Christmas with Chödrön

This Christmas, a friend gave me The Pocket Pema Chödrön, which includes 108 brief insights from the books of the beloved Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön. I haven’t spent much time with Chödrön’s writings, but after glancing through this pocketsize book, I have grown most eager to feast on her wisdom.

Last year, I committed to blogging on a chapter from Thomas A Kempis’ Imitation of Christ for each day of Advent. This year, I’m committing to blog on Chödrön for each of the twelve days of Christmas. At first, I wasn’t too sure how to divide up the 108 readings into 12 days. Clearly, I had forgotten my times tables. But once I realized that 12 goes into 108 exactly nine times (with no remainder), I got excited and took it as a “sign” of confirmation.  So I decided to read 9 selections a day and then be done with the book by Epiphany. Although I will read all 9 of her insights each day, I will only comment on one or two of her quotes at a time.

And because the number 108 held such energy for me, I decided to limit my reflections and comments to 108 words, which is really not very much at all, but it will be a good Christmas challenge for me. Since God was able to limit the Infinite to one tiny baby, I can at least try to limit my ramblings to 108 words.

Chödrön: “Bodhichitta is a Sanskrit word that means ‘noble or awakened heart.’ It is said to be present in all beings…Just as a jewel that has been buried in the earth for a million years is not discolored or harmed, in the same way this noble heart is not affected by all of our kicking and screaming. The jewel can be brought out into the light at any time, and it will glow as brilliantly as if nothing had ever happened. No matter how committed we are to unkindness, selfishness, or greed, the genuine heart of bodhichitta cannot be lost. It is here in all that lives, never marred and completely whole.”(Selection 1: When Things Fall Apart, 86-87).

I used to believe that I was rotten to the core because of my totally depraved and sinful nature, which my Christian faith had made very clear to me. Although I grew up to reject this “negative anthropology,” I refused to reject the faith tradition with which I associated it. I wanted to believe that Christianity could also offer me a “positive anthropology,” an understanding that deep down I am wholly good.

I found this “positive anthropology” in the Eastern Orthodox concept of the imago Dei, which dwells deep within me, underneath the layers of sin and selfishness. Perhaps another word for the imago Dei is the bodhichitta.

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