In his Stages of the Altruist’s Path, the 5th century Nalanda master, Asanga, taught that gratitude emerges from acknowledging the kindness and the care we’ve been shown by all of life—the kindness of our parents in giving us life, of our human ancestors in tending and caring for the earth and creating our culture and way of life; and the kindness of nature that’s generative and sustains life. This practice requires accepting all of the difficulties and the harm we see and have experienced in a knowing but not passive way; yet sincerely remembering and connecting with all of the good. This is especially relevant as some prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States. Although it’s a holiday many recognize as an opportunity to express gratitude, it is also a national day of mourning for Native Americans. We must name and honor the entirety of this history. It is what’s necessary for gratitude to emerge.
by Joe Loizzo
Over the years since I first encountered Seven Steps for Transforming the Mind, the crown jewel of Tibet’s unique and timeless tradition of compassion training (lo-jong), it has been an unfailing source of guidance and inspiration on my own personal path, a real companion through good times and bad. Given the challenging times in which we live, I’m happy to be able to share some of its vital precepts, formulated by the Nalanda abbot Atisha Dimpamkara Shrijnana (982–1054) and recorded by Geshe Chekawa Yeshe Dorje (1101–1175), along with my own personal reflections. It’s my hope that the pointers I’ve selected from this text will help you go deeper in your practice of radical openness and life-transforming kindness, whether for yourself or others, close, neutral and far.
Precepts in italics, my comments in regular text.
“(This compassion practice) resembles the sun, a diamond, and a medicinal tree—
(It shines on all, cuts the hardest suffering, and is useful in every part).”
Within the Nalanda tradition, compassion is prized and practiced as the ground on which all human progress towards personal freedom and communal happiness stands. Compassion practice is not just for the high minded or troubled. Like the sun it brings vital warmth and light to everyone. Since it is the safest, most powerful tool for facing life’s inevitable hardship and negativity, it is like a diamond blade that cuts through the hardest blocks. And since it is entirely wholesome and endlessly beneficial, any part of this all-inclusive practice, even one precept, can be of life-giving value and life-saving help. So as far as the Tibetan masters like His Holiness the Dalai Lama are concerned, it’s not an exaggeration to say that this simple practice holds the key to all good things for all beings.
by Mindy Newman
If someone had suggested to me a few years ago that it would be a good idea for me to publicly share my experience with meditation by writing about it in a blog post, I frankly would have thought that they were insane and considered politely urging them to seek mental health treatment. My stream of consciousness probably would have gone something like: “I am a terrible meditator. I don’t have any discipline. My mind is an absolute mess. I don’t even like meditating. What is wrong with this person — isn’t is obvious that I am awful at this?” I really believed there was something wrong with me — a Buddhist practitioner who hated meditation, and I felt tremendous shame about it.
Students of the Contemplative Psychotherapy Program practicing meditation while on retreat at Menla Mountain House. Photo by Darren Ornitz.
For years, I sat in meditation classes and imagined that everyone else on the cushion was having some kind of better experience. I’d heard enough instructions from different teachers about the ubiquity of the “monkey mind” to accept that distraction was normal, but surely my amount of distraction was too much — much more than normal — and definitely more than anyone else’s.