How we relate to others: a Buddhist view

by Sal Barba, PhD, The Mukilr=teo beacon, 13 May 2009

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

Mukilteo, Washington (USA) -- 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