Pursuing the Awakening Warrior

Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of compassion, holding a piece of lapis lazuli at his heart representing the quality of Bodhichitta.

By Rob Preece – Wake Up World

In a world where sickness of heart is a cultural normality, it’s a long road to the heart of the Bodhisattva

When some of my Tibetan teachers first began to visit the West and teach Westerners, they were surprised or perhaps even shocked by something they experienced in us. When they described it in their own terms, they called it sok lung, a damage or blockage of the primary life supporting “energy-wind” or lung (in Sanskrit: prana ) within the heart chakra. What they recognized in this was that something about our way of life in the West was putting a kind of pressure in the heart that led to a deep yet subtle level of pain and depression of the energy there. One of the ways this manifests is in subtle yet deep insecurity and anxiety.

If we translate this into a more Western, psychological language, what we begin to understand is that there is something about the stresses and pressures we grow up with in the West that has a dramatic impact upon this very subtle energy in the heart. One of the most significant aspects of this problem is that we experience a much more accentuated sense of insecurity and alienation in the West because of the very nature of our culture and its expectations on us from a very early age. From early in our life we are more likely to experience separation from the mother and a far greater expectation to be independent and self-reliant. We grow up into a world that then demands that we survive and become an individual in an extremely competitive environment where the pressure to succeed is endemic. If we add to this the absence of a supportive sense of community and the often dysfunctional nature of the nuclear family, insecurity, anxiety and fear become a root emotional drive.

Is it any wonder that this alienation has an impact on the heart and the energy of the heart? The consequence is that we experience deep-rooted wounding to our sense of self, and our ego-identity is built on shaky ground from the very beginning. It was this wounded sense of self that my Tibetan teachers recognized and as a result were at first somewhat at a loss as to how to address it in us. What becomes particularly problematic is that with the degree of wounding we have in the west it has become normal to be self-preoccupied and solely oriented to personal gain and personal gratification at the expense of others. Our culture seems to see the ruthless attainment of one’s own needs in a competitive world as something of an accolade. In the cutthroat political and corporate world being able to achieve and satisfy one’s own aspirations for power and status at the expense of others’ is encouraged. Our sickness of the heart has become a cultural normality.

From a Tibetan Buddhist point of view this wounding to the heart causes a contraction and closing around the heart chakra that cuts us off from a deep essential quality that is innate within us all. This is a quality of mind known in Sanskrit as Chitta. Chitta is often translated as mind, heart or essence and is a quality of mind that dwells in the heart chakra. But this is not our ordinary worldly conceptual mind, it is a deep quality of mind that is essentially clear, peaceful and pervaded by a natural compassion and loving kindness. Indeed it is our ordinary mind with its emotional entanglements and wounds that obscures this essential heart mind.

In the Tantric tradition this essential nature of mind is also known as clear-light mind and has a number of significant characteristics, one of which is its innate clarity and emptiness and the other is a potent innate vitality that brings with it a felt quality of joy, happiness and bliss. Our problem, if we like to see it as such, is that while this natural quality has never been defiled, it is, however, obscured by our gross ordinary mind and its emotional proliferations. As a result it is largely inaccessible to us. It has been described as being like a golden statue wrapped in filthy rags. From a Buddhist point of view if we are able to gradually clear these obscurations, then what naturally manifests is what could be called bodhichitta or the awakening mind or heart.

Our innate heart potential is the deep vitality of our mind’s natural, undefiled and clear nature. So long as we are still caught up in our primary wounds of the heart it is going to be extremely difficult to begin to awaken qualities such as compassion and loving-kindness. If I have deep-rooted feelings of low self-worth, lack of self-acceptance, feeling I am not good enough and so on, then these close the heart leading to Sok lung.

It is very easy to speak of opening the heart and having spiritual ideals of love and compassion, but if we have not addressed our essential wounding these will just be a kind of veneer of spiritual correctness burying deep wounds. To open the heart we must first begin to heal our sense of self. To do this we need to develop compassion and acceptance towards ourselves with all of our failings as well as gifts and qualities. The contraction around the heart then begins to soften, and the innate energy within the heart starts to awaken. This may not always be comfortable because as we soften the contraction in the energy around the heart we re-awaken our wounds, but as we go deeper we can begin to feel the natural chitta that lies in the heart.

The term bodhichitta, which is often translated as the “awakening mind,” emerges from an opening of the heart and brings a deep compassion for the suffering of all beings. It also awakens a powerful quality of intention that is willing to dedicate life to the welfare of others. Bodhichitta is sometimes called the “great will,” but this is not the will of the ego but a deeper intention that requires that we surrender to the process of awakening to the state of wholeness or Buddhahood for the sake of all beings. It is like the shift from “I will” to “thy will be done.” While this “awakening mind” lies at the heart of Buddhist life it is something that emerges only when we have begun to heal our own wounds so that there is the fertile ground for its growth. Once present, as a quality of the heart, it will underlie everything we do in life, like a steady flowing river moving us towards the ocean of full awakening. It will then be natural to wish to dedicate our life to the welfare of others and indeed to the planet that so unconditionally supports us. Bodhichitta is the heart of the Bodhisattva, often translated as “the awakening warrior,” one who with courage engages with the journey of life to transform adversity into the path of awakening for the welfare of others.

About the Author

Rob Preece, author most recently of The Courage to Feel (Snow Lion, 2009) is a psychotherapist, spiritual mentor, leader of Tibetan mediation retreats, and an initiated Granicero (weather work) in the Nahua tradition.

This article was originally published in Sacred Fire magazine

Sacred Fire magazine is an initiative of the Sacred Fire Foundation which seeks to help all people re-discover and celebrate the sacred, interconnected nature of life, a perspective held by indigenous peoples and spiritual traditions everywhere which is the source of all personal, cultural and environmental well-being.

Key initiatives include:

Sacred Fire magazine, which offers a fresh outlook on modern culture by showing the relevance of ancient ways to today’s world

Ancient Wisdom Rising, a series of gatherings with elders and wisdom keepers that offer hope, healing and renewed relationship with our sacred world

Sacred Fire Press, a book imprint that preserves and presents spiritual teachings from ancient and original sources

Wisdom Fellowships, bi-annual awards to tradition holders who are keeping the sacred fires of their people burning.

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  • “Veneer of spiritual correctness.” That is exactly what most people in the new age movement have perfected: a shellacked and impervious front of “correctness and heart consciousness” akin to the characters in The Stepford Wives. I find it to be the most difficult veneer to penetrate. A tricky defense of the heart that is most difficult to traverse.

    nice article

    • Samyo Dalgarno

      Well said … I refer to it as McDonald’s Spirituality ….

  • Brian

    Great article! This very subject has been on my mind lately. My question is: How does one with an open heart chakra live in a world of people with closed hearts? It’s very hard for me sometimes to stay open and available to people after experiencing so many closed people every day who reject my energy.

    • Hey Brian,
      You know when we touch the world through our hearts simply, there are no problems. But generally speaking us Humans attach also through the belly. There are actually cords that come out of our belly area (can’t see em of course). These are attached to our “feeling” nature…as opposed to our Loving nature. When I was young I was way to Psychic, actually had to move away from people living off the land until I developed a method of coping which was ….not healthy, but worked. Basically my cords, my belly was way too open. Over many years I finally learned that it’s not a matter of shutting down our psychic/feeling abilities as much as it is, tempering them with the heart. You see your belly is open to the influences around you. I’m rambling here. OK, I’d say that what is happening is that your heart is open but you are putting that out through your cords….through your feeling. We humans are attached to everything in the world we perceive emotionally, through these cords. If it was just a matter of Heart, there would be no problem. But when we attach to anything emotionally we have automatic expectations based upon how we view the world….. and this is where the problem arises. A point comes where we learn to love…yet without an emotional attachment to that. Then you see that really, there is no rejection of your love…..only of the cord that has translated it into a “feeling”. Emotions are easily rejected, but love is greedily accepted.

  • one

    extremely hard man. Each person has their own unique little quirks and gifts, find yours and just latch on to them and try to love those things about yourself. Do what you can with the cards you were given. I am very imperfect and it has been tough too. We are all one and there are plenty like you out there.

  • I lived in a Monastery in Tibet in my last life. (Not what you would call a happy ending there).. In fact some of my “heart wounding” came from my last day there. It’s interesting when I have come face to face with the woundings, how they are never centered around what was “done to me”, but rather what I “did”. A very simple last gesture made in that life, that I knew was mis-understood by my fellow monks…. is a huge one. And in another life after watching my kinfolks murdered like animals, the wounding was from when I raised my hand against those who were murdering. I was taught a little different …translation of the word “chitta”, as actually being that noisy quality of every day mind….that we still, along with the emotions, to experience the Light. Not that that really matters, I just wonder. There are so many words whose meanings have drastically shifted over time.
    It’s good to see the teaching of Tibetan Buddhism carrying on. Though having lived longer now I have a few questions I’d like to ask my old teacher. We were taught “transcendence” . I think that was a mistake….or was it just a trick to give us a Glimpse. And I don’t think I have really come to terms with the way we just gave up our lives, even though I understand in theory what we were told about… spreading out. And just in case any of you are out there…. I was not bowing my head to them, I just couldn’t bear to look in the soldiers eyes and automatically looked down…