Tonglen: For the novice?

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Tonglen: For the novice?

Postby Epistemes » Tue Sep 13, 2011 9:30 pm

As many of you know, I am a novice. I also have no teacher.

I am interested in practicing tonglen because I want my meditation to benefit all sentient beings, and I want to cultivate a more compassionate heart and mind.

Is tonglen something that a beginner can practice?

I plan on reading many books on the practice in the coming weeks and months, if so, starting with J. Kongtrul's "The Great Path of Awakening."
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Re: Tonglen: For the novice?

Postby dakini_boi » Tue Sep 13, 2011 10:06 pm

Go for it.
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Re: Tonglen: For the novice?

Postby Virgo » Tue Sep 13, 2011 10:17 pm

Because the lives of sentient beings that take rebirth in the six realms are all interconnected, all beings have been your mother in past lives. They have nurtured you and cared for you, taking care of you. They have gone through pains of birth to deliver you. They have taught you everything. They have provided a home and love for you. They have given you money and resources. They have gotten up in the middle of the night to care for you as you slept. They sustained your life. By whatever means you know how, by all means take away all their pain and suffering. Our poor mothers do not know the path and are destined for so many births in the six realms, including lower realms. We have met the path, though. Thus, as Dharma pracittioners we make their salvation as well as our own our sole business and priority. We work to take away all of their suffering, which arises from the poisons of ignorance, attachment, and aversion. It is because of sentient beings that we take this path.

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Re: Tonglen: For the novice?

Postby Chaz » Tue Sep 13, 2011 10:19 pm

Epistemes wrote:As many of you know, I am a novice. I also have no teacher.

I am interested in practicing tonglen because I want my meditation to benefit all sentient beings, and I want to cultivate a more compassionate heart and mind.

Is tonglen something that a beginner can practice?


It's been my experience that beginning students are taught Shamatha and are expected to work with that for a time before taking up Tonglen. AFAIK, this is custom and there's no hard/fast rules.

I would definitely try to locate a meditation insturctor who can teach you the technique properly

I plan on reading many books on the practice in the coming weeks and months, if so, starting with J. Kongtrul's "The Great Path of Awakening."


Good! Be sure to add Pema Chodron's "Start Where You Are" to that list.
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Re: Tonglen: For the novice?

Postby Epistemes » Tue Sep 13, 2011 10:58 pm

Virgo wrote:Because the lives of sentient beings that take rebirth in the six realms are all interconnected, all beings have been your mother in past lives. They have nurtured you and cared for you, taking care of you. They have gone through pains of birth to deliver you. They have taught you everything. They have provided a home and love for you. They have given you money and resources. They have gotten up in the middle of the night to care for you as you slept. They sustained your life. By whatever means you know how, by all means take away all their pain and suffering. Our poor mothers do not know the path and are destined for so many births in the six realms, including lower realms. We have met the path, though. Thus, as Dharma pracittioners we make their salvation as well as our own our sole business and priority. We work to take away all of their suffering, which arises from the poisons of ignorance, attachment, and aversion. It is because of sentient beings that we take this path.


Very nice way of stating the truth. This is something I've been incorporating more and more into my daily thoughts.
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Re: Tonglen: For the novice?

Postby Epistemes » Wed Sep 14, 2011 12:09 am

Chaz wrote:I would definitely try to locate a meditation insturctor who can teach you the technique properly

Good! Be sure to add Pema Chodron's "Start Where You Are" to that list.


Would guided tonglen meditations by Pema Chodron via CD be adequate until I get up enough nerve to pursue a teacher?

I currently have three books in my Amazon Shopping Cart: "Start Where You Are" is among them.
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Re: Tonglen: For the novice?

Postby sangyey » Wed Sep 14, 2011 12:44 am

I'm not going to offer any advice on practicing Tonglen but I would suggest that practicing the 4 immeasurables both in formal meditation and informally (by reflection and perhaps reciting phrases like 'may all beings be happy"' etc) is very important to do as a foundation. I actually didn't even know that myself for a long time before I was taught that the 4 immeasurables are the prerequisite to Bodhicitta practices such as Tonglen and I was trying to practice Tonglen before I even had any foundation in the 4 immeasurables. Now, I am trying to practice the 4 immeasurables as best I can both formally and informally trying to lay down a very firm foundation in them and perhaps time to time practice a little Tonglen.
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Re: Tonglen: For the novice?

Postby Epistemes » Wed Sep 14, 2011 12:58 am

sangyey wrote:I'm not going to offer any advice on practicing Tonglen but I would suggest that practicing the 4 immeasurables both in formal meditation and informally (by reflection and perhaps reciting phrases like 'may all beings be happy"' etc) is very important to do as a foundation. I actually didn't even know that myself for a long time before I was taught that the 4 immeasurables are the prerequisite to Bodhicitta practices such as Tonglen and I was trying to practice Tonglen before I even had any foundation in the 4 immeasurables. Now, I am trying to practice the 4 immeasurables as best I can both formally and informally trying to lay down a very firm foundation in them and perhaps time to time practice a little Tonglen.


I appreciate the advice! But how exactly does one practice the immeasurables during formal meditation? Wouldn't that essentially be the practice of tonglen?
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Re: Tonglen: For the novice?

Postby sangyey » Wed Sep 14, 2011 1:27 am

Well, I think that the Tibetan tradition may have a little bit of a framework to work with.....but...the 4 immeasurables are common to most schools of Buddhism and I think it's not a very hard practice to do as long as you have some basic understanding of it and perhaps a little bit of instruction.

In 'Words of My Perfect Teahcer" by Patrul Rinpoche in the Nyingma tradition it has the 4 immeasurables as the prerequisite to Bodhicitta practice with Bodhicitta's three aspects being, equalizing, exchanging ( which would include Tonglen) and considering others more important than oneself. So the Bodhicitta practice is first going to have the 4 immeasurables as the basis where we are initially developing the love that wishes for beings to be in a state of happiness, compassion that wishes for them to be out of suffering, etc.., and then motivated by that enagaging in the rest of the practices Iike the Bodhicitta practices and the six perfections.
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Re: Tonglen: For the novice?

Postby Epistemes » Wed Sep 14, 2011 2:19 am

sangyey wrote:Well, I think that the Tibetan tradition may have a little bit of a framework to work with.....but...the 4 immeasurables are common to most schools of Buddhism and I think it's not a very hard practice to do as long as you have some basic understanding of it and perhaps a little bit of instruction.

In 'Words of My Perfect Teahcer" by Patrul Rinpoche in the Nyingma tradition it has the 4 immeasurables as the prerequisite to Bodhicitta practice with Bodhicitta's three aspects being, equalizing, exchanging ( which would include Tonglen) and considering others more important than oneself. So the Bodhicitta practice is first going to have the 4 immeasurables as the basis where we are initially developing the love that wishes for beings to be in a state of happiness, compassion that wishes for them to be out of suffering, etc.., and then motivated by that enagaging in the rest of the practices Iike the Bodhicitta practices and the six perfections.


I do something similar now prior to vipissana meditation based on some Theravada chants. These chants request universal loving-kindness for myself, parents, teachers, relatives, friends, strangers, enemies and all beings. These haven't been internalized to their fullest extent, by no means, but I'm by no means alien to the brahmaviharas. This isn't to suggest that I'm ready for tonglen, either.
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Re: Tonglen: For the novice?

Postby deepbluehum » Wed Sep 14, 2011 2:57 am

Actually tonglen is a profound practice that if you haven't gained some experience in vipashyana, will do you more harm than good. If you don't have a foundation in the view, taking on the suffering of others will just increase your own suffering which you haven't yet learned to manage. It will be the cause of increase of your five poisons, and could be a reason you leave the path forever. Please proceed with caution. If you are actively seeking and will likely soon meet your teacher then it is not so bad to tinker with various practices just to get a feel. But don't play with things you don't understand is the better advice.
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Re: Tonglen: For the novice?

Postby Chaz » Wed Sep 14, 2011 3:04 am

Epistemes wrote:
Chaz wrote:I would definitely try to locate a meditation insturctor who can teach you the technique properly

Good! Be sure to add Pema Chodron's "Start Where You Are" to that list.


Would guided tonglen meditations by Pema Chodron via CD be adequate until I get up enough nerve to pursue a teacher?

I currently have three books in my Amazon Shopping Cart: "Start Where You Are" is among them.


No. A CD is no substitute for a flesh-and-blood teacher.

Why do you have to summon up nerve?
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Re: Tonglen: For the novice?

Postby Chaz » Wed Sep 14, 2011 3:11 am

Epistemes wrote:
sangyey wrote:I'm not going to offer any advice on practicing Tonglen but I would suggest that practicing the 4 immeasurables both in formal meditation and informally (by reflection and perhaps reciting phrases like 'may all beings be happy"' etc) is very important to do as a foundation. I actually didn't even know that myself for a long time before I was taught that the 4 immeasurables are the prerequisite to Bodhicitta practices such as Tonglen and I was trying to practice Tonglen before I even had any foundation in the 4 immeasurables. Now, I am trying to practice the 4 immeasurables as best I can both formally and informally trying to lay down a very firm foundation in them and perhaps time to time practice a little Tonglen.


I appreciate the advice! But how exactly does one practice the immeasurables during formal meditation? Wouldn't that essentially be the practice of tonglen?



No. 4 Immeassurables practice is not the same as Tonglen.
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Re: Tonglen: For the novice?

Postby Epistemes » Wed Sep 14, 2011 3:37 am

Yet again, esotericism trumps Buddhism.
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Re: Tonglen: For the novice?

Postby Virgo » Wed Sep 14, 2011 3:41 am

Epistemes wrote:Yet again, esotericism trumps Buddhism.

Chaz has good advice. A CD is no sub for a teacher. Yet, I respectfully disagree with him on this point. For a practice like this, there is no rule that one must receive from a teacher. All you need is a text or a good book that explains it in some detail.

This is one of the places that I learned the practice:

http://www.lamrim.com/riburrinpoche/
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Re: Tonglen: For the novice?

Postby Epistemes » Wed Sep 14, 2011 3:20 pm

Virgo wrote:
Epistemes wrote:Yet again, esotericism trumps Buddhism.

Chaz has good advice. A CD is no sub for a teacher. Yet, I respectfully disagree with him on this point. For a practice like this, there is no rule that one must receive from a teacher. All you need is a text or a good book that explains it in some detail.

This is one of the places that I learned the practice:

http://www.lamrim.com/riburrinpoche/


Kevin,

I appreciate your comments; however, the feedback I've gotten is quite varied. Perhaps that variance is due to the impersonal nature of these forums and my own personal characterization of "novice." How much of a novice am I, really? That word really doesn't make any sense. We're all novices until the day we die and then we rinse and repeat.

I asked about tonglen because my partner suffers. I can't say she suffers more than other people - but sometimes it seems like she can't catch a break. When she was 2, she was diagnosed with leukemia, relapsed, and beat a .01% chance of survival. Her latter medical history is complicated as a result of the radiation and chemo she received as a child. Needless to say, there is almost always physical discomfort of some sort whether mild or somewhat intense. Recently, she just got past a pretty bad bug bite which had all of her joints inflamed, leaving her unable to walk or move. For the past week, she's woken up with sore muscles, swollen digits, and more nausea.

She's not an abstract thinker - not in the least. I think it's more of an inability than an inclination. And she has some psychological issues accepting aging and death given the fact the leukemia almost killed her. She was almost deprived of life at an early age - so she's reluctant to accept that a day will ever come.

Our relationship is built on a sense of balance. I talk to her about some of the more basic premises of Buddhism, but she's not a particularly religious or spiritual person. I try to live by example more than anything else. She's a good person, though, with good karma, I believe.

I want to help her. I wish there was a way I could give her all my good karma so that she'd end the cycle of samsara (even though I understand that nirvana entails escaping all karma). I want her to be happy and to stop suffering. I want her to catch a break.

Realizing her suffering, I better understand the suffering of all beings.

During my days as a Catholic, I tried to be mindful of a important practice known as "redemptive suffering." Where I see lojong and tonglen encapsulating the heart of the dharma, redemptive suffering was Christianity (especially Catholic Christianity) in a nutshell. Redemptive suffering is an "offering up" of one's own sufferings for the welfare of other people who suffer just like one's self (or worse) with the prayer that they will eventually be redeemed and set free. At the heart of the practice is loving-kindness, compassion and equanimity - for the very intention of "offering up" one's suffering for the suffering of others entails all three virtues.

So, tonglen seems like a natural dharmic extension of a principle with which I am already familiar. It also seems like the best way that I can help my partner and, by extension, all beings.

I mean, if Pema Chodron can travel around the country and teach tonglen on the spot and then feel conscientiously secure in releasing these talks on CD for the benefit of the public, what's to be protective or hush-hush about?
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Re: Tonglen: For the novice?

Postby Karma Dondrup Tashi » Wed Sep 14, 2011 3:37 pm

You are obviously a really good person with a lot of loving kindness and you're doing great.

A CD isn't bad at all, neither is an internet discussion board which discusses dharma, neither is the slightest hint of dharma you might get from two people you overheard once a few years ago. They're all seeds which will bear fruit which is good to greater or lesser degrees. However a real person who has some realization who is sitting in a room with you and is ready to answer your questions and steer you right is even better, no? That would be the best kind of seed to plant of all.

:woohoo:
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Re: Tonglen: For the novice?

Postby Chaz » Wed Sep 14, 2011 3:38 pm

Virgo wrote:
Epistemes wrote:Yet again, esotericism trumps Buddhism.

Chaz has good advice. A CD is no sub for a teacher. Yet, I respectfully disagree with him on this point. For a practice like this, there is no rule that one must receive from a teacher. All you need is a text or a good book that explains it in some detail.


The trouble with that is that there are few books that have an adequate teaching on the subject of meditation of any sort. They're out there, for sure, but they are few and far between.

I've found that meditation instruction is best when tailored to the individual. A book, CD or DVD can't do that. A person can. A meditation instructor can listen and respond. A recording cannot. If you run into a problem with your practice that the CD doesn't cover then you're on your own.

Now, if someone 's situation is such that finding a meditation instructor isn't a viable option then a book or CD is the only real option and that's what you have to go with.

@Epistemes: it's not a matter of Esotericism "trumping" Buddhism. That's absurd. It's a matter of trying to help you learn to do this stuff correctly.
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Re: Tonglen: For the novice?

Postby dakini_boi » Wed Sep 14, 2011 3:59 pm

Based on reading your posts, IMO you are not a novice. Any more than anyone else on this board.

It's true, tonglen is not a beginner's practice, and could cause trouble for someone who is committed to the view of phenomena as solid and real.

I think the key prerequisite for practicing tonglen safely is an understanding of emptiness - at least intellectually, and preferably with some experience of it, even if just for passing instants in meditation. Emptiness seems to be what differentiates tonglen from Christianity's "redemptive suffering," as you describe it. This is an important point, because the view of emptiness will actually make the practice more effective, because then you will not hesitate to take on others' suffering - which is, after all, empty of self-nature. It's a practice really about the inseparability of compassion and emptiness.
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Re: Tonglen: For the novice?

Postby Virgo » Wed Sep 14, 2011 4:04 pm

No one will teach you Tonglen better than Ribur Rinpoche in the recorded teaching I linked to. He explains the history of the teaching, the lineage, he explains each of the nine steps in detail, all the preperations to the meditation, even sweeping the room first, and so forth It is complete. You can wait 6 months and spend money to go see a teacher and get this Sutra level teaching, which will probably not be nearly as complete as the teaching I provided, and then you will have 6 less months of your life effectively working on Bodhicitta, and have less money to spend on other Dharma teachings which you must get from a teacher, because you spent it on getting this teaching. I am not saying not to get a teacher. I am saying you don't need a live teacher to teach you this. You can start at once.

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