Towards Wholeness and Greater Love

A Commentary on Five Lines of Teaching by Padampa Sangye

Pith instructions are like seeds we can take and cultivate in our contemplative lives. When we find a teaching that matches where we are in our lives at a particular time, something stirs in our depths, and another step can be taken towards wholeness, fulfillment, peace, and the realization of our fundamental nature…


The instructions that have come down to us from the eleventh century teacher, Padampa Sangye are known through his main disciple, the eminent Machig Labdron, the founder of the Chod, or ‘cutting through’ wisdom lineage.

Although the following five or six lines of Padampa Sangye’s teaching are short and simple, they are deep practices, and they deserve to be taken up, written about, and shared more widely for reasons that become clear. These teachings lead to healing, and the fulfillment of love and compassion. They have been translated as:

Confess your hidden faults

Turn towards what you find repulsive

Help those think you cannot help,
and those you don’t want to help

Let go of whatever you are attached to


Go to the places that scare you

Each of these lines can have different interpretations, and each lead a person inward, to more depth, and greater freedom.

The first

Confess your hidden faults

can be opened up to look at the key words – confess – meaning here open yourself, reveal. We can ask, to who do we confess? This has such Judeo-Christian connotations, so, in a contemplative practice that is not theistic, it can be turning toward our own Buddha Nature, our own inner truth, one within us we feel to be our Guardian, Avalokiteshvara, Kuan Yin, or any Divine Being we have a beautiful connection with.

The practice here is opening, revealing, not hiding what we have done, out of shame, or the disconnect between how we want to see ourselves, and indeed who we are in better times, and what we feel is flawed, broken, unworthy, or unloveable about ourselves.

What is called spiritual bypassing is when we don’t look at, or acknowledge those parts of our life that is wounded, or that have fallen short of the ideal. It takes a great deal of psychic energy to avoid or deny what we carry with us that is painful, and what Jung called the shadow presses and calls out for our attention and for great understanding.

The shadow denied wreaks havoc in our lives. Not attended to, it diminishes us. Learning to incorporate these difficult, complexed aspects of ourself into our love and wisdom is part of what the Western Esotericists called the Great Work.

Confession is not the gesture of de-gradation which is why I place this teaching in the category of one that needs to be timely for a person. It is to hold, tenderly, those parts of ourselves that have been and are still hurt, confused, or weak, with the aim of transformation and healing, and strengthening ourselves. This is something we should do joyfully, since the overall aim is fulfillment, more integral peace and well being.

Confession is also an affirmation of our faith in the Power that guides our lives.Here we find a recurring theme in all religions: the intelligence and love we are all part of, and that we have in us can bring about transformation.

Confess, open yourself and reveal all the ways you’ve fallen short, out of limitation, affliction; bring it out into the open so that it can be healed.

Hidden is a significant word here as well, and a key to this set of transformative teachings. As we’ll see, they all have the characteristic turning and facing what we usually move away from, and so these elements in our psyche gather great strength, along with such negative emotions as fear, despair, shame, and strong aversion.

When we hide something from ourselves and others we do so out of shame. We don’t want that part of ourselves to be seen or known about by people we care about and who we respect. We feel unworthy. There may be a place for this, but when we open ourselves to wisdom, to our trusted mentor, guardian and protector, we are taking the bandage off, and holding what is painful with tenderness. This is being loved where we need it most.

The word ‘faults’ here, is a mild one, but like the rest of these inward turning teachings, it is an invitation. How do we define a fault? It is an error, a negative habit or tendency; it is the distance we still have to travel, measured against a standard we know in ourselves.

The Bible says

Be thou perfect,
even as your Father in heaven is perfect

and we do have something in us that guides us, something to aspire towards. This is our Truth, our Universal Nature, of Love.

Every tradition tells us we are capable of more than the average person believes. Those who would dismiss such an ideals as mere ‘councils of perfection’ tragically underestimate what we have in us. This is more a path to be taken and known, than talked about, but at least this much should be said.

If we don’t acknowledge where and how we’ve missed the mark, how can we ever turn again to the light? How can we right ourselves? We hold back from acknowledging our faults because we don’t believe we can change. We identify with familiar patterns, solidify and perpetuate needless suffering. We can do so much better.

Reveal your covered over mistakes and limitations, the ways you’ve hurt.

This is difficult to hold, and yet, you have been healed before, and to confess when needed brings out this same power. Bring to mind all the ways you are not yet whole, not yet fully integrated, not yet complete in love; all the irritations, obsessions, the laziness, the self-justification, the pride, the aggression. This is how they’re able to gradually transform.

As the writer Paulo Coelho said

Lead will play its role until the world
has no further need for lead;
and then lead will have to turn itself into gold.
That’s what alchemists do. They show that,
when we strive to become better than we are,
everything around us becomes better too…

We will notice in practice a connection between the instructions, and so the next line

Approach what you find repulsive

can be seen first, as turning towards what we previously rejected, sometimes strongly, and with intense aversion. Instead here, we bring more love, and greater self compassion, and we move towards greater wholeness.

Approaching, or turning towards can become embracing what you find repulsive, what you find most difficult to love.

Repulsive is an interesting word here as well, a juicy word, full of energy and significance. It refers to what we recoil from, spontaneously. We may then add our reasons to what is going on, but the initial response is deeper than reason. Before it manifests there is a turning away, with a strong negative energy of aversion, and we can choose with love to turn towards what we would reject in ourselves, and then in others.

We open to ourselves first, and learn to embrace whatever we felt was deeply unworthy of love and care, even repulsive, or disgusting.

How is a golum, a Grendel, or a demon made, after all? This describes the mind and heart of an ugly, frightened, aggressive creature, that has become twisted, and that has long been desperate for love. And how can this fragment become whole, except through understanding, kindness, and compassion?

Approach what you find repulsive then extends to others. I notice that my deep reflex of accusing others in some way corresponds to what I’ve rejected in myself in the past. In this practice I find that if I gradually change my own self rejection into a deep, warm embrace of all my imperfections and limitations, all my delusions and suffering, then it becomes possible to extend care to those I had projected onto, because of their similarity to my shadow. I can embrace what is difficult in them too, and in others in this whole wild world of ours.

Taking up this practice in full, we can say with Uchiyama Roshi that, Everything I encounter is my own life….

We come from this meditative practice with more tenderness and understanding, naturally, and with great compassion that is dedicated to alleviating the suffering of others, whatever it takes.

So much of our aggression goes unchecked because it follows the pathways of our self rejection. Turning aversion towards ourselves into acknowledgement, acceptance, and inclusive love causes it to flow outwards as well, naturally, effortlessly, because the roots have been changed.

The third teaching follows:

Help those you think you cannot help,
and those you don’t want to help

Sometimes these are divided, or only one or the other is named.

We may not believe we can offer something to others, but our goodwill we can always offer, even if not in words and visible gestures. Their root is wishing another well, and that is always to the good.

We also may not believe that what we extend to ourselves or another would make any difference, but we need to be careful here. This teaching is telling us to be attentive, and to look into the profound nature of the love we do have in us. It is redeeming, uplifting, strengthening and healing. We don’t know the full extent of it, or even part of the power we have until we begin to believe in it and make use of it. Then we will see it’s miraculous effect, I’m sure, more and more.

There are those we may not want to help as well, shadow people in our lives, rejected for the same reasons we would abandon aspects of ourselves, seeing them as unworthy. Real love on the other hand calls us to be inclusive, and that is its radical nature. All by itself, it leads to wholeness in a person, and to community.

The truth is that we are all worthy of love, in all circumstances. All are infinitely precious. It is not just when others are kind that they deserve our care.

In the Gospels it says

A physician does not come for those who are well,
but those who are suffering

– and compassion is just this.

The category of those we don’t want to help needs to be looked into to see where we would offer anything less than the full measure of our love and care, because right there is where we can bring this greater vision to fruition. We can see the fullness of love made manifest by that much more in our own heart first, and then in our world.

This third line

Help those you think you cannot help,
and those you don’t want to help

encourages both faith and inclusiveness. This is what we all want and need, for ourselves, for each other.

The fourth line then

Let go of whatever you are attached to

contains both relative and wisdom practice.

The relative here is to let go of misguided self interest that closes us down, and that seeks short term pleasure or gain at the expense of greater fulfillment.

The ultimate teaching here is about letting go of the self we grasp, when in truth, there is actually no such ego. The thoughts we have about ourselves and others and this world do not match the profound truth that is here. To let go of whatever you are attached to includes ideas that set us at a distance from the vital, dynamic involvement with the way things are here.

Change is possible; growth, transformation, and healing are possible. When we let go of our ideas we come to the fifth and last teaching, that says,

Go to the places that scare you

Fear is an instinctive reaction that has a range to it, from being based on nothing at all, to being a call for attention because of something threatening us, our loved ones, or our world.

Go there. Turn to it, embrace it warmly, cherish it as though it were a dear friend. It calms down and can tell you more.

Excluding nothing, rejecting nothing, as Milarepa taught

Contemplate all energies without fear or disgust,
find their essence,
for that is the stone that turns base metals into gold

We can trust more and more in our capacity to be with what is difficult and to transform it with love and understanding, devotion, and the blessings, the help and support of all the Buddhas, and holy ones.

The practice of Cho, cutting through illusions, at last, is melting away obscurations, and seeing clearly into the depth of our true nature, and that of all others, excluding none.

Those who do this practice, when they are referred to as exorcists, are called on to cast out troubling spirits, and to correct unbalanced force, and these they transform through love and understanding;

Practitioners of this spiritual path are also called on in times of epidemic, to stop the spread of illness, and damaging psychic conditions, and again, it is by their courage, commitment, and insight that they skillfully accomplish such healing.

These practices become deeper and more effective the more we engage them. Just as seeds are only valued because of what they can bring to us and future generations, we each have to see for ourselves the truth of what these teachings by Padampa Sangye indicate, the way to health and completion.

May we all discover our true heritage,
and with great love,
may we heal all suffering in ourselves and others,
and all the world
May peace and blessings extend everywhere
and through all times