I’m working through a audio-taped retreat with Pema Chodron right now: Noble Heart: A Self-Guided Retreat on Befriending Your Obstacles.
Last night I listened to a dharma talk from the retreat on bodhicitta. I like how she calls it the soft-spot. It’s a willingness to live in the soft-spot. Another way to consider the soft-spot is to be willing to live from the middle of our pain and our joy. Our vulnerability. To surrender to the complete depth of life. Much of my suffering, it’s becoming clear (and I mean both physical and emotional) has been a resistance to embracing pain. Once we embrace pain our capacity for joy also increases. And embracing pain means understanding the nature of all of humanity. It allows us to grow our empathy and compassion for all sentient beings and the planet too, our home.
Pema has been a favorite teacher of mine for many years.
I found a page online where she talks about bodhicitta…it’s worth reading the whole thing really.
Pema Chödrön on how to awaken bodhichitta—enlightened heart and mind—the essence of all Buddhist practice.
It isn’t easy to say what bodhicitta is. If you looked it up in a Buddhist dictionary, it would say something like: “The heartfelt longing or wish or aspiration to awaken fully, so that you could benefit sentient beings.” The aspiration is vast, because you wish to awaken not partially but fully. It’s vast because you wish to awaken so that you could benefit not just a few, but all sentient beings. And you aspire to benefit all beings not just at the relative level of housing and food and fear and abuse, but also at the absolute level of helping them help themselves so that they too can wake up fully. Full-blown bodhicitta is the global perspective that wants all beings to fulfill their potential. It is based on a growing confidence that all beings have the potential to wake up fully.
Shantideva says, “Virtuous thoughts do rise, brief and transient, in the world.” We’ve all had this experience: you’re walking along, you’re complaining and judging everyone, you feel like you’re on a steady diet of poison, you’re driving everyone crazy—especially yourself—and then, BAM! Like a flash of lightning in the dark, something gets through your self-absorption. Sometimes it’s just a car backfiring, or maybe it’s a dharma teaching, but it wakes you up out of your self-absorption and you see that the sun has come out, the sky is beautiful, and there are birds flying across it. Suddenly the world is very large. Everybody knows the experience of being completely self-absorbed and then something gets through. That’s a flash of bodhichitta…
Take grief, for instance. Grief is completely pregnant with bodhichitta—it’s full of heart, love and compassion. But we tend to freeze or harden against grief because it’s so painful. We bring in the clouds. In fact, we’re good at bringing in the clouds and keeping them in place. We’re good at fixating on them.
But when you practice the teachings that say, “Stay with the grief, see it as your link to all humanity,” you begin to understand that grief is a doorway to realizing that the sun is always shining. You begin to understand that the weather is transient like clouds in the sky. You begin to have more trust in the underlying goodness—the underlying “sun quality”—of your being.
In this way, any experiences you have, particularly very strong emotions, are doorways to bodhichitta. The trick is to stay with the soft spot—the bodhichitta—and not harden over it. That’s the basic bodhichitta instruction: stay with the soft spot. (read more)
More on Bodhicitta from Pema at Shambala Sun: