Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tonglen and How to Do It

I found this amazing article on one of my favorite practices, the beautiful art of “taking and giving”, Tonglen. This article explains in detail what the practice is and is extremely helpful. Pay close attention to the section entitled “Suggestions For the Practice of Tonglen.” This practice is another aspect of loving kindness and helps cultivate bodhicitta - the awakened heart of compassion and wisdom...

All-Embracing Compassion:
The Heart-Practice of Tonglen

As human beings, we have a very interesting habit of resisting what is unpleasant and seeking what is pleasurable. We resist, avoid, and deny suffering and we continually grasp at pleasure. If we observe our behavior, it is easy to see that we habitually resist and avoid people, situations, and feelings we consider to be painful, unpleasant, or uncomfortable, and we are naturally attracted to people, situations, and feelings we consider pleasant, comfortable, and gratifying. According to Buddhist teachings, this behavior is a symptom of fundamental ignorance and is influenced by the defilements of greed (attachment), hatred (aversion), and delusion (misperception of reality). To break the spell of this dualistic perception, to dissolve the barriers in our hearts that keep us feeling separate from others, and to cultivate a deep compassion for all living beings, including ourselves, we need to meet and embrace reality in a radically new way. To accomplish this, we can use the precious heart-practice of Tonglen.
Tonglen is a Tibetan word which means sending and taking. This practice originated in India and came to Tibet in the eleventh century. With the practice of Tonglen, we work directly with our habitual tendency to avoid suffering and attach ourselves to pleasure. Using this powerful and highly effective practice, we learn to embrace our life experiences with more openness, compassion, inclusiveness, and understanding, rather than denial, aversion, and resistance. When we encounter fear, pain, hurt, anger, jealousy, loneliness, or suffering, be it our own or others, we breathe in with the desire to completely embrace this experience; to feel it, accept it, and own it, free of any resistance. 

In this way of practice, in this way of being, we transform our tendency to close down and shut out life's unpleasant experiences. In accordance with Buddha's First Noble Truth, we acknowledge, touch, and embrace our personal and collective suffering. We do not run away. We do not turn the other way. Touching and understanding suffering is the first step toward true transformation. Rather than avoiding suffering, we develop a more tolerant and compassionate relationship with it. We learn to meet and embrace reality—naked, open, and fearless.
Although the idea of developing a relationship with suffering may sound somewhat morbid, we must remember the teachings of the Second and Third Noble Truths as well: when we touch and embrace suffering, we can finally understand what causes it. When we understand the cause of suffering, we can eliminate it and be liberated. There is an end to suffering, however, we must learn how to meet it in a new way. Tonglen practice can help us accomplish this shift of awareness, this training of the mind.

A New Way to Embrace Our Life Experience

It is obvious that Tonglen practice is completely contrary to the ways in which we usually hold our personality (ego) together. Each of us have our defensive ego strategies for coping with the pain, hurt, disappointment, and suffering we encounter in life. We armor, protect, and separate ourselves from our inner and outer experiences in numerous ways that we are not even conscious of. In truth, Tonglen practice does indeed go against our habitual tendency of always wanting things to be pleasant, of wanting life on our own terms, of wanting everything to work out for ourselves no matter what happens to others. This practice dissolves and transforms the armor of our self-protection; the psychological strategies and defenses we create to keep ourselves separate from our own suffering and the suffering we encounter in the world. Tonglen practice gradually wears away our habitual grasping at a false sense of self (self-grasping/ego fixation/identification with the personality).

Tonglen effectively reverses our usual pattern of avoiding suffering and seeking pleasure. In this process, we finally liberate ourselves from a very ancient prison of selfishness. With this radical shift of awareness, this new way of embracing our life experience, our heart becomes more tender, open, sensitive, and aware. We naturally feel more alive; more loving and caring, both for ourselves and others. By practicing Tonglen, we connect with a less defended and more open, spacious dimension of our being. The all-embracing compassion of our true nature begins to shine through and we are introduced to a far more intimate and grander view of reality. With this sublime heart of love, liberated from attachment, aversion, and indifference, we gradually recognize and feel the absolute interdependence and preciousness of all living beings. This is true intimacy with life. This is the cultivation of bodhicitta—the awakened heart of compassion and wisdom.

Hearing and Feeling the Cries of the World

Breathing in, we allow ourselves to feel the inevitable suffering that occurs in this life. Our heart's natural response to this suffering, while breathing out, is compassion. We breathe in the pain and suffering of this world like a dark cloud, letting it pass through our hearts. Rather than bracing ourselves against this pain and suffering, we can let it strengthen our sense of belonging and interdependence within the larger web of being. Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezig) is the Bodhisattva of Universal Compassion. His name means "One Who Hears the Cries of the World." Long ago he vowed not to return to nirvana until all living beings had been liberated from suffering. Avalokiteshvara listens to and feels the pain and suffering of the world. He breathes in, receiving the cries and anguish of the world and responds with the greatest care and compassion. In Buddhism, the traditional vow made by the Bodhisattva is to alleviate the suffering of all sentient beings. 

The path of the Bodhisattva is to remember our belonging and connection with all of life. When we know in our hearts that we are connected to the insects, animals, trees, the earth, and every living being, we do not cause harm or suffering to any of these parts of ourselves. Rather, we become sensitive and attuned to the cries of the world, and we learn to respond with wisdom and deep compassion. We develop the wish to free all beings from their suffering and its causes; we desire, more than anything, to bring them happiness and peace. Indeed, the practice of Tonglen is an excellent way for us to train our heart and mind so we too can develop universal compassion and help alleviate the suffering of all living beings.

Suggestions for the Practice of Tonglen
Use what seems like poison as medicine. Use your
personal suffering as the path to compassion for all beings.

In Tonglen practice, through our compassion, we take on (embrace without resistance) the various sufferings of all beings: their fear, hurt, frustration, pain, anger, guilt, bitterness, loneliness, doubt, rage, and so forth. In return, we give them our loving-kindness, happiness, peace of mind, well-being, healing, and fulfillment.
1) Sit quietly, calm the mind, and center yourself. Reflect on the immense suffering that all beings everywhere experience. Allow their suffering to open your heart and awaken your compassion. You may also choose to invoke the presence of all the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and enlightened beings, so that through their inspiration and blessing, compassion may be born in your heart. In this way, you are resting in bodhicitta—the enlightened nature of the mind. Bodhicitta, is an inexhaustible source of purity, generosity, and compassion.
2) Imagine in front of you, as clearly as possible, someone you care for who is suffering. Although this may be more challenging, you may also imagine someone you feel indifferent toward, someone you consider to be an enemy, or those who have hurt you or others. Open yourself to this person's suffering. Allow yourself to feel connected with him or her, aware of their difficulties, pain, and distress. Then, as you feel your heart opening in compassion toward the person, imagine that all of his or her suffering comes out and gathers itself into a mass of hot, black, grimy smoke.
3) Now, visualize breathing in this mass of black smoke, seeing it dissolve into the very core of your self-grasping (ego) at your heart center. There in your heart, it completely destroys all traces of fear and selfishness (self-cherishing) and purifies all of your negative karma.
4) Imagine, now that your fear, self-centeredness and negative karma has been completely destroyed, your enlightened heart (bodhicitta) is fully revealed. As you breathe out, imagine you are sending out the radiance of loving-kindness, compassion, peace, happiness, and well-being to this person. See this brilliant radiance purifying all of their negative karma. Send out any feelings that encourage healing, relaxation, and openness.
5) Continue this "giving and receiving" with each breath for as long as you wish. At the end of your practice, generate a firm inner conviction that this person has been freed of suffering and negative karma and is filled with peace, happiness and well-being. You may also wish to dedicate the merit and virtue of your practice to the benefit of all sentient beings.

Another Excellent Form of Tonglen

Clearly imagine a situation where you have acted badly, one about which you feel shameful or guilty, and which may be difficult to even think about. Then, as you breathe in, opening your heart, accept total responsibility for your actions in that particular situation. Do not judge or try to justify your behavior. Simply acknowledge exactly what you have done wrong and wholeheartedly ask for forgiveness. Now, as you breathe out, send the compassionate radiance of reconciliation, forgiveness, harmony, healing, and understanding. Breathe in the pain and the blame, and breathe out the undoing of harm. Breathe in taking full responsibility, breathe out the compassionate radiance of healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation. This exercise is especially powerful. It may give you the courage to go see the person(s) whom you have wronged and the strength and willingness to talk to them directly and actually ask for forgiveness from the depths of your heart.

Tonglen is a Practice and a Way of Life

Traditionally, we begin by doing Tonglen for someone we care about. However, we can use this practice at any time, either for ourselves or others. Tonglen can be done for those who are ill, those who are dying or have just died, or for those that are in pain of any kind. Tonglen can be done either as a formal meditation practice or right on the spot at any time. For example, if we encounter someone in pain, right on the spot we can begin to breathe in their pain and send out some relief. At any time, when we encounter our own emotional discomfort or suffering, or that of others, we open our heart and fully embrace what we are encountering on our in-breath. Breathing out, we offer the heartfelt radiance of acceptance, loving-kindness, and compassion. This is a practice and a way of life.

Practicing Tonglen on one friend in pain helps us begin the process of gradually widening the circle of our compassion. From there, we can learn to take on the suffering and purify the karma of all beings; giving others our happiness, well-being, joy, and peace of mind. Tonglen practice can extend indefinitely, and gradually, over time, our compassion will expand. We will find that we have a greater ability to be loving and present for ourselves and for others in even the most difficult situations. This is the wonderful goal of Tonglen practice, the path of the compassionate Bodhisattva.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Confidence in the Validity of the Biuddha’s Teachings on Dharma

This is a wonderful teaching from Kybje Dorje Chang Kalu Rinpoche from the monastery that I am affiliated with, Kagyu Thubten Choling. It is quite an article:

A Teaching by Kyabje Dorje Chang Kalu Rinpoche
Given at Kagyu Thubten Chöling Monastery, 1986

In order to practice the Dharma taught by the Buddha it is necessary, at the outset, to establish confidence in its validity.

First we must understand that we have had countless lives in the past and will continue to have countless lives until we attain the level of a Buddha or Bodhisattva. Belief in the existence of previous and future lives gives rise to confidence in the truth of karma, the effects of actions. This confidence is based on understanding that unvirtuous actions lead to suffering and virtuous actions lead to happiness. Without this conviction, we will not abandon unvirtuous actions or perform virtuous ones.

We can reach this conviction by examining the signs of the workings of karma in the world around us. Although we are all born as human beings, each person experiences different circumstances, such as a long or short life, mental happiness or misery, and wealth or poverty. These variations in individual circumstances arise through previous karma accumulated in former lifetimes. Even animals have a sense that actions lead to results. They know enough to look for food when they are hungry, water when they are thirsty, and shade when they are hot.

If one has no confidence in the existence of past or future lives or in the truth of the effects of karma, then one will have no appreciation of Buddhism or any other religion. The practices of all religions are based on the intention to benefit oneself and others in a future existence.

The Buddha taught that sentient beings are subject to 84,000 mental afflictions; to remedy them, he gave 84,000 profound and extensive teachings. The point of all these teachings is to benefit the mind. One's body and speech will automatically derive benefit since the mind is like the master, and the body and speech are like its servants. For example, through thoughts of generosity, we perform acts of generosity; and because of angry thoughts, we use harsh words or act unkindly. The mind is the source of the action while the body and speech enact the mind's intentions. For instance, today you had the thought, "I must go to Kagyu Thubten Chöling to hear the Dharma," and in response to that thought, your body and speech somehow managed to accomplish this.

If one practices the Dharma correctly, then the four types of obscurations that veil the nature of the mind—ignorance, habitual patterns based on dualistic perception, mental afflictions, and karma—are removed. Complete elimination of these obscurations—known in Tibetan as sang—causes the inherent qualities of the mind's nature to manifest fully and spontaneously. This manifestation of the qualities and wisdom of the mind is called gye in Tibetan. Together these two form the word sang gye, which means Buddha or Buddhahood, the ultimate attainment.

It is necessary to practice Dharma because we are subject to impermanence. Born from our mother's womb, we go through childhood, mature, grow old, get sick, and eventually die. None of us can avoid birth, old age, sickness, and death. We have no control over this. That is why we need to practice the Dharma.

Since no one lives forever, we have an underlying awareness that we are going to die. But we have only the idea "I'm going to die." We don't remember the suffering, fear and difficulty we experience at the time of death. We don't really understand the nature of death because we don't understand the meaning of Dharma.

If our whole existence just disappeared at death like a flame that has been extinguished, or like water that evaporates, then everything would be fine. But the mind's nature is empty, clear, and unimpeded. Because it is empty it does not die. Our mind does not disappear, but goes on after our physical death to experience the confused appearances of the interval between death and the next rebirth (Tib. bardo). We then take rebirth in one of the six states of existence. This cycle repeats again and again. Since the nature of cyclic existence is impermanence, it is a source of only suffering and not happiness.

Everyone is concerned about having a long life and freedom from sickness. It is good to have these things, but people neglect to provide themselves with good circumstances for future lifetimes. We should recognize that the mind that experiences future lifetimes is the same mind we have now, so we should therefore be concerned with providing for the future experiences of that mind.

How can we ensure happiness in future lifetimes? By practicing virtue with body, speech, and mind. When engendering Bodhicitta we pray, "May all sentient beings have happiness and the causes of happiness; may they be free of suffering and the causes of suffering." The cause of happiness is virtue and the cause of suffering is nonvirtue. It is therefore necessary to practice virtue and avoid unvirtuous actions to the best of our ability. Since we have the ability to choose between virtuous and unvirtuous actions, our future happiness or suffering is in our own hands.

There are two practices that I find extremely important and beneficial. The first is the vow of refuge, which by instilling faith in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha forms a foundation for attaining Buddhahood. The second is the meditation on the Bodhisattva Chenrezi. This practice is the essence of all the teachings of tantra, and Chenrezi the essence of all yidam deities.

Many people in the West are interested in the teachings on Bodhicitta and benefiting others. This is very nice, but the root of cultivating Bodhicitta is being able to take all suffering, loss, and defeat for oneself and to give all happiness, profit, and victory to others. If one does not practice this within one's own family, then talking about applying this ideal to all sentient beings is merely words.

Reflecting on the kindness of our parents is how one begins to practice mind-training (Tib. lojong). We realize that they are suffering now and will continue to suffer in the future, and that until they attain liberation from samsara, they will go from life to life experiencing pain. If we reflect in this way, we begin to understand that it is unfitting for us to allow beings who have been so kind to us to experience so much suffering. This recognition is the beginning of loving-kindness and compassion. Next we must resolve to do whatever we can to free them from suffering. We expand on this contemplation by including all the people that we care for—our children, friends, and relatives. We then include all those whom we neither like nor dislike, and then people we dislike, even those we consider to be our enemies. Finally, we include all sentient beings, who fill all of space, and we imagine that we take on all their suffering and offer them all our happiness and virtue. In particular, we should make the aspiration that this meditation may serve as a cause for their attainment of Buddhahood and liberation from the sufferings of samsara. That is the way in which Bodhicitta is developed.

If we can practice Bodhicitta, develop patience, and pacify all disharmony in our own home, then we have prepared the way leading to the development of limitless Bodhicitta. If, on the other hand, we cannot maintain patience and harmony in our own home with our own family, then it is very unlikely that we will be able to do this with respect to all sentient beings, who are infinite in number. So if, after hearing these teachings, you go home and eliminate all disharmony in your home and family, I will proclaim you all male and female Bodhisattvas!