Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change
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Is it possible to live well when the very ground we stand on is shaky? Yes, says everyone's favorite Buddhist nun, it's even possible to live beautifully, compassionately, and happily on shaky ground—and the secret is: the ground is always shaky. Pema shows how using a traditional Buddhist practice called the Three Vows or Three Commitments is a way to relax into profound sanity in the midst of whatever non-sanity is happening around us. Just making these simple aspirations can change the way we look at the world and can provide us with a lifetime of material for spiritual practice.
The three commitments are three methods for embracing the chaotic, uncertain, dynamic, challenging nature of our situation as a path to awakening. The first of the commitments, traditionally called the Pratimoksha Vow, is the foundation for personal liberation. This is a commitment to doing our best to not cause harm with our actions or words or thoughts, a commitment to being good to each other. It provides a structure within which we learn to work with our thoughts and emotions, and to refrain from speaking or acting out of confusion. The next step toward being comfortable with groundlessness is a commitment to helping others, traditionally called the Bodhisattva Vow. It is a commitment to dedicate our lives to keeping our hearts and minds open, and nurturing our compassion with the longing to ease the suffering of the world. The last of the three commitments, traditionally known as the Samaya Vow, is a resolve to embrace the world just as it is, without bias; a resolve to see everything we encounter, good and bad, pleasant and painful, as a manifestation of awakened energy. It is a commitment to see everything and anything as a means by which we can awaken further.
this practice, most of us need a bit of support. It’s not always easy to be fully present—or even partly present. It’s not always easy to extend warmth to ourselves. It’s even less easy to let go of our habitual ways of being in the world and take a leap. Fortunately, meditation provides us with exactly the support we need. It’s a practice for staying present, for nurturing our heart, and for letting go. Just as we might practice the piano to cultivate our musical ability or practice a sport to
Whenever we notice that we’re distracted, we make a mental note, “thinking,” then gently return our attention to the breath. It’s important to have a kind attitude as we meditate, to train in making friends with ourselves rather than strengthening rigidity and self-criticism. Therefore, we try to label with a good-hearted, nonjudgmental mind. I like to imagine that thoughts are bubbles and that labeling them is like touching a bubble with a feather. That’s very different from attacking thoughts
and those they had left behind. Tonglen is a core practice for warriors in training, the most effective tool for developing courage and arousing our sense of oneness with others. It’s a practice for staying in the middle of the river. It gives us the strength to let go of the shore. There are various ways that tonglen is taught, but the essence of it is breathing in that which is unpleasant and unwanted and breathing out—sending out—that which is pleasing, relieving, enjoyable. In other words,
Emptiness.” That captures the feeling of the third commitment: falling in love with the human condition and not dividing ourselves in two, with the so-called good part condemning the so-called bad part and the bad part scheming to undermine the good part. We’re not trying to cultivate one part of ourselves and get rid of another part. We’re training in opening to it all. In his talk, Anam Thubten said that in order to fall in love with emptiness, we have to ask ourselves an important question:
us has to find his or her own way of going about it. One way to experience the feeling of opening is to pay attention to your sense perceptions. Just pause and listen. Listen attentively for a few moments to sounds nearby. Listen attentively for a few moments to sounds in the distance. Listen without describing the experience to yourself or trying to figure out what you’re hearing. Another way you can open to sound is to go for a walk and let hearing be the primary sensation. You can try this