In 1936, a beautiful soul called Pema Chodron in New York City was born. She pursued a bachelor’s degree in English literature, after which she then advanced her studies by joining the University of California Berkeley for a Master’s degree in elementary education.
Pema taught in both New Mexico and California before she opted to convert to Buddhism. Pema Chodron has three grandchildren and children, and currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
She has become a notable American figure in Tibetan Buddhism. She teaches the traditional Yarne retreat at Gampo Abbey each winter and also The Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life in Berkeley during the summers.
The concept of attachment (aka “shenpa”) is a central theme to her teaching. She interprets this as the moment one is hooked into a cycle of habitual negative or self-destructive thoughts and actions. She believes this occurs when something in the present stimulates a reaction to a past experience. Note: This is similar to Freud’s concept of Transference.
Pema Chodron Quotes
These quotes will leave you feeling uplifted.
1. “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”
2. “Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of sh#t and not squeamish about taking a good look.”
3. “To be fully alive, fully human and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again.”
4. “The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes.”
5. “…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.”
6. “The most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves.”
7. “If someone comes along and shoots an arrow into your heart, it’s fruitless to stand there and yell at the person. It would be much better to turn your attention to the fact that there’s an arrow in your heart…”
8. “People get into a heavy-duty sin and guilt trip, feeling that if things are going wrong, that means that they did something bad and they are being punished. That’s not the idea at all. The idea of karma is that you continually get the teachings that you need to open your heart. To the degree that you didn’t understand in the past how to stop protecting your soft spot, how to stop armoring your heart, you’re given this gift of teachings in the form of your life, to give you everything you need to open further.”
9. “nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know…nothing ever really attacks us except our own confusion. perhaps there is no solid obstacle except our own need to protect ourselves from being touched. maybe the only enemy is that we don’t like the way reality is now and therefore wish it would go away fast. but what we find as practitioners is that nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. if we run a hundred miles an hour to the other end of the continent in order to get away from the obstacle, we find the very same problem waiting for us when we arrive. it just keeps returning with new names, forms, manifestations until we learn whatever it has to teach us about where we are separating ourselves from reality, how we are pulling back instead of opening up, closing down instead of allowing ourselves to experience fully whatever we encounter, without hesitating or retreating into ourselves.”
10. “Compassion for others begins with kindness to ourselves.”
11. “Inner peace begins the moment you choose not to allow another person or event to control your emotions.”
12. “To be fully alive, fully human and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-mans-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again.”
13. “We think that the point is to pass the test to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved, they come together and they fall apart, then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
14. “The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”
15. “When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid.”
16. “Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.”
17. “There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.”
18. “We don’t set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people’s hearts.”
19. “Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all. When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may just be the beginning of a great adventure. Life is like that. We don’t know anything. We call something bad; we call it good. But really we just don’t know.”
20. “When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch in on that throbbing quality. (9)”
21. “Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave her the instructions for the battle. The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. They both had their weapons. The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, “May I have permission to go into battle with you?” Fear said, “Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission.” Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?” Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.” In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear.”
22. “Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.”
Pema Chodron Video – “Fear and Fearlessness”
In this video, Pema Chödrön describes a liberating way to become intimate with our fears instead of trying to get rid of them. She asks us to ponder questions like these: “Where will we look when we are afraid? How do we find strength? In what can we place our trust?”
According to Tibetan Buddhism, we can call on the Four Great Catalysts of Awakening (and the four noble aspirations) to cultivate strength and openness in any situation.
Related: Self Care Quotes
Summary of Pema Chodron’s Quotes
Pema Chodron quotes are very inspiring, very deep, and always make us pause for a moment. They take about what we face daily and how they lead to self-destruction if not handled with boldness.
Pema talks about fear and wanting to escape from challenging situations, instead of embracing the pain and learning from the pain to become a better version of yourself.
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