- Living Beautifully by Pema Chodron
- Format: Paperback
The teachings contained within Living Beautifully were originally given at Gampo Abbey, which is a Tibetan Monastery in Cape Breton, Nova Scocia, during a six-week winter retreat.
Whilst they would originally have been offered via a teacher, in her book Pema Chodron chose to present these essentially Buddhist insights in a way that anyone, either religious or non-religious, can understand and appreciate.
Her book opens with a consideration of the impermanence of the human experience and reflects upon the fluid nature to the life that we lead on a daily basis.
The Three Vows
Buddhist thinking promotes the concept of the Three Vows, or Three Commitments, as a way of embracing the chaotic and impermanence of life.
The first of these is called the ‘Pratimoksha Vow’ – which is the foundation for personal liberation.
The second is the commitment we need to make to help others – often referred to as the ‘Bodhisattva Vow’.
The third Vow, called ‘Samaya Vow’, is a resolve to embrace the world as it is.
According to the author, the challenge of all these vows is to address and dissolve the natural state that humans enter into when confronted by change which is described by Chodron as
This state can present itself not only as a desire to cling onto a sense of fixed identity but also to centre our sense of groundlessness in such transitory things as food, TV and other tangible objects.
In the Moment
In her book, Chodron emphasises the need not to be distracted by things that exist in our modern world but instead to focus upon three basic ideas which are;
- Be fully present
- Feed your heart
- And engage the next moment without an agenda
With these we increase our ability to deal with distraction and to shift our awareness away from the choppy seas of change and of directly resolving the sense of groundlessness that we feel.
In Living Beautifully the author dedicates a section of her book to exploring these essential principles, or Three Commitments, all of which are offered as a way of
…relaxing with the fundamental dynamic quality of our lives.
In part one she explores the principle of
Committing to Not Cause Harm, from refraining from speech and actions that are harmful to ourselves and others which, in turn, brings us into a clearer awareness of our inner thoughts and emotions.
The second Commitment is that of taking care of others. This requires a condition of openness, gentleness, clarity of mind as well as a strong heart.
It also requires a compassionate nature – something that we need to develop and grow deeply from within ourselves.
Committing to Embrace the World as It Is forms the third of the three Commitments.
Here the student is invited to step into the groundlessness, to relax into the continually changing nature of our situations and to experience it as awakened energy.
We all live in difficult times. a period in history in which we are being challenged to make a bold jump into an unknown destiny. As Chodron remarks in the closing section to her book,
The journey through the Three Commitments won’t be the cause of your death, but it will almost certainly leave you speechless.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus (c. 535 – c. 475 BCE) is quoted as having once said that
The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change.
Living Beautifully is a book that takes up the challenge of coming to terms with that change – of adapting to its demands and ultimately of improving the essential quality of our being.
It is not, as the author points out, a book on Buddhist doctrine but a commentary on a process that anyone who has struggled to cope with the demands of modern and souls living can draw spiritual sustenance from.
The word beautiful is not simply a reflection of this books titles. It also describes the quality of the writing and even to the publication as a physical object.
The copy that I had for review was a beautifully-bound, hardback edition complete with a beautifully woven bookmark. It reminded me of valuable ancient texts with a real sense of permanence about it – which is rather ironic given the nature of the subject under consideration in its page!
Beautifully crafted and presented, as well as being a manual of powerful guidance and deep insight, Living Beautifully really is a first-class publication – one that offers practical, down-to-earth advice drawn from the warm heart of its wise author.
Credit: Review copy kindly supplied by PGUK, London.