Pema Chodron

Analysis of Pema Chodron’s way of dealing with personal problems

Copyrighted 2009

[This essay looks at three books by Pema Chodron.  These books are Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living, The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times, and No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva.  Unless otherwise noted, all page references to her books are to No Time to Lose, published in Boston, in 2007, by Shambhala.]

Pema Chodron teaches an extremely popular, spiritual way of dealing with problems.  In a time when many spiritual teachers claim to be representatives of a certain tradition and they really are not, Chodron has the virtue of being deeply grounded in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.  She is so grounded in this tradition that she is not teaching anything new; she is teaching the traditional bodhisattva spiritual ethics which emphasizes compassion for all creatures.

The techniques she recommends to deal with personal problems start with Buddhist mindfulness and have many excellent qualities.  Her most important point in dealing with personal problems is that we need to experience our negative emotions instead of burying them and hiding from them.  She says we all want to avoid the discomfort of facing difficult things about ourselves, and so we bury them.  But this does not solve the problem.  So she emphasizes Buddhist mindfulness as the solution: non-judgmental awareness of our emotions and thoughts.  This mindfulness will not solve all our problems, but over time, it helps deal with them from a deeper, more spiritual perspective.

To mindfulness she adds Tibetan Buddhist meditation techniques of transforming pain into joy.  An important early step in dealing with problems is to get beyond blaming others to see their point of view.  Other people are doing things for a reason, and this reason is often caused by their misery, deep pain, or fear.  Instead of blaming others, she says everyone should be treated as our teachers.  One effective way to learn from others is to treat the difficult people we encounter as mirrors for our own problems, thus realizing things about ourselves from them.  From this we develop a habit of learning from everyone instead of complaining about them. To deal with problems, she emphasizes developing many good spiritual qualities such as loving kindness, empathy, strength, and forgiveness, and not feeding the habit of getting angry.

The bodhisattva spirituality and ethics that Chodron teaches are based on the idea that no separate self exists. Chodron says it is myth to think I am separate from anyone else.   She says that “the relentless sense of ‘me’ and ‘mine’ is an acquired habit: the strongest habit we have.  Realizing the absurdity of this, is it too comical to think of ‘I’ as someone else and not me?” (p. 313)

Chodron bases the illusoriness of the separate self on the basic Buddhist idea that everything is constantly changing.  The I of one moment is not the I of next week or next year.  Chodron says that “the ‘I’ we’re constantly trying to protect from harm, today, tomorrow, or next week, is not the same ‘I’ of this moment.  It is constantly changing and perishing.  Every second, another ‘I’ is born.” (p. 307)

Because the sense of a separate self or me-ness is illusory, a person should not care more about relieving her own pain than the pain of any other being.  “If you weren’t stuck in a solid sense of ‘me,’ you’d understand the sameness of our pain.  There’s no difference between my pain and yours.” (p. 309)   And so the spiritual person should say:  “And therefore I’ll dispel the pain of others, /For it is simply pain, just like my own. /And others I will aid and benefit,  /For they are living beings, just like me.” (p. 306)

Before going on to my real concerns with Chodron’s ethics—that its total emphasis on compassion for all creatures makes it an unsuitable ethics for people who are not monks– I will quickly examine the basis of bodhisattva spirituality: the doctrine of no self.


First Problem: Poor Arguments for no separate self

Bodhisattva spirituality and ethics is based on the idea that the sense of a separate self, a real “Me-ness” that is separate from all other creatures, is illusory. While many people in modern America think Buddhism is all about personal experience, Indian philosophy is also based on logic and argument.  In Buddhism there are three traditional arguments given against the idea of a separate self.  Chodron discusses two of them and alludes to a third.  I am going to go through these arguments only superficially because they quickly get involved with abstruse philosophy.  While I don’t find these arguments  convincing, even if one agrees with them, bodhisattva ethics still has other, more compelling problems, which will be discussed in the next section.

Her first argument against the notion of a separate self is to say that it is just a habit. She says that “the relentless sense of ‘me’ and ‘mine’ is an acquired habit: the strongest habit we have.  Realizing the absurdity of this, is it too comical to think of ‘I’ as someone else and not me?” (p. 313)  Is it credible to say that the sense of self is just a habit and not part of human nature?  Karl Marx thought so; he said our nature was shaped by the society we grew up in and his communist society would develop humans who were not selfish.  Some people argue that tribal cultures like American Indians don’t have as strong a sense of self as modern Americans.  Maybe that is true, but oftentimes outsiders and researchers project onto other cultures. So it is hard to know if this is really true, versus being a romanticized version of these people that suits our own purposes.  The American Indians owned land communally, but their warriors were also known for an extremely strong sense of personal honor in warfare.

The self as habit argument is part of  a larger thesis which says things people consider natural are habits brought about by social conditioning.  Most significantly, the Buddhists often say that when you are burnt alive or cut into little pieces by a sharp knife, it is not part of human nature to feel pain.  This sense of pain is conditioned by society. They also say you can recondition yourself so that you no longer feel being burnt alive or cut into pieces is painful.  One scripture says of the bodhisattvas who are cutting off parts of their body to give to others that “intellectually they skillfully analyze and understand phenomena, and do not grasp pain, knowing that the sense of pain has no signs and no origin, that all sensations occur relatively and none are permanent.”[i] Shantideva writes that even if he is being badly tortured, the bodhisattva can be happy “as the perception of happiness and unhappiness comes from the power of habit; so in all cases of unhappiness arising, the habit of associating the feeling of happiness causes that feeling to be present.  This resulting fruit receives a spirit of contemplation that feels happiness in all things.”[ii] I do not find this first argument convincing as the sense of self, like the pain felt when being tortured, seems deeper than just a habit brought on by social conditioning.

Her second argument for denying a separate self is that everything changes.  From this constant change, she draws the conclusion that “the ‘I’ we’re constantly trying to protect from harm, today, tomorrow, or next week, is not the same ‘I’ of this moment.  It is constantly changing and perishing.  Every second, another ‘I’ is born.” (p. 307)

Maybe the I of next week is not the exact same I as last week, but there is enough of a similiarity to disagree with her conclusion that every second another I is born.  Particularly for our troubles and problems there is a clear continuity.  Whether you are talking financially, legally or karmically, there is some kind of I that problems attach to that is the same as last week’s, last year’s or last lifetime’s ago I.  The I might change but continuity is also there.

A third argument that Buddhists traditionally give in saying the self does not exist involves names.  In one well-known discussion a Buddhist monk had with the king Milinda, the monk compares the self to a chariot.  The monk then asks the king if the chariot is the wheels, or the axle, or the reigns, or the chariot box.  The king responds no to each of these.  The monk says the word chariot is just a word and refers to nothing.  Once the king agrees with this, then the monk applies the same process to the self and says it is just a word and refers to nothing.

In Chodron’s book Shantideva quickly alludes to  this argument in saying:  “Labeled continuities and aggregates, /Like strings of beads and armies, are like mirages.  Likewise there is no one hurt by suffering,  /For who is there to be oppreseed by it?’”(p. 309)  Armies are like mirages because there is nothing to them beyond the individual soldiers.  It is the same thing with strings of beads.  Both of these are like the chariot in that there is a name but no underlying unity that is named.  The Buddhists draw the same conclusion about the self: there is nothing to the self beyond the individual constituents that make up a person.   So people don’t really have a self, they only have parts—the same way a chariot or an army or a string of beads only has parts.

Even if one accepts this argument for material entities, there is a big difference between purely material things like chariots and the self.  Moreover, the Buddhists seem to be assuming that if you cannot find some deeper unity, that means it is not there.  Maybe it is there but you just don’t know where to look for it, or how to look for it, or it is not findable by your methods.

I do not find any of these arguments for the non-existence of self to be convincing.  Even if you think no separate self exists, however, there is a bigger problem with Chodron’s ethics: it leads to a way of acting in the world that most people would find unacceptable.

Second problem: the ramifications of her ethical viewpoint

While Chodron’s bodhisattva ethic is new to Westerners, it has been part of Mahayana Buddhist tradition for around two thousand years.  Buddhists thus have had time to consider the implications of the no self doctrine and its related doctrines of compassion for all creatures. They conclude that the true bodhisattva will give away everything he has, including his eyes, nose, and hands. They also think the married bodhisattva will give away his wife and children to anyone who asks for them.  Finally, the bodhisattva will do things society considers immoral, such as murdering people, in the name of compassion.  All of these actions follow directly from the basic ideas of the bodhisattva ethic that Chodron advocates.

There is a great tradition in Buddhism of telling stories of Buddha’s previous lifetimes.  These Jataka tales are extremely popular and relate Buddhist moral lessons.  These tales center around the future Buddha acting compassionately towards other creatures.  A signficant number of them involve something many modern people might find gruesome: the future Buddha giving away his whole body or some parts of his body such as his eyes or his flesh to help other beings.  For example, when the future Buddha was King Sivi, he gave his two eyes to a blind beggar. The same king also gave strips of his flesh to a hawk.  When he was King Candraprabha, the future Buddha gave his head to a priest. When he was King Manicuda, he gave his flesh and blood to a demon.

In many later sutras or holy books, the writers say the bodhisattva will do the same thing.  For example, in one sutra   it says, “I will give my hands to whoever asks for my hands, my feet to whoever asks for my feet, my eyes to whoever asks for my eyes.  I will abandon flesh, blood, bone , marrow, major and minor limbs.”[iii] In another sutra it says the bodhisattvas should give their teeth, eyes, hands, hearts, and other body parts “impartially to whomever they meet.”[iv] Besides being based on compassion and the no-self doctrine, another reason behind this giving is significant: the body is illusory and empty.  The sutra says the “great enlightened beings are able to give ears and noses to those who ask as did King of Superlative Action, Invincible, and countless other enlightening beings…[because] they know the body is illusory, empty, void of existence with nothing to cling to.”[v] A bodhisattva should not just give his body to people, he also should give it to starving animals.  If he resists giving his body to animals as that seems like too much of a sacrifice for a mere animal, then he significantly slows his progress towards enlightenment.[vi]

The bodhisattva is not sacrificing his body in some heroic act like saving a child from a speeding bus.  He is giving his body or its parts to any person, animal or demon who asks for it, whether or not the asker needs it or is worthy of it.  Most writers emphasize that the bodhisattva should make no distinction in his giving between friends and enemies, the deserving and undeserving, or the wicked and righteous.  Instead he should give to everyone  at all times.[vii] One reason the bodhisattvas do this is because their goal is nirvana for all creatures and “nirvana is the abandonment of everything.”[viii]

It is not just body parts the bodhisattva will give away to anyone who asks.  The bodhisattvas with families will also give away their wives and children. In the Avatamsaka Sutra, the writer says that “great enlightening beings can give away their beloved spouses and children, as did the Loving Prince, Adornment Manifesting King, and countless other great enlightening beings…they give up what they prize in quest of omniscience, to cause sentient beings to have profound pure aspirations, accomplish the practice of enlightenment.”[ix]

The best example of a holy man giving away his wife and children is the story of King Vessantara.  This king practiced charity so perfectly, including giving away his two sons and wife, that in his next life he was reborn as the Buddha.  In Milinda’s Questions, the Greek king Milinda discussed this story with a Buddhist monk.  First Milinda asked if all monks gave away their family members or did just King Vessantara do this.  The monk responded, “All Bodhisattvas, sire, give away their wife and children; it was not only King Vessantara who gave away his wife and children.”[x] The monk then praised the way King Vessantara acted after he gave away his family to a priest.  When the priest bound his children and then beat them, King Vessantara did not lament.  After the sons escaped from the priest and ran back to their father, the king gave them back to priest.  The king did this even though one son said, “’Father this ogre is leading us off to eat us.’”  The king did not even comfort them by saying, “‘Don’t be afraid.’”[xi]

Milinda then said that it was asking too much of people to be so selfless as to give away their family members.  He said it was an excessive gift and would break people like “the axle of a cart is broken by too heavy a load.”[xii] The monk disagreed, saying for this gift King Vessantara got great reknown throughout all the realms of the cosmos.  The monk emphasized how good King Vessantara was for doing this, saying, “It is precisely because of that exceeding gift that King Vessantara was born the Buddha in the present times.”[xiii]

Milinda then objected that King Vessantara should not have given his kids away, but given himself instead.  Milinda said, “when he bartered away his wife and children because he was begged to do so he should have given himself.”  The monk thoroughly disagreed.  He said, “This is an unseemly act, sire, that when (a man is) begged for his wife and children he gives himself.  For whatever is begged for, precisely that should be given—that is the deed of good men.”[xiv]

People might be interested to know that in the Buddhist tradition there are some restrictions on when the male bodhisattva should give away his family members.  Tsongkhapa, who reformed many monasteries in Tibet and whose head disciple was the first Dalai Lama, discussed some of these restrictions. He said a bodhisattva did not have to give away his son to a possessed person or a demon.  He said, don’t be “enchanted by well-turned phrases about charity, to give away a son, servants, and so forth, at the request of an unfriendly person, a harmful spirit, demons, [or] one in the grip of a terrible spell.”[xv] This is not the only restriction Tsongkhapa gave, he also said that it is okay not to give your father and mother away if you do not inform them about it.[xvi] Another prominent Buddhist monk went further, saying bodhisattvas should not give away their parents as parents should be honoured and protected.[xvii]

This giving of family members does not arise just from compassion and the no self doctrine.  Another aspect of Buddhist ethics is the contempt for family life because it hinders people from reaching enlightenment.  In one of his past lifetimes, the future Buddha is a rabbit who is about to sacrifice his life so that a holy man will not have to go to town and beg for food.  This rabbit gave a sermon saying that living a normal life is the “breeding grounds for the trouble caused by the demon known as ‘delusions of the household life.’…the household…is rattled by the chain called ‘wife’;  It is made intolerable by the fetter called ‘son’; It firmly strangles one with the snare called ‘relatives.’”[xviii] Chodron’s main inspiration for her interest in bodhisattva ethics, Shantideva, says that the bodhisattva has to have an attitude of total impartiality to people.  He must not love his family more than other people.  He “must attach to his son the notion of no-friend ‘for that is no friend to me’… [to] feel excessive afection for this my son and not for others.  Thus he must educate his mind that he may feel in each case the same affection for all creatures that naturally centers in his son, or in himself.  He must thoroughly consider the matter in this way: ‘he comes from one place and I from another.  All creatures are also my sons, and I their child. In this life no one is really a son or a stranger to anyone….’  Thus the bodhisatva when a householder must not feel for any given object that it is his and he means to keep it, neither attachment to it.”[xix]

Reiko Ohnuma wrote a scholarly book on the bodhisattva’s total giving and she brings up some worries about it.  One thing she says is that it might be a male based ethic.  She says the bodhisattva, while he cares so much for people and demons, is “devoid of any sympathy” for his family.[xx] She says that “while the male hero is valiantly pursuing some abstract and universalistic ideal, it is the women in his life who then remind us who gets hurt in the process.”[xxi] If the women complain that the bodhisattva should not give away parts of his body or his children, “his most common response to the women in his life is one of utter silence.”[xxii]

Looking at the historical roots of the bodhisattva ethic, Ohnuma relates it to the Indian male warrior who is filled with the pride of being self-sufficient.  In ancient India, the male warrior king showed his virility and power by giving out to others while not needing anything in return.  The bodhisattva is just like this.  She points out that Shantideva emphasized how the bodhisattvas are self-sufficient while other humans are weak and need help.  Shantideva also dwelled heavily on images of warfare and how the bodhisattva waged a violent battle against his mental afflictions.  Ohnuma says that “Like the warrior, the bodhisattva should even cultivate an exaggerated sense of pride (mana) constantly thinking to himself, ‘It is I alone who must do it!;” …within such passages, the bodhisattva begins to look very much like the swaggering and self-sufficient ksatriya warrior.  In Jan Nattier’s felicitious phrasing, the bodhisattva path is here depicted as an especially ambitious and ‘macho’ vocation, appropriate only for ‘a few god men’ or ‘such people as Olympic athletes (‘going for the gold’) or Marine Crops recruits (the few, the proud, the brave’)’—in other words, those who are simliar in nature to the ksatriya warrior.”[xxiii]

Ohnuma finally questions whether the bodhisattva’s total giving really arises just out of compassion and selflessness.  She says such giving may seem selfless, but it may also reveal a self asserting its independence from social ties.  The bodhisattva is giving gifts to others but paying no attention to the effects his giving will have on other people close to him.  She says such a gift “really expresses one’s independence from other people and rejection of social bonds. [Italics in the original.] Thus the more ‘selfless’ the gift is, the more it involves an assertion of one’s ‘self’ and a separation from the ‘other.’”[xxiv] She says this is especially true in giving gifts of the body.  In that case other people close to the bodhisattva tell him not to do it as it will hurt the people close to him.  Nevertheless, he does it anyway, showing that he can act as an autonomous and free individual.  So the gift of his body “for the sake of another would seem on the surface to be the ultimate denial of self, it is, at the same time, an ultimate act of self-will- an aggressive assertion of the self’s right to dispose of himself as he pleases (others be damned.)”[xxv] [Italics in the original.]  She says that the bodhisattva giving his own body “declares his independence from others in a way that is perhaps inherently self-aggrandizing.”[xxvi]

Besides giving away his body parts to anyone who asks for them and giving away his family, the boddhisatva also commits compassionate murder.  The best known tale illustrating this is when Buddha, in a previous life, murdered an evil thief.  The future Buddha was on a ship with five hundred merchants when an evil thief came aboard the ship.  The future Buddha was warned in a dream that the thief was going to kill all five hundred of the merchants.  The dream also said that the thief would get eons of bad karma for this action as all five hundred merchants were future bodhisattvas progressing on their spiritual path.  The dream told him to find some skillful way to stop the thief from getting this bad karma.  After he awoke from his dream, the future Buddha thought for days about what he could do.  He decided he could not tell the merchants as they would get angry and kill the thief and thus delay their path to enlightenment.  Finally he decided his only solution was to kill the thief.  He knew this would mean he would have to spend a hundred thousand eons in hell, but this was better than the thief getting more bad karma from killing the merchants.  So out of compassion for the thief, the future Buddha killed him.[xxvii] Chodron repeats this story and praises the compassion of the future Buddha.  She does not point out the possible problems of this action or the underlying attitude, saying, “there is no act that is inherently virtuous or nonvirtuous. … When we practice discipline with flexibility, we become less moralistic and more tolerant.” (Places, p. 96)

It is important to recognize that all the problems highlighted in this section come directly from the basic premises of the bodhisattva ethic.  If one is compassionate to all creatures and one does not favor one’s self over others, it makes sense to cut up one’s body to help others, not be concerned about your own family over other people, and even to kill people for their own good.


Third Problem: No self is not only kind of spirituality

The previous section showed that there are real problems if one tries to seriously implement Chodron’s bodhisattva ethic.  Buddhism has recently thrived in the West because many people need a more spiritual way of living.  However, there is a better spiritual way of living than following the no self doctrine.  This way allows for treasuring relationships while still being connected to God/the Oneness.  Interestingly Chodron herself brings up this kind of connected spirituality in her book.

Besides the no self arguments, Chodron quotes another argument Shantideva gives for the oneness of all creatures.  He says that all creatures are part of a whole and the parts are related as hands and feet are united in the same body.  Shantideva says that “Hands and other limbs /Are thought of as the members of a body.  /Shall we not consider others likewise—  /Limbs and members of a living whole?” (p. 314) Chodron adds that Shantideva “uses the analogy of the body: obviously the hand will protect the foot from harm.  If we accept this as reasonable, why would we dismiss the idea that separate beings could also relate as parts of the whole?” (p. 308)  Chondron states that this analogy means that all creatures are one and if a person is not concerned with someone else’s suffering, she is hurting herself.  She says “that by not helping them, we are harming ourselves….Whatever happens to any one of us affects the whole.  If you think about it seriously, this type of interdependent thinking makes perfect sense.  When we don’t take care of one another, I suffer, you suffer, the whole world suffers.” (p. 308)

Chodron assumes this argument that we are all connected into one organism makes the same point as the no self doctrine: we should care for everyone equally.  But that does not seem to be the case.  If there is no me, there is absolutely no reason to be concerned with “my” pain over “someone” else’s as there is no such thing as “me” or “someone” else in the first place.  However, if there is a large body, and the cosmos certainly qualifies as a large body, the hair follicle can be pretty unconcerned if the toe is stubbed.  The rest of foot might care if the toe is deeply cut, but as you get farther and farther away from the toe, depending on the nature of the injury, there could easily be little or no concern for the toe’s suffering.  While the no self doctrine leads to total oneness and equal concern for everyone, this second argument does not.  It leads to recognizing some kind of interconnectedness, but not necessarily equal concern for everyone.

In ancient Greece and Rome, one extremely important group of spiritually oriented people—the Stoics– thought all creatures were connected into one organism.  Throughout western history, the Stoics have had almost equal influence to Plato and Aristotle.  Stoics such as Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca deeply influenced the  Christian Bible writers, the early Christians, the leaders of the Protestant Reformation and the major thinkers of the Enlightenment period.  Stoics believed, like the Buddhists, that we were all connected into one larger cosmic organism, which they called God.[xxviii] God was not outside nature like the Christians thought, but was Nature or the sum and totality of all things.  Humans were cells in the cosmic organism.  Like Chodron, the Stoics said some people were part of the foot cells, others part of the eye cells.

The Stoics did not, however, think Chodron’s two arguments for connectedness were the same; they did not think the argument that we are connected into one body was the same as the no self doctrine.  They said that we are connected into one body while also having a seperate self.  They also said God put us into certain relationships and situations like being a brother or son and we were following God’s will for us if we were a good, loving son or brother.  Our duty was not to relieve the suffering of any random being, as in Chodron’s system, but to relieve the suffering of those whom God has put us in relationship with.  So their doctrine is a more suitable one for spiritual people who are not monks or nuns and have the problems of normal people.  It does not suffer from the problems discussed in the last section that result from the emphasis on total giving.  The Stoics’ one body many selves ethics could even be seen as a feminist ethics of relationship.  While the bodhisattva ethics of universal ideals (with the universal ideal being “we should have compassion for everyone equally and try to relieve pain wherever we find it”) could be seen as a masculine ethic.

The ability to focus on people close to you and fulfill your normal social duties is the most important advantage one body many selves ethics has over bodhisattva ethics.  There are also other problems Chodron’s ethics faces that a spiritual ethic such as Stoicism does not face.

 Chodron’s no self doctrine with its asceticism leads her to have no or little concern for material or worldly problems like the lack of money.  For example in one book she talks about “feeling angry, poverty-stricken or depressed,” and suggests a way of dealing with these problematical feelings by transforming your feelings. (Start, p. 3)  But what if your problem is not feeling poverty-stricken but actually being poor, like being homeless in the rain while your child is crying from hunger?  Her method of dealing with problems focuses on feelings and transforming them.  It does not seem to deal with problems that are based more in the material world and not in feelings.

My deeper concern is that material level problems like hunger or homelessness are never classified as problems from her perspective because of the underlying Buddhist ascetic attitude informing her spirituality.  So Shantideva talks of how we should despise the body when he says “Where then is the prudent man  /Who wants to pamper and protect his body?  /Who will not ignore and treat with scorn  /What is for him a dangerous enemy?” (p. 318)  In a tradition which denigrates the body and worldly concerns, with the goal being enlightenment, there is no space for material level problems to be considered real problems.  A one body many selves ethic treasures the world and so does not suffer from the world denying asceticism of the bodhisattva ethics.

Another result of Chodron’s Buddhist asceticism is that she does not seem to concern herself with problems caused by ignoring our intuitions or divine guidance.  Many spiritual people have intuitions or get divine messages about what they should do.  These spiritual people often have personal issues that block them from following their guidance.  Quite often they then fall out of the providential care of the universe and experience many problems because they are not following their intuition or divine guidance.  Chodron’s worldview is based on ascetic Buddhism that denies the  essential importance of the world and says our primary goal is enlightenment.  So in her tradition, there is little sense of being guided to do things in the world.  Thus she seems to have no concern for dealing with the problems one encounters from not following one’s guidance.  A one body many selves spirituality can recognize the importance of following one’s own spiritual intuition and being led to one’s proper place in the world.

Related to this problem is Chodron’s denial of the importance of special connections.  If a person is following her divine guidance or intuition to accomplish something in the world, certain people become more important to fulfilling her spiritual mission.  The spiritually oriented person needs to know how to succeed with these especially important relationships and can pay much less attention to other people.  But Chodron has no place in her spiritual system for the special importance of some people as all people are equal in her system.  One body many selves spirituality allows for special connections.

People want to be spiritual and Buddhist bodhisattva ethics are a very spiritual way of being.  It suffers, however, from very serious problems.  Rather than believing in no self ethics, people who want to be spiritual and also do something in the modern world should practice one body many selves ethics.

Copyrighted 2009

This essay was written by Joseph Waligore. He dedicated his life to following the will of the Universe when he was 20. Seven months later he received a message from his Higher Self or inner connection to the divine to quit Dartmouth College. Through following a deep intuition in a dream and after many synchronistic experiences, he met his soulmate and married her. He and his wife followed their spiritual intuitions in their daily lives, including receiving messages to have children. For twelve years he stayed at home and raised his three children while his wife worked. Then, his wife told him he needed to make some money, so he got a Ph. D. in philosophy from Syracuse University. He currently has a part-time job teaching philosophy and religious studies at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. More information about him can be found at his MySpace profile. He also has a website with information about his own spiritual journey and his spiritual philosophy.

There is a Facebook group called Flowing.  People interested in meeting other people who are interested in these ideas and/or participating in discussions about these ideas are invited to join the group.

Many people reach this site through keyword advertisements. It might be of interest that Joseph got the money for these ads through his daytrading profits.

[i] The Flower Ornament Scripture: A Translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra, vol. 1, trans. Thomas Cleary Boulder: Shambala, 1984), p. 589.*

[ii] Shantideva, Siksha-samuccaya: A Compendium of Buddhist Doctrine, trans. Cecil Bendall and W. H. D. Rouse (Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass, 1971), p.177.*

[iii] The quote is from the Narayanaparipccha Sutra.  It is quoted by Reiko Uhnuma, Head, Eyes, Flesh, and Blood: Giving Away the Body in Indian Buddhist Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), p. 6.*

[iv] Flower Ornament Scripture, p. 596.*

[v] Flower Ornament Scripture, p. 591.*

[vi] Reiko Uhnuma, Head, Eyes, Flesh, and Blood: Giving Away the Body in Indian Buddhist Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), p. 126.*

[vii] Har Dayal, The Bodhisattva Doctrine in Buddhist Sanskrit Literature (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1932), p. 176.*

[viii] Tsongkhapa, Ethics of Tibet: Bodhisattava Section of Tsong-Kha-Pa’s Lam Rim Chen Mo, trans. Alex Wayman (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1991), p.114.*

[ix] Flower Ornament Scripture, p. 614.*

[x] Milinda’s Questions, Vol. II, trans. by I. B. Horner  (London: Luzac & Company, Ltd., 1964), p. 95.*  This is the eight dilemma, the eigth part.

[xi] Milinda’s Questions, p. 96.*

[xii] Milinda’s Questions, p. 99.*

[xiii] Milinda’s Questions, p. 101.*

[xiv] Milinda’s Questions, p. 103.*

[xv] Tsongkhapa, p. 129.*

[xvi] Tsongkhapa, p. 131.*

[xvii] Dayal, p. 175.*

[xviii] Reiko Uhnuma, Head, Eyes, Flesh, and Blood: Giving Away the Body in Indian Buddhist Literature (New York: Columbia University Press), p. 16.*

[xix] Shantideva, Siksha-samuccaya, p. 21-22.

[xx] Uhnuma, p. 124.*

[xxi] Uhnuma, p. 117.*

[xxii] Uhnuma, p. 117.*

[xxiii] Uhnuma, p. 162.*

[xxiv] Uhnuma, p.188.*

[xxv] Uhnuma, p.188.*

[xxvi] Uhnuma, p.188.*

[xxvii] The Skill in Means: Upayakausalya Sutra, trans. Mark Tatz, (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1994) p. 73-4. It is verses 132-137.*

[xxviii] All the information in the section on Stoicism comes from Joseph Waligore’s 1995 dissertation, The Joy of Torture: Hellenistic Philosophy’s Doctrine that the Sage is Always Happy, even if Tortured.  It is available through UMC microfilm and it is posted on the web at

Copyrighted 2009

My name is  Joseph Waligore.   I currently have a part-time job teaching philosophy and religious studies at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.   More information about me can be found at my MySpace profile or my Facebook profile.

This website is one of four websites I have.   At I have a posted a significant portion of a self-help book  I am currently writing.  This book helps people succeed in the world by making their connections, the special people in their lives.  Another website, is for spiritually oriented people and discusses very similar ideas from a more spiritually oriented perspective.  Another one, is for academically or intellectually oriented people.  It has my writings about spiritual philosophies such as Stoicism, Socrates, the Deists, the Enlightenment period, and the rise of modern science.

There is a Facebook group called Flowing.  People interested in meeting other people who are interested in these ideas and/or participating in discussions about these ideas are invited to join the group.

Many people reach this site through keyword advertisements. It might be of interest that Joseph got the money for these ads through his daytrading profits.

46 thoughts on “Pema Chodron

  1. So grateful for the lively conversations here — participation is such wonderful connectedness, especially when we enjoy the thoughts as clouds that pass through the sky. Unfortunately I seem to not be able to recall on demand the author’s name, but because I see and hear echoes of myself in his approach, the heart wishes to reach out in compassion. I only ever noticed in myself that it was out of great suffering that I had intellectualized the world. The fragrance of life is always present — as long as I insisted that the brain or rational mind was the most qualified essential quality by which life / the world can be appreciated. I lost much physical functionality since then, and now I know that the rational mind is only ever capable of less-than — even where it allegedly excels. Even inspirational mind is conditional and therefore does not penetrate the mystery — this perfume of life that is so abundant in and through form. We dissect to understand a whole without ever examining the assumption that our dissection did not somehow change it. We must add ourselves back in — as the consicousness both being observed and the observer, if we are ever to truly ‘understand.’ But never mind that all … The birds chirp, the sky is blue, and we are bird and sky in and through the heart of life. Sat nam.

  2. I am a cognitive neuroscientist and a Buddhist practitioner. Although I find it good that the author is critiquing the nuns teachings, I believe that the author does not understand Buddhism and is taking the words of the sutras as they are. I only read few paragraphs and I found that the author mixed the sense of self with the sense of body. I agree with Buddhist teachings although I don’t know the nun being referred here. I would suggest that the author takes time to understand the teachings because the wisdom of the Buddha is difficult to believe and difficult to understand and it is certainly can not be understood intellectually alone. Words are words but the Buddha wisdom can not be analysed with words. Try to earnestly understand and see where it takes you. I wish you peace and love wherever you are. Btw, are you the same person now as the person who wrote this long piece? Impermanence of self and things means that all things are empty.

  3. I am a physicist as well as a secular Buddhist. I have found that Ken Mcleod’s teachings at to be quite enlightening. One of the things that I have heard the Dali Lama say is that it really does not matter which religion or none practices. I grewup as a fundamentalist christian where there is a profound beflief that one is doomed if you are not “born again”, there is a similar sense in Islam that if one does not follow the profits teachings that hell awaits you. I frankly find any teaching that basically says if you do not follow this religion religiously you are going to be punished repulsive. A god (supernatural creator being) who designs the ecosystem to be as savage a cruel as it is, and who aranges horrible punishment for not sychophantically worshiping him/her is arguably an evil being!
    I find that the simple form of Bhudhism that says there is suffering lets try and aleviate it and be kind to all to be a phiosophy worth living by.

  4. Lots of showy erudition and footnotes. Keep it up though, they might give you a full time job at the university one day!

  5. Lots of showy erudition and footnotes. Keep it up, though, they might give you a full time job at the university one day!

  6. Thanks for writing this. It really gets to the core of the trouble with Buddhism in general, from a philosophical perspective, as well as the spiritual bankruptcy of popular Buddhism here in America, where it is the religion of choice for sentimental middle class liberals. It’s no risk to mentally “detach” from material needs when you’ve got all your basic needs provided for, when you’re an intelligent, functional, gainfully employed adult with a college degree whose biggest problem is simply a mild neurosis stemming from overprotective parenting, perhaps coupled with a vague sense of existential malaise. Chodron thrives on the fact that most of her readers are really just turning to her for a shoulder to cry on, and not bothering to critically wrestle with the strange Buddhist ideas in which her teachings are rooted– if they did, they’d quickly realize the unsavory implications of these doctrines, which you have pointed out so well. The big draw of Buddhism in the West is the idea that one need not change one’s life, as Christianity has always taught, but simply the way one thinks ABOUT one’s life. Whew, I thought for a second I was going to have to work! No, that’s just a materialistic deception, says Buddhism– just sit and stare at a wall until you forget who you are, and all your problems will vanish because there will no longer be any “you” to have them. And of course this “works” as a solution to bourgeois problems, because it really is true for this demographic that all their problems are in their mind. How easy it is to accept your lot in life when it’s such a good one!

  7. The author does not have a correct understanding of the Bodhisattva’s way of life or understand the nature and function of enlightenment.
    Please do not blindly accept this ‘critique’ as valid or even informed for all its quoting of Sutra texts and so on.To dismiss Mahayana Buddhism as solely for monks is plainly ignorant and downright misleading to casual readers.

  8. Dear Everyone,
    I have just chanced upon this website accidentally and only read a few paragraphs of the author who commented on Bhikshuni Pema Choron’s teachings. Personally, i think the author has not truly studied , contemplated and meditated upon the Buddha’s teachings and so therefore, her so called commentaries or views written are based upon her gross intellectual conceptions and personal perceptions.
    One cannot just examine a Buddhist teaching only by the means of intellectual analyzing… it will never be fully understood in the deepest level… so in order to really comment on a philosopy or teaching, be it Buddhism, or Christianity, or Islam, or Hindu, one should then go fully and deeply into the teachings…
    i would like to suggest that the author first put all her own effort and time to immerse herself deeply into the studies, contemplations and meditation of the Buddhist Teachings before she should even attempt to try to comment on a practice that is at least more than 2,500 years old…even the great masters take years and years of studies,contemplations, practice, and meditions to realize the deepest and most profound meaning.
    at least, i would like to request for her to give herself the basic respect and as well as respecting all religions/faiths as these World is made up of all different cultures, races, religions, status, colours, shapes and sizes…. Please do not attempt to comment on others’ faiths/practices just for the sake of refuting or fulfilling your own believes …
    What we all should try to look into the similiaritis of all the faiths and that is practising Kindness towards others ….and be a a part of putting kind words and energy out there and radiate kindness and compassion into the World. Engage in Words and Deeds that inspire and bring Joy and Peace to people around us and motivate others to do the same. This is what the World needs most right now…. and please do not put down others’ faiths and creating much more disharmony, confusions, doubts and distortions amongst one another.
    Here is to Wishing Everyone the Ability to Look Within and Bring out the innate Divinity and Love to shine onto the World around us…Lizzie woon

  9. In philosophy, precision is crucial. Let’s not equate “no separate self” with “no self”. Buddha never meant to say there is no self, only that the self is not separate. In other words, when the self is examined there is no fixed and definite boundary between self and not self. For instance, where is the boundary between microorganisms and the body when the life of the body depends on microorganisms? The result of this examination should lead to the liberating insight that one’s sense of separation is false.

  10. Dear Joseph Waligore thank you for your site.

    You say “I am going to go through these arguments only superficially because they quickly get involved with abstruse philosophy.”

    Maybe what is missing you (and me) is understanding, at least a little bit, that “abstruse philosophy”.

    Please discuss it with a genuine lama before you criticise.

    That lama will discuss it with you based on logic, not based on the book somebody might have written x years ago (and that you may accept as valid or not).

    Give it a try and you may be surprised.

    Again, thank you. José Carvalho

  11. Pingback: Pema Chodron | Spiritual Critiques | Non-Judging

  12. dear pema chodron
    difficult people are a mirror image helping us to away ur loved ones makes us more bodhisattva. when one lives with difficult people who dont change and u beome tolerant is it not a useless tug of war. to fight over attachment by parents raises a lot of hostility,pls comment

  13. Maybe it’s because I’m an academic myself, but I read this article/site as an attempt to publish a book and make some money. In that light, I think your biggest problem is the discussion of materialism. Pema’s primary audience (the people who buy the books you are critiquing) do not suffer from real poverty. They do, however, suffer from poverty mind. I find your critique on that point a bit like saying “Why doesn’t she tell all those hot people about blankets. Some people [not the ones here, but some] are cold.” It’s a very weak argument.

  14. This Man has an PHD. Permanent Head Damage. That is how he get his so call higher self and divine calling, So much rubbish.

  15. First, thank you for this insightful, well documented analysis. I feel divinely led to it. I have been struggling with” something” surrounding her wonderful teachings (and they are great for me as I practice tonglen, along with depp breathing and hatha yoga to release negative feels for people).My struggle startted with the Shambala style of meditation(hate to keep my eyes open) and the “no self” just appeared empty to this Christian-raised recovering (10 years) person. While so much of it seems good, there was someting inside of me – more than ego – that resisted. You’ve helped me by shaping these ideas. Nama

  16. This article made my day!! I can’t stop laughing to see that this man spend so much of his time and energy to convince himself that he is right and whatever he believes is the ultimate truth. Well, this your career choice anyway. Keep going! Good luck! (at some point, when you are fed up with your own self seriousness and importance, sit down, calm down, sip a coffee and read Pema with an open mind. That might help. :) )

  17. neither self nor no self. rest awake in natural great perfection- intrinsic buddha nature in all beings without exception
    may all beings know happiness

  18. I find it really sad, and the author has my complete compassion, that someone would spend so much time trying to convince others about his opinion.
    Try things on, and if they do not fit…fine, just let them go. Pema Chodron repeats teachings that have been known for thousands of years, and each and everyone is welcome to try them on, rather than waste other people’s time in some kind of low key intellectual debate about nothing.
    What the Buddha shared with others 2’500 years ago approx, can be tried on as well today.
    Life is impemanent, things change constantly, in the very moment we are reading and writing these lines we are a step closer to our own death.
    All humans have the same needs and the same feelings; what varies are the strategies we use to fullfill those needs.
    It is beyond me why someone would waste his own,and other people’s time, trying to “prove” the Buddha wrong, when, all this person proves, is that he has not tried things on, yet limits himself to a purely intellectual/mental analysis of what can only be understood at a deeper level, at a level that goes beyond the thinking mind, just like, for example, the infinity of the universe which, to the thinking mind, is almost unacceptable.

  19. I too just cannot begin to grasp the concept of “no-self”, but I’m not quite sure what point you are trying to make in this article.

    Reading your critique, I couldn’t help but thing that the exact same examples (just with references to different writings) could be made about the Jewish and Christian traditions.

    I have read “The Places That Scare You” and found it immensely helpful and addresses a major issue of our time – that we are all supposed to be happy and successful 100% of the time and we are failures if this is not the case.

    I found the concept of accepting your feelings – that it is OK to feel angry or jealous or disappointed, to be a revelation. Because when we try to hide these feelings is when we act in damaging ways to ourselves and others through drinking, or compulsive eating, or violence.

    I think if anyone were to ignore all of Pema Chodron’s work because they disagree with the “no-self” concept, then they would be missing out of a significant and important techniques for living in the modern world.

  20. I hear EGO all over Mr Walegore’s writings and quite a few of the commenters. Everyone talks to God, everyone hears God, just not everyone knows how to listen. He finally had to have his own wife tell him to get a job…what? Did God ever tell him to support his family? I’ve known more enlightened 7-11 employees.
    Find your way to the egoless state Mr W, either thru ACIM or Buddhism or your personal journeying, then your own words will have more punch. By writing from the ego, your work is defensive and sometimes, offensive. That is how we know your ego is deeply imbedded in your words. Also, as with Pema’s work being the teachings of her Masters, please give credit where credit is due for your own teachers.

    Your mind is God. If you say, “I am God” in a deep prayer or meditative state, you will be ultimately pulled into the abiding energy that resonates through every living being, and you then will understand the concept of being One with it All, as in losing the ego-self to a Higher Consciousness. Your atoms will feel the flow into the fabrics, into the chair, the floor, the ground, to others, and the Connection will happen to you. Your heart will be Light, your words Golden, and your life filled with Happy.

    As to the rest of the arguments about this and that…nothing else matters.

  21. I’m really interested to know what are the intellectual basis of Mr Waligore’s proof that God spoke to him and not the Satan or some other local diety( who would be considered as Satan in Western Judeo Christian culture anyway)? How does he and his wife know that it is this Judeo Christian God and not some other diety or local spirit or even some evil force or that it is not all a schizophrenic trip? Can he analyze his own presumptions in the same way he tried to analyze Pema Chodron? And he says he can find the self in other ways than the way the Buddhists look for it but he doesn’t give the other way? Maybe if he lays it out we can all see whether it is really a superior way to look for the self or it is just a delude perception? Maybe his way to look for the self can also be analyzed in the same way by others as he analyzed Pema’s ? And Mr Lotus ,by the way come of it, both Zen and the Tibetan tradition emphasize Pragya Shila and Samadhi as much as if not more than the Theravada.Wherever did you get the quaint notion that that Zen and the Tibetan tradition emphasizes Samadhi only while Theravada emphasizes all three? In fact in the Tibetan tradition it is considered that while all three exists in all the Buddhist tradition the Theravadins emphasize Shila the Tibetans emphasize Pragya and the Chinese emphasize samadhi!! By the way the recent emphasis on Sukkha Vipassana in the Theravadin tradition which may have given you the misconception that only the Theravada has some kind of Vipassana/ Vipashyana in sanskrit /Lhag Thong in Tibetan / Kuan in chinese / Kan in Japanese / khan in korean is not historically correct.Actually it started just over a hundred years ago only in Burma through Jetevan Sayadaw within the Theravada tradition while Vipashyana had always been practiced in the Tibetan and other Mahayana traditions unbroken through the centuries.And ancient Sanskrit Mahayana Texts which describe various forms of Vipashyana are still extant And by the way Mr. Walgore The Mahayana does not criticize the Theravada at all. No Mahayana Sutra uses the word Theravada. They say the view and the goal of the Hinayana ( Theravada is only one of the many forms of Hinayana/shravakayana)is a lower form of the goal of Buddhism.The Buddha himself evidently did not follow the Shravakayana/ Hinayana method of becoming a an Arhat to become a Buddha who is certainly more spiritually evolved than the Arhat in many ways as in qualities et al and if you really have read properly, most Mahayana scriptural critique is pointed at the Sarvastivadin notions rather than at the Theravadin notions . And by the way a refutation is not the same a negative criticism . Perhaps Mr Walgore is not aware of the long Indian tradition of the Hindus, Buddhists and the Jains refuting each other through the centuries as a means of both self criticism and self validation for as part of the debate commitment was that if you cannot rebut or refute the other you you accept his view and honourably joined the opponent!!!The Mahayana critique of the so called Hinayana but more appropriatly called the Shravakayana was very much a part of that cultural milieu of open debate and cannot and should not be taken out of that context and seen through the eye glasses a Judeo-Christian- Islamic historical milieu of criticizing each other but never joining the other even when you cannot refute him . I would remind you that there are such refutations within the commentaries of Mahayana ( intra mahayana) itself and the same is found within pure Theravadin commentaries too. These are healthy ways to get at more correct more refined more accurate views as in science too by the way . And your whole interpretation of the Anatta or emptiness or interdependance is completely skewed to say the least. before one refutes somebody one must really know what the other means otherwise one’s refutation is only half baked to say the least and you cannot know what the other means by merely reading a few available books.

  22. To me, the problem with this site’s misunderstanding of the points Pema makes is that he does not practice. He is eating the menu, not the food.

  23. I have read many of Pema Chodron’s books and have profited much from them. However, I do think that Mr. Waligore’s observations also have validity in the whole picture.

    I am also not on board with PC’s and Buddhism’s understanding of the self or should I say “no self”. This is not just a peripheral teaching but rather a foundational one.

    There are certain aspects of the doctrine that are helpful, e.g. the self is always evolving and very much inter-connected rather than autonomous but I believe we all do possess distinctive selfhood.

    Some Buddhists acknowledge this by saying this conceptualized sense of selfhood is a necessary “fiction” alongside the deeper awareness of non-self, so we all can function in the world. Much of PC’s teaching really only makes coherent sense for this “fictionalized” self and why I find her teaching very relevant and refreshing.

    But I guess I’ll stubbornly hang on to my illusion of having a distinctive personality and selfhood. ;)

    For those that feel Mr. Waligore attempts to refute and attack, why not see it as dialoguing and engaging discussion? An unexamined faith very often is insular and small-minded and I personally welcome frank discussion that expands my understanding.

  24. why you all get so excited with this mr waligore? he is just pushing your buttons :) if you trully experience Dharma,i believe, there is nobody who can “talk” it away with no matter how superb or poor arguments, or even if he claims he speaks to “god”, which, trully, does not increase any trustworthiness at all, in my opinion.
    Spiritual path is an inner process, visible should be just actions deriving from it,unless you feel you are advanced enough to teach others, however, once you start boasting about your achievements, or spiritual development (speaking to god etc.) you lose all of them, if there were any before.
    Let everybody go his own way, mr waligore has is own, let him think he is right, let him go his way, and you buddhists, go your own way without being attached to other people’s understanding, be it wrong, or right, you cannot trully help anybody who is not simply ready.
    many of the concepts, such as no-self etc, are very difficult to grasp,even intellectually, but it is nice to do it, nonetheless, i think we either get there, or not, but wasting time in dwelling on about the philosophical validity is absurd. Many of the teachings given by Buddha, are tools. you can try using them and see where you get, or you need to look elsewhere, there is nothing wrong with the tool however, or with us either,if the tools dont work with us, we just need a different approach.
    Pema Chodron offers “tools” to work with problems, you either use them, if they fit you, or throw them away, as you wish, i dont see why anybody bothers to write such a long essay refuting pema and buddhist doctrines, like if anybody cares.
    Frankly, i see sickness in all this, refuting, and defending, attacking and protecting, its just all a waste of energy.
    the one who is looking for truth might eventually find it, and the one who thinks he already knows everything, well, that is fine, let him think so :)

    Wish you all happiness
    bodhisattva robin

  25. It is “interesting” reading your “comments” on Venerable Pema Chodron’s teachings.
    From my perspective on your views , they tend to be based from an intellectual point of view with no real understanding from guidance, indepth practice and realization on what she is really teaching and what her teaching really means beyond the words.
    The Dharma is not something to be discussed and crticized word for word without the guidance of an authentic Teacher and it must be supported by the person’s personal understanding through actual engagement of its practice through a period of time which then brings forth deep realization which is beyond mere words that we just read and analysed from the texts.
    This would not be a true understanding of the Dharma….the Dharma is very profound which is not easily understood by just being intellectual. So one cannot just merely understand it by tearing it to shreds based upon an intellectual point of view.

    i think it is totally fine to share our own personal ideas of our own “spiritual” beliefs on its own without criticising others’ spiritual teachings, whether we are trying to share them or gathering a group following or making ourselves look cleverer or more spiritual than others…..
    It is important for us to be aware that there are so many different kinds of people, races , nationalities and their religious beliefs and practices, traditions and cultures thus Having respect for others’ teachings or beliefs is so essential. It means having respect for one’s own beliefs too and this brings about harmony and peace within oneself and naturally brings about harmony and peace in the World… Harmony and Peace must begin from our own hearts first…

    May U Meet with an Authentic Teacher and Be Guided to Be Truly Awaken to Supreme Wisdom and Compassion!

    with metta & sila

  26. Nice, long argument, but riddled with misunderstandings that appear as though they might stem from reading Buddhism, but not actually practicing it. Anyway, it’s nice that you are thinking at all. Thank you for the effort.

  27. Hi

    I read with interest the many and varied interpretations of the Buddha’s teaching on ‘anatta – ‘not self’, not just here but in many other sites/blogs etc. Allow me to share with your a very well known Buddhist monk’s explanation of this key teaching in the Theravada tradition of Buddhism. Check it out if you wish to:
    The Not-Self Strategy:

    No-self or Not Self

  28. Hey man, are you enlightened? Is that the same thing as you talking about the higher self? What happens then, do you feel the oneness?

  29. [email protected] on said:

    I would not be considered a devote buddhist by any reach of the imagination. I have known many true buddhist some of whom were close to Pema’s main teacher Chogyam Trunga Ripoche. These opinions the author has attributed to Pema are not her’s but those of her teachers. Such a tirade leads me to wonder what percevied injury she has done to him to cause such a response. From all this I can easily conclude that he has only a clinical understanding of buddhism. I have noticed a western or anglo approach to buddism is to analyze the wealth of writing avalible and to proclaim themselves literary experts on the subject. I can not imagine the buddhist lay people of Tibet understanding such an attack on a non tibetian teacher. This is an attach on Buddha himself. Were this another belief system the author would find himself in the company of Salman Rushdie or some previously obscure Dutch cartoonist. I can only conclude from my meager and humble understanding of buddhism than the author knows less about ego than do “I”



  30. Mr Waligore: I can see that the main point in your article is not to try to understand the teachings of Pema Chodron. You are only trying to demonstrate the validity of your ideas against the non-validity of others ideas, specially those who reject the concept of an allmighty God around and above us all. To you, we are nothing more than heretic atheists. Now, let me explain myself: To say that all Buddhits are atheist, is to show your inmense ignorance about the sublime Dharma, as you use it only as a way to try to convert people by demonstrating the “faults” of Buddhist teaching. It is obvious to me that you are not trying to understand profound teachings and doctrines of the Buddha, just to disqualify them. To me, the idea of rejecting the idea of God is as heretic as trying to gain proof of its existance… boths extremes are beyond your knowledge. If this is not the case, and it is true that God talks to you, ask him from my part what and where were you in your previous lives… you may find the answer quite clarifying if you get it, as you may discover the true motives of your religious possition… only last but not least, dont attack other people belief system as this may cause a future rebirth as an stupid creature…

  31. This essay demonstrates a profound mis-understanding of the Jatakas, and particularly the meaning of the Vessentara Jataka. This essay is the fantasy of a deluded mind, not a scholar.

  32. -From “The Places That Scare You”-

    * “Confess you hidden faults.”
    I think that I am right and you are wrong.
    That s my fault. You are right and I am wrong.

    * “Approach what you find repulsive.”
    I get here because you pay a Google Ad to read you. I don-t find this repulsive. I found interesting.

    * “Anything you are attached to, let it go.”
    A have a lot of this. Stay tuned.

    * “Go to places that scare you.”
    Not here, of course. But I have plans.

    * “Help those you think you cannot help.”
    Well, finally, thats the point.
    Here I am, Mr. Waligore.
    What can I do for you? What do you want? What can I give you?
    How can I help you?
    I will.

  33. I think that it is healthy for such critical essays to be written but do feel that the author has misunderstood the nature of the Buddhist doctrine of emptiness and dependent-arising otherwise would not be confused over the fact that the self does not exist ultimately yet has conventional existence.

    Also, the criticism that there have been mistakes made by Tibetan Buddhists such as quoted by the fifth Dalai Lama, and the current Dorje Shugden controversy, is not an argument against the wisdom of the teachings, but a demonstration of the fallability of humankind. As a Mahayana Buddhist myself, I am not keen on attempts to denigrate the so called ‘Hinayana’ teachings.

    I do not claim to know all of the answers but, for me, Buddhism respresents the best path to wisdom and compassion that I have found thus far. The author is, of course, free to choose his own path, but I think that the above essay sadly demonstrates a great many misunderstandings of what Pema Chodron is teaching.

  34. I can relate to many of the sentiments expressed here. Some of those examples of compassion is what pema terms ‘idiot compassion’. Compassion does not mean co-dependency or giving away your spouse or child to priests as ‘chattel’. So patriarchal!

    Mahayana and some bodhisattas suffer from a subtle ego since they put interprters words and explanations above those spoken by Buddha, Tathagata and shown by his living example. Buddha never claimed divinity and emphasised human birth is precious, since only human beings have the seed potential for enlightenment and ultimate liberation. Devas and gods in the higher planes of 31 planes in Buddhist cosmology do not. Unfortunately to comprehend buddha’s teaching one has to be developed in sila and prajna and not just practice samadhi as emphasised in many Zen and Tibetan traditions.

    Please read Buddha’s actual words in Pali or translations from pali and the social personal context each teachings were given is very important. Buddha emphasised to avoid both extremes in his middle way to avoid distortion in perception and comprehension of his teachings. Extremes of non-self (annihilation or aversion of self sense) is as distorting as clutching to a (sense of permanent self). Our sense of self naturally evolves if we are not to attached to social conditionings or ego identity through labels. Read ‘Kalama Sutta’ to judge the merit of any teaching or teacher.

  35. I used to agree that all spiritual paths went to the same mountaintop, but I no longer do. I wrote about my reasons why on this site in the section labeled “Popular Spiritual Ideas” subsection, “Many paths up to mountaintop.”

  36. I can perceive some resentment in Waligore’s article, not a good place from where to share anything.

    And despite all the intelectual knowledge that he seems to show, his lack of understanding of the so complex no-self doctrine makes him unfitted to write about.

    We buddhists can’t show-off if we have any spiritual realization, even less talk about it, it just naturaly exudes. I wouldn’t trust anybody who is saying that God talk to him!

  37. Todd, I know plenty of people who get divine messages so I do not consider myself special at all for getting them. At first on this site I said nothing about anything like that and people attacked me as being an academic professor. So I put that stuff in.
    Maybe you never have heard Buddhists attack anyone’s beliefs, but you should read some of the Buddhist scriptures where Buddhists attack the beliefs of other sects quite often. You should read about how the Mahayana Buddhists continually put down the Theravadans in their scripture. You should also read about the fifth Dalai Lama used the Mongolian army to destroy the monasteries of other Tibetan Buddhists. Or you should look up Shugden in wikipedia and see the fights Tibetan Buddhists are currently having over that spirit. I do not know you, so I can’t speak for you, but many westerners romanticize Buddhism and it seems to me you are doing that.

  38. I like Monke’s response. Both journey’s are valid. Too try on other people’s clothes, is never as comfortable as tailoring your own.


  39. As you read Waligore’s analysis, you must keep in mind that God communicates directly with him:

    “Seven months later he received a message from God to quit Dartmouth College”

    “Through following a divine message in a dream and after many synchronistic experiences, he met his soulmate and married her.”

    “He and his wife followed their spiritual intuitions in their daily lives, including being TOLD to have children.”

    I myself have never received a direct message from God, but think those who do are very fortunate and if I had received such messages, I would probably see things differently, so it easy to understand why Waligore rejects the notion of “no self”, since he is obviously a very special individual.

    Buddhists are taught not to promote Buddhism, attempt to convert anyone to Buddhism or criticize other beliefs and I’m sure I’m violating those teachings here, but I must say this. In all the Buddhist teachings I’ve sat through and all the books I’ve read, I’ve never heard Buddhists attack anyone’s beliefs or way of life…ever. We are taught to love everyone and it’s the most refreshing thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. I myself may never fully attain the understanding or concept of “no self” or emptiness, but the more I try, the more loving, compassionate and happy I become. What do individuals or for that matter the world need more of, ego and individualism or love and compassion for others?

  40. I find it entertaining that we actually spend our timing writing and reading such commentary. There is no right or wrong in this world, only the consequences of our actions as they unfold that we choose to define as right or wrong, good or bad. These are labels just like the author above tries to apply labels to Pema’s thoughts. This world of form is a very futile existence with all sorts of trappings that we let ourselves get sucked into when we fall asleep to our Higher Self and allow ego to take us hostage. If we were perfect, we wouldn’t need to be born and it is our return to pure unconditional love through form experience that allows to move through this plane of existence. I encourage the author to find his peace as he seems very troubled with other peoples works. We need to take what we need from our collective process of expression and leave the rest. When we judge, we don’t change the other person either, we just define ourselves as some one who needs to judge. I don’t know where all this commentary is leading. It is what comes to mind after taking the time to read the criticism above. As Ghandi said,’There are many paths to the top of the moutain. Once at the top though, the view is always the same.’ From my experience, to try to deny some one their journey because I don’t agree with the path, is foolish. To judge something as not for me is one thing, to condemn it because it is not for me is just my ego and attachment to the form. You both are right from your different perspecitves and I look forward to meeting you and Pema at the top of the mountain should we pass through the peak at the same time…

  41. No-self is not Chodron’s doctrine. It’s from Buddha. He said we should examine critically what he said. So this examination is pretty valid. But it could be more careful and well informed.

  42. I think this article is both on to something and at the same time missing the point.
    In my view it is correct that buddhism has a blind spot in failing to consider adequately how a person acts in the world. The active force in buddhism is compassion. However all but the most misty eyed will realise that the practice of helping others requires technique and technique involves us in all the worldly manipulation of our environment and its attachement to consequences that buddhism warns us against. It is very informative to read anything by Pema Chodron either before or after reading Stephen Covey’s book on the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
    On the other hand I think this article makes a major error in taking much that is written in the budddhist tradition far too seriously. Buddhist texts are not religious scriptures but interpretations of buddhist ideas that are made within a specific cultural framework. Perhaps indian men considered their wives and families as property and it was virtuous that they should be prepared to give them away – I have no idea. But these ideas clearly have no attraction or relevance in modern western interpretations of buddhism.
    On the other much that buddhism has to say is very relevant to the cultural sicknesses of excessive individualism, ego-centredness and carelessness that afflict western culture. I say this not on a moral basis, but simply because despite our wealth, people in western societies are profoundly discontented and unhappy.
    Where a genuinely western interpretation of buddhism is developing, the asian subcontinent buddhist array of gods and myths is dropped in favour of a more rationalist and psychological approach which assists people to act in a communal spirit and with compassion for others. What is still missing is an understanding of how this development coexists with western social activism. There have been attempts to address this but often they just regurgitate tired left wing politics.
    How does a buddhist act in the world? Is an active buddhist a contradiction? Does a compassionate outlook mean anything if it is not put into the practice of helping others. Is it enough to argue that a buddhist expresses their compassion simply by teaching the dharma?
    When critiquing buddhism, the western rationalist suffers the vice of looking for consistency. In a chaotic and ever changing world however, there is in fact no reason to think that there is an “answer”. In fact, the way through may well be to hold opposing tendencies in creative balance. The Buddha lived in the constant presence of mara. It is no criticism of the teaching if tendencies appear to conflict.
    Above all, buddhism is a teaching to assist the individual deal with their experience of suffering. All teachings of any nature should be tested by the individual against the standard of their their own life experience interpreted by their own intellect and in the context of their own emotional and cultural make up. In this way much that is unhelpful can be discarded – and this includes some statements attributed directly to the Buddha. I find that Pema Chodron has a lot of useful things to say but I do not feel the need to say, as did St Paul, “this is it, this is who I am.” That would be finding ground for a self where none exists and would close my mind to life’s adventure. In my understanding, realising that this colonising of a space by the narrative of a self leads the person to being stuck and unfree. Avoiding this is the real meaning of the teaching of no self.

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