Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living
Pema Chodron. Shambhala Publications, $18.95 (240pp) ISBN 978-1-59030-142-5
""This book is about awakening the heart,"" writes the American Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chodron.""If you have every wondered how to awaken your genuine compassionate heart, this book will serve you as a guide."" This is a broad and simple statement, and those unfamiliar with When Things Fall Apart or other titles by Chodron may rightfully fear that a volley of nonsensical fuzzballs is on the way. Good bedtime reading, perhaps, but in the decade since its original 1994 publication, there seems to be even less grounds to claim that all humans are innately capable of openness, clarity and compassion (or""bodhichitta""). What follows, however, is a savvy, down-to-earth contemporary version of an old Tibetan Buddhist technique for mind training, or""lojong,"" supported by instructions in basic sitting meditation practice (to cultivate tranquility and insight) and""tonglen""--a meditative technique that involves taking in the dark, heavy, negative emotions and sending out an attitude of light, compassionate embrace, a warm spaciousness, in its place. Chodron supplies a pithy contemporary analysis for each of 59""slogans"" that make up the teaching behind this practice.""There is a saying that is the underlying principle of tonglen and slogan practice: 'Gain and victory to others, loss and defeat to myself,'"" she writes. Far from being as masochistic as this may sound to Western ears, however, the aim is get people to unclench the heart and mind, to dare to taste defeat. Although far from easy, Chodron's humane, incisive approach can help any sincere reader learn to relate to fear and pain and pleasure and joy in a way that will open their hearts to the richness of their own lives and all life.
Reviewed on: 03/08/2004