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Buddhadharma : Winter 2005
winter 2005| 30 |buddhadharma Holiness in Dharamsala, and Sharon Salzberg started talking about this phenomenon of self- hatred. And he kept asking the translator to clar- ify. He simply didn’t understand what Sharon was talking about. Then, he asked not only whether we knew what she was talking about but also if we ourselves experienced this self-hatred. And almost all the Buddhist teachers there, representing an entire generation, said yes. It is definitely something I’ve wrestled with in my spiritual life. It’s so painful, and yet it is a place where a tremendous turning can happen. One of the instructions I’ve loved offering to people over the past decade or two is to suggest that they do a year of loving-kindness for themselves as a prac- tice. All of a sudden, people find out how difficult it is to do that. People feel unworthy and that they shouldn’t be directing such kindness toward them- selves. They cannot wish themselves happiness. So, initially, it’s very painful. But after a while it does start to change people, and it also starts to change their relationship to their lovers, their families, and their communities. We do have this capacity to care for ourselves and we are worthy of it, and when we discover that, it immediately translates into generosity toward others. Pema Chödrön: I found it quite interesting that all these teachers said it was the most prevalent thing they encountered teaching in the West, which led the Dalai Lama to conclude that there really is a basic difference between Tibetans and Western people. And now he continually says that there can’t really be compassion for other people with- out self-compassion. We might hear that and say, “Great, but I can’t get there from here. How do I do that?” We need teachings on how to develop maitri, loving-kind- ness for oneself, which is what can bring out our strength and confidence in our wisdom. We need to let go of our story lines. The meditation prac- tices that teach us to notice thoughts, touch them, and let them go allow us to let go of the story lines. Then we can get in touch with the underlying raw feeling of guilt itself. That’s the nowness we were talking about earlier – being completely present with the discomfort that comes with the guilt and not simply feeding it with thoughts. Michael Krasny: Isn’t is possible, though, that if you feel guilty, you might act merciful and kind as a result? For example, someone who is quite wealthy and privileged might give alms to the poor because of guilt or regret. Jack Kornfield: You can do things out of guilt that are good, but that doesn’t alleviate your own suf- fering. What we’re really asking ourselves here is how do we act in a way that brings goodness and benefit to other people but that also releases all the suffering we carry in our own hearts? To do that, you have to pay some attention to yourself. Our motivations, I find, are always mixed. When I was young, I used to give a lot of gifts to people because I wanted them to like me. Then I noticed how egotistical and yucky that was, and I felt I didn’t want to do that anymore. So I stopped giving anything to anyone, and then after a while that felt worse. I finally realized my motivations were going to be mixed. So I decided to give things but also to pay attention, so that I would not sim- ply be giving because I felt insecure and wanted somebody to like me. I could also become aware of the simple pleasure of giving something to some- one else. Pema Chödrön: And of course, after you apply mindfulness to that act for just a little while, you find out that most of the time the recipients aren’t thankful anyway, and they don’t like you better for it. You never got what you wanted in the first place. So your plan is working. [Laughter] Jack Kornfield: And then you relax. Pema Chödrön: You could get very resentful that you gave and gave and gave and then they didn’t thank you, or you could see the humor in the whole thing. That’s your choice. Michael Krasny: The other day I was driving on the freeway and I cut someone off. The guy stopped his car, got out, and started coming toward me with a look of anger, like he wanted to hit me. I made a conciliatory gesture and mouthed the words, “I’m sorry.” It stopped him in his tracks and he just turned around and drove away. That was strange, because my initial reaction was, if this guy wants to fight me, bring it on! [Laughter] Pema Chödrön: We are experts at escalation, add- ing more kerosene to the fire. To de-escalate the cycle of suffering takes courage, because the urge to do what you always do – scream, cry, hit, what- ever – is like a magnet. It’s pulling you down like the undertow. To hold your ground and be non- aggressive takes courage. Doing that doesn’t have to be called Buddhism. This is also what Martin Luther King Jr. taught. We are talking about the ideal of a beloved community. Nobody is healed until everyone is healed. Jack Kornfield: Even though we’re talking very personally about what we’re doing when we’re talking to someone in pain, or when we’re driving or standing in line at the ticket counter, there is a christinealicino