In the Tonglen practice of giving and receiving, we take on, through compassion, all the various mental and physical sufferings of all beings; their fear, frustration, pain, anger, guilt, bitterness, doubt, and rage, and we give them, through love, all our happiness and well-being, peace of mind, healing, and fulfillment.


TONGLEN PRACTICE

1. Before you begin with this practice, sit quietly and bring your mind home. Then, meditate deeply on compassion. Summon and invoke the presence of all the buddhas, bodhisattvas, and enlightene.d beings, so that, through their inspiration and blessing, compassion may be born in your heart.

2. Imagine in front of you, as vividly and poignantly as possible, someone you care for who is suffering. Try and imagine every aspect of the person’s pain and distress. Then, as you feel your heart opening in compassion toward the person, imagine that all of his or her sufferings manifest together and gather into a great mass of hot, black, grimy smoke.

3. Now, as you breathe in, visualize that this mass of black smoke dissolves, with your in breath, into the very core of your self-grasping at your heart. There it destroys completely all traces of self-cherishing, thereby purifying all your negative karma.

4. Imagine now that your self-cherishing has been destroyed, that the heart of your enlightened mind, your bodhicitta, is fully revealed. As you breathe out, then, imagine that you are sending out its brilliant, cooling light of peace, joy, happiness, and ultimate well-being to your friend in pain, and that its rays are purifying all his or her negative karma.

5. So at the moment the light of your bodhicitta streams out to touch your friend in pain, it is essential to feel a firm conviction that all of his or her negative karma has been purified, and a deep, lasting joy that he or she has been totally freed of suffering and pain.

Then, as you go on breathing normally, in and out, continue steadily with this practice.

In the Tonglen practice of giving and receiving, we take on, through compassion, all the various mental and physical sufferings of all beings; their fear, frustration, pain, anger, guilt, bitterness, doubt, and rage, and we give them, through love, all our happiness and well-being, peace of mind, healing, and fulfillment.


TONGLEN FOR A DYING PERSON

Now I think you can begin to see how Tonglen could be directed specifically toward helping the dying, how much strength and confidence it could give you when you come to help them, and how much actual, transforming help it could offer them.

I have given you the main Tonglen practice. Imagine now, in the place of your friend in pain, the person who is dying. Go through exactly the same stages as in the main Tonglen. In the visualization in part three, imagine every aspect of the dying person’s suffering and fear gathering into the mass of hot, black, grimy smoke, which you then breathe in; and consider too that by so doing, as before, you are destroying your self-grasping and self-cherishing, and purifying all your negative karma.

Now, as before, imagine, as you are breathing out, the light of the heart of your enlightened mind is filling the dying person with its peace and well-being, and purifying all his or her negative karma.

At every moment in our lives we need compassion, but what more urgent moment than when we are dying? What more wonderful and consoling gift could you give to the dying than the knowledge that they are being prayed for, and that you are taking on their suffering and purifying their negative karma?

Even if they don’t know that you are practicing for them, you are helping them and in turn they are helping you. They are actively helping you to develop your compassion, and so purify and heal yourself. For me, every dying person is a teacher, giving all those who help a chance to transform themselves through developing their compassion.

Sogyal Rinpoche is spiritual director of Rigpa, an international network of Buddhist centers. “Tonglen” is reprinted with permission from The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (HarperSanFrancisco, 1994)

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