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Buddhadharma : Winter 2005
winter 2005| 28 |buddhadharma painful that people who profess to be Buddhists and completely open-minded assumed that every- one in the audience had the same view. That stopped me in my tracks, and I began to realize that I don’t really want to foster aggression toward anybody by assuming what their correct political stance should be. So I agree with Jack’s way of approaching such an encounter. One of the tenets of the Buddhist teachings is that every living being has basic good- ness, and we can communicate with each other from that place regardless of whether or not it influences world politics or changes someone’s reli- gion. In fact, that can’t be the goal. The goal must be to talk to one another from the point of view of each other’s good heart. Up until this point I’ve never met anybody whose good heart you couldn’t contact. Trungpa Rinpoche once said that every- body knows how to love, even if it’s only tortillas. [Laughter] Trungpa Rinpoche called that the soft spot, and he said that when you’re talking with some- one, you want to find that spot. I often say that to people who are having really difficult relationships with their families. When people look for the soft spot, it can break the deadlock and they can begin to talk to each other again. Sure, they avoid the sticky subjects completely, but they find the place where they still love each other, which is always there waiting to be found. I wouldn’t have any big expectations if I were talking with anyone such as the current president, who has completely different views from me, is archconservative and fundamentalist, and so forth. I wouldn’t hope for changing his religious views or political views, but I would have high hopes for our being able to talk from the heart. Michael Krasny: Is being in the present with some- one, then, the source of all compassion? Pema Chödrön: What we need to do is drop the fixed ideas about the person we’re talking to. One way to do that is simply to start asking questions, and then we will see that a person’s soft spot is easy to find. I’m sure you find that happens in interviews all the time. You might have someone who’s a real hard-ass, but if you are able to get them on to certain topics, the mask comes off, and suddenly you’re talking human-to-human. That’s the now we’re talking about. It’s basically a now without preconceptions of who someone is, what they’re like, or what you have to prove to them. Now is dropping the agenda and just being com- pletely curious about someone. Michael Krasny: It’s what you call heart-to- heart. Pema Chödrön: Yes. Michael Krasny: Yet we all seem to have a need to protect the heart, to keep it from being vulner- able. Jack Kornfield: Yes, we do. Yet the poet Rilke says, in a most beautiful line, that ultimately it is upon our vulnerability that we depend. That’s the way to the soft spot, to making a human connection. It is what we would want for the Israelis and the Palestinians, or the Northern Irish Catholics and the Protestants. There has to be a willingness to go to the place of vulnerability, and there are a couple of things we can say about how we avoid getting there and what we can do about that. For one thing, we have difficulty making a human connection because we don’t trust our heart. We don’t trust that our heart has the capac- ity to open to the sorrows as well as to the beauty of the world. We’ve been hurt many times, and along with that we’ve been taught that we can’t tolerate the world. One of the great Buddhist teachings – it’s a type of medicine, you might say – is to remind ourselves, and others, that we all have a great capacity of heart. We have within us buddhanature, the capacity to hold all the sor- rows and joys of the world. An aspect of our great openness is our ability to tolerate suffering. Everybody has their own burdens. Everybody has their own measure of sorrows. Relatively speak- ing, some might carry an enormous burden, but everybody has a fair measure. It’s just part of the human condition. When you speak of the first noble truth, you acknowledge that this is how our human Not being reactive is not being passive. Real equanimity isn’t indifference. It’s the capacity to be present with your whole being and not add fuel to the fire. — Jack Kornfield