“To feel compassion
we must feel compassion for ourselves”
In this article I would like to follow on from the piece about Tibetan Buddhism, explaining one of the most important forms of meditation in Buddhism, and invite you to make space for its practice in your daily life.
We are living in a time, in which we are continuously bombarded with images and information about all the misery and suffering in the world. Simultaneously we are being constantly urged to consume more and seek satisfaction in entertainment, be it on an intellectual, sensory or material level.
We try to deny our own pain, fear and mourning because we have lost contact with our own being. We all suffer from negativity - basic aggression that wants things to be different than they are. We cling to our own expectations, we defend ourselves, we attack, and this is all tainted by a feeling of deep frustration. In this way we end up blaming the world for our pain.
Many of us feel helpless and lost or become indifferent, cold-hearted and lack responsibility. When we are afraid of feeling ourselves, the world becomes an apparent threat. We close ourselves off and become selfish. But we have the possibility, despite our problems and the massive problems of the world, to be friendly and courageous.
When we are ready to look at ourselves completely without preconceptions, we will realise, despite all our problems and failings, that our emotional and physical highs and lows possess something inherently positive related to our existence as a human being. From this inherent positivity we can begin thinking further than the boundaries of our own ‘four walls’, and get some ideas how we can enrich the world around us. It is about discovering what we can do with ourselves from the all the opportunities on offer, to make the world a more worthwhile place for everyone. Every human being has an inherent good nature, which is genuine, real and free. This goodness is enormously gentle, intelligent and dignified.
I would like to shed some light on the meditation practice ‘tonglen’, where you begin with yourself and then expand it to friends and people in your vicinity and eventually include all living things. Tonglen literally means ‘sending and receiving’ and is an exercise in transformation because it encourages the transforming power of the heart.
We breathe into our heart all the pain, sadness and suffering we feel. We open our heart and our mind completely to everything that crops up. When we breathe out we send out relief of pain, joy and loving goodness, wishing that we and others can be happy. When we are ready, even if only for a moment to stay with the uncomfortable feelings, we slowly learn not to be afraid of them anymore. We practise this until we have the feeling that the receiving and sending are synchronised with the breathing and we are fully aware of what we are receiving and sending. Breathing in and out we thus return to a very old pattern in ourselves, which is to avoid pain and hold on to everything good.
After we have practised tonglen for ourselves for a while, we can begin applying it to other people. If we practise tonglen on others, our very limited selfishness becomes more penetrable and after some time we stop noticing if we are doing it for our own happiness or for the happiness of others. Gradually we can practise tonglen in every situation where we encounter pain or suffering, be it our own or other people’s.
We can be sure that our capacity to feel compassion and to send it out into the world will increase.
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Dassana has been leading meditation courses in Ibiza, Holland and Germany.