Monday, November 28, 2005

Pema Chödrön: Sticking to One Boat

The Wisdom of No Escape is the only Pema Chödrön book I've read through, but it remains a favourite. I also understand it's her seminal piece of writing.

What an unusual kharma this woman has had! Born in 1936 in New York City as Deirdre Blomfield-Brown, she worked as an elementary school teacher for many years in California and New Mexico, married, had two children, lived in the suburbs, etc. -- before leaving it all to become a fully ordained Tibetan buddhist nun, studying in Europe and Asia before finally settling in Nova Scotia to become director of Gampo Abbey meditation centre. The clarity and directness of her writing, it seems to me, is grounded in much in her former experience of family and working life as in her latter as a Buddhist nun.

I've always enjoyed this passage about "sticking to one's own boat". It's an absolutely pellucid articulation of the experience of steering a particular spiritual course while keeping one's eyes & mind open to insights from other traditions, ways and paths. My own way doesn't impel me to wear funny clothes or stay in a monastery, but I will always welcome the chance to benefit from the insight of one who does:

. . . If you want to hear the dharma, you can hear it from many different places, but you are uncommitted until you actually encounter a particular way that rings true in your heart and you decide to follow it. Then you make a connection to that particular lineage of teachings and that particular body of wisdom. Each religion or philosophical belief or New Age group has a kind of wisdom that it carries and explores. The point is that it's best to stick to one boat, so to speak, whatever that boat may be, because otherwise the minute you really begin to hurt, you'll just leave or you'll look for something else.

Recently I was asked to give a weekend program in a kind of New Age spiritual shopping mart. It was like a mall, with about seventy different things being presented. I got the first hit when I came to give my first talk. There was this great big poster, like a school bulletin board, that said, Basic Goodness, Room 606; Rolfing, Room 609; Astral Travel, Room 666; and so forth. I was one of many different things being offered. The people that you would meet in the parking lot or at lunch would say, "Oh, what are you taking this weekend?" It was very interesting because I hadn't encountered anything like that for a long time. Once I had been doing that myself; in order to stop, I had to hear Rinpoche say that shopping is actually always trying to find security, always trying to feel good about yourself. When one sticks to one boat, whatever that boat may be, then one actually begins the warrior's journey. So that's what I would recommend. I particularly want to say that because as you may have noticed, I myself am at this point somewhat eclectic in my references and the things that inspire me, which might give you the impression that you could go to a Sun Dance one weekend and then to a weekend with Thich Nhat Hanh and then maybe to a Krishnamurti workshop. Basically it doesn't seem to work like that. It's best to stick to one thing and let it put you through your changes. When you have really connected with the essence of that and you are already on the journey, everything speaks to you and everything educates you. You don't feel chauvinistic any longer, but you know that your vehicle was the one that worked for you.


gina said...

Someone told me something similar once, but used the term "garden." As in: "stick to your garden"--and "that's not your garden." Helpful. But I'd forgotten until now. Thanks.

Brian Campbell said...

Was that Voltaire's Candide?

Here in Canada, it might be "stick to your ice floe", but then ice floes melt.

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