Expanding the heart brings great benefit for both ourselves and others. In this video teaching, Phakchok Rinpoche advises each of us to develop big and broad hearts. Yet, he acknowledges that this practice can be very tough. But if a practice of ethics is tough for us, that means we can gently begin to work with it.

Expanding Heart Practice

On a practical level, what does it mean to have a big heart? One example is that we don’t react quickly out of anger when someone offends us. We develop more patience, and give ourselves some space to understand others or various situations. By expanding our heart, we don’t act like children. Having a big, broad heart is another manifestation of good ethics. Because we are often in close sangha communities, or surrounded by other people, this quality is very important for Dharma practitioners.

Checking Our Own Hearts

As with any other practice, we regularly check ourselves. In this video, Rinpoche shares a personal anecdote about how he examined his own heart during a retreat. This humorous story may hit a nerve for us as we reflect on our own hearts. As we practice self-reflection we may see where we are still narrow and tight even though we are practicing the Buddhadharma. We see honestly what we “can not bear,” and this lets us know where we are paying lip-service to the teachings, but have not fully integrated them.

Broad Hearts in the Sangha

Broad hearts are important for us and our relationships. If we expand our hearts, it benefits our families and relationships. We naturally develop kindness. Then it will also benefit our sangha communities. Usually, we make our biggest mistakes when our hearts are small and narrow. This comes from thinking all the time about ourselves.

When we are proficient at expanding the heart, however, we are no longer selfish! It is about all of us, together! With this expansion, our understanding has a sense of space. Then we can accommodate the views and desires of others. Rinpoche notes that this quality of acceptance is crucial for sangha harmony. The wish that Rinpoche makes for all of us is that we can all develop these broad hearts. Expanding our hearts reduces our own regrets and guilt over how we deal with others.

Practice Exercise

Naturally, some people find this practice much easier than others. Some people may already have patient and forgiving natures. But we need to admit that some of us have much narrower hearts. If that is the case, we need to really devote time to practice. How do we do this?

Rinpoche asks us to sit and visualize our own hearts expanding. Next, we let out a deep breath and  physically relax. Then, we might say to ourselves, “It’s okay… Anybody who doesn’t like me… It’s okay. Slowly, slowly, I will take care of myself and you.”

And we repeat this exercise until it truly feels comfortable and natural. Of course, in the beginning, it may seem a little silly or a little like play-acting, but if we repeatedly and consciously picture our bigger heart, then changes will occur!  Kindness will naturally manifest.

At the end of the video teaching, Rinpoche requests his live audience to repeat over and over the instruction to “make the heart big.” It helps if we note here his point about incorporating a dramatic physical gesture as a reminder. As Rinpoche says, it feels very different when we “act” big as we chant this reminder. Again, it may seem theatrical, but this is a great way to really commit to the practice. Furthermore, we can come to understand how the body’s posture and gestures affect our meditation.

Benefits of Expansion

Naturally, broadened hearts result in better personalities. Then as our practice improves, we will automatically become an inspiration for others. As Rinpoche reminds us, people don’t know how many hours we meditate. But they can easily see how we react to things, and they can recognize big and broad hearts. We really want to be honest about our own hearts. It’s easy to do: we look at our own actions and at our own thoughts. That, Rinpoche explains, is how we become real practitioners. It is also how we become better people in our families and communities!