༄༅ བློ་སྦྱོང། གཏོང་ལེན་། Part 2 More detailed instructions. One of the most important things to remember is to do the practice as well as you can and avoid comparisons to however else you think it should be done. This doesn’t mean rewrite the instructions to suit your taste. It means find purchase in the process wherever it sticks best for you.
For instance, the most advanced instructions (for monks) have to do with recognizing all sentient beings as your precious mother, who is trapped in endless cycles of death and rebirth, wandering lost through the six realms of existence; sheering off layers of your own body, feeding them to all things wild in the living world and beyond to palliate the suffering of even hellish creatures, becoming nothing more than a wish-fulfilling tree with no agenda of your own, releasing your every gain, virtue and joy to any being in any condition who wants it, seeing your mother-beings attain buddhahood, and in turn release others. Etc. Get the picture? Might be a tad much for your early visualizations. Way too Murakami at this stage. (Japanese author with an unbridled imagination.)
So instead, start by thinking of anyone you love dearly, could be your mom, your child, friend, lover, anyone who brings out your care and tenderness; your genuine wish for their happiness and relief from any suffering, great or small. Start by focusing on that person, or if you can, more than one such person. Think about the unhappiness, fear, anger, loss, struggle, loneliness, sadness, bitterness, pain, numbness, lostness, or whatever negative, unfortunate states they experience. Zero in on that as the object of their suffering and intend with all your worth to take it away from them, replacing it with all the joy, happiness, pleasure, gain, wealth, comfort, love, positivity and fortune you can pour into them. Start wherever you can and do this exercise at the edge of your reach but not beyond it. That’s what’s most important. Ultimately, you’ll strive to include all living beings. But if you need to start with your dog, and I am not kidding, then start there.
The initial visualization is this. As you breathe in the suffering of the other or others, you imagine as vividly as possible that what you are breathing in has the quality of nasty, tarry, thick, stench-filled, black smoke, brackish water, or foul-smelling fog, gunk-coated air or clouds. This is where the rubber meets the road. You generate graphic visuals, lean into them, and willfully bring them into your body and mind. Then, you breathe out the opposite. Pure streams of white crystalline, healing vapors, nectars, rivers of soothing waters, brilliant lights radiating unbounded joy and bliss. You vividly picture all of this goodness directly entering into their bodies, permeating them to their core, and bringing them calm and happiness. Displacing all their misery with all your happiness. Initially, it helps to close your eyes, but you can learn to do it with your eyes open over time. This is not fluffy, new age, cuddly goodness. You really try to inhale the sewage of their misery and exhale purity from yourself to replace it.
The text reads: “Train alternately in the two - giving and taking / Place the two astride the breath.” In doing this practice, you are entraining yourself down to the level of your autonomic nervous system (i.e., regulates pulse, breathing, digestive function, that sort of thing), so this becomes part of you, not a nice idea separate from your immediate self. Occasionally someone gets freaked out with, “Won’t this cause cancer or bring me misfortune?” No. It won’t. Not only will it do you no harm, it will attack that which does. It’s unleashes a powerful antibody to stop the infection of self-attachment that already courses through you and me. The self-protection that a person could feel coming to the surface as they practice is part of the point. As that arises, remaining steadfast in your dedication to relieving the suffering of others rewrites the basic code of survivalism and lack of compassion in ourselves. The more you do this, the more you reorient your brain/mind complex toward a healthier stance.
The exertion you’ll feel at times, what you have to push against, helps locate that inner place I keep talking about, so you can eventually access it at will. Like finding that sense of balance on the bicycle when you’re learning to ride, or that awareness containing the whole vehicle and directing it when you’re learning to drive a car. Once you isolate and identify that inner muscle, you can strengthen it by constantly repeating this practice.
I do this all day long, especially when I don’t feel like it. I do it in every situation imaginable, various encounters, meetings, before, during, and after events, when sitting idly, when I need a mood shift; the best time to do this is anytime, anywhere. When I am feeling exceptionally good or have accomplished something wonderful, I do tonglen to give away my gains and happiness as fast as possible. When I am hurting or feeling small or stupid, I do tonglen to take away from others that horrible feeling and replace it with the good thing that’s missing. In other words, every occasion, good or bad, happy or unhappy, becomes an opportunity to do this. Happy, give it away. Unhappy, bear it for others.
Then, add silently talking to yourself as you do this practice. This adds a great deal of effectiveness to the method. I actually say things inwardly, silently to myself, that encourage the process. “Let me bear this small portion of misery for others so they can be relieved….Let others have this happiness I’m feeling right now, I don’t need it and they do…” Cook up your own scripting as you go, and the words you choose matter less than making sure you are saying something internally. Tibetan Buddhism is a tradition of body, speech and mind. By adding the speech component, you have now engaged all three. When the three work in unity, there is a distinct increase in the power of anything you do.
Do this every day. Better to do three minutes every day than an hour one day and skip a week. Best yet is to do it as often as you can think of it. Try it on when you suspect it’s not the mood that’ll help, or when it’s uncomfortable to change to a more compassionate stance, and see what happens. I use this especially when I’m dealing with the most difficult people, the road-rager, the loudmouth in line, the jerk in a business arrangement, the narcissist without a trace of ethics. Compassion isn’t about abandoning sensibility and becoming a doormat. It’s about staying attuned to our common humanity. Remembering that the road-rager, loudmouth, jerk, and narcissist all hunger for the same things as you and me. The proof is how many times I’ve been that other, less-than-desirable person in someone else’s eyes. The wisdom that recognizes my own folly in others, and theirs in me, is compassion.
In Part 3, I’ll go into the nature and principles of deliberate practice, how it ties into mind training and is of remarkable benefit on its own as well. །།