TONGLEN: A HEART PRACTICE 

Pink Rose

An All-Embracing Compassion  

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. 

More specifically, the practice of Tonglen is described as follows: 

In summary, to break the spell of 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. Using this powerful and highly effective practice, we work directly with our habitual tendency to avoid suffering and seek pleasure—we learn to embrace all of life's experiences with more openness and compassion, rather than aversion and resistance. 

For a PDF copy of this information, click on All-Embracing Compassion: The Heart-Practice of Tonglen

 

Source : Used with permission from Neil Steven Cohen at Naljor Prison Dharma Service, PO Box 1177, Mount Shasta CA 96067. ( http://www.naljorprisondharmaservice.org/whatweoffer.htm)

Photo Credit: Intellimon Ltd.