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Being mindful of the kindness of others

02 Monastic Mind Motivation

Commentary on the Monastic Mind Motivation prayer recited at Sravasti Abbey each morning.

  • We’re dependent on others for everything in our lives
  • Imagining everyone as a baby
  • The kindness of our caregivers
  • Focusing on the big picture instead of a tiny spot

During the shiksamana course, I started to go through the Monastic Mind verse that you say at the end of the meditation session in the morning, and I only got through the first sentence. So, I thought I would try and continue on from there. We’ll see how far we get today. It may take a few BBCs. The sentence I explained already was:

A monastic mind is one that is humble, imbued with the Buddhist worldview, dedicated to cultivating mindfulness, clearest knowing, compassion, wisdom, and other good qualities.

“Clear knowing is also translated as “introspective awareness.” So, we did that one. Everybody’s got that down pat, right? [laughter] Then, the second sentence reads:

Being mindful of the kindness I have received from all sentient beings, I will relate to them with patience, kindness, and compassion.

Again, this is just one short sentence but oh my goodness! Can we do that? Sentient beings can be too much sometimes, can’t they? You know! They say they’re going to help you, and then they do the opposite. They say they love you and they’re your friend, and then they betray your trust. We give them advice, and they tell us to “MMMMPP!” Can you imagine? How are we supposed to treat them with kindness and compassion? Patience, yes: “I’m gonna tolerate these imbeciles!” There’s something wrong with our attitude, don’t you think?

I think the real key here is to come back to their kindness and how dependent we are on them. We’re dependent on them now for our food, clothing, medicine, shelter, cars, computers, and everything else, because none of us can make any of the things by ourselves. Even if you’re a super-techy person, or you’re a super engineer, you can’t build anything by yourself. Everything is so interrelated and has so many parts and components.

We have to rely on other living beings just to do anything. And that’s just now, staying alive. But think about when we were born. We came out of the womb, and we couldn’t do anything. Have you ever tried looking around and thinking of the people you see as babies? I do, and I find it very helpful, especially with the people I don’t like. Because babies are cute; babies mean well. And it’s easy to forgive them when they cry in the middle of the night. When grown-ups cry in the middle of the night it’s like: “Shut up!” But with babies we think, “Oh, they’re so adorable!”

So, I find it very helpful to think of people as babies sometimes. And I find it helpful to also think of myself as a baby, and to remember that other people took care of me when I was a baby. How often did we think of that? I never thought of what my parents did for me when I was little until I met the Dharma. My teacher went into this whole long explanation of the kindness of the mother. They also talk about the father, but they really focus on the mother. I was like: “Oh, my goodness! I didn’t realize that.” 

And then it’s also helpful to think that in previous lives everybody’s been our mother at one time or another. We’ve had that very close, intimate feeling with everybody. And everybody’s been that kind to us. When you really do that meditation again and again and again, it changes something inside of you about how you look at others. You begin to realize that how others appear to you right now is only a fleeting appearance. It’s not who they really are. It’s not the sum total of your beginningless relationship with them in all the different rebirths that we’ve taken.

When we do this meditation our mind starts to expand. We stop putting somebody in one little box with a category according to how they’ve related to us for actually a very short period of time, even in this life. We open our minds to the fact that we are not some independent, self-sufficient person who’s going to do everything in the world just by our own power. Such a person does not exist, and if we have any fantasy of being like that, that is very clearly a fantasy! Because we’re totally dependent on others, and we’ve received so much kindness from them. They educated us, fed us as infants, and even kept us from killing ourselves when we were babies. When we really see that we’ve received so much kindness from others, it becomes easier to be tolerant and patient with others’ weaknesses and faults.

Also, regarding their weaknesses and faults, I find that a lot of the time when I get annoyed, the other person is actually trying to help me. But they’re not helping me as fast as I want, or in the way that I want. I’m critical of the methodology or the timeframe, but actually their motivation is to help. But again, I am totally blind and obscured from seeing that. Instead, the mind focuses on what I don’t like about what’s going on. It’s that mind that’s always looking at what we don’t like, the one small thing.

They say that you paint the whole wall one color and then: “Oh! There’s a spot over there.” And what do you focus on? Not the whole wall that’s one color but the little bitty spot that’s a slightly different color. That’s our problem; it’s not the problem of the wall. In the same way, it’s our problem when we just hunker down and focus on what we don’t like instead of really seeing the big picture. So:

Being mindful of the kindness I have received from all sentient beings—

because at one time or another, in all of beginningless samsara, we have received kindness—

I will relate to them with patience, fortitude, kindness, and compassion.

It’s important to realize that just as I am imperfect, so are they. Or just as they are imperfect, so am I. And just as they have the buddha potential, so do I. We have to work to cut down on this discrimination between self and others. So, we just did another sentence. [laughter] Hopefully it will give you something to think about in the morning.

A break for humor

Now, for your amusement, I will read for you something that came through in an email today. I couldn’t stop laughing!  Somebody wrote in to thank me for the teaching I had given last week. Then she said, “Venerable Chodron could have been on a tropical beach, sipping hot chocolate and coconut milkshakes, surrounded by a dozen grandchildren, brushing her long, gray hair [laughter] while her kids prepared an evening feast. I for one am beyond grateful that she made the choice she did.” [Laughter]

I just cracked up! So, for those of you who are having any doubt about ordination, think about this. Imagine yourself on that beach sipping hot chocolate and coconut milkshakes while someone is brushing your long, gray hair. And you have a big feast to look forward to. And then think about it: do you want that, or do you want the life you have? [laughter]

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.