Many years ago, His Holiness the Dalai Lama came to the remote Lahaul Valley in India where I was living. After one of his talks, I turned to one of the Lahauli women and asked, “Do you know what he was talking about?”
She said, “I didn’t catch much. But I understood that if we have a good heart, that’s excellent.” And that is basically it, isn’t it? But let’s explore just what we mean by a good heart.
Having a Good Heart: The Choice Between Resentment & Fear or Love & Compassion
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 continually abused, tortured, and interrogated. 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.”
Our Happiness or Unhappiness Depends on Our Mind
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.
Enlightenment: Recognizing Our True Potential, Living Our True Nature
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 become 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.
Once we acknowledge this, then our words about having a good heart can truly make sense. Because then we are expressing our essential nature through kindness, compassion, and understanding. It is not a matter of trying to develop something that we do not already have.
Thoughts of Kindness and Contentment, or Anger, Self-Pity, and Greed
Inside us, we have a spring of everlasting wisdom and love. It is ever-present and yet it has become blocked, and we feel dry within ourselves, as dry as the earth can be. Clinging to all these terribly false identifications, we do not recognize the pure fathomless spring underneath.
The point is that when our mind is filled with generosity and thoughts of kindness, compassion, and contentment, the mind feels well. When our mind is full of anger, irritation, self-pity, greed, and grasping, the mind feels sick. And if we really inquire into the matter, we can see that we have the choice: we can decide to a large extent what sort of thoughts and feelings will occupy our mind.
When negative thoughts come up, we can recognize them, accept them, and let them go. We can choose not to follow them, which would only add more fuel to the fire. And when good thoughts come to mind — thoughts of kindness, caring, generosity, and contentment, and a sense of not holding on so tightly to things any more, we can accept and encourage that, more and more. We can do this. We are the guardian of the precious treasure that is our own mind.
A Good Heart is Open to the Wisdom & Compassion Within Us
A genuinely good heart is based on understanding the situation as it really is. It is not a matter of sentimentality. Nor is a good heart just a matter of going around in a kind of euphoria of fake love, denying suffering, and saying that all is bliss and joy. It is not like that. A genuinely good heart is a heart that is open and alight with understanding. It listens to the sorrows of the world.
As we open to the wisdom and compassion within us, as we open to our inherently empty spacious nature, we find that everything lightens up.
©2011 Tenzin Palmo. Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Snow Lion Publications. http://www.snowlionpub.com
Into the Heart of Life
by Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo.
About the Author
Venerable Tenzin Palmo was born and raised in London. She traveled to India when she was 20, met her teacher, H.E. the 8th Khamtrul Rinpoche, and in 1964 was one of the first western women to be ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist nun. After six years of study with her teacher, he sent her to the Himalayan valley of Lahoul to undertake more intensive practice. The story of her life and experiences in her remote Himalayan cave is described in the book Cave in the Snow: A Western Woman's Quest for Enlightenment by Vicki Mackenzie. Before her guru passed away in 1980, he had, on several occasions, requested her to start a nunnery. Due to the efforts of Jetsunma and the kindness of the many people who have responded, the Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery is a thriving community. Her focus has broadened to helping other communities of nuns throughout Southern Asia, and she has been able to help many nuns in situations of extreme hardship, who wish to study and practice. Tenzin Palmo travels each year to give teachings and to raise funds for Tibetan nuns. For information on Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo's teaching schedule, her work, and Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery, visit http://www.tenzinpalmo.com