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How we relate to others: a Buddhist view

May 15, 2009

Sal Barba, PhD
Mukilteo Beacon
May 13, 2009

"Give all profit and gain to others,
Take all loss and defeat on yourself."
--Geshe Chekhawa

In my previous article, I spoke briefly about the
importance of using our body to connect with
others. There are numerous practices in Tibetan
Buddhism that support heartfelt connections with one self and others.

In this article I will briefly discuss the
history of Tonglin practice as a way to engage
with others. I will give the Tonglen practice in the next Buddhist feature.

Tonglen is an ancient Tibetan practice. It
literally means, "giving and receiving." It is an
extremely powerful way to connect with self and
others -- particularly when there are
interpersonal difficulties, or conflicts within ourselves about ourself.

When we find ourselves locked up in ourselves,
Tonglen open us to the truth of the suffering of
ourselves and others; particularly when our heart
is blocked, Tonglen opens our heart and destroys those forces that obstruct it.

When we experience estrangement from the other we
feel pain about, or we experience feelings of
bitterness toward the other, it helps us to open
our heart and find within us the loving,
expansive radiance of our own true nature.

There really is no other practice that can be as
effective in destroying the self-grasping,
self-cherishing, self-absorption of our ego,
which is at the root of our suffering.

Geshe Chekhawa, who lived in the eleventh century
Tibet, was an extremely learned and accomplished
meditation master, who became aware of Tonglen
while reading the quote above while sitting in his teacher’s room.

The vast and almost unimaginable compassion of
these lines astounded him, and he set out to find
the master who had written them.

One day on his journey, he met a leper, who told
him that this master had died. However, Geshe
Chekhawa persevered, and his rather long efforts
were rewarded when he found the dead master’s
principal disciple. Geshe Chekhawa asked this
disciple, “Just how important do you think these
teachings contained in these two lines are?”

The disciple replied: "Whether you like it or
not, you will have to practice this teaching if
you truly wish to attain Buddhahood!"

Geshe Chekhawa was astonished by the reply,
almost as much as he was when he first read the
first two lines. He stayed with this disciple for
12 years to study this teaching and to take to heart the practice of Tonglen.

During that time, Geshe had to face a variety of
different ordeals: criticism, hardships and abuse.

Furthermore, the teaching was so effective, and
his perseverance in the practice so intense, that
after six years he had completely eradicated any
self-grasping and self-cherishing, and was
transformed into a master of compassion.

We can further discuss that Tonglen’s earliest
appearance has been traced all the way back to
the Indian scholar monk Atisha (982-1054), who
brought the Lojong (mind training) to Tibet.
Through various dreams and visions, Atisha became
convinced that ultimate spiritual liberation was
possible only through the Bodhichitta practice of
opening one’s heart completely to all beings.

His search for deeper understanding took him as
far as Indonesia, where he received teachings
from Bodhichitta master Serlingpa.

Among Serlingpa’s teachings was the mind training
instructions of Lojong. Atisha, eventually
convinced to teach in Tibet, remained there the
last12 years of his life, giving instructions on
Lojong and other bodhichitta practices. It was
after Atisha’s teachings on Tonglen that the
Lojong teachings were distilled by Chekhawa Yeshe
Dorje (1102-1176) in a series of 59 slogans,
which were passed down through an unbroken
lineage to the influential Tibetan Buddhist
teacher Jamgon Kongtrul the great (1813-189).

There are English texts written by these authors the reader can further pursue.

The Lojong slogan containing the instructions for
Tonglen practice is: Sending and taking should be
practiced alternately. These two should ride the
breath. First, we practice by developing
compassion for one self. This isn’t an easy task.
In all of the teachings on Tonglen, there are
several special techniques the practitioner can
use to develop compassion. One such method is the
Training of the Mind slogans. They can be
integrated into Tonglen very easily. You can
further use the Six Paramitas with Tonglen, as
well as the Four Immeasurables. Integrating these
practices with Tonglen, “act as antidotes to the
deliberate ignorance of ego and as keys that
unlock the illimitable stores of love and
compassion connected to our Buddha-nature.”

Tonglen can potentially break down barriers
between "self" and "other." By actually being
willing to take on others’ pain, we experience
our commonality with all of those sentient beings
who suffer just as we do. Tonglen brings us from
the abstract thinking level of compassion to the
disciplined practice of sending and receiving.

The happiness and kindness we give away is the
wealth we typically try to hoard for ourselves
alone. By offering it freely, through Tonglen, we
acknowledge that no person can be happy or content in isolation.

I look forward to sharing this practice with you
in my next article. Until then, consider reading
about Tonglen. Be well, and may you be happy.

For further inquiry call: Sal Barba,
Neurofeedback Specialist: and practitioner of the
Contemplative Sciences, (360) 221-7525 or (206) 215-0534
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
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