Student: Mind training seems so applicable to us now, but it's hard to imagine that it was so important in 8th-century India or in the time of the Buddha.
Pema Chödrön: Well, that's what's so interesting. Nothing has changed. It's always been like this. At least in the time of the Buddha it was like this, and in the time of Shantideva it was like this, because their whole teaching was addressed to this kind of mind training. But all spiritual teachings are addressed to this very issue. Buddhism talks specifically about mind, but everybody's talking about what comes out of your mouth and your actions, and the source of all of that is the mind.
It was one of the Buddha's gifts to realize that the source of everything is mind, so if we work with mind, then our speech and the actions will be tamed as well. It doesn't matter which century you are born in, or whether you're a man or woman, rich or poor; you have outer circumstances that you react to, and most of us keep strengthening the same habits that keep us caught. These teachings say, “ Stop already. Enough's enough. You don't have to keep doing this.”
Student: Eighty to ninety percent of this teaching and the Buddhist path in general is about mind training before we can get to the 10% that's about being a Bodhisattva and helping others, but it's hard to grasp why we have to spend 90% of the time just working with our own minds.
Pema Chödrön: The Way of the Bodhisattva is saying that working with your mind is key, but that doesn't mean just when you are sitting. It means all the time. But meditation is called practice… so practicing for what?
Practicing for living, you see? And the more you do the practice, the more you can do it on the spot, all the time, in your life. Because the hardest time to remain mindful is when you are talking with somebody, and it's even harder when something in you is triggered. And we're triggered all the time. And so you practice in order to live sanely.
This teaching is really about how to live so sanely that it inspires other people to live sanely as well. It's really about living in a way that resonates with others' sanity rather than others' insanity. So working on yourself has to be the basis, but for what? What is the larger picture?
The Way of the Bodhisattva is suggesting that you can always have a bigger view of why you are doing what you are doing. And that larger view makes a huge difference in what you do and why you do it. The bodhisattva path is based on going beyond self-absorption, and so all the practices are about looking out. This path is about taking your own pain as a basis for understanding what other people are up against as well.
In this way, your life is very, very important because it becomes the basis for understanding all of humanity.
Ani Pema is interested in helping establish Tibetan Buddhist monasticism in the West, as well in continuing her work with western Buddhists of all traditions, sharing ideas and teachings. She has written several books:The Wisdom of No Escape, Start Where You Are, When Things Fall Apart, The Places that Scare You, No Time To Lose and Practicing Peace in Times of War All are available from Shambhala Publications, with recordings available through www.Soundstrue.com