Open Heart, Clear Mind study guide

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

Contents

I. Meditation and the Buddhist approach
II. Working effectively with emotions (page 2, see below)
III. Our current situation (page 3, see below)
IV. Our potential for growth (page 4, see below)
V. The path to enlightenment (page 5, see below)


I. Meditation and the Buddhist approach

Reading: Open Heart, Clear Mind: I and V, 6

To develop to our fullest potential and help others most effectively, we must identify and subdue our own shortcomings, recognize and nourish our good qualities–that is, to develop our compassion, wisdom and skill, and become a fully enlightened Buddha. For this reason, we will meditate.

To receive full benefit from these teachings, you may wish to recite and contemplate some prayers to prepare your mind and to cultivate an attitude of love and compassion for others. Try to meditate each day, preferably at the same time. Set aside a quiet and tidy area in your home for meditation. The morning is better because the mind is fresher, but some people prefer the evening. Just as nourishing our body every day is important and we take time to eat, nourishing ourselves spiritually is also essential. Consistency is important, and on the days when you feel lazy or rushed, some self-discipline may be necessary. Make your sessions moderate in length, so that when you end, you feel refreshed. You can gradually extend them. Sit in the meditation position as described on page 169. If you are uncomfortable sitting cross-legged, you may sit in a chair.

Cultivate love and compassion for others

Begin each session by contemplating the Four Immeasurables and an altruistic intention:

May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes.
May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes.
May all sentient beings not be separated from sorrowless bliss.
May all sentient beings abide in equanimity, free of bias, attachment, and anger.

Shakyamuni Buddha mantra

You may also wish to chant the Buddha’s mantra a few times to settle the mind:

Tayata om muni muni maha muniye soha

Mindfulness of breathing

The breathing meditation quiets the mind and develops concentration. Breathe normally and naturally, without forcing the breath. Focus at either:

  1. The tip of the nose and upper lip. Observe the sensation of the air as it goes in and out.
  2. The abdomen. Observe its rising and falling with each inhalation and exhalation.

Choose one of these points to focus your attention. Do not alternate between them. At the beginning, some people find it useful to count each cycle of the breath, going from one to ten. Other people find this distracting. See which is best for you.

Gradually expand your awareness to be mindful of not only the sensation of the breath, but also:

  • The stages of the breath. Be aware of what it feels like when you’re about to inhale, while you’re inhaling, and when the inhalation is finishing. Be aware of when you’re about to exhale, while you’re exhaling and when the exhalation is finishing. Be in the present, with the breath.
  • The different kinds of breath. Notice when your breaths are long or short, when they are coarse or fine, when they are rough or smooth.
  • The relationship between the breath and your body. Is your body more or less comfortable and relaxed when the breath is long or short, etc.?
  • The relationship between the breath and your mental and emotional states. How do the feeling tones of the mind differ when the breath is long or short, etc.? Do certain breathing patterns correspond to specific emotions? How do the breath and various emotions and feelings of happiness/unhappiness affect each other?
  • The changing nature or impermanence of the breath.
  • Whether or not there is a solid, independent person who is breathing or who is controlling the breath.

If your attention becomes either lax or agitated, apply the antidotes as described on pages 171-2.

Analytical or discerning meditation

Next, you may want to do one of the checking or analytic meditations based on the ‘Points for contemplation and discussion’ contained in this study guide. When you have experience of or strong feeling for the meaning of the meditation, concentrate on that feeling, so that it becomes integrated with your mind.

Dedication

At the end of the session, dedicate the merit accumulated to imprint your positive actions in your mind:

Due to this merit may I soon
Attain the awakened state of Guru-Buddha,
That I may be able to liberate
All sentient beings from their suffering.

May the precious bodhi mind
Not yet born arise and grow.
May that born have no decline
But increase forever more.

Points for contemplation and discussion

  1. Why are you interested in Buddhism? What are you looking for? What are you hoping to get by following a spiritual path? What are examples of realistic and unrealistic spiritual aspirations?
  2. Do some parts of you resemble the three pots (p. 21)? What are some ways you can work with these?

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