Education

Transforming the Heart of Suffering

Update: 28/07/2016
In order to have compassion for others, we have to have compassion for ourselves.
 

Transforming the Heart of Suffering

 

In particular, to care about other people who are\r\nfearful, angry, jealous, overpowered by addictions of all kinds, arrogant,\r\nproud, miserly, selfish, mean—you name it—to have compassion and to care for\r\nthese people, means not to run from the pain of finding these things in\r\nourselves. In fact, one’s whole attitude toward pain can change. Instead of\r\nfending it off and hiding from it, one could open one’s heart and allow oneself\r\nto feel that pain, feel it as something that will soften and purify us and make\r\nus far more loving and kind.

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The tonglen practice is a method for connecting with\r\nsuffering—ours and that which is all around us—everywhere we go.

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It is a method for overcoming fear of suffering and\r\nfor dissolving the tightness of our heart. Primarily it is a method for\r\nawakening the compassion that is inherent in all of us, no matter how cruel or\r\ncold we might seem to be.

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We begin the practice by taking on the suffering of\r\na person we know to be hurting and whom we wish to help. For instance, if you\r\nknow of a child who is being hurt, you breathe in the wish to take away all the\r\npain and fear of that child. Then, as you breathe out, you send the child\r\nhappiness, joy, or whatever would relieve their pain. This is the core of the\r\npractice: breathing in other’s pain so they can be well and have more space to\r\nrelax and open, and breathing out, sending them relaxation or whatever you feel\r\nwould bring them relief and happiness. However, we often cannot do this\r\npractice because we come face to face with our own fear, our own resistance,\r\nanger, or whatever our personal pain or our personal stuckness happens to be at\r\nthat moment.

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At that point you can change the focus and begin to\r\ndo tonglen for what you are feeling and for millions of others just like you\r\nwho at that very moment are feeling the same stuckness and misery. Maybe you\r\nare able to name your pain. You recognize it clearly as terror or revulsion or\r\nanger or wanting to get revenge. So you breathe in for all the people who are\r\ncaught with that same emotion and you send out relief or whatever opens up the\r\nspace for yourself and all those countless others. Maybe you can’t name what\r\nyou’re feeling. But you can feel it—a tightness in the stomach, a heavy\r\ndarkness, or whatever. Just contact what you are feeling and breathe in, take\r\nit in—for all of us and send out relief to all of us.

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People often say that this practice goes against the\r\ngrain of how we usually hold ourselves together. Truthfully, this practice does\r\ngo against the grain of wanting things on our own terms, of wanting it to work\r\nout for ourselves no matter what happens to the others. The practice dissolves\r\nthe armor of self-protection we’ve tried so hard to create around ourselves. In\r\nBuddhist language one would say that it dissolves the fixation and clinging of\r\nego.

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Tonglen reverses the usual logic of avoiding\r\nsuffering and seeking pleasure and, in the process, we become liberated from a\r\nvery ancient prison of selfishness. We begin to feel love both for ourselves\r\nand others and also we begin to take care of ourselves and others. It awakens\r\nour compassion and it also introduces us to a far larger view of reality. It\r\nintroduces us to the unlimited spaciousness that Buddhists call shunyata.

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By doing the practice, we begin to connect with the\r\nopen dimension of our being. At first we experience this as things not being\r\nsuch a big deal or as solid as they seemed before.

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Tonglen can be done for those who are ill, those who\r\nare dying or have just died, or for those who are in pain of any kind. It can\r\nbe done either as a formal meditation practice or right on the spot at any\r\ntime. For example, if you are out walking and you see someone in pain—right on\r\nthe spot you can begin to breathe in their pain and send out some relief. Or,\r\nmore likely, you might see someone in pain and look away because it brings up\r\nyour fear or anger; it brings up your resistance and confusion. So on the spot\r\nyou can do tonglen for all the people who are just like you, for everyone who\r\nwishes to be compassionate but instead is afraid, for everyone who wishes to be\r\nbrave but instead is a coward.

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Rather than beating yourself up, use your own\r\nstuckness as a stepping stone to understanding what people are up against all\r\nover the world. Breathe in for all of us and breathe out for all of us. Use\r\nwhat seems like poison as medicine. Use your personal suffering as the path to\r\ncompassion for all beings

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ABOUT\r\nPEMA CHÖDRÖN

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With her powerful teachings, bestselling books, and retreats\r\nattended by thousands, Pema Chödrön is today’s most popular American-born\r\nteacher of Buddhism. In The Wisdom of No Escape, The Places that Scare You, and\r\nother important books, she has helped us discover how difficulty and\r\nuncertainty can be opportunities for awakening. She serves as resident teacher\r\nat Gampo Abbey Monastery in Nova Scotia and is a student of Dzigar Kongtrul,\r\nSakyong Mipham Rinpoche, and the late Chögyam Trungpa. For more, visit pemachodronfoundation.org.

PEMA\r\nChodron

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