poison as medicine
July 14, 2010 § Leave a comment
aaminah highly recommended this interview and i found it online. really beautiful conversation between alice walker and pema chodron
Pema Chödrön: Is there any use in suffering? I think the reason I am so taken by these teachings is that they are based on using suffering as good medicine, like the Buddhist metaphor of using poison as medicine. It’s as if there’s a moment of suffering that occurs over and over and over again in every human life. What usually happens in that moment is that it hardens us; it hardens the heart because we don’t want any more pain. But the lojong teachings say we can take that very moment and flip it. The very thing that causes us to harden and our suffering to intensify can soften us and make us more decent and kinder people.
That takes a lot of courage. This is a teaching for people who are willing to cultivate their courage. What’s wonderful about it is that you have plenty of material to work with. If you’re waiting for only the high points to work with, you might give up, but there’s an endless succession of suffering.
One of the main teachings of the Buddha was the truth of dukha, which is usually translated as “suffering.” But a better translation might be “dissatisfaction.” Dissatisfaction is inherent in being human; it’s not some mistake that you or I have made as individuals. Therefore, if we can learn to catch that moment, to relax with it, dissatisfaction doesn’t need to keep escalating. In fact it becomes the seed of compassion, the seed of loving kindness.
she goes on to say…
Pema Chödrön: Rumi wrote a poem called “Night Travelers,” It’s about how all the darkness of human beings is a shared thing from the beginning of time, and how understanding that opens up your heart and opens up your world. You begin to think bigger. Rather than depressing you, it makes you feel part of the whole.
Pema Chödrön: This is an essential understanding of vajrayana, or tantric, Buddhism. In vajrayana Buddhism they talk about how what we call negative energies—such as anger, lust, envy, jealousy, these powerful energies—are all actually wisdoms in disguise. But to experience that you have to not spin off; you have to be able to relax with the energy.
that it is our suffering that connects us, that defines us as humans. human life is suffering. it is how we know we are human.
and then luna sent me a link to this:
No one gets through life unbroken. However fortunate, strong or wise we may be, life breaks every last one of us. The only question is, will we be broken, or will we be broken open?
To be simply broken is to be destroyed. To be broken open is to be just that – open. The broken places are where love enters and compassion pours out. For as long as we are unbroken, we are closed.
Tonglen reverses the usual logic of avoiding suffering and seeking pleasure and, in the process, we become liberated from a very ancient prison of selfishness. We begin to feel love both for ourselves and others and also we being to take care of ourselves and others. It awakens our compassion and it also introduces us to a far larger view of reality. It introduces us to the unlimited spaciousness that Buddhists call shunyata. By doing the practice, we begin to connect with the open dimension of our being. At first we experience this as things not being such a big deal or so solid as they seemed before.
Tonglen can be done for those who are ill, those who are dying or have just died, or for those that are in pain of any kind. It can be done either as a formal meditation practice or right on the spot at any time. For example, if you are out walking and you see someone in pain —right on the spot you can begin to breathe in their pain and send some out some relief. Or, more likely, you might see someone in pain and look away because it brings up your fear or anger; it brings up your resistance and confusion.
So on the spot you can do tonglen for all the people who are just like you, for everyone who wishes to be compassionate but instead is afraid, for everyone who wishes to be brave but instead is a coward.
Rather than beating yourself up, use your own stuckness as a stepping stone to understanding what people are up against all over the world.
Breathe in for all of us and breathe out for all of us.
Use what seems like poison as medicine. Use your personal suffering as the path to compassion for all beings.