In his guidance for meditation for a recluse, Aelred of Rievaulx invites the practitioner reader into this engagement of the Passion of Jesus:
Follow him … to the courtyard of the High Priest and bathe with your tears his most beautiful face which they are covering with spittle. See with what loving gaze, how mercifully, how effectually he looked at Peter who has thrice betrayed him … 1
Langri Thangpa writes, in the sixth verse of his work: “Even if one whom I have helped / Or in whom I have placed great hope / Gravely mistreats me in hurtful ways, / I will train myself to view him as my sublime teacher.” 2
Chekawa states that this verse focuses on “voluntarily accepting suffering.” He continues: “When someone to whom we have rendered help in the past, or in whom we have placed great hope, betrays or slanders us, we should contemplate them as our teacher with a sense of gratitude.” 3 The Kadam master also recounts this story of a teacher who visits someone he describes as “a friend close to [his] heart”:
‘I went knowing he had not invited me, and he took offense at this and sent me away. He ordered others to remove all my belongings, and he himself locked me in a dark room. That was when it became clear whether I had trained my mind in loving-kindness and compassion, and whether the lines “May these sufferings ripen upon me; / May all my happiness ripen upon them” had remained a lie for me.’ So we must never retaliate with resentment. 4
Quoting from an unidentified source, Chekawa reenforces this point: “’Even if others return kindness with harm, / I will practice responding with great compassion; / The most excellent beings in this world / Answer injury with benevolence’” 5
The author of the early 13th century English-language guide, Ancrene Wisse, offers this teaching about responding to those whose actions cause harm:
[W]e are angry at them, whom we ought to thank as those who perform us a great service, though it be unwillingly … ‘All that the wicked and the evil do for evil, all of it is good for the good, all is to their advantage, and it builds them up toward joy.’ Let them braid your crown. Think how the holy man in ‘The Lives of the Fathers’ kissed and blessed the hand of the other who had harmed him, and said most earnestly, ‘Blessed be this hand for ever, for it has built me the joys of heaven.’ And you should say this too about the hand that harms you, and also about the mouth which insults you in any way: ‘Blessed be your mouth,’ say, ‘for you make of it a tool to build my crown. I am glad for my good, but sorry for your evil, for you benefit me and harm yourself.’ If any man or woman has said or done you harm, dear sisters, so should you say. 6
This way of responding invites practitioners to view difficult situations differently, to change their manner of perception in a way that leads to greater freedom. Rather than obstacles to one’s progression on the path, those who betray and harm us become our spiritual teachers, our “sublime” teachers. Chekawa quotes from a text he identifies as Atisa’s Songs of Blissfulness: “Whether someone is foe or friend – / These objects that give rise to affliction – / He who sees them as spiritual teachers / Will be joyful wherever he resides.” 7
Chekawa succinctly and poignantly summarizes his teaching on Langri Thangpa’s verse:
‘Dharma’ refers to the transformation of your mind and not to the transformation of the external environment. For a trained person, even were the three worlds – of humans, celestial gods, and demons – to rise up as his enemies, his mind would not be afflicted by nonvirtue and suffering. Since no one can vanquish him, he is called a hero. 8
- Aelred of Rievaulx, “A Rule of Life for Recluse.” Translated by Mary Paul Macpherson. Aelred of Reivaulx: Treatises and The Pastoral Prayer. Ed. M. Basil Pennington. Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1971, page 88. In a passage that appears slightly before this passage, Aelred appeals to his readers to be attentive to the emotions that might arise in them as they – so viscerally – enter into meditation on Jesus’s Passion. Referencing one of Jesus’ followers cutting of the ear of the High Priest’s servant in John 18:10-11, Aelred pleads: “I know that your heart now is filled with pity, you are set on fire with indignation. Let [Jesus] be, I beg, let him suffer, for it is on your behalf he is suffering. Why do you long for the sword? Why are you angry? If, like Peter, you cut off someone’s ear, amputate an arm or a foot, [Jesus] will restore it and without doubt he will bring back to life anyone you may kill.” (Ibid., page 88).
- Langri Thangpa, “Eight Verses of Mind Training,” Mind Training: The Great Collection. Compiled by Shonu Gyalchok and Konchok Gyaltsen. Translated and edited by Thupten Jinpa. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2006, page 276.
- Chekawa, “A Commentary on ‘Eight Verses on Mind Training,” Mind Training: The Great Collection. Compiled by Shonu Gyalchok and Konchok Gyaltsen. Translated and edited by Thupten Jinpa. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2006, pages 285.
- Chekawa, “A Commentary on ‘Eight Verses on Mind Training,” Mind Training: The Great Collection. Compiled by Shonu Gyalchok and Konchok Gyaltsen. Translated and edited by Thupten Jinpa. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2006, pages 285. Regarding the quotation which Chekawa includes in this story, Thupten Jinpa notes” “This appears to be a slight variation of the first two lines of Nagarjuna’s Ratnavali 5:83. In Nagarjuna’s text, the lines read, ‘May their negativity ripen upon me / And may my virtues ripen upon them.” (Ibid., note 439, page 614). These lines would appear to resonate with those of Shantideva in the Chapter 10 of his The Way of the Bodhisattva: “The pains and sorrows of all wandering beings / May they ripen wholly on myself.” (Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva. A Translation of the Bodhicharyavatara. Translated from the Tibetan by the Padmakara Translation Group. Boston: Shambhala, 2006, chapter 10, verse 56a, page 171.) In his text, Thirty-seven Practices of The Bodhisattva, Gyelse Tokme Zangpo (1295-1369), writes: If, in return for not the slightest wrong of mine, / Someone were to cut off even my very head, / Through the power of compassion to all his negative actions / Upon myself is the practice of the bodhisattva.” In her commentary on this passage, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo teaches: “This is so relevant in this time because in many countries governed by totalitarian regimes … many people are hauled off to prisons and savagely tortured or executed through no wrongdoing of their own … Tibet is a good example. So many great lamas and others were imprisoned and cruelly treated, interrogated, and tortured for twenty to twenty five years. They hadn’t done anything wrong as far as this life was concerned. Many of them were great masters. They probably recited to themselves this exact text, which they would have learned when they were young monks, because when they released after years of imprisonment in labor camps, instead of being bitter and angry and feeling like they had wasted their lives, they came out radiant – thin but shining, with their eyes just glowing. As is well known, His Holiness the Dalai Lama asked one of these political prisoners what had been his greatest fear, and the former prisoner said, ‘My greatest fear was losing compassion for my tormentors.’” (Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, The Heroic Heart: Awakening Unbound Compassion. Boulder: Shambhala Publications, 2022, pages 85-86.)
- Chekawa, “A Commentary on ‘Eight Verses on Mind Training,” Mind Training: The Great Collection. Compiled by Shonu Gyalchok and Konchok Gyaltsen. Translated and edited by Thupten Jinpa. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2006, pages 286.
- Ancrene Wisse,” in Anchoritic Spirituality: Ancrene Wisse and Associated Works. Translated and introduced by Anne Savage and Nicholas Watson. New York: Paulist Press, 1991, pages 94-95.
- Chekawa, “A Commentary on ‘Eight Verses on Mind Training,” Mind Training: The Great Collection. Compiled by Shonu Gyalchok and Konchok Gyaltsen. Translated and edited by Thupten Jinpa. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2006, pages 286. In his commentary on Langri Thangpa’s verse, Chekawa writes: “[B]y maintaining a warm heart, we remain happy.” (Ibid., 285). In her commentary on the same verse, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo writes: “We absolutely have to practice tolerance or patient endurance, and we cannot do that unless somebody really upsets us … Prime examples of applying this practice are the Tibetan lamas and teachers, monks and nuns, … who were put in prison, interrogated, and often horribly tortured … When they were finally released from their prisons … many of them, rather than being embittered and broken, were radiant and brimming with love and compassion. They hadn’t spent their time resenting their captors, planning revenge, or even beating themselves up thinking what bad karma they had made to be in such a situation, Instead, they used those circumstances to cultivate qualities like love, compassion, patience, and tolerance … They were grateful to their tormentors for giving them an opportunity to practice these qualities: ‘Without them, how would I have learned?’ they said. ‘They were so helpful on the path.’” (Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, The Heroic Heart: Awakening Unbound Compassion. Boulder: Shambhala Publications, 2022, page 100.)
- Chekawa, “A Commentary on ‘Eight Verses on Mind Training,” Mind Training: The Great Collection. Compiled by Shonu Gyalchok and Konchok Gyaltsen. Translated and edited by Thupten Jinpa. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2006, pages 287.
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