Good Medicine ♡ Part 1 ♡ How to Turn Pain into Compassion with Tonglen Meditation ♡ Pema Chodron ♡



sounds true presents good medicine highlights from a meditation retreat on the practice of Tong Len recorded in front of a live audience with Tibetan Buddhist teacher and author penico Dharan Bao actually indicates a respect for one another teacher and the students equally worthy of respect so our subject is compassion and I'd like to talk tonight about what I know of compassion what I've learned from my teacher jug and robot what I've learned from the meditation practices that I've done what I've learned from just living my life about compassion there's a lot of misunderstandings about compassion I think people think of it generally speaking when you hear the word and has a lot of very idealistic connotations maybe it reminds people of a Hallmark cards but my experience of compassion is that it has to do with our relationship with pain that we learn the true compassion as we begin to have a more open hearted and open-minded relationship with our own pain so there's various words that I would like to refer to in this talk and one word is my tree another word is mindfulness awareness meditation and another is tonglen meditation so first is my tree my jay is the basis of compassion so I want to talk about that first it's a Sanskrit word that is often translated as unconditional friendship with oneself and this is very hard to come by unconditional acceptance you could say of yourself unconditional friendship with oneself it was much more common that we disapprove of ourselves and that we denigrate ourselves like I saw a cartoon recently and there's this a man kneeling by his bed looking upward with his hands grasped in prayer and he's saying I asked you as nicely as I could to make me a better person but apparently you couldn't be bothered so my tree is about beginning to make friends with oneself not really thinking that it's going to come from the outside anymore and as you know we all look to the outside to other people to spiritual practice meditation jogging we look all over the place to try to make ourselves feel good about ourselves and you know affirmations are all about that you sort of proclaim I am smart I am good-looking I am worthy of being loved you sort of scream it you know on all the time something in you is saying yes you are so where does this friendship kind of being able to relax with yourself that's really what my tree is feeling at home with your own mind and your own body where does that come from that's a very important question because not only is it the basis of compassion it's the basis of it's like the seed of happiness or well-being or glad to be alive so where does it come from and I think my opening statement was that all of this has a lot to do with our relationship with pain our relationship with difficulty so the Buddha had very revolutionary teaching and one of the fundamental things that he said was in the human life there's pain and a certain amount of pain is inevitable such as growing old such as dying that's the most inevitable one such as illness such as the more that you love and loving is something that brings tremendous sense of well-being to all of us to actually love somebody and feel loved but the more stronger that is then the more sadness and grief there is at the loss of that person and such as if you put your hand in fire it burns so there's a lot of discomfort in life and the fundamental teaching of the Buddha was not to struggle against the pain in our life and that's not the kind of news that we really like to hear but it turns out to be extremely important thing to contemplate isn't really true that not struggling any longer with the discomfort of our life say the embarrassment of being oneself not struggling with that but instead beginning using meditation as a tool to move closer to oneself and that means becoming intimate with comfort and discomfort with pleasure and pain with grief and with joy with embarrassment and a feeling of success so you know generally speaking we think in terms of pairs of opposites and there's something that's called the eight worldly Dharma's and they're these pairs of opposites and I didn't write them down and I never can remember them but they does come things like this I think they're on victory and defeat you want the victory part right and definitely not defeat there's praise and blame which do you prefer there's pleasure and pain there's loss and gain and the teaching is that as human beings were born to think that if we get praised instead of blame then that's where happiness lies and if we get pleasure instead of pain that's where happiness lies and if we get gain instead of lost that's where happiness lies and the Buddhist teaching was that that is not where happiness lies because those things are so transitory and so limited you get a momentary satisfaction my friend said to me nan this teaching would sell like hotcakes if there was never any gratification but the fact is there is gratification from praise say there's gratification from a lot of things you can be addicted to alcohol addicted to drugs addicted to sex addicted to all kinds of things and there's definitely gratification when you drink that drink or whatever you do but it has a hangover and it doesn't add up now's when my friend was saying if there was no gratification then people could really buy the stuff but the fact is because there's a kind of like temporary happiness that comes from buying things for instance will feel so good go out buy something beautiful and new you look so good house looks so good kids are so happy of something it's better but it doesn't add up so Buddha said is happiness root of happiness is beginning to live your life in a way that kind of opens up your mind opens up your heart opens up and you say it includes all of this it includes a victory and defeat praise and blame loss and gain pleasure and pain it includes it all and that the root of happiness is thinking bigger like that knowing somehow that it's in being able to embrace it all and that that is the root of happiness and struggling against the unpleasant part the dissatisfaction struggling against that and just trying to get it all to come out under the column of victory gain pleasure praise it doesn't add up to a kind of lasting indestructible at home in your world at home in your body this feeling of my tree kind of fundamental unshakable feeling right about yourself and your world so this my tree is very profound thing and it's not like even though it's I'm talking of it as a foundation for our life a foundation for compassion it's not like it's a beginning step it goes deeper and deeper and deeper so I find that every week of my life there's kind of a deepening of this friendship with myself well one of the aspects of my tree is a deepening of not lying to myself not able to lie to myself anymore a kind of one of the main qualities of this my tree is honesty with oneself not lying to oneself that is really hard because you don't know you're lying to yourself and blind spots and really literally this very week yesterday in fact our day before yesterday just before coming here and there was this kind of deepening awareness of different ways that I had been saving myself I was just telling someone about this this was thanks to my six-year-old granddaughter thanks to spending a weekend with my beloved six-year-old granddaughter and when I think of someone I love unconditionally I always think of her thanks to spending one weekend alone with her I had to acknowledge I had to give up the self-deception that I didn't have much aggression and then my habit of practicing what I teach and what I practice is when there's the discomfort of say like losing it totally with my six-year-old granddaughter my habit is to not see that as a horrible thing that's happened but to actually move closer to the feeling of losing it which is to say to let all the words and the commentary the right and wrong dialogue about it go and just be there sort of cold turkey with what it feels like to be losing it and as a result of that as I moved closer to myself and this experience it wasn't helping me to not lose it with the sweetheart granddaughter but I also realized that losing it was only half of it the self-deception the real thing was that I was so embarrassed to be the spiritual teacher that all these people come that I feels like it's like bribing the kid don't tell anyone okay Alex it's just between you and Grandma and so it's what happens with us is not only do we have parts of ourselves that we find painful many of us find our rage painful or that we're constantly anxious are irritated painful or the disliking someone painful but there's also the struggling with that that it just doesn't measure up with the image that you carry around that you would like to present to people so there's the embarrassment of moving closer to oneself and all of this is the my tree having a sense of humor about this this is a kind of a sense of humor honesty it begins with compassion for yourself a compassion which is not condoning but is also not criticizing it's a compassion which is not in any way trapped in calling yourself right or calling yourself wrong it's this astounding ly unfamiliar ground between righteous indignation and shame where you just feel completely righteous to be doing whatever you're doing or completely embarrassed some kind of amazingly unfamiliar but spiritually potent ground between acting out with our words and our actions or repressing just pushing it under just not wanting to go there just not looking at that but somehow telling yourself it's not happening or dissociating completely that middle ground that's not caught in right wrong for against that's what is referred to as my tree it's also referred to as open heart and open mind just completely able to hold the paradox of not falling off to the right or to the left but somehow staying as they say on the razor's edge of my tree doesn't sound very friendly razor's edge but somehow holding your seat instead of a like of me sitting up here holding my seat and then someone over there is saying this is a terrible talk and I sort of fall off to the left with shame and then somewhere over there saying how's that great what she's saying is sort of puff up and you know we that's what happens right we get swayed by praise and blame and all the others and you lose your seat you fall off to one direction or the other direction I call it spinning out you don't just stay sort of cold-turkey with the sensation of praise or the sensation of blame as a felt experience in your body you spin off so this is all talking about my tree as the foundation of compassion so then comes the second word that I want to bring in which is mindfulness awareness and meditation because really we can talk about these things until we drop dead but we have to actually do something to be able to see clearly and see clearly with compassion neither one of those things are easy to see ourselves clearly and to see ourselves clearly with compassion I remember when I first started practicing my teacher chögyam trungpa rinpoche he is to always talk about making friends with oneself my tree making friends with oneself and as I started this mindfulness awareness sitting meditation which is a practice of moving closer to oneself sitting down just with your body and your mind that's all you're doing just sitting quietly with this body this mind and the training is continually coming back to it your mind keeps spinning off and you just keep coming back to being just right here with yourself and this is like a clear seeing a stain and I remember one saying rubbish I said we're in vishay I can see so much more clearly what I do and it doesn't feel to me very friendly friendly with myself this clear seeing feels more like yak you know like them and they say beginning to meditate it's like your mind is like a pool of water that's all stirred up by winds and very restless and chaotic so then you begin to meditate and you think what's going to happen is your mind is going to calm down that's actually it does happen like that and you think what that's going to feel like is peace no one ever tells you that when the water calms down then you can see all the old tires and skeletons and tin cans and corpses and all your misdeeds you know leering up at you from the bottom of the still pool so seeing clearly is a honesty as part of my Chi toward oneself so the way I was taught the language that I was given from the beginning which I've always found immensely helpful is it's beginning to discover Iran humaneness and this is actually your connection with all other people beginning to discover the shared nosov the human condition and my trait is discovering your own humaneness knowing it in Zen tradition they talk a lot they use the language of becoming intimate with becoming intimate with what it feels like to be slandered or betrayed that awful feeling what it feels like to lose that's dear to you that terrible heartbreaking dreadful feeling where everything in you wants to shut down push away not feel that becoming intimate with and also intimate with what it feels like to be praised what it feels like to be loved what it feels like to be accepted what it feels like to be a success the the uplifted inspiration becoming intimate with the whole as Zorba said the whole catastrophe so with the mindfulness awareness meditation one takes a posture meditation posture which usually is cross-legged but it can be sitting in the chair also and there's many many styles that are taught but the style that I was taught and that I teach is he'd become aware of your breath going out you're aware of your body sitting here and aware of your breath going out and that is the focus of your meditation is just awareness almost a sense of feeling the breath going out and then you notice that your mind wanders off continually all the time the nature of mind is thinking thinking thinking and whenever you notice that that's what's happening you keep bringing yourself back just coming back to being right here with this body as uncomfortable or comfortable as this body might be feeling coming right back to this mood as disturbed or relaxed as this mood might be coming back to this mind which might be talking they say sometimes the mind is like turbulent river or a churned up ocean and sometimes if you sit for a 15 minutes 20 minutes half an hour 45 minutes see that it's like more kinds of weather and then you can count on your fingers all the different moods and weather changes of the mind so this is kind of the training in terms of my treat or making friends was oneself it is this very difficult to do but straightforward practice of just training and what I like to think of as just staying just stay stay stay like training the dog and as you know with dogs if you train them by hitting them and beating them they can become very obedient but they're not flexible and they're easily terrified and easily confused if everything doesn't go just a certain way but if you train a dog with love and kindness and a clarity and then the dog is equally obedient but also very flexible has a sense of humor cannot roll with the changes so which kind of dog do you want to be so when we train ourselves train the mind it's with his kindness with this honesty but also this gentleness this kindness someone easily stay stay kind of pith instruction stay and then mine goes off and off and off when the mind goes off you you don't just like hit yourself bad dog no unist you just come back give yourself a little doggy treat so it's like someone once said it's like very naive almost there's like no big deal about the meditation whatever arises in the mind you just acknowledge that it's there it's like giving it all the space in the world to just be there and then you just come back to being in your body with the quality of your mind of your mood just being here present here in the present moment then the mind goes off again they say it's like feeding the baby you put the spoon in the baby's mouth and maybe the tension starts wandering you don't hit the baby you just you know you say cute things like you know here's the birdie or something and then the baby gets the attention to stick that spoon in it so just with that kind of simplicity you just keep coming back and you repeat it over and over and over just this training and staying with yourself and interestingly enough this is a training in living without prejudice it's a fundamental training and non-aggression and this is living without prejudice towards yourself and fundamental non-aggression towards yourself so all of this is talking about my tree and the practice of cultivating the loving-kindness our unconditional friendship with oneself which is so all-inclusive honest and friendly but the talk is about compassion so then compassion sort of just begins to dawn on you encouraged by the practice of Tong Len which is one where you actually cultivate compassion kind of purposely but it's based not on being kind to other people but on knowing your own experience having this unconditional compassionate honest relationship with yourself which as I said is discovering your humaneness or exploring humaneness exploring the human condition and then you begin to realize that what you experience is our shared humanity your storylines might be different our storylines are different our life histories are different but the feeling of anger has been felt the same by men and women and children from the beginning of the time the feeling of anger anger is a is felt in the same way jealousy is felt in the same way there's lots of different things that trigger it that get it going but if you let the words go training in the mindfulness awareness practice and can sit with just the raw energy of the anger the jealousy or the craving or the loneliness or the depression if there's a sense of knowing it being intimate without all the words that is our shared humanity that is what we all share so from this actually it comes what is really compassion that compassion is in no way pity or looking down on another person or helping out someone less fortunate in a way that actually can be helpful in a limited way because someone needs food you give them food someone needs money you give them money or whatever but if you've ever been on the receiving end of condescending compassion you know that it really doesn't do much for you because it disempowers you and you basically feel like someone is seeing you as wounded as flawed in some way and that you are pathetic and need to be cared for and that doesn't you know it doesn't exactly do it for you it's not exactly how you want to go around feeling so genuine compassion is when you stand in your own shoes which could be another way of talking about my tree then you are standing in the shoes of other people as well it's like our shared humanity so with the tonglen practice it's actually built on this realization or on the other hand you can have no such realization begin to do the tonglen practice and it begins to awaken this realization of our shared humanity and that is when you feel discomfort in any form the automatic response is to push that away and to drink something smoke something do something buy something do something to not feel that some of the tongue line approaches that you breathe it in letting the words go you breathe in the discomfort and own it completely with the thought in your mind that what I am feeling in this very moment is felt by millions and millions of people all over this world and then you send out that which you feel will bring relief to you in that situation you send out that which is joyful that which is uplifted sometimes people will send out compassion or just send out some sense of spaciousness or send out a sense of if they feel that what they're needing right then would be some love they might send out love to themselves and all the other people who are feeling like they are but if somebody once said but you don't have to be too philosophical about it you could just send yourself a good cup of coffee but the thing is that it's not like that you're doing this for yourself you're doing it for every person every man every woman and you know every man and every woman because of knowing yourself so your experience becomes the stepping stone for understanding the experience of other people and that kind of compassion is what is real compassion and that is a relationship between equals there's no up down in the relationship you can look in the eyes of someone who is suffering and be there for them because they don't trigger off all kinds of or they may trigger off all kinds of unresolved feelings in you but you know what it is to sit with those feelings to become intimate with those feelings to not run away and therefore you can stay with that person so it moves from being able to just stay with oneself to being able to stay with all that you encounter in your life the situations the people in your life so this is my understanding of compassion and this compassion comes from opening oneself through the meditation of the a basic sitting meditation and the practice of Tong Len just in general though just even with this view even if you never do these practices just this view that moving closer to your experience instead of trying to run away from it it becomes the basis of really being able to open your heart to a multitude of situations multitude of people which now seem impossible to open your heart to so you walk down a street and maybe your aspiration is to keep your heart and mind open for one block and then actually what that becomes that becomes my tree and compassion block because what happens is because your aspiration is sincere to keep your heart and mind open never before in your whole life had you noticed how often you shut down and that you can't believe how many will you feel aversion to how many people you don't want to look at how many people you're you lust after attachment and aversion attraction and dislike one short block it can be quite a strong spiritual practice so this is my understanding of compassion based on what I've been taught and what I've experienced that it has to do with changing our relationship with pain and with pleasure willing not to run from pain and willing not to just hold on to pleasure with a kind of desperation and fear that we're going to lose it a sense of enjoying but able to give it away or share it so the essence of the tonglen practice is when things hurt you think to yourself other people feel this and when things are delightful something tastes good you feel cool when you've been hot or you get something you really wanted whatever it is you get in the habit of thinking may other people enjoy this sometimes you think of certain people people you know are having a tough time you wish that they could just have maybe they don't have to get the job you just got but that they could have the sense of happiness that you're feeling or it can be very very general you can just wish that other people everywhere it could feel this so somehow compassion is what heals us compassion doesn't when they really understand it it doesn't burn you out it heals you because it's a continual feeling of your world opening up and your heart and your mind opening up and it's a feeling of being more and more relaxed with your own body your own mind and the situations and people that you find yourself with the practice of tonglen was brought to tibet in the 10th century by a man named de tisha he came from India and he brought with him this practice of tonglen and along with the practice of Tanglin he brought a whole teaching which has come down to us as something that's called the slogans of a tisha and there these 49 different slogans which all somehow are in the spirit of tonglen and the book called training the mind by Trump remember che a little blue book gives all of these slogans and the book that I wrote called start where you are also teaches on all of these slogans and somehow the slogans are the teachings and then the tongue line is the practice that makes these teachings possible now the essence of these teachings that at Isha brought to Tibet is bringing difficult circumstances using difficult circumstances as the method for waking up completely or you could say attaining enlightenment and this is why it's such good teaching for our times and I guess it was good teachings for those times as well but that's the earmark of it it's actually using what is difficult bringing difficult circumstances on to the path of enlightenment they become the actual basis for waking up rather than how we usually think of it as they become a big obstacle people say you know my meditation would be perfect if it wasn't for my husband or my boss or my wife or my teenager or my two-year-old or my heartbreak or my ill health or my current failure whatever it is is that all of that is interfering with my spiritual life my tranquility is peaceful image that I'd like to have of myself as being wrecked all the time by the fact that life is causing me to fly into rages continually so it's very helpful to have a teaching that says that those very difficult circumstances of our lives are the basis of awakening using those now at Isha himself heard about these teachings here he was in tenth century India he heard about these teachings but he couldn't find them anywhere and he traveled to Indonesia which I'm sure was quite a feat in those days would be a feat even these days and he looked all over Indonesia till he found the one person there that was still teaching these and got these teachings on tongue when we have it pretty easy these days you know you can see it on video hear it on audio come to your local centre or whatever and hear the teachings but in those days you know it wasn't easy so I always feel a lot of gratitude to people like at Isha who are willing to put in all those work because otherwise it could have just gone extinct it could have been a endangered species way back there in the 10th century it could have just passed away in Indonesia and never got passed on to anyone but it got passed on to Leticia and then he was invited to Tibet and he passed it on to Tibet where it really took hold and it threw it coming to Tibet that it's been passed on in an unbroken lineage to today now the story about a tisha is that he actually got to the point where he liked difficulties because he thought of difficulties as the meat and potatoes of becoming enlightened and particularly he liked difficult situations just the situations that you and I just despise he actually liked because he wanted to see where he was still capable of being thrown off his seat because that's where he won to see who he was to have complete honesty with himself no deception and then to make friends for so this word my tree comes in this unconditional friendship he wanted to develop unconditional friendship with himself so that when people provoked him and so forth and he saw his anger he saw his jealousy he saw his resentment and envy and different things that that was of something that he could make friends with that he could come to know the energy of those feelings not as an obstacle but by letting the storyline go he could with his basic mindfulness awareness sitting practice he could sit and up would come all these things in his life and he would sit with them fear or depression all kinds of things so he liked those things because he would sit with those things let the discursive thoughts the discussion the internal conversation about them go which is our practice to train and learning how to do that gradually over time how to let when the thoughts come to also let them go he would train that way and he would sit with the energy as a felt quality in his body the feeling of anger or the feeling of jealousy whatever and let it somehow transform his being and not spin off into blaming self blaming others an endless chain reaction of suffering but somehow just letting all the chain reaction storylines go and just sitting moving closer to his own energy and particularly he found and this has been passed along that these very painful we call negative energies of something like anger have enormous energy in them in other words a sort of a fast path to enlightenment because there's so much energy in those emotions that if we're not completely caught up in them and you know following along with the internal conversation and then it's like tapping into enough energy to light up Los Angeles you or light of New York City or Paris or the whole globe for that matter lots of energy so there's this kind of outrageous teaching that sort of underlies all of this which I'll just throw out for you to contemplate for the rest of your life and that is the more neuroses the more wisdom but it's this idea of the energy that's there if it's not all caught up in me and I must prove myself and I must struggle against this and the enormous sense of self getting built up out of this energy if you can let the storyline go which is not easy to do but that is our practice then there is this energy and somehow it is a transformative energy so a Teesha he liked difficult circumstances and then I'll be talking more and more about Tom Lennon this was his main practice and how he worked with this difficult energy in Tanglin as becoming the actual basis of awakening his compassionate heart the difficulty itself was what he used what was used what he learned from his teacher in Indonesia to awaken compassion and the sense of shared humanity or kinship with all sentient beings so it's said that he heard that the people in Tibet were very very peaceful gentle good-natured just wonderful people and he thought oh dear nothing to work with so the story is that he brought with him his really ill-tempered disagreeable onry tea boy the bengali tea boy becomes like this metaphor for all the people in our lives that just drive us crazy at isha brought him along he could have said and how's my chance to get rid of this guy but instead he brought him with him to Tibet because he wanted someone that would keep him honest this friend ghali tea boy apparently was just like your mother or your boss or all the people that you know actually you kind of can't get they're like the the ex-husband or the ex-wife or the the person that is continues to drive you crazy year after year he brought this guy with him and then the Tibetans who do have a great sense of humor they always tell the story and when he got to Tibet he realized that he really need not have bought that Bengali there was as much difficulty there as any place so nothing's changed much since the 10th century well the teachings on tonglen were taught widely in tibet when tisha arrived and then they sort of went underground again and they never were lost the lineage continued but they were very secret and they weren't used that much it seems like there are times when tonglen it's a ripe time to teach it and there are times when it's actually misunderstood and not so appropriate and now seems like a ripe time but in any case it went underground and a few centuries later in the 12th century there was a man called Yeshe chicawa and he became completely intrigued with these teachings again and the story is that he was walking through a room and he saw a book open on a bed and there was written in this book take all the pain for yourself and give all the pleasure to other people now you or I would have said yeah what a terrible idea but Geshe Tagawa was absolutely fascinated with this teaching like a victory to the others and defeat to oneself for taking in the pain sending out the pleasure and he was so intrigued that he started saying well wow is there can I learn more about this and again because the teachings had gone under it he didn't have to go to Indonesia but he had to look all over Tibet and finally he found someone who could give him the teachings and then he practiced them for the rest of his life and he's actually the one that systematized the slogans so that we have now this book training the mind or I was able to study these slogans with Trumper mache and the teachings have passed down on the tongue line practice and the slogans because Geshe chicawa sort of wrote them all down and made it a very clear systematic presentation the story on the yesh ichikawa is that a lot of his students were lepers and there was no cure for leprosy and he taught tonglen to his students that were lepers now this is very interesting there's a parallel today with that Tumlin is being taught more and more widely and hospice situations particularly with in aids hospices and with people with terminal cancer and terminal illnesses of all kinds where you do not expect to live and there's a feeling of hopelessness about your situation and it's being taught that for instance with AIDS that you do the Tanglin practice breathing in with the aspiration or the wish that your sickness that you are feeling and also perhaps what you know about shame from having AIDS or what you know about anger from having AIDS or resentment from having AIDS or any of the strong emotions that you might feel you say since I'm already feeling these May I feel this so that all my brothers and sisters who have AIDS could be free of it may I feel it completely so all of them could be free of it and then sending out healing in any way that seems real and comforting to you so in some sense you're willing to feel it so that others could be free of it and the same time it's like acknowledging that you and all the others are in the same boat and the interesting thing is that the reason that this is being taught more and more widely is that people are finding not that it cures people of AIDS or cancer it has all kinds of results in terms of healing but mostly it heals at the level of the spirit that people feel like their disability their pain their despair their fear and suddenly has meaning and there's a purpose to it if it can be used as the basis for benefiting others so back in the time of gesh ichikawa he was having the lepers do the tongue line practice exactly in that spirit since I'm feeling it anyway they I feel this so that all others could be free of it that I'm feeling it could that be the basis of all others being free of it so breathing in and completely feeling what you were feeling in terms of pain and also emotional difficulty and sending out relief to yourself and all the others so he was having them do this and the Tibetan story goes that many of them were being cured of leprosy and so needless to say lepers were coming to him from all over the place to get cured and then he'd give them this kind of astonishing practice which was just what nobody wanted to hear but people would try it so Geshe chicawa he had his own bengali tea person and it was his brother his brother was very cynical about anything spiritual his brother didn't like chicawa was always giving him a hard time and basically was a thorn in chicawa side and vice versa but this brother became curious why all these lepers were coming and while so many of them were going away cured so he started listening at the door so it's like he's out there in the hallway you know he wouldn't deign to come in here and hear the teachings you know like my brother wouldn't come in and hear me teach but he's listening out at the door all right you know he buys the video gets it in a brown paper cover so nobody knows and goes down to the basement locks the doors and watches you know he finds out what's going on and Chicana began to notice that his brother was becoming much more kind and had better sense of humor and was more flexible and more open and it occurred to him that maybe his brother was listening to the teachings and so he talked to him about it and sure enough that was what was happening so at that point when all of that was occurring the teachings were somewhat being taught in secret just at this monastery it was spreading by word of mouth but it was pretty much a secret thing and then he said listen if this can help my brother it can help anybody so at that point he started teaching it more widely so I don't know maybe that's why I started teaching it right maybe I have one of these brothers or sisters or something but in any case that's the story of how it started getting out and how it got passed down finally to the point where Trump remember Shay's teacher who was called Satan control taught this practice to trump or mâche and then he taught it to those of us who are his students and that's why his students such as myself are able to pass it on to you so there's this lineage of people who not only became curious about this approach of taking difficulty and having it be the basis of awakening my tree which is this unconditional friendship with oneself and also awakening one's compassion for other people not only having a kind of curiosity about that but actually beginning to apply the teachings to apply the practice so Tanglin is taught as a formal practice and in our next session we will be doing it as a formal practice but I particularly that tonglen is a practice which is extremely appropriate and powerful to do on the spot and what I mean by that is when you see pain out there when you're walking down the street reading the newspaper or things in your immediate domestic situation or among your friends or any suffering in the world that you hear about or come in contact with and that it just occurs to you to begin to do Tanglin either for the person that's suffering or for the confusion or fear or even anger or irritation or whatever it brings up in you in other words when there's pain and your reaction to pain it occurs to you to do tonglen either for the person in pain or for yourself and all the other people like you that are somehow afraid of pain don't want to go near pain somehow have a lot of emotional baggage around pain so doing Tanglin on the spot when you see suffering particularly you know we have so many situations in our lives from the time that I was a child I remember when I was 11 I went with my parents on a trip to Mexico City and I came from rural New Jersey and it was the most amazing experience I remember it so vividly because I had never seen people begging on the streets and I had never seen starving animals and I was like completely blown away by this and it would never have occurred to me in my life that in within my lifetime I would see people begging on the streets in all the cities North America and seas starving animals in this cities of North America in those days you know this was pre Eisenhower you know and this was the 50s and then that whole area you know everything was like Leave It to Beaver you know of course in our domestic situations it was just as messy as it is today but the kind of pretense was like Leave It to Beaver you know everything was like cheerful and uplifted and clean and there wasn't a lot hanging out but these days death is closer poverty is inescapable human suffering is inescapable it's probably why tonglen it's such a right time for tonglen because we walk down the streets and we can't escape it and again and again we see things where either we want to avert our eyes and not look but we feel somehow pained by that or we wish we could help we see someone who's black and blue that has been beaten or somebody beating somebody or we see suffering of all kinds of and often there is absolutely nothing we can do and we wish we could do something and tong lin is something that we can do we can begin to breathe in and out with the wish that the person being abused as well as the abuser could be free of their suffering that somehow kindness could come into the lives of these people and also into one's own life and the fear and aversion that one feels about these things or all the complexity of feelings so doing tonglen on the spot like that and then also anytime say we're in an argument with someone and someone is yelling at us something is going on with us and all kinds of painful emotions are charging through us and we don't know what to do right on the spot you can begin to do tong land breathing in and out to open up the situation between you and this other person and you do it for yourself and all the other people all over the world who are being yelled at or who are feeling afraid or feeling unworthy or feeling depressed or whatever it is that you're feeling it becomes your link with other people and there's some way to open up and change our relationship with difficult circumstances and particularly this is a practice about working with our fear of pain gradually slowly at our own pace working with our fear of pain so I like to teach Tanglin as a practice to do on the spot I receive a lot of letters people writing to me about their experiences with Tong Lin in each of the books that I've written there is a chapter on Tong Lin and they perhaps read this and this is the first time they've heard about Tom LAN or maybe they've listened to this audio tape which is called awakening compassion or the one called noble heart and there's teachings on Tanglin and there and they've become interested in it but before that perhaps they had never heard about it and they're trying to practice the practice and then write to me and tell me what their experience is so a man wrote to me who said that he had never heard of tonglen and when he heard about it he realized that he had without even knowing what the practice was that he had practiced it and he told me about this situation he said he was a high school counselor and in his position as counselor he had supported a young woman in her decision teenage young woman he had supported her in a decision to leave her father's home and move in with her mother then he got a phone call from the father and he described the father in the letter I imagined it as this guy who was about 6 foot 8 and weighed about 800 pounds you know this is like the image and I imagined this guy who wrote the letter as being about 4 foot 2 and weighing about 25 pounds you know this is kind of the this is the situation the man felt himself in and he said the father was an ex-cop who had been removed from the police force because of his aggression so this is the man that was going to come in to him and have a little discussion with him about the fact that he had counseled his daughter to move out of his home he knew the guy was really angry and sure enough the guy was really angry man came in sat across from him and just vented he was furious and the man who wrote the letter said that he sat there like absolutely terrified but he said he was so terrified that he it's sort of like he stopped thinking about anything and he just kind of went blanket he was just there with the guy and then for some reason which he never knew what it was he started to do Tanglin which he had never heard about which is that he just started breathing in his own fear and pain and this man's pain sort of both at once he said he didn't really think about it but there was just so much pain in the room they started breathing in and breathing out and breathing in and breathing out and the man is like screaming and red in the face shaking his fist and Mullen son of a man who wrote the letter said out of his mouth came these words you must really love your daughter a lot to be so upset and he said then this great big guy just broke down started to cry and so he said you know it was like usually he would have defended himself he would have felt he had to protect himself he would have done all the stuff that would be guaranteed to escalate the aggression in the room because that's our normal that's are just ordinary responses like we're so scared and we feel so disempowered by what's going on that we try to build ourselves up by and we say all the things that just escalate the aggression and pain and but this guy didn't dream up what to say he just created some kind of space there involuntarily it just happened and words came out that spoke communicated from the heart now we don't always get these success stories oh I have to tell you that right now that there's not always happy endings to these stories is that I do this and like everything will turn out that was the first teaching of the Buddha's like you can't get it all together you know you can't get life to work out perfect it just has it has it's up and down but in this case it allows the space for some communication from the heart to happen that's genuine and so if there's any possibility of communication from the heart happening it comes out of that genuine space of opening to what's occurring rather than shutting out what's occurring and trying to build yourself up in some way likewise people often will find themselves in that situation and they have a self image of a do-gooder I am a holy person I am a do-gooder I am a professional person and then they try to say all these contrived ingenuine helpful things to this guy who's furious and the guy here is that it's just false and that you're condescending to him and it also escalates the aggression so we are really good at escalating aggression and usually we don't really mean to we mean to try to get out of this awful situation in which we find ourselves and that's the problem and so the tonglen approach and the approach of the low joong teachings all together low Johnny means training the mind these teachings that include the practice of tonglen and the 49 slogans are called the load young teachings that's what a teacher brought to tibet and that's what gesh ichikawa continued these low Jung teachings and the practice of tonglen they're all about not trying to get rid of the awful situation and what we find ourselves but actually leaning into it moving toward it touching the heart of our pain touching the center of our pain and these teachings are meant to be done extremely patiently gently and gradually at our own speed somehow they're not meant that then you to say to yourself I must do this and therefore you do something which actually you don't feel ready to do you just do it at your own speed whenever you feel ready to do it and do it and it's recommended for instance on the spot to do it in lighter weight situations if it occurs to you like you're just feeling mildly irritated and it occurs to you because that's a kind of a uncomfortable feeling but you know it's not an overwhelming feeling to just do tonglen with that it'll for all yourself and all the other irritated people opening the heart is opening the heart you don't have to you know jump right into the middle of for instance of the most traumatic thing in the history of your life I'm going to just jump right into the middle of something which traumatized me as a child which still traumatized me as an adult or traumatized me so that I'm still working with the trauma you don't have to just jump right into the middle of these terrifying overwhelming situations but if you're working with just the mild or irritations and discomforts of life your training and opening the heart so that gradually over time without you even really trying you might find that you have more courage to move closer to the really difficult things

13 comments

  1. Such a crystal clear teaching,that is itself infused with a calm and relaxed feeling,and effortlessly transmits the notion of Matri and Practice of Tonlen,thank you so much for making this available Pema Chodron

  2. Thank you again Ani Pema 
    I just without wanting to ( but couldnt help but see the pain in his face) sent Tonglen to President Donald Trump.Such a horrible lonely place for him to be in. I hope he finds enough self love to step down from the presidency and go back to what he enjoys and is good at.

  3. It truly works ! but careful not to drag yourself into difficult situations be honest and learn to say no when a situation or someone is overwhelming, don’t forget compassion to oneself first. 👍🙏🏼

  4. BRILLIANT AND SIMPLE! The transformation shift I needed in this exact moment! It's like a switch went on and everything made perfect sense. Thank you so much for posting! Life changing.

  5. This helps me so much the center point between acting out and embarrassment, not falling is like learning pain tolerance the foundation of living with chronic pain, depression, bipolar disorder, or personality disorders-so also related to addictions. So, I become intimate with my self breath in, breath out, breath in, breath out, like an old cow chewing her cud over, and over…never confused, training the mind, in out in out in out…present not present, present not present, living with non-aggression, compassion Tonglen taking into the outward of others, outward with love, making stay, stay, stay, stay gentile. gentile, it's there, in this mouth of the baby over, over, over, without prejudice, compassion, know my own experience, shared humanity without anger, without condescension, stand in my own humility- breath in the discomfort, send out love, send for every man and woman without running away…….open my heart, do not shut down—this is very hard, this is not running away others feel this way, then sending out happiness,

  6. I just practiced thong len after hearing that in a very difficult time of life with steady anxiety and fear. It felt uncomftable to breathe that in, but even tho I just did it for minutes, iit‘s gone for say 90%. It changed my view on other people and it gave me a new idea of compassion regarding myself. Thank you so much.

  7. Om mani peme hum, Thank you Pema Chodron and your Teacher´s, thank you for upload this.!And global well being!

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