Lojong #7 Sending and taking should be practiced alternately…

… These two should ride the breath.


This is a simple description of the very advanced practice of tonglen, which is the main practice in developing relative Bodhichitta, awakened heart. Extensive practice in basic meditation, beginning with awareness of breath (anapana in Pali, shamatha in Tibetan), is essential before attempting this practice. A solid background in Metta practice, the practice of sending loving-kindness and compassion out to all the world, is also very helpful, as tonglen can be very dark and overwhelming otherwise.

The practice involves taking into oneself, with each inhalation, all the bad in one’s surroundings (eventually the world) and sending out with each exhalation all the good one has, actually transforming the bad in the environment into good and giving it away.

This turns the natural tendency to seek pleasure and avoid pain on its head, and generally seems absurd to the conventional consciousness. After some years of meditation and observation of the practice, one will usually come to an understanding of its wisdom and transformational power.

Pema Chodron writes about tonglen in her wonderful book The Wisdom of No Escape.

I’m not suggesting that anyone try this, but if you do decide to try, please read what Trungpa and Pema have to say about it. I’m introducing it here because this is a foundational notion in much of the lojong practice: the idea that one can take negative energies or situations and transform them, simply by one’s willingness to do so – not thru any kind of occult powers or anything. It’s a powerful idea.

Trungpa actually recommends in addition that one seek out a teacher for proper instruction in the practice.

A few quotes from Trungpa’s Training the Mind will impart some of the flavor of his commentary:

You give away your happiness, your pleasure, anything that feels good…. As you breathe in, you breathe in any resentments and problems, anything that feels bad. The whole point is to remove territoriality altogether.

Sending and taking are interdependent. The more negativity we take in with a sense of openess and compassion, the more goodness there is to breathe out…. In tonglen we are aspiring to take on the suffering of other sentient beings.

The suffering that other people are experiencing can be brought in because, in contrast to that, you have basic healthiness and wakefulness, which can certainly absorb more suffering because you have a lot more to give.

The problem with most people is that they are always trying to give out the bad and take in the good. That has been the problem of society in general and the world altogether. But now we are on the mahayana path and the path is reversed.

Beyond that, you begin to develop a sense of joy. You are actually doing something very useful and workable and fundamentally wonderful. You are not only teaching yourself how to be unselfish, in the conventional sense, but you are also teaching the world how to overcome hypocrisy, which is becoming thicker and thicker lately as the world get more and more sophisticated, so to speak — more and more into the dark ages, in other words.


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