OPRAH: What would you consider the fundamental pearl of wisdom from the teachings of the Buddha?
PEMA: Oh my goodness! From all the fundamental pearls of wisdom... Can I put it in Christian terms?
OPRAH: Yes, I'll accept that.
PEMA: It would be something like "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Also, stay open to whatever life presents you with, because it will teach you something if you'll let it. It's about keeping an unbiased heart and mind. A lot of it is forming an unconditional friendship with yourself as you begin to see all the stuff you've been running away from.
OPRAH: When you asked if you could put that in Christian terms, I was wondering: Can you be Christian and Buddhist at the same time?
PEMA: You can certainly be a good Christian and be completely involved in these ideas and meditation. There is a formal ceremony you go through to become a Buddhist, and you decide what your main path will be. There are a lot of people who don't want to choose any path, but these ideas resonate with them.
OPRAH: My friend Tina Turner, who is also a Buddhist, chants. What does chanting signify?
PEMA: I'm ashamed to say that of all the schools of Buddhism, that's the one I know the least about, although I have tremendous respect for it. But I believe it keeps you in touch with the largeness of your mind and heart. My main emphasis is the basic meditation of staying open to whatever arises, plus the practice of tonglen, which is seeing the sameness of what you're feeling with what others feel and letting the pain and joy of your life connect you with all people. That's the one that resonated with Alice Walker so much.
OPRAH: She's another calm one, and a great one. In the book Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert describes how during a period of meditation, she experienced nirvana; she felt that she was in the palm of God's hand. Have you ever experienced anything like that?
PEMA: Yes. For me, it's lightening up about all the relative facts of life, seeing things from a much more vast and timeless perspective. That's not to say that relative things don't arise in your life, but there is a feeling of lightness about what's coming; it passes, but this timeless nowness is always here, always present, and always available to everyone. According to the Buddhist belief, you can go on and on indefinitely, so you see your life as just a brief moment in time. How you relate to that moment, and how open you are, seem like the only things that matter. One of the reasons I spend a lot of time on meditation retreats is to connect with that feeling in a more ongoing way.
OPRAH: Wow. So the more you're able to be in touch with the connection to that which is higher than yourself...
PEMA: It's connecting with what is higher than the ego—that limited perspective where you become self-absorbed and it's all about "How am I looking?"
OPRAH: And "What do I have?" and "What am I doing?" and "What are other people thinking of what I'm doing? I'm separate from everybody else and I'm separate from what I think is missing, and I'm separate from God."
PEMA: That's right. It's a strong feeling of separation, even if you don't consciously recognize that. Say you're having a conversation with someone, you're interested in what they're saying, and you're right there. Then this thought crosses your mind: "Was what I just said stupid?" And you're not there anymore.
We Hear You!