Donna Quesada: I love that. You bring up the notion of reincarnation, which is so much a part of Buddhist teachings and Indian teachings.
I also know from preparing for this interview that you work as a psychotherapist. How do you reconcile some of these ideas? Maybe it doesn’t even come up. Let me rephrase the question. How do you deal with reincarnation with a western audience?
Lama Palden: Well, I feel that, first of all, that I remember past lives from when I was a small child. So, it was never a belief or concept for me. It was a direct experience. So, I never questioned that. I just remembered certain things. Not a whole lot, but I remembered certain things.
DONNA: That’s fascinating. Would you mind sharing anything? How old were you when you first got these flashes?
LAMA PALDEN: Three years old. And they say that often kids around that age will remember snippets from the past. So, that happened to me. And so, then in terms of dealing with this in therapy… It’s very, very interesting because what I’ve found is that our psychological issues don’t just come up in one life. They carry along in lives and we are working on certain aspects of those when we are working to upgrade spiritually and psychologically. So, I feel that therapy is a very powerful adjunct to the spiritual path. And I don’t believe in people trying to believe in past lives. I think that in people’s own experience, as they go on the spiritual path, they can go into whatever their direct experience is, over time.
From a Buddhist point of view, we say that we are deathless in who we truly are. Consciousness is deathless. It’s empty. It’s not a thing. Nothing can obstruct or stain or damage it. It’s birthless and deathless. And recognizing that is part of realizing our true nature. So, I think it’s individual experience, in terms of our relationship with our consciousness and the idea of past of future lives. The Buddha taught very extensively on this.
But what is interesting is that in psychotherapy, sometimes experience from past lives will bleed into the therapy. And at one point, I had one woman that I had to send to a specialist… a trauma specialist because she was unearthing some really deep trauma that I didn’t feel I had the training at that point, to really deal with. It was from past lives. And when I called the trauma therapist to give him the referral, I said, “I don’t know if you take this kind of thing because it’s really coming up from the past… a previous life.” And he said, “Oh yeah, I get some of those.”
DONNA: Wow! I would imagine that you would be a little trepidatious with them because that may not be well received by many health care workers in any capacity or environment. And so, it’s interesting that you do have an experience with that and it was well received.
LAMA PALDEN: Yes, and so, that continuity of who we are. Once we come to realize this, we also realize that this life is an amazing opportunity to liberate karmic patterns from thousands of years… we have been kind of wrestling with. The things we find, that aren’t really serving us.
DONNA: I love that. You know, I hadn’t expected that answer. That in fact, the idea of reincarnation does surface in the work that you do. Because the problems just stay with us. They just carry forth, as we inhabit a new body and a new lifetime. And, oh, there’s that neurosis again.
LAMA PALDEN: In my own inner work, I’ve chased some of my neurotic tendencies or habitual patterns. Issues way back. Even thousands of years.
DONNA: Wow. And I suppose it’s necessary to have a little humor about it and self-love, which you also talk about in the book. I’m wondering if you can speak about self-love? For those that might not understand. What is truly meant by self-love? It’s not an Egoic type of love. It’s something much more profound than that. Can you speak to that a little bit?
LAMA PALDEN: Yeah, sure. Yes. It’s not a narcissistic thing, at all. It’s rather… when we are able to rest in awareness. We can bring loving kindness to our human self. And again, our true nature… the reality of what is… is awakened love. Or the union of wisdom and love. And so, love is a gateway. Wisdom is a gateway. Insight is a gateway. Love is a gateway. Both of those are gateways into who we are because they are the nature of who we are.
So again, if we are hating ourselves and constantly telling ourselves that we are not right… Or, we are not doing it right, or we are not enough… we’re not good enough, or we did this wrong… It is like throwing trash right in the center of our mandala. And that is ego consciousness that is attacking ourselves. So, we need to step out of that, in order to really allow our human self to heal. To unwind. To relax, so it can open to mind presence… to awakened presence.
DONNA: What would be the quickest way… and I know going through your eight steps is the obvious answer, but for someone who blames it on having high standards for oneself… Maybe just has the habit pattern of self-criticism… What is the fastest way to bring that sense of self-love inward?
LAMA PALDEN: Well, I think especially in the west, many of us have this same situation. The way I began to work on it was… I began to watch my mind to see the thoughts. The critical thoughts. And when those thoughts came, I just started the practice of letting them go. Rather than having them act out on to myself. So, I think that it is starting kindness from within and letting go of the negative thinking. Criticizing. And also, I come from a family that was super perfectionistic and had very high standards. I really had to work on that. The thing is all that criticism doesn’t help us become a better person. It just makes us feel bad about ourselves and it just doesn’t help in any way. I think of the ego as like a child. Raising it with anger and hatred is never going to help the child grow into a mature, happy, giving adult. Through loving kindness, the child learns, and grows, and matures, and turns into a happy, productive individual. And that is true in working with our own ego-self.
DONNA: Who are we as human beings? I know that you speak about the subtle body, as well, which can also be kind of a confusing concept for some people. What is the subtle body? And who are we as human beings?
LAMA PALDEN: As we know, we can barely scratch the surface of who we are as human beings. The potential and the incredible system that we have. The human psycho-physical system… Just beyond what we can even understand at this point. The subtle body… they talk about it in Hinduism and other spiritual systems, as well. Buddhism… particularly in Tantric… the easiest way to understand that it’s our energy body. And it’s connected with our physical… connected with our emotional, mental… with our breath. And it’s like an interface between our mental, emotional, psychological aspects of our mind and being.
And our physical body… like the energy, is like the interface between the two, and it’s said that in awakening the subtle body, which is composed of channels, and the prana, and the energy that moves through that… and then the energy present, inherent in each and every molecule that’s throughout the whole system.
In awakening, the energy flows in a particular way. And they say, if we took a photo of the buddha, we could see his subtle body. We would see the energies and the channels flowing in a really proper way. So, for us, the psychological issues and karmic issues make kinks, or knots, or twists in the channel… and the prana can’t flow properly.
So that is what meditation helps to rewire. As well as physical kinds of meditation, like Yoga, or Tai-Chi, or things like that. And it’s also said that in awakening, especially in non-dual realization of reality… the prana enters the central channel, so there are corresponding events in the subtle body, in terms of the process of realization and awakening. So, if we can help the subtle body grow and evolve through Yoga, and also through kindness… because again, if we are being mean to ourselves, it’s putting that energy into the energetic system, which is counter-productive to the awakening process.
DONNA: I love that. So, we are setting up the conditions, by facilitating that energetic flow.
LAMA PALDEN: Exactly! And also, all meditation helps initiate and keep that process going.
Donna: My background is also Kundalini Yoga. So, we talk a lot about that movement of the kundalini energy. So, I’m with you on that. If you had to pin-point one practice to someone who is looking to dabble in something… who maybe is going through a tough moment in life, what would it be?
LAMA PALDEN: In general, I think it depends on the propensities of the student… what they are drawn to. So, as a meditation teacher, I work individually with people. But I think, basically, to do a breath practice… an awareness breath practice as I describe in step one… is really the first step for most of us, that is going to be a good entry way—where we can begin to be present with our own experience… our own mind… our own bodies… and joining with the breath automatically brings the mind/body into unity… when we consciously breathe into our experience.
So, if we are conscious with our breath, it already begins to calm the mind/body system. And as it calms, we can begin to relate to our whole situation from a more awake perspective. That’s probably what I would say, in terms of your question. I also feel that right from the beginning, bringing in loving kindness is incredibly helpful, and powerful, along with that. Sometimes, I just have people breathe into loving kindness… Breathe out loving kindness… as a way to start.
DONNA: Again, I find myself doing it with you. And it’s amazing how healing one breath can be, in terms of grounding us in the body. I was reading something just the other day, that talked about how anxiety was really a by-product of being disassociated with our bodies. How is that so? And have you found that to be a common reality in your practice, either as a spiritual teacher, or a psychotherapist?
LAMA PALDEN: That’s interesting. I have never heard that before… that anxiety happens when we are disassociated from our bodies, but it makes a lot of sense. What I find in myself, and in teaching, and therapy, is that when we connect with our breath, and especially breath into our abdomen, that grounds us if we have anxiety. So, my advice and what I do myself is, if we ever feel anxious, is to consciously breathe into the abdomen. The abdomen is our grounding center. The grounding chakra. What we call the sub-navel chakra. Four finger widths below the navel. That whole general area of the abdomen is the grounding area. The tan-tien.Or, the hara, in Japanese. Breathing in consciously brings our tension and brings our prana there. And that really helps with relieving anxiety. It helps ground the whole psycho-physical system, and gives the anxiety a place to settle and let go.
DONNA: What else would you like to share in these last few minutes together, about your book?
LAMA PALDEN: I think at this time in human history, when we are seeing again, a resurgence of violence and hatred… that the more each of us can cultivate love for ourselves… compassion for ourselves, and for each and every sentient being on this planet… I think it will benefit all of us greatly. If we keep fighting… if we don’t learn to cooperate as human beings, things are not looking good for us as a human species. And, I think this is so important at this time. So, Love on Every Breath gives a powerful method for cultivating love and really coming into awakened love. That place gives us so much in-depth satisfaction and happiness in our life, and we can be a change agent for good. Filled through our own joy and love inside of us. And so, it’s both a very profound healing for us personally, and it also helps us to give more profoundly to the world. And if all of us could move a little bit more into loving kindness for ourselves and others, we can solve the problems that are facing us.
DONNA: Do you truly have hope that we can?
LAMA PALDEN: Yes, I think so. Yes. And I think there’s many, many people who truly… I think everybody at the core is good hearted. But some people have turned away from that… from trauma and suffering, and the wrong kind of ideas. And I think if we each turn towards goodness and love… if we’re shown the right opportunities, and given the right kind of guidance… mentoring and friendship…
DONNA: If you were going to leave the planet tomorrow, what would you do today?
LAMA PALDEN: I actually would meditate and pray and get deeply in touch with myself. And really extend profound love and gratitude… for this life and all of my experiences, and everybody that I was able to connect with, here. Both human and divine.
DONNA: There is a lot to be grateful for at any moment. That moment itself can be healing. Sometimes we don’t focus on those things.
LAMA PALDEN: It is profoundly healing to focus on gratitude and the gifts that we receive. It’s like the glass half empty or full.
DONNA: Is there anything I didn’t ask that I should have?
LAMA PALDEN: I don’t think so.
DONNA: It’s just been a delight to share this hour with you, Lama Palden. I was so happy to meet you this morning. You are just such a treasure, in terms of what you offer, and the wisdom you have to share from these teachings.
LAMA PALDEN: Thank you. Thank you. And I am profoundly grateful that I have received all of these teachings, and practices, and meditations. It’s so transformed my own life and can be a benefit to others. It’s really a joy to speak with you, and to hear about your interests and background. Everything is really a pleasure.
DONNA: Well, then we will take this opportunity to say thank you again, and we will look forward to sharing our interview on Awaken.com. And, where can people find you, by the way?
LAMA PALDEN: LamaPalden.org
DONNA: We’ll have that information under the interview. Thank you for that.
LAMA PALDEN: Thank you!
Read and Watch Part I Here: Awaken Interviews Lama Palden Pt 1 – Discover Our Unchanging Nature
Read and Watch Part II Here: Awaken Interviews Lama Palden Pt 2 – Female and Male Energy In Full and Complete Awakening
Lama Palden Drolma is the author of Love on Every Breath. A licensed psychotherapist, spiritual teacher, and coach, she has studied Buddhism in the Himalayas with some of the most preeminent Tibetan masters of the twentieth century. Following a traditional three-year retreat under his guidance, Kalu Rinpoche authorized her to become one of the first Western lamas. She subsequently founded the Sukhasiddhi Foundation, a Tibetan Buddhist teaching center in Fairfax, California. Visit her online at http://www.lamapalden.org.