Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Peaceful Heart: The Buddhist Practice of Patience" - Dzigar Kongtrul



I wrestled mightily throughout my week-long reading of Dzigar Kongtrul's "Peaceful Heart: The Buddhist Practice of Patience," one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences I've had with a Buddhist writing in quite some time.I believe, perhaps, that it is Kongtrul's long history of weaving together creativity and inner awareness that fostered my deeper connection to his writings. Kongtrul has noted that creativity is the "essence of everything," yet prior works such as "Uncommon Happiness: The Path of the Compassionate Warrior" and "It's Up to You : The Practice of Self-Reflection on the Buddhist Path" reveal a teacher willing and able to explore the inner workings of himself and humanity while doing so in a way that is honest, concise, humble, and accessible.

These qualities are very much evident in "Peaceful Heart," a work to be released by Shambhala Publications in December, 2020. "Peaceful Heart" explores, as you might guess, the Buddhist practice of patience in a way that serves as a sort of introductory guide to cultivating our lives to being patient with our difficult circumstances.

You can feel Kongtrul's own patience throughout his writings. You can simply feel that he's an impactful teacher whose actions match his writings, though he allows his writings to be transparent about his own journey.

"Peaceful Heart" begins with the premise that patience, within the Buddhist tradition, is our mind's ability to work positively with anything that bothers us. The book is centered upon Kongtrul's understanding and expansion of Shantideva's methods for preventing our minds from being consumed by what bothers us. The book especially emphasizes anger, noting how anger can so easily impact our karma and learning how not to be consumed by it is an essential Buddhist practice.

"Peaceful Heart," indeed, teaches that patience is the lifeblood of a peaceful heart, a place where we can feel at home and at peace in every situation which allows us to be available to love and care for others absent of anger and other obstacles.

Kongtrul writes from a place of compassion, a deep understanding of the frailties of the spiritual journey yet also an absolute belief in our potential. He also writes from a place of discipline, a knowledge that incremental growth is still growth yet a knowledge that also challenges and seems to believe in the accountability we must hold to and for one another. "Peaceful Heart" is both accessible in its writing and uncompromising in each teaching, a rather beautiful balance that feels less softened and less Americanized than some writings I've read from Buddhist teachers whose writings, either via intentional choice or editorial choice, seemed to turn Buddhism into a mass-consumption practice rather than a spiritual discipline.

It was interesting to me just how often in "Peaceful Heart" I would find myself resisting a word or a phrase or a teaching, but then Kongtrul would follow up this particular point with an explanation or illustration and suddenly a spark would light inside and I would understand the teaching more fully.

I struggled, and in some ways am still struggling, with Kongtrul's use of the word "merit," a word he uses often to illustrate the karmic journey and how our actions can either work for us or against us in samsara. I believe, perhaps, the way the word is used reminds me of my days in fundamentalist Christianity and it feels inherently punitive. Yet, this is not how Kongtrul is teaching it. I'm still working on integrating these particular teachings through my decades of life and old, unhealthy spiritual teachings.

Yet, so many times Kongtrul would so vividly and wonderfully bring Shantideva's words and illuminations to life and would explain them in language that deeply resonated within my spirit and I've found myself already incorporating these teachings into my daily work, my own daily writings, and my supervision of other people professionally.

I reflected, for example, on my own experiences with learning to cook. This is something I've been teaching myself during this health pandemic and time of quarantine. In November 2019, I lost my left leg to illness and spent 3+ months at home. This period was followed by one week in my office before we were sent home due to the pandemic. Thus, I've spent almost one year in my home, mostly alone, and learning how to live differently as a person with a disability. I'd never taught myself to cook - I always ate outside the home, which is no longer possible to do regularly. I embraced this learning to cook as a spiritual journey that has taught me patience with myself, partly because I'm not a very good cook, but also patience with others as when I go to restaurants now I'm patient with cooks and servers and those who are on their own life journeys.

There is much to love about "Peaceful Heart: The Buddhist Practice of Patience," a book I will no doubt refer to time and again. It is also a book that makes me eager to read Kongtrul's other writings as it is clear the way he teaches is a way that connects with me personally and spiritually.

Written with much insight and compassion, "Peaceful Heart: The Buddhist Practice of Patience" is a book I'd enthusiastically recommend to those seeking to deepen their spiritual practice and to add depth and daily discipline to living a more compassionate, loving, and serving life.

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