Saturday, August 9, 2014

An Experience with Tonglen

Joel Agee
June 2 · Edited ·

On Friday night I had to take my wife to a hospital. She had suddenly gotten very sick. She was vomiting, feeling dizzy, her stomach hurt, and she was severely dehydrated. She could hardly stand up. She was immediately given a bed in the emergency room and was given an intravenous drip. However, we had to wait for a long time before a doctor could attend to her, as there were several patients in more critical condition than she was. She was suffering, and I could do very little to help her.

Suddenly, Tonglen arose in my mindstream. I knew that Tonglen is a practice of taking another’s suffering into oneself and sending them wellbeing and happiness in return, but I had never practiced it, so there was a quality of surprise and discovery in the experience. The movement of wishing all of my wife’s suffering to be mine coincided with the in-breath, and on the exhalation I “gave” her my health and wellbeing.

After a while a young Indian woman was rolled in on a gurney and was given the bed next to my wife’s. Her bed was surrounded by curtains, so I couldn’t see her, but I could hear her moaning in pain and fear. A few times she cried out to Allah. I wished her well from the bottom of my heart, and imagined her mental and physical pain entering into me with my breath. “May her suffering be mine. May she be at peace and happy.”

There was something humorous about this, because before she arrived, I had only been concerned for my wife, and suddenly the circle of compassion had widened. Why stop here? The sights and sounds of affliction were all around me. Taking them in, and wishing them to be mine, they dissolved in emptiness. The giving out of blissful joy was effortless.

I did Tonglen, or Tonglen did itself in me, on and off for several hours. It felt like the very best thing I could do, and not for a moment did I experience any suffering.

When the doctor finally arrived, my wife was feeling better. He determined that she had been attacked by a viral stomach flu and that her crisis had passed. Another doctor was found who could speak with our neighbor in Bengali. Maybe she was given a sedative, because she became much calmer.

The next morning I attended the last of five lectures by Malcolm Smith (Loppon Namdrol) about a Tibetan text called “The Great Song of Experience,” by Jetzun Dragpa Gyaltsen (1147-1216). At one point he read this line: “There is bliss in the middle of begging lepers; there is bliss in the conduct of one taste.” In his commentary, Malcolm compared the begging lepers to wretchedly sick people in an emergency room and the yogi with the nurses who attend to them with equanimity. Looking back on my own recent experience, I thought: “Yes, there was bliss.”

I just found something the Dalai Lama said about Tonglen; "Whether this meditation really helps others or not, it gives me peace of mind. Then I can be more effective, and the benefit is immense."
UnlikeUnlike · · 4924

    You, Piotr Ludwinski, Kyle Dixon, John Tan and 45 others like this.
    John Ahn _/\_
    June 2 at 8:37am · Like · 7
    Viorica Doina Neacsu Beautiful sharing... thank you Joel
    Sending love and peace to your wife
    June 2 at 8:47am · Like · 7
    Joel Agee Thank you, VIorica.
    June 2 at 8:53am · Like · 1
    Greg Goode Joel, you said something very powerful that opens the door to great compassion: "Why stop there?"
    June 2 at 9:00am · Unlike · 11
    Kishore Sherchand Our maitreya compassion !
    June 2 at 9:22am · Like · 1
    Marta Wrona i thought i may write here about it because i'm not really sure about that one issue concerning Tonglen.

    well, i did Tonglen a few times in the past, usually to help the sick and suffering people and animals i was in contact with at that particular time and which i kept in my mind back then.

    this year i've met Kyle's friend who told me that many people do Tonglen wrongly just taking in suffering of others whilst remaining as a human being, but the proper way is to do it as a yidam, buddha or bodhisattva;
    he gave an example of Vajrasattva, that first we need to transform ourselves and then as an enlightened being (who has infinite energy and capacity to take in the suffering) we can indeed help others and not get hurt ourselves.

    he's an old practitioner having much more experience in practice than i have so i took his words very seriously... xD

    in the past i've been doing Tonglen just as 'me' and so seeing your post i've assumed there're many practicioners who may do it the way as i did. or is it only me who didn't know about it for so long?

    still, even if i was doing this practice (according to what Kyle's friend said) 'the wrong way' in the past, still it seemed being helpful to the ones i've been doing it for.

    i don't really know too many details or descriptions for Tonglen.
    back then i've been using this practice knowing only that HH Dalai Lama is doing a practice of taking in the others' suffering and sending them happiness, as a kind of meditation.
    later i've read HE Garchen Rinpoche's words for Tonglen but if i remember it well, in these which i'd read there wasn't anything about transformation.

    do we always need to transform ourselves in Tonglen? currently if i use this practice i do it transformed but maybe in some cases it's not necessary?

    ! ...anyway, wishes to your wife, Joel !
    June 2 at 9:59am · Like · 5
    Joel Agee That distinction makes sense to me. I haven’t been initiated in this practice, so I can only speak of my very limited experience. I would think that if you do Tonglen with the sense of injuring yourself, or with fear, you’re practicing it as a human being. And if instead of fear and self-concern there is only the open space of compassion, you’re in the position of the yidam or bodhisattva. I also think an experiential understanding of emptiness is essential, or at least helpful.
    June 2 at 10:30am · Like · 9
    Joel Agee I heard a story about an English woman who was hearing a Tibetan lama talking about Tonglen. At one point she interrupted him, exclaiming: "It's just too much!" The lama didn't understand why she said that. His English-speaking assistant explained: "Tonglen is not like Jesus suffering for humanity. It's more like Rambo: Bring it on!"
    June 2 at 10:31am · Like · 3
    Oliahs Fall Joel, I am glad that she is alright, I was worried for a minute there. Good caregiving job. She is fortunate to have you. I wish that I had been more versed in this kind of pain-taking (as mentioned in the Tibetan Book of LIving and Dying) when I was caregiving.
    June 2 at 10:46am · Like · 3
    Kyle Dixon Marta, I've been told by others that there is no danger in performing tonglen so there is no need to incorporate transformation unless one wants to. Essentially any suffering that a sentient being is experiencing is said to be the ripening of their own karma, and there's no possibility of inheriting another's karma.

    "If one who is this kind of fear [of Tonglen] then one has to, of course, realise that in Buddhism each of us have our own individual karmic history and what we experience is the direct result of our previous karma. Basically we cannot share each other's karma."
    - Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche
    [The Benevolent Mind: A Manual in Mind Training | pg. 75]

    And Malcolm wrote some time ago:

    "Tonglen is simply a practice for developing the courage to be a bodhisattva, nothing more.

    It is impossible to take on the Karma of another, just as it is impossible to take on the sufferings of others. The practice of Tonglen exists to strengthen one's resolve to assist others. For example, when we imagine we are taking the sufferings of all sentient beings, this is does not cause us to experience all the sufferings of all sentient beings in fact. When we imagine we are taking on the sufferings of starving children, our bodies do not become emaciated and so on. When we imagine that we are sending all of our happiness and positive roots of virtue to sentient beings, such as starving children, they are not immediately rained upon with food and drink. Since the Buddha was not able to remove the sufferings of all sentient beings, how much less able to do so are we? Nevertheless, like the Buddha, we aspire to do so, because in that aspiration lies the seed to accomplishing the ultimate result, Buddhahood."
    June 2 at 10:49am · Like · 5
    Kyle Dixon Joel, tonglen is really a practice for any and everyone, no initiation or transmission required... All that is needed is the will to do the practice and a compassionate heart.
    June 2 at 10:57am · Like · 7
    Goose Saver Joel, I'm very happy that your wife is better. Kyle, did Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche ever do any "healing", that is, specifically obliterate or take on to oneself another's disease?
    June 2 at 11:00am · Like · 1
    Joel Agee Glad to hear that, Kyle. Because, to be honest, I felt I received the "transmission" completely on Friday.
    June 2 at 11:04am · Like · 1
    Viorica Doina Neacsu The same practice as Tonglen but under another names is used in many teachings. In Reiki for example, you "take" their suffering/pain only if you imagine their pain. When we do that practice our mind should be very quiet, vibrating only peace and love without any other message.
    June 2 at 11:04am · Like · 2
    Goose Saver There is a major difference in "taking on" the condition and "connecting" to it.
    June 2 at 11:06am · Like · 2
    Joel Agee There was, in my experience, a complete willingness to "take on" the condition, with no reservation. I'm doing it now. Each inhalation of that willingness goes literally nowhere. The affliction doesn't "stick." It self-liberates.
    June 2 at 11:21am · Like · 5
    Priscilla Francis perhaps....
    a compassionate heart invites and allows for everything in its space to be the perfection it already is.
    nothing is exchanged ... but whenever the heart is open it cant help but shine/heal.
    just like the Sun cant help but shine...on everyone... it doesnt 'take on' the darkness...
    it just Shines!
    June 2 at 11:25am · Edited · Like · 2
    Nicholas Mason There is no distinction between your suffering and other sentient beings' suffering ultimately. That is the ground, path, and fruition of tonglen.
    June 2 at 11:54am · Like · 4
    Priscilla Francis "Using Tonglen to Move from a State of Duality to Oneness:

    Most of us live in our own bubble (ego) and are unaware of others. With the practice of Tonglen we connect to a more open dimension of our being. This meditation can help us move from a place of duality into oneness. Tonglen helps us to keep the awareness and connection with others. We feel the suffering of the world and no longer play ignorant to others pain. In situations where we usually run from the problems of others, creating further separation and duality, we can now use these situations as opportunities to move into a feeling of oneness.

    Remember, we do not truly help another person when we act from the ego. Bringing everything to the heart helps us detach from personal involvement and allows the radiance of a higher power to come in."
    June 2 at 12:52pm · Like
    Priscilla Francis “When your fear touches someone’s pain it becomes pity; when your love touches someone’s pain, it becomes compassion.” ~ Stephen Levine
    June 2 at 12:58pm · Like · 2
    John Tan Sometimes we must look beyond dogmas, forms, words, cultures and traditions and directly taste the essence.... genuine touch of the heart is difficult to come by.

    Even during the initial insight of anatta and total exertion, there is no such conditions for the opening of the heart.

    The background sense of self/Self can be gone but the deep triggering into the depth of the heart is altogether a different matter.

    We must treasure such event that genuinely open our heart unreservedly, it does not come easy.

    This anatta of giving where both the giver and given dissolve into the pure activity of giving is rare.

    It requires practice;

    It requires insights and realizations;

    It requires merits and conditions;
    Homage to the anatta of giving.

    Thanks for sharing, Joel.
    June 2 at 9:42pm · Unlike · 12
    Viorica Doina Neacsu John Tan, you just gave the best description of Tonglen : "both the giver and given dissolve into the pure activity of giving" ...
    June 3 at 12:51am · Like · 5
    Bill Hammond :)
    June 3 at 12:03pm · Like
    Anji Ringzin That is beautiful. I love what the Dalai Lama said about Tonglen. I had a similar insight about the benefit of practicing Metta (all flows) to myself!
    June 3 at 1:33pm · Like

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