I am using Weeping Buddha and the lojong sayings and commentary from Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness by Chogyam Trungpa as a study, together.
I’ve been practicing tonglen for almost three decades, and it is my main practice.
This is the ninth weekly installment. To start at the beginning go here.
Sending and taking, the practice of tonglen, is simple, like sit meditation is simple. And just as powerful. It is a Bodhisattva practice. Simply, whenever you are confronted with any kind of negativity, you breathe in the negative: fear, anger, hurt, sadness, hunger, homelessness, war, greed, destruction, all the awfulness, and breathe out or send into the situation the good you have to offer. Sometimes it is an antidote. You see war-torn and you send safety; you see sadness and you send joy.
When I am despondent and feel I have nothing to give,
I send sunflowers. I can always conjure a field of sunflowers, and since imagining their happy heads following sunshine and feeding critters lifts me up, I can feel the tiniest bit of joy to offer up.
Joy multiplies in sunflower fields.
When my former husband was in the hospital, he was scared and in pain with a heart attack. I was afraid he would die, and I was in fear. I began tonglen, and practiced when I was awake and not talking to anyone. I felt pains in my chest, and kept practicing. I thought about Trungpa, who I can almost hear teaching me, telling of practicing as a boy when he saw older boys throwing rocks at a puppy. He practiced with all of his might and felt the rocks on his body. Even in pain, he kept practicing, fearlessly. I felt fear and imagined his fear and pain, and breathed it all in, and offered all my safety and calmness to the man who was about to have surgery. A New Age friend came to visit and asked me what I was doing, and I told him. Terrified, he tried to stop me, saying I would bring on a heart attack. I practiced for his fears too. I developed a kind of fearlessness, even when I started having chest pains.
Now we have so many daily terrors we see, and I feel them deeply. Homeless families, wars, and the destruction of our home, earth, and the eventual killing of animals and forests on this once beautiful place we share. I have to be completely honest: I practice tonglen in these overwhelming sorrows for me as much as for the others. I have no other way to cope with the sadness I feel in the face of incredible stupidity and greed. I can’t check out with booze or the television. I feel powerless, even though I do what I can in action and in voting. But it doesn’t seem to matter, the sorrows keep piling on. So even though I am supposed to do this selflessly, I also take on the suffering and send out the joy for myself as well as every sentient being.
I could teach you how to practice, but there are various levels to start with, and I think the practice should be taught face-to-face. I also have to admit that I was a long-time meditator when I jumped in with both feet in difficult situations instead of building up slowly as I was taught. If I am on my zafu, I center first through sit meditation. If I am driving, in the market, seeing stupid posts on Facebook, seeing homeless people, I simply jump right in. I feel what I am feeling for them or what I imagine they are feeling or experiencing — sadness, hunger, fear, revulsion — and breathe it in, sending out the antidote. Sometimes I keep it up for a long time. Sometimes it is simply a few breaths because I am with friends or Mitchell, and we are talking too. The more you practice in sit meditation, the more you do this in any given moment.
The practice is an amazing compassion-builder.
I also find it useful as a way to deal with uncomfortable emotions
that involve situations where I am helpless to fix or solve the
source of the discomfort for me or for others, bringing me more internal peace. I have used it in the face of family members who were on a destruction course, and whom I could not dissuade to a perhaps better path or toward reconciliation with a loved one. Perhaps the latter is not the point to the practice, but anytime I am more peaceful, I think it flows out in a calmer world
for others too, so I think practicing for yourself is a good thing.
In this weekly commentary on the lojong, I am not open to the feed becoming
a debate for people to nitpick Buddhism or my interpretations of Buddhist concepts.
(There are lots of places for debates.) I am more interested in hearing about
YOUR life or how the lojong affected you or your practice awakening in some manner.
For more info about why, go here.