by Ven. Thubten Jigme
Abbey residents, including Ven. Thubten Chodron, take turns giving Bodhisattva Breakfast Corner talks almost every day. These short teachings offer a Buddhist perspective on topics of all kinds—mundane to profound. During our annual Exploring Monastic Life (EML) program, the talks specifically address questions and concerns that are common to people who are thinking about becoming monks or nuns or who are newly ordained.The entire 2020 EML collection is embedded below. The Abbey’s Ven. Thubten Jigme offered this insight into the freedom that comes from living in monastic community.
During the Exploring Monastic Life teachings, Ven. Chodron talked about giving up our independence when we become monastics.
The question that I’ve been thinking about is this: What do I get for giving up my independence?
You may be thinking, “Torture!” But it is something else.
Even as a child I had the idea that there was something more to this life than the pain of attachment and aversion, although I didn’t use those words. I just felt there had to be something more. Until I met Buddhism, I kept trying and trying to fill up the empty place in my heart with another something—another material object, another person, another job, another place.
Although I was conditioned to go after these things, none of them satisfied. None of them filled up that empty space in my heart. Yet I practiced this for many years, over and over again!
I think trying to find some contentment from an external source, which is how we are conditioned, set up the idea in my mind that something was wrong with me since I wasn’t happy or content. So, when I met Buddhism I came to it with that low view, that something was lacking in me.
When I came to live at the Abbey, where the training requires me to give up my independence and my identities, it was another blow to an already poor quality view of myself. Therefore, much of my work since coming to the Abbey has been to “undistort” my view of myself. Really, my training involves learning how to befriend myself.
Met with compassion
At first I tackled this distorted view with a heavy hand, criticizing and judging myself. I thought this was the way to build up what I perceived to be lacking in me. Boy, that did not work! But due to the kindness of Ven. Chodron and the community, I slowly started to change my view and began to relate to myself with compassion and love.
No matter how I acted the community met me with compassion. Sometimes it was seeing their restraint towards me, even though I was acting like a jerk. This acceptance and belief in me—that I was doing the best I could—was, and is, very powerful. Everyone here believes we all can transform.
This is the power of living in community. This new environment was a game changer.
Slowly over time I was able to treat myself with kindness instead of criticism. I was then able to treat others with more kindness and less criticism. By bringing in compassion for myself, I was able to have a more realistic view of myself, which in turn allowed me to have more self-acceptance.
I have room in my mind now to think in a more realistic way. By aligning myself more with reality, I create less misery for myself. I am able to let go of my agenda more easily, and have a bit more flexibility. Each day I try to work with setting realistic motivations with a wide perspective. I try to put the truth of dependent arising into practice by thinking about all aspects of a situation, not just my own needs or wants. I work on changing my attitude from habitually criticizing whatever is in front of me to trying to turn my mind towards seeing the beauty in others and in situations. When I can’t do that, then I try at least to accept what is. Again, that’s opening up my perspective.
Most days it feels like trying to turn the Titanic around, but when I am able to do it, I feel peace and contentment, and that empty space in my heart fills up.
One of the most frequent phrases I think to myself is, “Let go.” This is short-hand for, “Let go of the misery you are creating for yourself by thinking the way you are thinking right now.” This keeps my practice right here in my heart and helps me to not drop into the habit of blaming others as much.
There is still a very long way to go. I still can’t manage my mind, but I have room in my mind to practice now. I feel like I have the method to fill up that empty space in my heart now.
And I am able to actually believe in the possibility of liberation and awakening by following this spiritual path living and training as a Buddhist nun. I have the conviction and determination to keep going.
I find it very interesting that by giving up my independence, I am now freer than I have ever been in my life.
Watch Ven. Jigme’s talk
More talks from Exploring Monastic Life