Tonglen

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Sending and Receiving practice is called Tonglen in Tibetan.  It is a healing visualization that is effective for those who do it, and acts in such a way as to transform the quality of our relationship with others.  The instruction here is from The Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chodron (61 ff.)

How to Do Tonglen

"The first step is called "flashing absolute bodhichitta," which basically means just opening up.  

The second step is working with the abstract quality of pain by visualising it as black, heavy and hot, and breathing that in, and working with the abstract quality of pleasure by visualising it as white, light and cool, and breathing that out . . .  .

Then you get to the third stage, which is actually the heart of the practice. Here you visualise a specific life situation and connect with the pain of it.  You breath that in, feeling it completely. It's the opposite of avoidance. You are completely willing to feel pain -- your own pain, the pain of a dear friend or the pain of a total stranger. -- and on the out-breath, you let the sense of ventilating and opening, the sense of spaciousness, go out.

In other words, suppose there is someone in your life that you cannot stand, the very thought of whom brings up all kinds of negative feelings. You decide to do tonglen with feeling more open and brave and gentle in that particular situation.  So you think of that person and up come all those awful feelings, and when you are breathing in, you connect with them -- their quality and texture and just how they grab your heart.  It is not that you try to figure them out; you just feel the pain.  

Then on the out-breath you relax, let go, open up, ventilate the whole thing.  But you don't luxuriate in that for very long because when you breathe in again, it's back to the painful feeling. You don't get completely trapped in that, because next you breath out -- you open and relax and share some sense of space again. [. . .  .]

After you have worked with the specific object for a while and you are genuinely connected with the pain and your ability to open and let go, then you take the practice a step further -- you do it for all sentient beings.  This is a key point about tonglen:  your own experience of pleasure and pain becomes the way that you recognize your kinship with all sentient beings, the way you can share in the joy and the sorrow of everyone ... .

So again, the first step is flashing some sense of openness and spaciousness, the second step is working with [black in and white out,] the third step is contacting something very real to us, and the fourth step is extending it out and being willing to do it for all sentient beings . . .  ."

In Start Where You Are (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1994)  Pema Chodron says

"When we encounter life situations that spontaneously evoke compassion, it is not necessary to go through all four stages. It's fine to begin with the third stage, the stage of breathing in the pain in the situation that confronts us and breathing out something that will help. It's fine to breathe in the pain and send out relief or love. There is no need to do the other parts-flashing absolute bodhichitta or working with the black, heavy, and hot and white, light, and cool. These can be skipped in daily life when you do tonglen on the spot."

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It is a good idea to prepare a relatively stable ground before doing tonglen with its  alternating movement of attention and emotional memory.  We can prepare for doing this with some restful meditation (shamata) before beginning the practice of tonglen.

Basically, this consists of just sitting up straight, eyes lowered but not shut, and watching your thoughts come and go without dwelling on them. You might also see if you can catch a glimpse of the space between the thoughts.

To Benefit Someone in Particular

Sending and Receiving certainly has benefit for the doer.  However, Ven. Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso said (Miami, 2001) that for tonglen to actually benefit the person or persons for whom we are doing it, we must have a special connection, "like TV or e-mail" with them. That special connection can be either good or bad. Then, if we do tonglen for them, they will gradually attain better rebirths.  To activate the practice fully, we need to do the practice, have the aspiration to help, but also have some past life connection.

"I have a tendency to want to do tonglen for this or that individual person or persons but have been reminded many times by various wise people to extend out to all beings.  Furthermore the tonglen as I have been taught has a few stages, and doing tonglen for individual beings happens only in one of these stages. I have been repeatedly instructed to always do the WHOLE practice and not only one part of it." 

~ D. at kagyu email list

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WAGE PEACE by Judyth Hill. 

Wage peace with your breath. 

Breathe in firemen and rubble, breathe out whole buildings and flocks of redwing blackbirds. 

Breathe in terrorists and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown fields. 

Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees. 

Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact. 

Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud. 

Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers. 

Make soup. 

Play music, learn the word for thank you in three languages. 

Learn to knit, and make a hat. 

Think of chaos as dancing raspberries, imagine grief as the outbreath of beauty or the gesture of fish. 

Swim for the other side. 

Wage peace. 

Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious. 

Have a cup of tea and rejoice. 

Act as if armistice has already arrived. 

Don't wait another minute.

~  written Sept. 2001, New Mexico for Poets Against War web site.


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