Be Gentle with Yourself!

In this video instruction, Phakchok Rinpoche uses a casual expression to make a profound point about practice. Here, during a teaching in Taiwan, he responds to a student’s question about thoughts arising during four foundations practice sessions. Rinpoche advises the student to look at the thought as it arises. Look at the thought and then rest. Always try to be gentle with yourself.

Rinpoche here teaches in English and there is an audio translation into Chinese.

Understand Our Own Character

Why do we train to think this way? Each of us has a different personality and characteristics. If we are lazy people, then we naturally are gentle with ourselves. We don’t push too hard. Some of us, however, may tend toward perfectionism. If we tend to be that way, then we may be very demanding and treat ourselves a little harshly. We may not deliberately think to be hard on ourselves, but that behavior comes automatically. So we push hard to practice “correctly”. And we ask our teachers many questions to get it right. We may have a deep need to be right.

However, practice is never “right” in the beginning.  If we expect immediate results, we create stress. We can relax! Instead, Rinpoche explains, we can learn to accept trial and error. That’s why we call it “practice!” And we must keep trying, but gently!

We learn to be gentle with ourselves as we begin our meditation practice. We are like newborn babies and we thus approach practice carefully. If we approach our practice gently, then we will want to meditate. But if we are hard on ourselves, we will lose our interest very quickly.

Be gentle

Start slowly and give ourselves inspirational advice: mini pep talks. We kindly boost our own confidence. Please don’t make the mistake of reading sutras about great bodhisattvas and expect to immediately copy their behavior. Of course, great bodhisattvas can give away their limbs or perform major austerities. They are well-trained bodhisattvas! That means that they have practiced for many lifetimes. But we know that we are just beginners. We should not expect to be able to copy their actions immediately.

Be Gentle and Aspire to Improve

Yes, it is wonderful to be inspired by these great beings. Yet, we patiently accept where we are right now. Eventually, if we commit to practice, we will be able to perform like the bodhisattvas. They all began where we begin. Accept that, and accept the fact that we will improve slowly and gently. But don’t be so slow and lazy that you don’t make any progress! As we practice self-reflection we will know how to maintain a balance. Enjoy and relax with your practice. Don’t be too uptight!

And when we enjoy our practice, others will automatically see that and appreciate our presence. That’s how we can then encourage others to practice every day.