One of the greatest things to me about being born and more importantly—living as—a genuine human being is the attribute of choice. Day after day I have so many opportunities to choose, even here in prison. At 4:30 am I choose to get up, wash, and sit in the silence. As the anxiety of the day builds in my mind I choose to let it dissolve into the emptiness of each out breath.
I have many choices: Will I eat every bite of a good meal or give my neighbor an extra waffle? When I hear the latest rumors and gossip, will I join in or just let the idle chatter take its course without comment? When I return to the cell at the end of the workday in the shop, will I get angry when the cell is a mess and the floor isn’t swept or will I see it as an act of compassionate action to clean it myself and give my cellmate a pass? When I call home and the family says they can’t send me any money or stamps for a while because they just bought a two billion inch TV—do I get angry and take it personally or do I let go of attachment to form and consider the joy they will get out of their new toy?
Not all choices are fun and easy, but it seems that most often I can choose between pain and joy, or at least between more and less suffering. Sometimes choosing not to choose and letting life just unfold is the best decision.
One of my main lessons has been that we each are endowed with the attribute of choice. I used to spend so much time manipulating others so they would choose my way. How exhausting. It still comes up but more often I exercise my choice and let others have their choice, even when their choice is an attempt to not let me decide for myself. In prison it gets tricky when we consider politics and peer pressure, but I have found more opportunities as I do my best to choose with integrity and understanding.
As I wake up to the preciousness of this human rebirth I see that it’s not all suffering if I use my opportunities and decisions. When I realize the Buddha within, I wonder if I will automatically act out of spontaneous wisdom and compassion. Till then may I make choices that benefit us all…
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.