“Spiritual awakening is frequently described as a journey to the top of a mountain. In the process of discovering bodhichitta [the awakened heart], the journey goes down, not up. It’s as if the mountain pointed toward the center of the earth instead of reaching into the sky. Instead of transcending the suffering of all creatures, we move toward turbulence and doubt. We explore the reality and unpredictability of insecurity and pain, and we try not to push it away. If it takes years, if it takes lifetimes, we let it be as it is. At our own pace, without speed or aggression, we move down, and down, and down. With us move millions of others, our companions in awakening from fear. At the bottom, we discover water, the healing water of bodhichitta. Right down there in the thick of things, we discover the love that will not die.”
Pema Chodron has been a teacher for me who I have maintained focus on. One of her teachings on the Mahayana Buddhist practice of Tonglen I have practiced and find that in these times it is especially useful as an on-the-spot personal and group transmutation practice. Since the work of transmutation is of such vital importance for our world in particular in these times through the work of discipleship we thought to share this technique with you in its simplicity and its difficulty.
From Tibetan Tong meaning Sending Out/Giving and len meaning Receiving or Acceptingi it is also known as Taking and Giving depending on who is teaching the technique. Both apply. It is an easy technique in that it can be done anywhere at any time. It is a difficult technique in that it requires that one be willing to immerse oneself in the suffering- a ring pass not that many of us must cross. In Transmutation work one willingly becomes one with suffering.
In a climate of extreme uncertainty and instability globally it is important that as agents of redemption we are willingly able to be one with the pain of our brothers and sisters. And it is equally important to have the tools needed in our arsenal at hand that we can learn quickly and access easily through memory carved by repetition to become useful instruments of transmutation, primed instruments of healing.
Tonglen or Sending and Receiving or Taking and Giving uses the breath and physical body to transmute negative energy. The practitioner inhales suffering and exhales Light towards all beings. The soul transforms the suffering and sweet white nectar is exhaled through the mouth as relief, white light, compassion. This white nectar is your own potential for happiness which you give away.
- reduces selfish attachment
- increases a sense of renunciation
- creates positive karma by giving and helping
- develops loving-kindness and bodhicitta
- it refers to all of the 6 Perfections: giving, ethics, patience, joyous effort, concentration and wisdom.
It requires that you stay with the suffering. It is the way of the Boddisattva: that being wishing to help all sentient beings, without concern for his/her own interests.
Say you notice an argument between two people, as Joanna Macy says “Do not look away. Do not avert your gaze. Do not turn aside. This teaching calls for radical attention and total acceptance.” In the moment you would breathe in the anger seeing it as black smoke and misunderstanding allowing the Soul to transmute these energies. Sending out through the mouth as you exhale seeing it as white nectar softening, bringing a feeling of compassion, kindness, understanding, and love. That is the technique in itself.
If you find yourself in an argument with a spouse, co-worker, or let’s say a person on the street, you would inhale the argumentative energy and allowing to flow through the chamber of the Soul and send out spaciousness, understanding, and compassion just the moment it takes to do this also through the consciousness engendered affords you the ability to engage in a more composed, harmonious and relaxed way.
Taking or Receiving/Inhalation
When receiving or taking in the suffering the vehicle of transformation is through fire of the Soul. Anytime we shine the light of consciousness on anything it is the fire of the Soul with which we work.
The suffering is visualized as black smoke as it is inhaled.
It is an act of love to be able to accept response-ability of a condition as it is. To respond consciously in this way. To be able to stay with the ugliness, the pain, the distortion. To be able to sit in the mud. This is very fitting for the NM in Leo where we are subduing the personal instinct and desire nature to work as the Aquarian group with the heart of Love.
Giving or Sending/Exhalation
One then imagines in the exhaling that they are sending out white light nectar to all beings who are suffering, or involved in that which you are witnessing.
This may be done as an regular daily meditation or in the moment in the heat of the experience or the moment.
The Buddhist teaching includes the following prayer:
May all sentient beings have equanimity, free from attachment, aggression and prejudice.
May they be happy, and have the causes for happiness.
May they be free from suffering and causes for suffering.
May they never be separated from the happiness that is free from suffering. (3x)
But we may simply say or think Equanimity, Happiness and Freedom from Suffering for All.
Or Light, Love and Synthesis, In Divine Law and Order.
The work of transmutation as an Aquarian group may be an indication of the union of paths from the East and the West, a union in the Heart of humanity.