Quaker Universalist Conversations

“The Wisdom of No Escape”

An excerpt from “Awakening Loving-Kindness”

Acharya Pema Chödrön is principal teacher for Gampo Abbey, a Western Buddhist Monastery in the Shambhala Tradition, located in Nova Scotia, Canada, which was founded by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1984.

This excerpt is from Awakening Loving-Kindness, pp.45-46. It was originally published on this blog on 8/3/2014. We revisit it now in the context of our theism-nontheism conversation.

We see how beautiful and wonderful and amazing things are, and we see how caught up we are. It isn’t that one is the bad part and one is the good part, but that it’s a kind of interesting, smelly, rich, fertile mess of stuff. When it’s all mixed up together, it’s us: humanness.

Acharya Pema ChödrönThis is what we are here to see for ourselves. Both the brilliance and the suffering are here all the time; they interpenetrate each other. For a fully enlightened being, the difference between what is neurosis and what is wisdom is very hard to perceive, because somehow the energy underlying both of them is the same.

The basic creative energy of life—life force—bubbles up and courses through all of existence. It can be experienced as open, free, unburdened, full of possibility, energizing. Or this very same energy can be experienced as petty, narrow, stuck, caught.

Even though there are so many teachings, so many meditations, so many instructions, the basic point of it all is just to learn to be extremely honest and also wholehearted about what exists in your mind—thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, the whole thing that adds up to what we call “me” or “I.”

Nobody else can really begin to sort out for you what to accept and what to reject in terms of what wakes you up and what makes you fall asleep. No one else can really sort out for you what to accept—what opens up your world—and what to reject—what seems to keep you going round and round in some kind of repetitive misery.

This meditation is called nontheistic, which doesn’t have anything to do with believing in God or not believing in God, but means that nobody but yourself can tell you what to accept and what to reject.


Pema writes: “…it’s a kind of interesting, smelly, rich, fertile mess of stuff. When it’s all mixed up together, it’s us: humanness.” 40 years ago I dropped out of Lutheran seminary and came out as a queer man. Part of what led me to that first choice and empowered me to make the second was the leading that God does NOT draw lines between the “good” and the “bad” in us. God does NOT keep a ledger book, does NOT demand “perfection” in the false sense of “all good and no bad.” For God, “perfect” means “complete”—with all the “interesting, smelly, rich, fertile mess of stuff” included. God wants us to embrace ourselves as we are, “completely,” and then to learn—bit by bit—how not to harm ourselves or others while being who we actually are. And so it is. Blessèd Be,Michael
I like what Pema Chodron says about distinguishing between what “wakes you up” and what “makes you fall asleep,” rather than what is good and what is bad – this view helps me explore the rich, fertile, messiness by suspending judgment. I am interested in what she says about the line between wisdom and neurosis being fine. I will need to contemplate this. I do find the energy behind inspiration and excitement and fear, and possibly neurosis, to be the same. I am also interested in how she defines nontheism – that we ourselves have to decide – as being not related to whether we believe in God or not. I think what she means is that honestly facing ourselves is not about theism – it is for everyone. Listening to ourselves, and discovering the energy of life and what has meaning is universal.
Though it be true that physical energy, as constant, is neither good nor bad (just positive or negative), spiritual energy is sourced, as claimed. Toynbee, therefore, reminds us that of the 19 historical civilizations that disintegrated, 16 of them were due to moral decay, from within.
Each of us has our own beliefs. What Pema Chodron presents as the difference between neurosis and wisdom is similar to a fine line separating fantasy and reality to me. Although many individuals believe in God, courtesy of religious educations, others wish to question or deny such an existence in their beliefs. Our beliefs provide an example of the basis for wisdom in each of us. Some people may know genuine reality in the industrial/technological world created by mankind, but others rely on a fantasy of continued life on earth with massive destruction of the environment. Taking time to reach beyond ourselves, similar to the Sioux Vision Quest, to communicate with the Great Spirit of Life and Quaker Meetings, will provide an alternate base for separating fantasy and reality for each of us in our world. Deciding the way still lies in each person on earth.
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