Friday, May 27, 2016


After yesterday's jeremiad about the dire situation in which we find ourselves in this country and the world, I felt the need for a purge. My sit this morning was dedicated to what is admittedly my own version of the practice of taking and sending--a practice that Tibetan Buddhists call tonglen.

The first step is to send myself loving-kindness. To do that, I must locate every place in the body where I'm holding anger, fear, envy, judgment, every negative emotion: I find it in the heart, of course, mainly, but also in the head, in the belly, in the arms--and the fists! That done, using the breath as my guide and my precision instrument, I work intentionally to let go of each of these negative emotions and suffuse the space instead with loving-kindness. It's a great cleansing and lightening process.

It is only once having fulfilled this act of conversion and arrived at a state of goodwill toward myself that I am in a position to follow the same procedure for others. How can I give what I myself do not have? Then I start with the image of one particular person whom I know to be suffering in some way: from illness or grief, from anger, envy or fear... and form a conscious image of whatever it is might be causing their pain. Next, I breathe in ("take") the other person's suffering. It can help to envision it physically, as a stream of black smoke, say, or a dark cloud. Then, having taken in the toxin with the inbreath, I work--again with as much consciousness as I can muster--to overwhelm it with the loving-kindness I have found in myself and return ("send") it with the outbreath to the person from whom I received it.

I'm now in a position to broaden my horizon. I can repeat the procedure with a person whom I judge to be causing great harm in the world--say, for the sake of argument, a President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, whose regime is bringing death and destruction to those whose needs he is privileged to serve. I can summon his image, "take" the poisons that so tragically infect him, and "send" the loving-kindness that he lacks. Needless to say, there are those in our own country who need this infusion just as greatly. I can work with them, too.

And then there's the still greater and graver matter of all the suffering in the world--the sickness, the hunger, the poverty, the violence... It is possible, I have discovered, to open the heart to all this suffering, to "take" it in and "send" out the blessing of compassion to all living beings. It's a wonderful cleansing practice.

I open myself, as I realize, to accusations of foolish self-delusion, presumption, even grandiosity in recounting this practice. So be it. It's possible that the only one healed in any way is myself. But isn't that a start?

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