Category Archives: opening the heart

Eight Verses for Training the Heart: Verse Two

In this post I want to talk more about the Tibetan Eight Verses for Training the Heart. As I discussed the first verse in my last post, I’d like to talk now about the second verse (Fyi, I’m borrowing the Dalai Lama’s translation):

Whenever I interact with someone,
May I view myself as the lowest amongst all,
And, from the very depths of my heart,
Respectfully hold others as superior.

So this is a tough verse for westerners, who have been trained to beat themselves up for perceived psychological faults. The Tibetans have no word for “guilt,” but they do have a word for regret. The difference is the former is active and the latter is passive. “Guilt” implies that you are a bad person. The upside and downside of being a bad person is that you do not have to change. A “bad” person is bad by nature, so how could they change?

Un/fortunately for Buddhists, we do not accept a self-nature to person. No person has a nature of being anything, much less “bad.” So there is no such thing as a bad person; people can do bad things. So if I do something bad, then I regret it, which means that I won’t do it again. The upside is you can change, the downside it is hard work.

So how do we do it? From the very depths of my heart, I will hold others as higher than myself. What does this really mean though? That I have to kowtow to every person I meet? Not really; the point is that everyone you meet has something that they can teach you.

When I was in high school (Walnut Hills), all I wanted was to be a veterinarian. I loved working with dogs; I though what could be better than to help sick dogs and cats? But one day, towards the end of my senior year, I was talking to my senior high school English teacher–Mrs. Draper–and she looked at me and asked me what I was going to be my major in college. I said pre-vet. She looked down for a moment–I can still see her face in my mind–and looked up at me and said, “You should think about being an English major.”

Two years later I had quit pre-vet (I volunteered working with some vets and realized it wasn’t exactly what I imagined it to be) and was an English major. I wrote an undergraduate thesis on Shakespeare, and it has been a big part of what I enjoy in life (I’m finishing my Masters degree in Shakespeare and Theatre this summer). So the question is, how does this work?

Well, if you’re open to learning from everyone you meet, then the possibilities for you to learn meaningful lessons is around you all the time. The metaphor of the cup here applies; if your cup is already full, no one can put anything else in. But if you keep your cup empty, then when you meet someone they can put something new in your cup.

So it’s really not about establishing some kind of hierarchy where I’m on the bottom so people can abuse me. The idea is that if I can keep my pride out of the way, everyone has something to give me, that I can benefit from. But you won’t be able to if you think you’re better than the people around you, or if you think they owe you something.

I teach to learn myself; I was teaching in Sacramento and Santa Cruz last week, and I remember at least twice when I said, “I don’t know; I never thought about that before.” If you teach, or if you have kids, try to keep an open mind about whether you’re teaching them or they’re teaching you; you might be surprised what you learn.

Skeleton Woman

So I’ve been talking with clients recently about the book Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Est├ęs. I’ve been reading it with a friend, and there is a chapter on a myth/story/concept she calls “Skeleton Woman.”

The story goes there is a fisherman who is fishing when he catches something. He hauls it up, and finds a skeleton on the end of his line. Frightened, he runs. But, of course, the skeleton is attached to his fishing line, so as he runs away (holding the fishing pole) he looks back and the skeleton is “chasing” him. Eventually, he stops and looks at the skeleton and realizes what is happening. So he untangles the skeleton from the line and goes on his way, unhindered by his previously hidden skeletal burden.

So it’s a great psychological metaphor; we all have things that we’ve buried or repressed that we don’t want to look at. And by burying or repressing it, ironically, instead of helping ourselves we just give the skeletons in our closets more power to frighten us. So what should we do?

In Tibetan Buddhism there is a powerful tool called the Eight Verses for Training the Mind. (Or the Eight Verses for Training the Heart, the Tibetan word is lojong (blo sbyong), which means literally means practicing or training the mind. But Tibetans (at least historically) think that the heart is the seat of the mind–which is not a crazy idea, once you realize the mind is not the brain. Anyway…) The first verse goes:

With a determination to achieve the highest aim
For the benefit of all sentient beings
Which surpasses even the wish-fulfilling gem,
May I hold them dear at all times.

How do the other people we meet in our lives function as surpassing an Aladdin’s lamp? (The wish-fulfilling jewel is the same concept; a jewel that grants wishes.) Because we’re so limited in our thinking that we don’t even know what we should wish for. And the story of the skeleton woman proves that this is true. Because we’re not aware of all the things that are limiting us. I’ll give you an example.

Say there’s a person at work that irritates you. They always do that thing that you hate. So what do you do? Well, you avoid them, you complain to your friends about them, and maybe even get angry at them or treat them badly. All in order to protect your ego. So how does that work out? Well, first you’re unhappy, then you want to change jobs, maybe you get a bad review or even fired for fighting with this person. It’s a no-win situation, because even if you manage to get rid of the other person somehow, what will happen next? Someone else will start to irritate you.

Because that person, in the way that they irritate you, is your skeleton woman. They are only reminding you of something that you don’t like about yourself. So if you untangle that, figure out why that person bothers you so much, you will untangle the skeleton from your line and stop dragging them around with you. This is the only way to get free.

But would we wish these irritating people on ourselves? If I gave your a genie lamp with 3 wishes, would your first wish be, “I hope to meet a person who irritates me so that I can grow and become a better person.” Would you? If you wouldn’t, I fearlessly predict that you will meet many people in your life who irritate you.

But instead, open your heart and mind to the possibility that all the people you meet are trying to give you a perfect gift; the gift to grow in love and understanding and appreciation for life and what it has to offer, more fully and completely. If you can do this, I fearlessly predict that you will meet few people who irritate you, and you learn to experience life with the full love and joy that comes from being able to be present with others.