Machig Labdron was a heroine, a brave and kind of outrageous woman who lived in the 12th century in Tibet. When she met her teacher named Padampa Sangye, she said to him: “I want to wake up. Because I want to alleviate the suffering of this world. I see so much suffering all around me, everywhere, and I myself feel suffering. I want to awaken from my own suffering so that I can benefit other beings. What should I do?” Then he gave her these instructions: 

Confess your hidden faults.
Approach what you find repulsive.
Help those you think you cannot help.
Anything you are attached to, give that.
Go to the places that scare you.

In fact, all these five slogans are the instructions to go to the places that scare you. This was her living instructions, like everyday relative instructions on how to live your life. She was interested in seeing her blind spots and she trained to try to see them clearer and clearer so that there was less and less ignorance. And when something was upsetting, displeasing or revolting to her, she, like surely we would all do, tried to find the way to approach it.

She had the willingness and then she had to find her way through different practices, just like we do. She had a lot of material in her life. Also when she did not want to help someone or she thought she could not help them, that was her practice. When she felt grasping and was attached to something and did not want to give it away, she trained in giving. And actually, for Machig Labdron that was her main practice, she introduced the practice called chod. This practice is applied by all the lineages of Tibetan Buddism. And in the actual visualization of this practice, you practice giving, and what you give is your body. But she really practiced giving in a major way, at the level of visualization and actually too.

But then later she was given an absolute instruction, by another teacher. So that was like a relative instruction and that’s why I like it so much because in some sense, as far out as it is, it’s also practical. The other instruction that she was given was “If you do not grasp with your mind, you will find a fresh state of being.” And that is sort of an absolute instruction that goes along with what we’ve been doing. Abiding in our experience has a relative, everyday, nitty-gritty, when you smell it and touch it, listen to the energy, it’s very nitty-gritty, and our life is always presenting us with the material. But on the other hand, we are also practicing the absolute instruction, which is not grasping with our mind. The practice of abiding in the experience without believing in the stories and judgment about it is the practice of training in not grasping with our minds. And basic sitting meditation which was introduced to you is also an instruction in training in not grasping at whatever occurs in mind.  

None of these is easy to do on the relative level or the absolute level. But that particular teaching that she received, the absolute teaching, was that “When you do not grasp with our mind, we find a fresh state of being.” And this is the open, unobstructed, clear quality of life, where life presents itself to you, and you have a direct experience of sounds and sights, smells and feelings, emotions and shapes — everything has a direct experience of fresh state of being. So it’s very profound and in some sense very practical. If you can, remind yourself of these instructions and really practice them. Take it home with you, take in right to your everyday life. You’ve got plenty things to work with — plenty of discomforts in our life (laughing).


The Places That Scare You, 5 talks given by Pema Chodron in Berkeley, CA, 2001.