Who and what do you care about most in life? To identify what you care about, look into where you spend your time and energy. Over the next twenty-four hours, take a few moments—now and then—to ask yourself a simple question: on what are my thoughts dwelling now? When going about your daily life—washing dishes, waiting in line, and so forth—occasionally observe the direction of your thoughts and drives. This will give you a window into what you care about. Try not to judge or manipulate your thoughts. Just observe. For this exercise to work, observing is sufficient. Observing alone is enough to be transformative. Most of our thinking is so habitual that we are not always fully conscious of the content of our thoughts. The point is to become more mindful of your impulse to care and to notice where your caring energy is spent. You may be surprised at what you see. Jot down a few things that come to mind when you think, who and what do I care about? Just observing where your thoughts are drawn is the first step to getting acquainted with the raw energy of your natural impulse to care. You will need this awareness on your spiritual journey—it is the basis for developing good intention, love, and compassion.
—Lama Willa Miller
There is a need, an urgency now, that we become spiritually mature. Opening to our human potential, believing in it—we have to stand together and support each other. It is not the time to be paranoid and parochial, fearful and insular; it is not the time to close our borders within and without. Fearfulness expresses immaturity. A genuinely adult person is fearless. As was said earlier, bodhisattva means a being who strives for enlightenment out of compassion for the world; in Tibetan, literally a spiritual hero. And we do have to be very courageous to stand up to what is happening around us. We have to support and respect each other’s integrity as human beings, and we have to use our lives in a way which is genuinely meaningful. Rather than wander around as spiritual beggars as we normally do, we have to learn how to come back into the spiritual wealth that is within us.
I remember when I lived in Nepal, every morning on my way to visit a lama I would pass an old beggar woman on the worn steps of Swayambhunath Stupa. She was destitute and skinny. I never saw anybody take care of her, or even come near her, and yet inwardly she seemed very joyful. Smiling, she always greeted me. One morning she looked especially radiant, and I thought, “She is going to die.” And in fact, the next day she was gone. We might well ask, what did she have to be so happy about? Why did she have this inner joy bubbling up?
During the Cultural Revolution in Tibet, many lamas were sent to prisons and hard labor camps for ten or twenty years or more. They were continuously abused, tortured, and interrogated. And by rights, if they had survived, they would have come out completely traumatized, broken, and bitter. No doubt there were Tibetans who went through this experience and came out traumatized. But one can meet with lamas who went through these terrible experiences, and far from being crushed, they are joyful and welling over with an inner happiness. I met a great master of the Drukpa Kagyu lineage, the late H.E. Adeu Rinpoche, and said, “Your twenty years in prison must have been very difficult.”
“Oh, no, no. It was just like a retreat! he said laughing. “Do you know, they even fed us?”
Another lama said to me, “I am so grateful for that opportunity. I really learned compassion. Before, compassion was a word debated in philosophical schools. But when you’re faced with someone who only wants to harm you, then there is this question of whether you fall into resentment and fear, or surmount that and have tremendous love and compassion for your tormentor.”
Whatever our external circumstances, in the end happiness or unhappiness depends on the mind. Consider that the one companion whom we stay with, continually, day and night, is our mind. Would you really want to travel with someone who endlessly complains and tells you how useless you are, how hopeless you are; someone who reminds you of all the awful things that you have done? And yet for many of us, this is how we live—with this difficult-to-please, always-pulling-us-around, tireless critic that is our mind. It entirely overlooks our good points, and is genuinely a very dreary companion. No wonder depression is so prevalent in the West!
We have to befriend and encourage ourselves. We have to remind ourselves of our goodness as well as consider what may need improvement. We have to remember, especially, our essential nature. It is covered over, but wisdom and compassion are ever present. In the West, we so often undercut ourselves because we don’t believe in ourselves. The first time I met His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa, in Calcutta in 1965, he said to me within the first ten minutes, “Your problem is that you have no confidence. You don’t believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, who will believe in you?” And that is true.
Since beginningless time we have been utterly pure and perfect. According to the Buddhist view,
our original mind is like the sky. It has no center and no limit. The mind is infinitely vast. It is not composed of “me” and “mine.” It is what interconnects us with all beings—it is our true nature. Unfortunately, it has becomes obscured by clouds, and we identify with these clouds rather than with
the deep blue eternal sky. And because we identify with the clouds, we have very limited ideas regarding who we really are. If we truly understood that from the very beginning we have been perfect, but that somehow confusion arose and covered our true nature, then there would be no question of feeling
oneself unworthy. The potential for enlightenment is always here, for each one of us, if we could but recognize it.
—Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo
Into the Heart of Life