Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sharing the Gift of Bodhichitta

Practicing compassion - for yourself or another - may be the key to keeping your peace when life's petty tyrants cross our paths.

The world is full of petty tyrants. And some of them, are not so petty at all!

When others don't behave, in either big or small ways, the way we want them to (and this applies to all kinds of "tyrants", from an insensitive relative to the executives of a large oil company) - remember that connecting to the still divine place inside may help move you swiftly back to higher inner ground.

The world is full of petty tyrants. You know, those people who can make your day or even life on earth miserable, if even for a moment?

They can appear anytime, anywhere during the day -- as the gossiping neighbor, the politician who doesn't care about making the 'right' choice, or my personal favorite, the medical 'doctor' who doesn't have a clue about the care in health care and doesn't want to.

I asked myself, if I can't change these people that will sometimes cross my path, how can I begin to change myself so that these (sometimes not-so petty) petty tyrants become my teachers and not my agitators? The answer for me came in calling upon the tender practice of bodhichitta.

In the simplest of terms, bodhichitta is simply a word that describes the enlightened heart and mind. It represents both the most tender and the most wise part of ourselves; and it is a consciousness space of the heart that transcends normal human perspective and re-connects us to the enlightenment of our higher Selves. A tall order when we are dealing with an onslaught of very real and challenging human hurtful behaviors and emotion.

Often our emotions are valid. Sometimes they are simply old patterns that need healing and self-realigning. In either case, remembering and bringing bodhichitta into our awareness while dealing with challenging human situations can help us begin to re-wire and re-align ourselves into a new and expanded state of peace within the human condition.

Looking for the soft spot of compassion - for either another person or ourselves - can help us regain connection and inner peace when petty tyrants cross our paths.

I have even chosen to see it as a gift we can share with other petty tyrants on the path of life.

Here is how master teacher Pema Chodron describes and discusses the idea of Bodhichitta.

The Excellence of Bodhichitta by Pema Chodron

When I was about six years old I received the essential bodhichitta teaching from an old woman sitting in the sun. I was walking by her house one day feeling lonely, unloved, and mad, kicking anything I could find. Laughing, she said to me, "Little girl, don't you go letting life harden your heart." Right there, I received this pith instruction: we can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us. We always have this choice.

Sometimes the completely open heart and mind of "bodhichitta" is called the soft spot, a place as vulnerable and tender as an open wound. It is equated in part with our ability to love. Even the cruelest people have this soft spot. Even the most vicious animals love their offspring. As Trungpa Rinpoche put it, "Everybody loves something, even if it's only tortillas."

Chitta means "mind" and also "heart" or "attitude." Bodhi means "awake," "enlightened," or "completely open." If we were to ask the Buddha, "what is bodhichitta?" he might tell us that this word is easier to understand than to translate. He might encourage us to find its meaning in our own lives. He might tantalize us by adding that it is only bodhichitta that heals, that is capable of transforming the hardest of hearts and the most prejudiced and fearful of minds.

The Buddah said that we are never separated from Enlightenment. Even at the times we fill most stuck, we are never alienated from the awakened state. This is a revolutionary assertion. Even ordinary people like us with hang-ups and confusion have this mind of enlightenment called bodhichitta. The openess and warmth of bodhichitta is in fact our true nature and condition. Even when our neurosis feels far more basic than our wisdom, even when we're feeling most confused and hopeless, bodhichitta -- like the open sky -- is always here, undiminished by the clouds that temporarily cover it.

Pema Chodron

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