Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, a remarkable nun, practitioner and teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, is well known for her twelve-year retreat in a remote Himalayan cave and for founding Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery as a place for togden yogic practices for women. In her latest book, Into the Heart of Life, one encounters a collection of teachings that on first glance appear light and effortless, and yet delve deeply and skillfully into Tibetan Buddhist practice. Newcomers to Buddhadharma and seasoned practitioners alike will find these teachings a practical guide to the infinite crossroads of life.
After introducing teachings on impermanence, cause and effect, the nature of the mind, and egoistic habits and attachments, Jetsunma presents the ethical practices at the heart of Buddhist spiritual development. She also discusses renunciation and the eight worldly concerns, topics often overlooked in “feel-good” approaches to Buddhism. Her description of meditation practice is one of the most graceful and informative available in English. She clarifies that “mindfulness is about being silent” and experiencing “everything received through the five senses.” She then integrates mindfulness (“being attentive to what we are doing in the moment”) with calm abiding (shamatha), the foundation of meditation practice. With these basics in place, she makes the step-by-step transition from one-pointed meditation to opening the mind, and then describes the movement into “the wide pasture” where we start to develop insight.
The commentaries then focus on the six perfections (paramitas), mind training (lojong), and the aspiration for enlightenment (bodhicitta) as central themes. Jetsunma’s reflections on the bodhisattva path are illuminating: “Exchanging self for others does not leave us feeling depressed and down-trodden and full of self-contempt. In fact, it gives us a tremendous sense of inner courage which we can carry with us into even the most disastrous situations.”
Thanks to the addition of questions and answers delivered in a conversational style at the end of each chapter, the book is a treasure for those seeking balance and insight.