Thursday, December 5, 2013


I'm reading further in Ken McLeod's Reflections on Silver River (see previous entry) and am engaged in several passages on the practice of taking and sending (tonglen.)  Tokme Zongpo's "verses" are lyrical, succinct distillations of thought; McLeod translates and comments--or, rather, "reflects."  (I like particularly the double meaning of "reflections": the physical reflection as in a dark glass or on the surface of a still body of water; and the mind's gentle activity as it wrangles a thought.  In his commentary on the text's invocation to Lokeshvara, the "embodiment of awakened compassion,"McLeod writes: "Imagine that you are Lokeshvara.  Inside you are as quiet as a pond that lies at the center of a deep forest, a pond that, protected by the trees around it, has been undisturbed  by even the slightest breeze for a thousand years.  Feel that stillness within you."  What an image!  Try it out!)

About taking and sending: the practice, insofar as I understand it, is a profoundly challenging one.  Imagine, for example, that you are smarting from from an insult, a personal slight, a dismissal.  The idea is to allow yourself to experience your feeling right up to the "edge"--that moment at which you are no longer able simply to observe the feeling, but instead are overwhelmed by it and the feeling takes control.  Stop there, and rest a while in the feeling.  Then breathe in that same feeling of pain experienced by all other beings who are suffering from insult, or personal slight, or dismissal; and breathe out, to them, in the spirit of generosity, all your own good feelings of inner peace and joy.  It's not just a sharing, it's a giving away, a sacrifice of your own best feelings to the benefit of others.

The next, harder step is to breathe in the pain of the perpetrator, the source of the insult, the slight, the dismissal that so offended you and caused you the pain you experience as a result; and to breathe out your best feelings as a gift to him or her.  And then to broaden your generosity to include all those who insult others, give them slight, or dismiss them, breathing in their pain and breathing out your best feelings to them.

I do not describe the process as pithily as Tokme Zongpo, nor as eloquently or exhaustively as his translator, but I hope to have given enough of a sense of it to encourage further reflection and inquiry.  In the meantime, in meditation this morning, I made my own effort to put it into practice, taking in the pain of a man whom I judge to be dangerously disturbed and sending him all the inner peace I could muster.  On a broader scale, I turned my thoughts to those representatives in the US Congress whom I judge to be mean-spirited and ungenerous, and tried taking in their parsimony and sending out generosity in its place.  (Incidentally, but not really surprisingly, I discovered not a little parsimony in my own heart!)

Clearly, this is a practice that requires a great deal more skill and dedication than I myself am able to muster, and my own understanding of it is limited by the paucity of my experience.  What I do understand is the healing potential of taking and sending, not only for the practitioner but for the recipients of his selfless, generous thoughts.  It's a great way to allow those familiar, destructive feelings of anger, pain, fear to dissipate--feelings that can otherwise easily fester in the heart, producing only toxins that damage the human spirit and sabotage the relationships we all need in our lives.

No comments: