A method of getting the ego out of the way

By Kelly Hawes, The Galveston County Daily News, July 18, 2005

Galveston, TX (USA) -- A Buddhist teacher told more than 40 people gathered in a Galveston church last week how to use the healing power of compassion.

Tenzin Chophak, a monk in the Tibeten tradition of Buddhism, offered instruction in tonglen, the ancient practice of exchanging self for others.

?Our sense of ego is the root cause of many of our problems,? he said. ?Meditation is a method of getting the ego out of the way.?

Tonglen, he said, is a form of meditation, a process he compared to the waves in the sea.

?The waves come into the shore, and then they go back out,? he said. ?Thoughts are the same way. They come into your mind, and they go back out.?

But just like the waves, he said, the thoughts don?t come one on top of the other.

?There is a gap,? he said. ?Even if it?s just a second. Meditation is that gap between thoughts.?

And the key to meditation, he said, is to expand that gap.

There is power in prayer, he said, and tonglen is a way of focusing that power.

?You can focus on one person, or you can focus on the whole world,? he said, ?but for the beginner, I?d recommend starting with a single person.?

He urged his students to breathe in through their noses, imagining that they were drawing in the black smoke of pain or illness, trauma or grief. They should exhale through their mouths, he said, breathing out white smoke or white light. The black smoke is purified, he said, by the divine to be found inside every human being.

Tenzin Chophak called tonglen a simple exercise that could be practiced any time, even while driving down the road.

?If you do that, though, I?d recommend you keep your eyes open,? he said.

Tonglen is an excellent response, he said, to reckless drivers.

?You?ll be amazed at how quickly your anger disappears,? he said.

And as individuals become more practiced, he said, the exercise will be virtually automatic. Driving past a hospital, he said, he often finds himself practicing tonglen for the patients inside.

Tenzin Chophak was born Michael P. McManus, and he grew up attending Catholic schools. The nuns viewed him as a troublemaker, he said, because he was constantly asking difficult questions and pointing out inconsistencies he found in the Bible.

He began studying Buddhism in the 1980s while still in high school, and he has since studied in both India and Thailand. He was formally ordained by the Dali Lama in 1996.

He has not, however, rejected his Christian roots.

?Actually, there are more similarities than differences between Buddhism and Christianity,? he said.

And you don?t have to be a Buddhist to practice tonglen.

?It?ll work for anyone,? he said. ?Buddhist or Christian, agnostic or atheist.?