Surgery with bodhicitta

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One of Venerable Chodron’s friends wrote to say she is going to have a complex spinal surgery. Venerable Chodron shared with her how she used the Dharma to prepare for her own recent surgery.

Surgery with bodhicitta
Ven. Chodron taking her first steps without a cane and continuing to recover well from her hip replacement. (Photo by Sravasti Abbey)

Though the surgery can be scary, it’s good that they found the problem before the wind of karma propelled you over the cliff. I want to share with you my experience with my recent hip replacement surgery and how I used the Dharma to help me during that time. Although my surgery wasn’t as complex as yours, the Dharma prep is similar.

I got up early the morning of the surgery and did my morning practices and thought, “I’m so fortunate to be able to have this surgery. People in impoverished countries and impoverished people in this country would never have the opportunity to have this problem corrected.” Then I contemplated bodhicitta.

In the hospital, while waiting before the surgery, I read bodhicitta verses (Shantideva is great for this) and again thought “I’m doing this so that when I recover I will be able to benefit others more.” I also thought “The medical staff is helping me so much. To repay their kindness, I will be a good patient and will not complain. I’ll cooperate with their instructions.” This stopped all fear.

I visualized Tara and felt her compassionate presence and imagined light streaming from her into me. I did this again while I was going under.

When I woke up from surgery, I again thought of Tara and generated bodhicitta. I was so groggy that I slept the rest of that day.

The day after I went home, during my morning practice, there was this amazing, spontaneous feeling of the kindness of others. I thought about the dependent arising that was needed for me to have the surgery, how many living people are involved in the surgery and all the people who are and will help me with the upcoming recovery. It was so easy to contemplate the kindness of sentient beings then, and really feel that I was the recipient of so much kindness.

During the weeks of physical therapy, I again felt the kindness of the people who helped—the physical therapist, the friend who took care of me the first two weeks after surgery, everyone in the Abbey community who was rooting for me as I became like a child learning to walk again. Automatically I wanted to cooperate with their instructions, even though there was pain. The surgeon had told me I’d have pain afterwards, and he was right, but it was a different kind of pain than before the surgery, because now I knew I was going to get better. And I have, thanks to so many sentient beings.

You’ll be in our prayers.

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