable in our life?” What activities, what people, what places, what whatever do we feel we absolutely have to have in our life? And we’re not going to compromise on those things at all. So this is something very good for you to do and look at in your meditation. What he was calling “non-negotiable”— what they are in normal language are the things we are most attached to; our deepest attachments that no way are we going to compromise on….

It’s very interesting to think about these in your life: about relationships, or activities, or places or career things or food or sports, whatever it is. But no way are you going to compromise those things. So take a look at that. So that’s the introduction and what I have here is a letter from Bo dated January 5th. He’s getting out on January 18th so please, everybody, make very, very strong prayers for him…. He’s been in 16 years and he wrote me at one point that it was an incredible moment when he had finally exhausted all of his appeals and he realized he was going to have to serve every single day of the sentence. So here he is three days short of getting out; he was nearly two weeks short of getting out when this letter was written. So I want to read you part of the letter [from Bo]:

Bo (an inmate) finds humility and humanity

Well, I have been doing a lot of looking inside. This is a very cool time in my life. I don’t think the way I feel and the way my consciousness is perceiving and computing things will ever be experienced in this lifetime like this. This is a unique moment in my life; this is the time I have waited for, for so long, this is the second significant new beginning in my life.

The first new beginning—which I didn’t recognize as such—was when I was arrested. That new beginning was not something I looked forward to or embraced as a positive change, but in retrospect, it was clearly needed to alter the direction of my life. While this second new beginning has been a goal for a very long time, I totally understand it to be only a beginning. It is not an end-all. It’s not the finish line. It’s not the end product of anything, including my sixteen years of being incarcerated.

I look at it as the beginning of the rest of my life: a life with a clear ethical code and standard of character. My head is in a very good place, a place of clarity, a place of hope and positive thought, a place of peace and tranquility. So yeah, Chodron, instead of nervousness and anxiety (which a lot of guys getting out suffer from), I’m really cool right now. There’s a joyousness and light-heartedness going on inside of me that I can’t ever remember feeling before.

I mean, there were happy times before coming to prison, but not at this level of consciousness. This current happiness is a product of my mind, and the way I’ve decided to deal with life. It has nothing to do with some sort of superficial bullshit, i.e. materialistic stuff, hedonistic crap, or some romantic relationship (second-person type of thing) that is outside of who I am. I guess that I’ve learned that happiness starts—and is sustained—from what’s going on inside.

Money, drugs, power, sex, material—none of these provide real happiness. Happiness must come from within. Yeah, it’s a trip to be me at this point in time. I’ve never felt like this before, and I feel pretty darn good. Sometimes the pessimistic Bo worries about the world crushing my optimism once I get out, but the positive Bo knows deep down that as long as I do the right thing every day, that I’ll be happy with myself. I am no longer controlled by the messed-up mindset that I have to impress people, that I need to be wealthy and popular, that I need to live up to someone else’s expectations of success.

As a middle-aged man, I’ve replaced many of the priorities that I had twenty or more years ago. My list of priorities looks much different than the one the twenty-eight year-old Bo had. Funny how a few years in prison can alter a person’s perception and thought processes, how being stripped of your physical freedom, and hitting rock bottom, can knock some sense into even the most hard-headed person, how finding some humility gives you back some of your humanity. Yes, Chodron, my head and my thoughts are in a pretty good place now.

Isn’t that incredible? Quite a change from last year, isn’t it? Please make prayers for him as he begins each day the rest of his life—as each of us begin each day the rest of our lives.

I think there’s a lot of Dharma wisdom in here—even though he doesn’t want to call himself a “Buddhist,” doesn’t adhere to any dogma, and doesn’t like rituals. [laughter]

Isn’t that letter incredible?

This teaching was followed by a discussion session with the retreatants.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.