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That is why we need to seek support from people who will encourage us to open our hearts and minds. We need to stop seeking support from those who buy in to our complaining, the people who say, “You're right, those people you think are awful, are awful,” and keep us caught in the small world. We need to find people and situations that encourage us to keep opening up, people who say, “You could look at it a different way.” Instead of wanting to punch them, we might actually listen to them.

For like the supreme substance of the alchemists,
It takes the impure form of human flesh
And makes of it the priceless body of a buddha.
Such is the bodhichitta: we should grasp it firmly!

Shantideva is saying that bodhichitta is like an alchemic substance—it can turn anything into gold. For instance, rage. Rage starts as a tightening. You buy into it, you get hooked, and then you lose control. What you want to do is catch the fact that you’ve been hooked, and realize that it’s got you in its grip. The sooner you realize you’re hooked, the easier the rage is to work with.

But even if you’ve gone through the whole habitual rage cycle already—even if you’ve broken things, yelled at people, marched out of the house and left a trail of misery behind you—it’s still possible to sit down and get in touch with how fixated, how hooked, you are. It may take a few days, or it may not. But the kindest thing you could do for yourself is develop your capacity to realize you’re hooked before you start the whole catastrophe. You may not be able to meditate, or contact bodhichitta, but you can catch the fixation and interrupt its momentum.

At some point when you’re more able to interrupt the momentum, you can begin to feel the quality underneath the tightening. That’s when it’s possible to touch the soft spot of the rage. There’s a lot of soft spot in rage, and it’s usually fear-based. Usually you feel hurt, and that’s why you get so angry. But without working with it—without touching the soft spot of the rage—you cause yourself and others a lot of pain. So if you can touch into the soft spot underneath the hardness, underneath the hookedness, underneath the clutchiness, then you can touch into the power of bodhichitta.

There are many helpful practices you can do at that point. One is to think of all the other enraged people and feel a sense of kinship with their rage and the fact that they, like you, cause harm, and they, like you, could stop. At that point your world begins to get bigger. In that way even the most poisonous of things—things that cause the most harm to you and others—can become doorways to bodhichitta.

As a way of dedicating this teaching and getting accustomed to thinking bigger, I’d like to look at a few verses at the end of The Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. Dedicating the teaching is a characteristic of the Mahayana: we think bigger than our usual self-absorption and realize our interconnectedness with other people. We take a global perspective and realize that just as what harms rivers in South America has an effect on the whole planet, in the same way, what harms us harms others, and what benefits us has a beneficial effect on other people.

So in that spirit, we could say to ourselves, “Anything virtuous I have ever done in my whole life, may it benefit other people.”

By all the virtue I have now amassed
By composition of this book, which speaks
Of entry to the bodhisattva way,
May every being tread the path to buddhahood.

May beings everywhere who suffer
Torment in their minds and bodies
Have, by virtue of my merit,
Joy and happiness in boundless measure.

As long as they may linger in samsara,
May their present joy know no decline,
And may they taste of unsurpassed beatitude
In constant and unbroken continuity.

Throughout the spheres and reaches of the world,
In hellish states wherever they may be,
May beings fettered there, tormented,
Taste the bliss and peace of Sukhavati.

We know that there are many beings in the world today living in hellish states and suffering terribly every moment of their lives. Shantideva says, May those beings fettered there, tormented, taste the bliss and peace of freedom from fixation—the bliss of bodhichitta.

Pema Chödrön is a fully ordained Buddhist nun and the resident teacher at Gampo Abbey in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. She is the author of several books, including The Wisdom of No Escape, When Things Fall Apart and Comfortable With Uncertainty.             

©2004 by Pema Chödrön. All Rights Reserved.

This article was originally published in the May 2004 Shambhala Sun magazine.

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