Venerable Pannavati: Hearing the Cries of the World and Responding with Compassion

The newest episode of our university podcast, ‘Mindful U at Naropa University,’ is out on iTunesStitcher, Fireside, and Spotify now! We are excited to announce this week’s episode features special guest Ven. Dr. Pannavati, a former Christian pastor, co-founder and co-Abbot of Embracing-Simplicity Hermitage, and this year’s Frederick P. Lenz Foundation Distinguished Guest Lecturer in Buddhist Studies and American Culture and Values at Naropa.

Venerable Pannavati: Hearing the Cries of the World and Responding with Compassion

“Meditation is so important—particularly training and concentration. How to steady and fix the mind until conceptual thoughts fall away. We live so much in our conceptualizing nature that we can’t imagine life without that. But when you start doing this practice, you find out that you can conceptualize, and you cannot. So, learning how to drop into that stillness, as the Buddha calls it, until you come to the absolute stilling of all thought.

We think well then, there’s nothing. Yes, there is something beyond that, you could never see it before because you were caught in the cycle of conceptualizing. But the other side that the Buddha calls meditation—a pleasant, abiding here and now, touching kind of contentment and peace that the world didn’t give you. So, the world can’t take it away. But what he called practice was something entirely different. We just need to do more practice, and the practice is not to sit on the pillow. Sitting on a pillow is sitting on a pillow. But to practice is how we handle ourselves in every moment of our waking day—when one is accosting you, taking what is yours and what is criticizing you.”

Full transcript below. 

Ven. Dr. Pannavati, a former Christian pastor, is co-founder and co-Abbot of Embracing-Simplicity Hermitage and Co-Director of Heartwood Refuge, a new intentional community, and residential retreat and conference center in Hendersonville, NC. She is president of the Treasure Human Life Foundation. A black, female Buddhist monk ordained in the Theravada and Chan traditions, she remains a disciple of Great Master Kuang Seng, continues Vajrayana empowerments and teachings with beloved Rinpoche Zhaxi Zhouma and received transmission from Roshi Bernie Glassman of Zen Peacemaker. Pannavati is both contemplative and empowered for compassionate service. She conducts retreats nationally at over 50 centers and churches each year sharing living truths that are deep, yet apprehendable. She advises the cultivation of both wisdom and compassionate action. She believes is it fine to sit in temples and meditate and pray when things are good; when they are not, we are compelled to get off our pillows and do something. Let our actions line up with our intentions.

Ven. Dr. Pannavati and podcast host, David DeVine

Full transcript
Venerable Pannavati
Hearing the Cries of the World and Responding with Compassion and Power

[MUSIC]

Hello. And welcome to Mindful U at Naropa. A podcast presented by Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.

I’m your host, David Devine. And itÕs a pleasure to welcome you. Joining the best of Eastern and Western educational traditions – Naropa is the birth place of the modern mindfulness movement.

[MUSIC]

DAVID:
Hello. Today I’d like to welcome a very special guest to the podcast and the Naropa community. Venerable Pannavati. She is visiting Naropa as the honored Lenz lecture speaking with the community and sharing her deep wisdom with us all. So, thank you for meeting with me today and being on the podcast.

[00:01:02.08]
Venerable Pannavati:
Thank you for inviting me.

DAVID:
How are you doing today?

[00:01:04.04]
Venerable Pannavati:
I’m doing great. We just finished a breakfast with the Lenz Foundation, and I have a jam packed afternoon and evening at Naropa.

DAVID:
You do have a jam packed evening —

Venerable Pannavati:
I do!

DAVID:
You know we like to just get as much out of you as you can. Actually, we we’re supposed to speak yesterday, but there was a blizzard that happened, so I really appreciate you redefining your schedule to speak with me. So, thank you again.

Venerable Pannavati:
You’re welcome.

DAVID:
And you’re here as the honored Lenz lecturer. How is that going for you?

Venerable Pannavati:
Oh, it’s just wonderful. You know we have this notion of what we think honor is, but it’s not like that. You know its good people coming together around central ideas of how we can serve one another and sharing them. And so, that’s the honor to be able to share what’s needed in the world — what’s being done in the world and help each person find their place.

DAVID:
Ok, so it’s like honoring their information instead of like the person.

Venerable Pannavati:
Yeah, absolutely — absolutely.

DAVID:
Awesome. So, you’re like highlighting something. I really appreciate that. So, after a bit of research of reading about you I’ve realized you’ve been a busy person. And it’s just very awesome to see that. And could you just let us know like what type of organizations you’re involved in, the type of work you’re doing at this moment and kind of like what excites you.

Venerable Pannavati:
What excites me is really serving others. We have three organizations — we have Treasure Human Life Foundation. We have Heartwood Refuge and we have Embracing Simplicity Buddhist Hermitage and the three kind of work together because some people are interested in social service, some people are interested in a spiritual practice, some people — you know and to be able to be available for people around their different interests it takes different organizations you know to be able to hold a container in a way that would be meaningful to the people who would come.

DAVID:
Oh, that’s kind of nice because you see what people thrive in and then you’re generating an organization in such a way that people feel most called to do. So, you’re like allowing them to do their work.

Venerable Pannavati:
Yeah. Yeah. Sometimes people say, Venerable you all over the place. But it’s not that — we’re so multifaceted. You know I’m not just one thing. I mean I was mother, I was wife, I was employer, I was — you know you never just one thing. And so, trying to establish or build a container that allows people with their varied interests to be avenges — skills and abilities to be able to come in. It helps to meet the total needs of a person.

DAVID:
Yeah.

Venerable Pannavati:
You know so some need some help around social areas, some around spiritual practice — you know some just need a friend, some need a place to hang out. How do you create something that meets all those needs? And so, when people come to Hartwood Refuge, for instance, we have a Zen Dharma hall, we have a sort of a secular Dharma hall. We have a Tibetan Dharma hall — you know where you can feel comfortable — we have a muse meditation center where you can put the ban on and see how your brainwaves are doing.

DAVID:
Really?

Venerable Pannavati:
We have silent spaces. We have talking spaces — you know and if you walk through there and you’re trying to do a silent meditation — you’re saying their talking is bothering me. That’s your practice or go to the other side of the building — you know so, many times when people are coming there, they have a narrow focus and expectation. And what I love about our center is that we’re broadening our compound if you will. We’re broadening people’s capacity to expand their own center of peacefulness. And at the same time honoring value — people who may be different or who may do things differently here.

DAVID:
Yeah, so many diverse ways of practice you have going on. I really like it.

Venerable Pannavati:
And you know they talk about the Dharma having 84,000 Dharma gates. You know I mean like that was just a big number in 500 B.C. but what it means is that each person has their own path to their freedom — their liberation. And you need to find out what that is. Some people only heard the Buddha give one Dharma talk or maybe he only said one phrase to them. You know, they didn’t have all these written texts and all of that. And so, we know it doesn’t take all of that, but find what you need to find your own freedom. That’s the important thing. And so, trying to create a container where people can investigate themselves to know oneself is to know the Dharma — you know. So that’s what I’m trying to do.

DAVID:
You just need the spiritual spark, but it’s ultimately you to maintain the flame.

Venerable Pannavati:
Yeah, yeah, that’s right.

DAVID:
I hear that — cool. So, you loosely just spoke about your previous life before Buddhism. What was the original spark that made you want to dive into Buddhism?

Venerable Pannavati:
Oh, so some of your listeners might not be able to get with this — nevertheless it’s my experience and so it is what it is. But I was a Christian pastor. And I had followed a Christian path almost my whole life ever since I was about six years old — just drawn to that. And so, it wasn’t like just reading a book and your parents making you go to church every Sunday. I mean I was really into it and I had this profound experience when I was six and I went, and I shared it with my pastor and he just sort of didn’t know what I was talking about. So, I had another one when I was 13 and I went back to him again — and again he told me then all that passed away with the apostle. So, I knew he couldn’t help me. So, I was looking for somewhere to go and my sister said, you know these people they meet in a — store fronts — you know not real churches, but they meet in storefronts and they’re called holy rollers. And she said I’m going to take you over there. And I went over there and I’m like I found my peeps!

You know something was happening — it was real, it was dynamic and there I was nurtured and at time I won’t say I outgrew it, but I was feeling like the Buddhist — that there must be more — you know. And that led me into a charismatic environment and a deep dive into the bible itself as a living experience. And then I again felt like I hit a glass ceiling. And I looked after 15 or 20 years of practice and I was still stuck in Romans 8. The things I would do — I don’t do and what I don’t want to do I still do — you know who can deliver me? I believed that I could come up to the fullness of the measure of the stature of Jesus. And I was like well how do we that? How do we become like a living Jesus or living Christ if you will in the world? How do I bring up my light — my inner light?

DAVID:
Yeah.

Venerable Pannavati:
And that was my cry. So, I went into a deep time of prayer just trying to search out this answer. And I was calling on God at that time and I was saying you got to help me — you know because I had no problems with you — my problem is with people, you know. And, I had a vision and in this vision Jesus and I were in a bride chamber and people were calling my name. He said, you stay here — I’ll go see what they want. And while he was gone, I looked and there was a door and I said, well when did that door get to our bedroom. Because the bride chamber is sort of like married to the — yeah, you know. And so, I open that door — this is all in vision you know. Vision means I was not asleep — that’s what that means. It was like a dream. But I was not asleep. And I open that door and there was a little class room with a kindergarten table and chair and desk piled up on it. There was another door — I open that door — there was a big room with a silver table and a scale. And there was a third door and I opened that door and it was the alley, had a Budweiser beer light flashing, it had cobblestones, a manhole — dank dark kind of sense — foreboding kind of sense and it had snakes and frogs.

So, I closed that door — went back through the big room with the silver table and the scale — closed door, went back to the little class room — like kindergarten chair and table — closed door and I was back in the bride chamber. And when I got back Jesus was there and I said, Lord when did that door get to our bedroom. He said, oh my name was Diane then — oh Diane it’s been there all along, but you couldn’t see it because of the brightness of my countenance. Now you walk through that door and I’ll take care of the people that call you from the living room. And he went on to explain to me what each room meant. Well, first being the school of Sofia and had not been in there for a long time — had a lot of growing. But the next room was everything I learned would be weighed and measured. It would fill that whole room — the little bit that I learned from that small room. Behind the third door was the alley where people spin out, go nuts whatever — you know. And that I didn’t have to worry — I didn’t have to be afraid to search outside of what I knew to get more knowledge and understanding.

And so that was it — that next day — that was on a Saturday — that Sunday I took my congregation to a friend’s church and I left him there. I said I can’t take you with me because I don’t know where I’m going, but the one in whom I believe told me to walk through that door. And that was how it happened. You know, so right away the first person I encountered was a Buddhist, right. And he was trying to give me this book on dependent origination — you know ask the wheel of life, the wheel — you know and has the animals and monster with teeth holding the where.

DAVID:
Yeah, I know what you’re talking about.

Venerable Pannavati:
I looked at that and I said that must be from the devil. And so, I wouldn’t even open the book you know. And it took 15 years for the dharma to come back around me. But by that time, I had been into everything. I’d been into unity — because I’ve been in the science of my shamanism. I’ve been in the Daoism. I went — everything and I lost everything that I touched. But shortly after I had gotten involved, I would hit that same glass ceiling.

DAVID:
Interesting.

Venerable Pannavati:
And then I was ready for the Dharma. And I was introduced to the Dharma by my Daoist master. I was over in China and I was meeting our grandmaster. And he just took one look at me and said Buddhism is for you. I said, no, no, no. I looked at that first and I’m just not interested in that at all. I love this Daoist stuff — you know these pithy sayings you know like Dao they can be named as not the eternal — like who comes up — what kind of mind comes up with this stuff. And that’s what I wanted. He said no Buddhism is for you. And he took me over to a small Buddhist monastery and there he was the 16th patriarch of the long (?) school of complete enlightenment. And so, he took me over there and they ordained me and said when you get back home, you’re going to find a Buddhist center. He told me to go to the Chan center. And I got back — I couldn’t find a Chan center — well I found them, but they all spoke Chinese. And so, I went to a Tibetan Center instead. And I loved it because I was into praise and worship and all of that instead of one God — now I had whole lots holy beings you know so I was like in hog heaven — right in my element. You know, but then one day when I was leaving the temple, I saw a lone Theravada Monk walking down the street and he reached in his Buddha bag and he pulled out a copy of the (?) and he gave this to me as — as a gift. And that changed my life — as I began to read it — the foundational teachings of the Buddha. I felt like I could literally eat the pages out of the book. And so, that’s how I came to it. It was kind of circuitous, but I’m here. LAUGHS

DAVID:
Wow, what a beautiful journey. Thank you for sharing. I agree — Buddhism is very digestible. Very relatable. It’s really easy to understand and I can see why you were a little like — whoa there’s a demon on here because they do explore demons. They don’t like say they don’t exist — they do exist, and they like to — they want to know about it — they want to know about suffering. They want to know about happiness. They want to know about meditation and mindfulness mind powers like —

Venerable Pannavati:
Yes, they do.

DAVID:
Like understand the holistic view of spirituality of like suffering exist — now what.

Venerable Pannavati:
And even when you’re talking about hearing the cries of the world — I mean like what world are we talking about? Because there — there are many worlds and there are many ways that we can bring light into dark areas. So, when people come to my center in North Carolina I tell them you better be on your best behavior you know because I have a whole — lots of beings who have come there to hear the Dharma and they are not all human, you know. And so, it’s a wonderful experience. But here’s the thing in how — how we are affected — you know I don’t care what words you use if I don’t want to call you know (?) and demons — that’s fine, no problem with that, but just know that we are not at the top or the bottom of the pecking order for life.

So, people ask me sometimes — well, do you believe in ET’s — of course I do. Do you think in this whole god billion universes —

DAVID:
Yeah, I mean come on.

Venerable Pannavati:
Seriously! You know I’m going look at you like you have four eyes if you don’t believe in them. That’s not to say I want to have a relationship with them. You know maybe every species in every category of classification of being you know should work well in their own. And if they have enough strength, they have enough life, they have enough power then that vibration penetrates dimensions and maybe they can work and serve one in other dimensions, but don’t try going somewhere if you don’t have the goods — because you’ll get a good whooping.

DAVID:
Yeah, there are frequencies that do exist that are within the human spectrum.

Venerable Pannavati:
Yes.

DAVID:
Another thing I just wanted to say was you were talking about your dream and the scale. In the Egyptian legends they talk about weighing at the heart to the feather of truth. And when you’re talking about the scale that’s what I was I was saying — I was saying like you’re talking to Jesus and Jesus was like here’s a scale and like when you pass away — they weigh your heart. So, if you’ve been a truthful person — they weighed against truth.

Venerable Pannavati:
Oh, that’s so beautiful.

DAVID:
I love that. It’s like — it’s little scary you’re like oh man I was truthful?

Venerable Pannavati:
Oh gosh, that’s so awesome. I’m giving a talk tonight on the heart of gold — so I’m gonna let you refresh that for me when we go off the air and I’m going to share that tonight. You know, the way I understood at the time was not to be afraid to learn from outside — through sources outside of Christianity because he said everything would be weighed and measured on that scale — that a just weight was just delight — you know. And that gave me the confidence to be fearless in my pursuit.

DAVID:
Yeah! Yeah. Confidence really helps when you’re pursuing something and the fact that you were able to just like walk your congregation over and be like — here you go. I’m gifting you with these people — please guide them. Like I don’t know where I’m going, and I just don’t feel confident enough to like lead them. But I feel confident enough to walk away. And that was really beautiful to hear.

Venerable Pannavati:
Yeah, you know that was probably my first you might say test you know because we have this pride of life you know. But I was on a search for something and I didn’t know what — and here was this wonderful opportunity, you know to find out what? And so, it was worth everything that I had, and I was pretty well known then. So, to walk away from it was a big thing to other people, but it was nothing to me.

DAVID:
Interesting. Ok, so we do have a topic today that we want to talk about today.

Venerable Pannavati:
I thought I was on it!
LAUGHS

DAVID:
No, we definitely are — I would like to go deeper and I just want to let people know what it is, and you sort of said it — we’re calling it hearing the cries of the world and responding with compassion and power. And so, in your opinion what are the cries of the world and you loosely hit on multiple versions of the world, but in the world that we all bounce around in — what do you think the cries are?

Venerable Pannavati:
It’s recognizing that in all conditions existence that there was a basic discomfort and unsatisfactory-ness. And that’s because, you know, we created a world — I mean you know there is the world is as it is and there’s the world as we see it or understand it and know it — and all of that comes from my own perceptions from the inside out.

So, when I actually see something — I’m not really seeing it as it is, I’m seeing it as I am — you know, and I decide what that is in front of me. So, five people can be seeing the same thing and they come away with different versions of what they just saw. Or they can be hearing the same thing and they come away with differences in what they thought they heard.

DAVID:
Yes.

Venerable Pannavati:
You know because it gets filtered through our own perceptions. And so, in our condition when we haven’t come to know the intrinsic Buddha nature — and that hasn’t been self-revealing to us — then there is gonna be necessarily a kind of grief and sadness and even covetiness for the world because we think we are lacking in something. And so, we’re looking out there to find that which would make us complete and whole and he said you’re going in the wrong direction, you need to turn around and peel back the layers — it’s all right there.

DAVID:
Yeah, the fractal nature of people’s psyche.

Venerable Pannavati:
Yeah!

DAVID:
It’s scary sometimes because people can like trip stuff up. They can bring in external baggage that are coming from different sources or past experiences and overlaying that with the current experience that maybe you know may have some like really good intentions, but they’ve diluted it with something else or the different perspectives. What I’ve heard that’s really awesome is the photons that are hitting my eyes will never go into yours. So, everything that I’m seeing is uniquely different compared to you — all the photons going in your eyes are yours. And so, the reality of nature is how you discover it through your perceptions and all that. And plus, essentially all information is neutral until you internalize it.

Venerable Pannavati:
That’s right. And you know he tells us that mind is chief — mind made — so whatever we think upon — that becomes the inclination of the mind and that deepens or conqueritizes the perceptions that we have. And then that’s so we basically create our own reality.

DAVID:
Oh, I love it. Yeah, and — and so therefore it is up to us to create the reality in which that resonates with us the best. And so, spirituality has these tools and these mechanisms and these things to help us understand and to go deeper inside and to regulate emotions and thoughts and because the monkey mind just going to come and go you know. Like — but you don’t have to like ride that wave. You can go around it, you can go under it or you know maybe you ride a little bit and just bail.

Venerable Pannavati:
You can penetrate it, or you can just simply through your own practice — just like peace be still. I mean I get that saying 100 percent.

DAVID:
I like that.

Venerable Pannavati:
Yeah, yeah. You know and that comes through training. So, he gives us all these methods and ways to work with deconstructing the structure of appearances for us and reconstructing in a way that we’re not seated at the center of our life or at the center of all we say — we’re just one dot on the whole spectrum. You know, when you know that space, we can allow things to be as they are if we can do something about it. We do — if we can we know its relativity and we also know conditionality, you know, that leave it alone it’s gonna change in a minute one way or the other anyway. You know, so we don’t get too distressed about things. There will come a time that we won’t get distressed at all, but some of this comes from hearing things that take us beyond what we already have thought and being open — a lot of people when they’re cutting loose with their spiritual search, but they want it to all be their own self-contained, but he invited us to consult with those who are wise.

He invited us to listen to other people’s experiences and explanations and if we think they’re wise and he don’t just accept it but put it into the cauldron of your experience and see if that also is true. So, we can have our own experience and say this I know is true — he said, but never saying this only is true. And that’s where we get a little bit tripped up — you know we get a little bit tripped up either with our own perception of something that’s true or our own virtual discipline or you know — and we start to conqueritize and narrow and just uproot and eliminate possibilities, but to have that vast spacious mind — it is to be able to hold one’s own truth and then to also be able to take something else and examine it and see if it’s true — might be true for me, but now’s not the time for me to implement it or focus on it, you know. But in another time, I never thought I’d be sitting in this seat you know as a Buddhist — I mean you’d have to — this just wasn’t even — not even possible you know. And yet of my own accord, you know one day just the scales fell. I need it more.

So now, they said well how did you leave Christianity? I don’t really say that I left Christianity. I’m like on the path. You know you can call an aneity(?), you can it ist, you can call it an ism. I don’t really care, but those are just labels that we put on segments or our ways of identifying something that really has nothing to do with the real journey, does it?

DAVID:
Yeah, wow this is awesome. I love this. So, when we speak of the cries of the world and for some reason in my perspective it feels like they’re getting louder. It feels like the cries are getting deeper, they’re getting louder — there’s more people crying out and I’m curious with this overwhelming sense of situations that we are amongst — how are some ways we can regulate ourselves emotionally, energetically, spiritually amongst our communities? Like it just seems like as we live our life — seems to get increasingly harder and harder and sometimes they do get better. But, it’s like — what are some mechanisms that we can focus on?

Venerable Pannavati:
So, the first thing is to line up and argue with what is true, you know. So, the Buddha talks to us about how everything is impermanent — the whole nature of condition — you know existence is impermanence, you know. But he also talks about the most important is about nothing having its own intrinsic nature. You know and Einstein in his theory of relativity he talked about that in a way. So, if we not spiritually inclined, but scientifically inclined — I mean science is finding the same thing using its — its own language. And so, this present moment comes about through a number of intersecting actions and conditions. And so, it can’t be any — any way other than how it is in the moment by the ingredients that brought this moment together. We don’t like what we’re seeing in the moment do something different in the next that’s going to cause an intersection somewhere else.

DAVID:
Yes.

Venerable Pannavati:
And that’s what we have to remember. I know we think this is the worst time. You know things are getting worse and worse — every generation thinks that, you know, because we’re in it. We’re in it at the moment. But I could tell you like I know there’s a lot of civil unrest around social injustice. And as a black person, you know, I can understand a lot of things you know, but I can tell you as bad as things are today, they’re not as bad as they were you know when I was a young person. I’m 70 now. When I was 17 it wasn’t just matter — it doesn’t matter. Police beating you. Anybody white could beat you.

So, I mean some things have definitely changed. And so, it’s that intersection of time, that intersection of the cultivation and development of patience — of knowing what is involved in change or having some wisdom of how to bring about change, but having some personal discipline to know that — that I also affect the present moment and sometimes when we are feeling like we are victimized that we have no presence and no power in the moment. But this is all the ways that the study of the Dharma and the cultivation of the Dharma change how we see and how we understand the present moment, you know. And so, the present moment for me is ripe with possibilities for equality and for change because I can see that part. I can see what it takes to create that — you know and so I know it’s a possibility for — now whether we do it or not that’s a different thing, but to know that the possibility exists where one time I thought there’s no hope and there’s no answer. And so, when the cries of the world is just this — everybody’s crying because of their greed, their hatred and their delusion — you know, and they’re stuck in Romans 8 — the good I would do I don’t do what I don’t do. What I don’t want to do I do. So, I understand that because that’s where my journey started in Romans 8, but now a lot of what I don’t want to do — I just don’t do it. And a lot of what I do want to do I can do it. I’m able — more than able to accomplish what concerns me today. That’s what I know.

DAVID:
Yes.

Venerable Pannavati:
And I decide what I’ll do. There is no external obstacle to that.

DAVID:
Yeah, would you say it’s more of an internal obstacle? It’s like your own way?

Venerable Pannavati:
Yeah.

DAVID:
Yeah, I’ve noticed that when I’ve recently kind of been in a not emotionally stable place. I’ve been a little sad, I guess. And I’m trying to like get out of it and what I’ve realized is the same decision making when I’m sad is going to keep you sad. So, what I need to do is like when I’m having one of those moments — I need to decide otherwise. I need to — and the thing is — is I feel like that’s where it’s hard is to make that decision. So, that’s what I kind of hear you saying is like we always have an option to decide the other. And it might not be easy, but honestly if you keep deciding the same thing that is getting you into that emotional hole — you’re probably get to stay there. You know I mean? So, it’s like taking ownership and not victimizing yourself.

Venerable Pannavati:
Yeah, yeah meditation is so important particularly training and concentration. How to steady and fix the mind until you know conceptual thoughts fall away. And we live so much in our conceptualizing nature that we can’t imagine life without that, you know. But when you start doing this practice you find out that you can conceptualize, and you cannot. You know, so learning how to drop into that stillness — and the Buddha calls it — and until you come to the absolute stilling of all thought — we think well then there’s nothing. Yes, there is something beyond that — you could never see it before because you were caught in the cycle of conceptualizing.

But the other side — the other side of that is that — that the Buddha calls meditation a pleasant, abiding here and now, touching — that kind of contentment and peace that the world didn’t give you. So, the world can’t take it away. But what he called practice was something entirely different. So, we just need to do more practicing and the practice is not to sit on the pillow — sitting on a pillow is sitting on a pillow. But to practice is how we handle ourselves in every moment of our waking day when one is accosting you, taking what is yours and what is criticizing you.

When you’re feeling bad about yourself, when you’re feeling sad, when you have you know grief or covetiness for the world and he says its right then, right there — that’s where you practice. And he gave us our four basic practices. He said, stop unwholesome states from arising. He said neutralize unwholesome states that have arisen. He said cultivate unrisen wholesome states and maintain wholesome states that are present, you know, and so that’s a 24/7 practice or at least take out the time you sleep but the time that you’re awake, I mean you could be doing that all the time and you don’t have time for God, and you don’t have time for worrying, you don’t have time — you know if you’re cultivating those four practices.

So, I’m constantly reciting the dharma, which is the power in my life you know to myself. So that at a time that I’m confronted with something — you know like that’s not the time to try to get some Dharma. I mean you need to already have some in you so that at that moment you can use it — you can make a withdrawal from the bank. It’s like being dropped in the middle of the ocean and you gotta try to learn how to swim then — it’s too late. You’re probably going to drown. But, if I’ve been constantly on the side of the pool stroking, stroking, stroking — then if I get dropped there — you know if I can’t swim, I can just lay back and breaststroke. I know that at least I’m not going to go under. You know that the buoyancy will hold me until I can do a little bit better. So, it’s — it’s like that. This is very pragmatic. I mean it’s more than pragmatic, but it is pragmatic. It starts with reasoning and we sort of like to end it with reasoning, you know, because we have such an intellectual pride. And he said, this is a pragmatic doctrine — he said but you’re not going to be able to enter until the fullness of it by mere reasoning alone. And I think that’s where we get a little stuck in the West. You know so — so we’re missing something. So, I have people that come to me and they’ve been meditating for 30 years and they’ve been doing mindfulness for 25 years in life — I mean they’re still crazy after all these years. And so, there is something else that’s required in the practice. So, we can’t take one thing and build a doctrine around it — you know, because it has a great breadth and depth that answers to cry of every part of us.

DAVID:
Yeah, I was thinking too when you’re talking about the reasoning mind — that might be the mind in which the ego is hanging out in. So, it’s like the ego is the thing — the mechanism that is reasoning. So, it’s gonna reasoning in a way that assumes that it might be good for you, but ultimately it might not be good for the community, for the dharma practice, for the application of being just a solid individual. So, it’s like you are able to reason yourself into things that don’t serve you. And so, that’s why I feel like meditation is the getting you past the mind in which the ego functions. But, understanding ego is a tool like I have yet to meet a person born without an ego. It is something you inherently have — use it! You were given — it’s a gift — use it. But how does it serve you is what we’re all learning. And so, like calming the mind and — and going past reasoning to find the thing that is — where the Dharma lays — like the bright light. That’s where the dharma is.

Venerable Pannavati:
It’s so true. You know that — we have our — our conventional worldly wisdom and we have to use it. I’m not going to look in the dharma and figure out how to cross the street. I’m not going to learn my ABC’s or one, two, three from the Dharma — you know so — and it has its own jargon. You know so the spiritual language. And then know you know there’s a conventional kind of language that we apply to our — our worldly matters and when we get these two mixed up then we misunderstand, and we are — we misapply the remedy. You know medicine is good, but if you’re taking heart and medicine for a toothache, you’re liable to kill yourself with heart medicine because that’s the wrong medicine.

DAVID:
Yeah. Yeah, and I feel like that’s the hardest part of us is trying to figure out what medicine is the one that’s going to heal our ailments? Ok. So, oh, this is fun. So, a question that I was thinking about is — we talk about passion and compassion — to you what is passion compared to compassion.

Venerable Pannavati:
LIGHT LAUGH
So, come — with — with passion, you know. And that’s a direct call of the heart — you know that when the heart recognizes when it’s touched with the feelings of — and the infirmities of another and with passion means you’re able to respond to that impulses — more than just empathy, but you’re able to respond to it with power. You know so there’s a certain dutemous(?) — there’s a certain power that comes with compassion — you know it’s not — oh I just feel so sorry for people over here in the whole — they’ll go down in the whole and try to ped them up — and understand. So, don’t come at me if you’re down in a hole and expect me to get in there with you. My job is to pull you out or if you want to stay in, I can leave you in until you’re ready you know to be pulled out. But it’s not to get down in the hole with you. And I see a movement towards that particularly as the dharma gets mixed with psychology. And I’m all for psychology, but I don’t think that the Buddha was teaching psychology. And so, sometimes when we mix things in a different way — it starts to — each very wonderful and great in their own places. But when you mix them together it starts to dilute or shift the — the potential impact of — of either one. You know, so I have people that come into the Sangha all the time and everybody has already self-diagnosed and they’ve already diagnosed everybody else. You know so they have a name for — for what ails everybody — everybody.

And as — the Buddha was talking about — you know this is virtually a sickness of the heart. That which is the true self and that has been totally obscured because of three — and sick because of the three poisons — greed, hatred and delusion and that’s what he’s unpacking. A lot of this and unpacking that takes care of all these other minor things that are going on that in your life and fixes the ways that you see things. So, the wisdom is a person comes and they think they want this, or they think they’re suffering because of that. And the teacher says, no it’s not because of that — go in that direction. Look — look over there. So, a teacher student relationship — it’s very important.

DAVID:
Yes.

Venerable Pannavati:
You know one has to really have the — the capacity to hold a student as they undergo their inquiry. And the other is that the student has to have enough confidence and respect for and trust in the teacher. So, there’s a kind of affinity that has to — has to be there. Of course, you know in our day and time we like to have a thousand people in the audience, and they said, oh that’s my teacher. He doesn’t even know your name, you know. But oh, so and so is my teacher — you know, like we name dropping and all of that, but when you’re in trouble you can’t call that teacher. But there is something very sweet and very pregnant about a relationship between a teacher and a student so we shouldn’t try — bigger and better — itÕs not good for everything. You know I am sorry that one snuck in.

DAVID:
I love it. You made me think about something. So, psychology is energetic mapping of the brain. And you are talking about spirituality being of the heart. And so, it’s like we can go on Web MD and diagnose ourselves and walk into a spiritual setting and be like I’m — I’m psychotic or whatever, but actually like your heart is not psychotic. Your mind might be. And the thing is — is like we have the mechanisms to reconfigure what we need to — to work in the way that the heart is built for. So —

Venerable Pannavati:
We do. I mean we’re just discovering this with our science. You know, I mean the Buddha know this in 500 B.C. — what?! You know I haven’t found anybody better yet. So, bring me all your science and bring me all your technology and I’ll show you where the Buddha went to that and beyond, you know 25 hundred years.

DAVID:
I mean I’ve said it before and I’m just going to say it again — science is now discovering what Buddhism knew all along. You know it’s this thing where they’ve really tapped into the source and science is finding its way there, but they’re quantizing it. They’re like actually understanding the mechanisms of the quantum field and how energetic emotions and the way you are perceived is a wave and the whole quantum field is based on wave —

Venerable Pannavati:
An observation of it conqueritizes it. It could have been anything. You know you could turn it into anything too. That’s the thing so — and so we talk about faith — Buddhism doesn’t have faith, but Buddha talks about faith all the time. You know in this way — in that very sense, you know. So regardless of what might be happening to me at the moment — you know if it’s something that’s not useful and beneficial — I’m thinking in another way that’s going to ultimately impact that. And it’s going to shift directions or I’m going to shift in direction — one way or the other it’s going to get resolved. So, I’m not that worried about it. You know, so the 8 worldly winds — the things that cause us to cry — you know pleasure and pain, loss and gain, fame and shame — well praise and blame — these eight things — our whole day we’re consumed with them. And it’s always one or the other. And he said that when these scary things come about — my mind is agitated. But he said also when these very pleasant and happy things come about the mind is still agitated, you know. So, either way you’ve got agitation and when you — when that really becomes true for you then you start looking to move towards that sent place where there was justice, kind of stillness — and you can take it either way it comes.

DAVID:
The mind is agitated, but what type of agitation are we going to have? You know like what is it was that cup of tea? What kind of tea you drink it over there?

Venerable Pannavati:
Yeah. Yeah, but there’s a space between these two, you know, extremes of agitation. And that’s why he called his path the middle way. You know but it’s not my lateral middle way because that would be like trying to see a forest through the trees — you can’t. But if you go up and perch at the peak of Apex then you look down and you survey — you can peruse the whole forest. So, moving towards that middle way is not just a lateral move, but he called it the way moving upward. That’s so exciting — I never heard anybody even say anything like that — about what the Buddha said. He called it the way leading upward. Now what does that mean to you? You have to figure that out.

DAVID:
I love it too because there’s this honoring of everything exists. It’s not — it’s not saying you have to be this, you have to be that. It’s saying like I invite you to do this and everything else exists — like you can be depressed, you can be angry, you can be excited, you can be ecstatic — there’s like all these different various emotions that you can have at any one point. That’s what I loved about Buddhism. That’s how I was drawn to it is suffering exist. They’re not saying like, oh, you know like look away from that. It’s like no that that’s here — that exists. But like how do you filter that? How do you deal with that — is what I’m starting to realize that Buddhism is a — it’s like a filtering process?

Venerable Pannavati:
Yeah, yeah. So, people think oh, Buddha just so sad — you know talking about suffering, suffering. But they’re always talking about a way out of suffering. You know because whether you recognize suffering or not — it’s there. And the thing about misery is that misery does love company. And so, you know we’re saying that there was the truth of this basic good satisfactoriness, but it has a cause. And whatever has a cause — can have a cure. And he said, I can show you the way towards a cure. That’s it — that’s it.

DAVID:
Yeah, I hear you. So, when we talk about compassion — there is this feeling of it being fluffy and puppies and kittens and you know very like that — is there ever a moment where compassion shows up as a fiery moment of intention and when is that essential to have?

Venerable Pannavati:
So, I like to think of it as its fierceness. You know that compassion is fierce. It has a fierce quality, you know, and that fierceness is what is not only the protection, but what is the source of its power to — to comfort, to deliver — you know to save. So, for me compassion is always — it’s always fierce. In that fierceness — we know how to handle because we’re not battling the person — we’re not even battling the thing that they’re working with you know, but we’re destroying the delusion that allows or undergirds that which causes suffering. We’re destroying it — capacity to exist. And so, it always takes a fierceness.

DAVID:
Oh okay. Yeah, because you know it’s like we — we say this word compassion and I think most people resort to the fact that it’s like — oh you gotta be sweet, you gotta be nice. But like is being nice being compassionate to the person or being compassionate to the moment because sometimes —

Venerable Pannavati:
If the moment calls for that.

DAVID:
Yeah, it’s like what does moment —

Venerable Pannavati:
You got to know what the moment calls for — exactly.

DAVID:
I think that’s what it comes down to.

Venerable Pannavati:
Yeah, yeah. And so many times that niceness that we have has to do with our own blockages, our own places where we are suffering and we’re identifying with that condition, you know we’re projecting on our condition. Yeah, I see it a lot with white allies and I love them, and you know they’ll be feeling worse over something than I am. I’ve been in this body for 70 years. I understand what this is, and I know how to process it and make my way through it. I can’t do that and hold you up too cause you’re like crying all over the place because you’re feeling so sorry for me. You know so some of that — I see it a lot in the movement that I’m really stronger than my ally. So first I have to stop and build up my allies so we can all march together, you know. And so, that’s an example of where they can be so much compassion in a way to want to support something. But it’s also rooted in your feelings or your projection about it because you actually — you never really lived it yourself. And you’re like I can understand — no you can’t. You can’t understand what I’m going through. You can’t — itÕs not even possible. You know but what do you think it is — that’s causing the movement of your heart.

DAVID:
Wow. That’s why we need our discernment on point. Because then we can decide in the moment what is going to be most skillful and beneficial of how things are going to move forward. Because we can’t just be a compassionate pile of heap because that doesn’t do anything really. You know?

Venerable Pannavati:
And sometimes it takes more compassion to hold your peace. You know, the Buddha said that if a robber were to cut you to pieces limb by limb and you harbored any aggression or anger towards them you would not be following my dharma and my discipline. Now that’s a tough one there. That’s where the body is. So if you can hold your peace when somebody is — you know accosting you or calling you a particular name or making a reference to you in a derogatory way — does your ego in that moment want to be pacified or do you want to subdue the erroneousness — the erroneous appearances of the moment? How can you — how can you de-escalate that, you know. And right there is where we have to make that choice — where our pride won’t let us, our ego won’t let us, or how we can deconstruct that moment.

DAVID:
Yes.

Venerable Pannavati:
You know and that takes a lot of wisdom and it takes a lot of practice and sometimes people cannot see that because they think that that’s taking down — it might be living to play another day. You know if I — if I hold my peace and handle this, you know I basically just do what they say because they have a badge — you know instead of saying I’m absolutely not. And then go and use our wisdom and our energy to approach that injustice in another way. It’s not always going head to head with the confrontation in the moment, you know. So — and particularly in times like this when everything is getting so tense and our answer is to strike out and rise up, but you can’t fix a problem with the same mind that created it. So, whatever mind is coming at you — if you go back at them with that same kind of mind, we’re not gonna make that much progress.

DAVID:
We — our operating system of the mind needs to upgrade. You know its kind of like a computer — itÕs like those applications aren’t going to work anymore unless we upgrade.

Venerable Pannavati:
Well you know when the conversation started in Buddhist circles — like you know is this spiritual bypass — is that what you guys are into and that sort of thing. And you know — and — and I looked at as not — how do they come up with that? To me spiritual bypass is having a certain standard for your conduct, but then when things get too tough you can’t operate in that — you resort to something else. You know, that’s what spiritual bypass is to me.

DAVID:
Yes!

Venerable Pannavati:
It’s not holding fast to what you really know to be true even though it might feel uncomfortable or it might not be satisfying the ego — you know, or it might take a little bit more patience and application to bring about the desired result. I might not even see it in my lifetime. I might just be sowing the seeds and somebody else is going to water and somebody else is gonna get the increase, you know. And so, it’s a matter of knowing all of these things — and its spiritual bypass to me if we say well, they’re not listening so maybe we just need to get out the club. You know.

DAVID:
I hear you. Interesting you say that. Last year I spoke with Lama Rod Owens — who is all about social justice, Buddhism, and he was the Lenz lecturer last year. And I had a podcast with him, and he talked about the same thing of spiritual bypassing is like people do Buddhism until it feels good and then they abandon the practice and that’s what I’m hearing from you is like people use Buddhism as this thing to feel good. I meditate. I feel great. My mind isn’t wandering and then a sticky situation comes up and they’re like fuck, like now what. Like oh wait this too hard. I’m just going to go — going to resort to whatever works for me and might not be the best morally, best decision to make. But that’s what I’m hearing is — is like that’s when the Dharma shows up.

Venerable Pannavati:
Because you know you become the Dharma. It’s about the living Dharma — the embodiment of the dharma.

DAVID:
Yes. You know.

Venerable Pannavati:
You know and that’s the only way that we can evaluate our progress on the path if we are it. If we are the living Dharma — you know studying Buddhism is not cultivating. And, so we have to continually being — allow a process of transformation to occur. Then after a while it’s not even a thought of what — when something comes up. You know when it comes in like a flood, we just raise up a standard against that. And it’s not always in a pushback way, but it — it’s like turning a reflection of it back upon itself. And it was — I love there’s a suitor that talks about this king had gone off to — to battle and — and he was losing. So, he retreated. And the other group they were gonna just pursue him and go ahead and slay all of them and the king got to a grove and he said there’s so many wonderful beings in this grove — if we come into this grow, we’ll bring this violence in here. Rather than disturb them I’ll give my life and he turned around and he went back out to the field. And when the other king saw him approach and they thought that they had met with some allies and they were coming to slay them, and they surrendered. LAUGHS. I just love that story. You know, but it wasn’t when he was thinking about himself — when he was thinking about self-preservation. It was when he was willing to lay down his life for those beings that lived in that grove. And so, I think ultimately that’s what we’re called to. You know we lay down the self and then we find that part of us that is unified with everything.

DAVID:
Yeah. So good. So, you made me think about something like — the understanding the concepts of Dharma isn’t doing the Dharma. It’s the actual application, the practice of, the showing up, the actions of that concept — that is the dharma. That’s what I’m hearing from you at this moment is the practice is doing it’s not knowing or thinking — it’s showing up and doing.

Venerable Pannavati:
It is my teacher Bernie Glassman — you know he taught us three tenants. He said you come not knowing. You just show up — you know not knowing, not thinking you have the answer or the solution — just bearing witness to what’s there. And then responding with compassionate power. So, if we would do that instead of thinking we know what to do and how to do it all the time — just showing up. Showing up and being in that still space so that you can have a penetrating vision of how to support what is good or what is wholesome — you know when we see something that turns us on that makes us want to be a part of it — we just start running, you know, but he said no — he said just show up, bear witness to what’s there. You know don’t let it find any place in you — you know good or bad. Don’t let it find any place in you. And from that place where you have no dog in the fight — you know then you can — can offer something to both sides and so it’s wonderful like that — the different kinds of works I participate in around world it was all done. Like I never set out to do anything. The work that we did with the homeless youth and so forth — it wasn’t because I got to find me three homeless people. No it wasn’t a thought like that — they — I showed up — the situation presented itself in our city, nobody wanted to deal with them — they said oh we know what to do with these young people we’ll build more jails and they did build a bigger jail, you know. But in my sitting and in my stillness, I found another way — a way of escape for those young people. And that’s how that program came about. With the nuns in Thailand — it’s against the law for the monks to ordain or support ordination for women there. So, everybody’s writing letters all around the world. Hundreds of thousands of letters asking the monk council there to allow women to ordain — actually that was the Buddha’s preference, right. And they’re saying no, but I didn’t bother to write letters, you know I know something being a black person. It’s that if you’re a slave — be a slave but if you see opportunity to be a good slave. But if you see opportunity for your freedom take that. And so, I wasn’t gonna write letters and say please let them — I just went over there and started ordaining women. And so, you know we got 60 or 70 nuns in our monastery and they spread out all over the countryside. Some live in caves and some monks are protecting them in their temples. But you know that’s the kind of action that I’m talking about — you know with passion. You know has a certain action that goes with it, but also certain power to do to accomplish goals with it. And you don’t even have to think about it. You know, it’s unveiled to you, it’s revealed to you what to do and how to do.

And when I started Heartwood Refuge, they said oh she’s buying this 100 year old hotel totally dilapidated — it’ll take millions to fix that up. We’re not putting any money in that, you know. But I got it anyway and I just started with it and now it’s a wonderful — it’s a beautiful retreat center. And you know — and people are coming an it’s like an oasis in the desert because I’m in the in the deep South, you know. And nobody wants to go down there. They just sell you books, but they don’t want to go down there. But now we have a place where we can begin to create living waters there that will relieve the suffering of the people there. And you know I just love it and this way is not like efforting. You know I don’t have spending time thinking of something to do because I’m seeing all the time something is coming across the screen. You know and I can look and see is that something that I can do? Is that something I have the skill to do or I have the patience to do or I have the tenacity to stick with it until it’s finished, or you know what — if I do and all other things being equal I can pick it up. If I donÕt, I can see, and I can let it walk on by because you when the sound goes out, I’m not the only one that hears it. A lot of people hear it. It’s just a matter what you’ll do when you hear the sound.

DAVID:
Oh my gosh. I actually feel like I can talk to you forever. LAUGHS. You just have this like really deep knowledgeable rooted wisdom. And I can just feel your love. I can feel your compassion. I can feel your drive for helping people in your drive for your own spirituality. And it just feels really good. I just feel like extremely rejuvenated just speaking with you. And it was such a beautiful conversation. Unfortunately, that is our end and I just wanted to ask one more question. So, if people are going to be wanting to know where to find you — internet, e-mail, retreats — you did speak a little bit about the organizations that you do have. Can you just let people know how to find you?

Venerable Pannavati:
You can find me at HeartwoodRefuge.org or Pannavati.org. P-A-N-N-A-V-A-T-I dot org. HeartwoodRefuge is the best site although and there’s a retreat calendar there, but there’s also my personal calendar because I’m all over the — all over the place. So, you can see where I may be in your neck of the woods.

DAVID:
I love it. Well, thank you so much. It was such a pleasure.

Venerable Pannavati:
This room is so pregnant with the Dharma right now — isn’t it?

DAVID:
You brought that. I mean I have — you know I got like my little Buddha over here — little flags, but I mean you bring it. Thank you so much.

Venerable Pannavati:
Thank you so much.

DAVID:
And it was such a pleasure speaking with you. I’m so happy we were able to reschedule. So, thank you so much.

So, I’d like to thank our very special guest to the podcast and also the Naropa community — Venerable Pannavati. She is the visiting Lenz lecturer speaking her deep wisdom and just hanging out with the Naropa community. So, thank you again.

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On behalf of the Naropa community thank you for listening to Mindful U. The official podcast of Naropa University. Check us out at www.naropa.edu or follow us on social media for more updates.

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