Be Kind to Yourself

You have enlightened nature, says Pema Khandro Rinpoche. If you truly know that, you’ll always be kind to yourself.

Pema Khandro Rinpoche
4 February 2021

When people talk about daily practice, they usually mean doing silent meditation, a ritual, or mantra recitation. These are important parts of our daily practice, but there is another crucial dimension: it is being kind to our own body-mind. This is a method for connecting with our buddhanature during our daily activities.

There is a beautiful practice in Mahayana Buddhism, described in the Flower Ornament Sutra and Longchenpa’s Guide to Meditation, that says we should use whatever we do as an opportunity to cultivate altruistic, enlightened intent. When we eat food, we wish, “May sentient beings attain the food of meditative stability.” When sitting on a seat, we wish, “May sentient beings attain the Vajra Seat.” When walking, we think, “I am walking to serve all sentient beings.” And even when fastening a belt, we think, “May all sentient beings be fastened to the root of virtue.” In reciting lines like these to ourselves, our kindness and care is expanded and directed outward to others. Buddhist practice, however, also calls us to care for ourselves.

If we visualize in meditation that our body-mind is a landscape of buddhas, we are motivated to attend to it compassionately.

The Tibetan Buddhist yogi Choying Tobden Dorje (1785-–1848) taught a deity yoga practice somewhat similar to the one described above. However, the kindness that is generated, in this case, is directed at the self. In this practice, when we are eating, we visualize ourselves presenting food and offerings to the buddhas that live in our body. Likewise, when we are sitting on a seat, we visualize that we are sitting in the celestial palace of a buddha, wherein every sense perception leads us to vivid presence. When we are walking, we visualize that we are circumambulating the three jewels, and—my favorite—when we are bathing ourselves, we visualize that all the deities, buddhas, bodhisattvas, and dakinis are bathing us with nectar.

Such contemplations express an attitude of gentleness, love, and kindness toward ourselves and our body-mind. They are practices of receiving and giving. They are instructions, as buddhanature training, for caring for our body, including its clothing, nourishment, and bathing. This is what it means to bring our everyday life onto the path.

Beyond practices like these, which could be regarded as practices of view, there are two practical daily actions necessary as the basic foundation of our spiritual lives—eating and sleeping well. They may seem prosaic, but these are acts of care and gentleness that tune us into our buddhanature. One teaching that I recite to myself frequently is the Zen saying “When hungry—eat; when tired—sleep.” It sounds simple, but it can be incredibly difficult to honor our body-mind in this way. The Tibetan Buddhist yogi Shabkar gave similar practical advice to his disciple, saying, “Don’t eat food you can’t digest.” After all, whether we realize it or not, what we eat affects our meditation, our mood, and our perception. And our sleep does too. This is why, when a student asked Shabkar how he could please his teacher, Shabkar said, “Do your practice as much as you can and sleep peacefully.” In Dzogchen we are told that we should rest in the nature of mind and we are told that calm abiding is achieved by knowing how to rest body, speech, and mind. But how many of us remember how to rest well? Being calm and at ease will not result from neglecting our dire need to rejuvenate. Whenever we rest well and sleep well, we are training in gentle kindness as our way of life.

These activities for developing self-kindness take time and they rely on our willingness to prioritize. Shabkar says, “Don’t overestimate your capacities!” The cold hard fact is that we must sacrifice ten other things we will not do today to make the time to care properly for our body-mind. It is precisely for this reason that the practices of view described above are so important. If we visualize in meditation that our body-mind is a landscape of buddhas, we are motivated to attend to it compassionately. We could bear in mind what Saraha, one of the great masters of Indian Buddhism, said: “Here in this body are the sacred rivers, here are the sun and the moon, as well as all the pilgrimage places.” By contemplating the body as sacred, we remember our kindness to our body and mind as an indispensable facet of daily practice.

Pema Khandro Rinpoche

Pema Khandro Rinpoche

Pema Khandro is a teacher and scholar of Buddhist philosophy, as well as a lineage holder in the Nyingma and Kagyu traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. She founded the nonprofit organization Ngakpa International and its three projects, the Buddhist Studies Institute, Dakini Mountain, and the Yogic Medicine Institute. She is completing a doctorate specializing in Tibetan Buddhism at the University of Virginia.