Hate, Compassion, and Tonglen

Freeing oneself of hatred by practicing compassion…

You may well ask how hate, compassion, and Tonglen could possibly relate to each other… a single word will do… fear! Hate is a simple, animist, survival response to fear. Compassion transforms that response to peace. Tonglen is a specific practice of the breath that comes from the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, and which makes that transformation a physical process.

Now, you may well ask how I might be familiar with all of this… my answer… my healing traditions; my choice to become a physician; my fascination with physiology (the study of bodily functions); and 40 years of helping myself and others with what can well be called “attitudinal healing”, especially that aspect which makes it possible to become peaceful inside regardless of what is happening outside. I have been shown in many ways that compassion is the attitude which makes the action of cutting attachments—forgiveness—possible.

A careful look at fear shows it to be an illusion! It is simply the projection to a time that does not exist! My simple way of describing that to someone who lives where the roads can get black ice on them in the wintertime helps that person see that when the car starts to slide there is no fear. There is no time for it. Instead, one is intensely focused on doing what is needed in this moment to keep from dying. This is not fear. Its name is awareness… simply living in what can well be called the “now moment”—the only time there is. A skilled martial artist knows that when the thought form of fear arises, the match is lost.

Fear can only be a thought form that does not exist because its time does not exist! Simply put, it is not real. Because it is a thought form, it assumes very real properties that stimulate the body’s survival mechanisms, making it appear real because of the suffering now being experienced.

Compassion is the attitudinal practice that deals with suffering… it transforms the suffering into peace. Simple? Yes! Easy? No! Possible? Yes! How? Tonglen….

I learned Tonglen from Tibetan Buddhists. I have followed these people for a couple of decades, and find them getting lost in many words of detailed description. For me, I like to keep it simple, which may well make me “stupid”, but where I live in Maine the complex vocabulary I grew up with in New Jersey does not work very well. Choosing simplicity has led to an appreciation of Tonglen by virtually all the fine people I have taught it to in order to help them deal with their suffering, be it cancer, depression, anxiety, alcoholism… you name it.

I share with you now a stunning and true example of the simplicity and effectiveness of the practice of Tonglen….

A woman I never physically met called me one day to ask for my help in making it possible for her to drive 400 miles to a major city where her daughter was in early labor with many risk factors for her and her baby. I offered to teach her Tonglen that she could do for every driver of every southbound car she would pass or would pass her on the trip. She readily accepted my recommendation, and I gave her the following instructions:

Everybody has a point of suffering, and can benefit from your compassion. As you pass another driver (headed your way, please!) see that point of suffering as a heavy, hot, black cloud surrounding that person. Imagine the spiritual power of your heart to be a transformer that can convert that ugly cloud into a transparent, light, cool, white cloud surrounding them. Imagine that you are able to breathe in that dark cloud to the space around your noble heart—the transformer heart—where you can hold it for just long enough for your heart to convert it into that white cloud. Breathe the white cloud out and see it surrounding the other as a cloud of peace.

She said, “I can do that.” I suggested that she practice it often in the 400 miles so she could use it when she got to her daughter’s bedside. She thanked me. I wished her well. I wished her daughter well.

Two weeks later, she called me and said, “It worked!” She was comfortable with it when she got to the hospital, and practiced it on herself at every point at which she felt anxious… with perfect success. She walked into her daughter’s hospital room, and felt the suffering to be so thick that she could cut it with a knife. After a hug and a kiss she asked her daughter if she could stand at the head of the bed. The daughter gratefully accepted. She practiced Tonglen for the room, clearing out the dark cloud in ten minutes, at which point her daughter went into good solid labor, was taken to the delivery room, and delivered a healthy baby with a perfectly normal vaginal delivery.

So much for fear! So much for hate, the ugly step–child of fear… illusions all! Fear and all its stepchildren: greed, lies, war, rape, bullying, etc, certainly does not exist in the Universal Mind. We do have the power to clear it from our human, ego–mind. Yes… that is where fear is born, and that is where our spiritual, soul–mind helps us let go of all illusions through compassion and its practice. Yes, practice it at every conceivable opportunity. Let your own sense of rising fear, hate, anxiety, or depression call up the practice of Tonglen, and experience its richness and wonder for yourself. The chances are good that you will soon stop counting the number of every–day opportunities you are given to practice Tonglen; for you will become sensitive to the amount of suffering that shows up in every news broadcast. You will also be pleased to see how peaceful you are in the face of all of that suffering. It works!

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • jrcbaker June 13, 2015, 6:58 am

    Nicely put. Thx

  • carla September 6, 2015, 8:58 pm

    Wow – powerful

  • Kathy D January 18, 2016, 7:22 pm

    This is a story my Daughter Ann Marie wrote about a Cat she worked with at the shelter she volunteer at Hart Of Maine
    I know I post a lot about Spencer lately but I just can’t help it. He’s come so far and I’m just so honored that I got to help him in his journey and I just want share it, so here goes…
    He was in a seemingly happy home once, but when his family got a new pet and they didn’t get along so well, the owners left him to live alone in their basement. Yes, the people he loved and trusted LEFT HIM TO LIVE ALL ALONE IN A BASEMENT. They took him food and changed his litter, but didn’t give him affection so of course he learned to fear people completely.
    Last March when he was 10 years old, his people finally made the right choice and brought him to us at HART. It was heartbreaking, he just sat in a basket and would bury himself under a blanket. We volunteers knew he’d be a tough nut to crack, but we didn’t give up. When we saw him burrowed under a blanket, we’d uncover him. We’d sit on the floor by his basket and reach in to give him gentle pettinz, and talk to him in soothing voices.
    Over time, he stopped hiding under the blankets. He still feels most comfortable sitting in his basket, but he shocked me one day a couple months ago when I sat down beside it to do our routine pettinz, and he actually jumped out of that basket and climbed onto my lap. I couldn’t believe it, he trusted me that much?? Talk about feeling special.
    Since then, I get him in my lap every visit, and he just purrs away and headbutts my hands. When he gets spooked he jumps off and back into his basket, but still, he keeps trying. That’s what life is about, right? Just keep trying.
    It’s pretty amazing, we actually taught this cat to love again.
    Now he just needs a real home with some understanding people for the rest of his life. I won’t be completely satisfied until I see that happen for this special guy.

    • Ken Hamilton January 18, 2016, 7:27 pm

      A lovely story, thanks.

    • Kathy D January 18, 2016, 7:35 pm

      My daughter learn Compassion with this cat she helped heal and he learn how to Love again

      I was happy after 30 some years of waiting for her to learn this, I cried for 2 hours after she had shared her story of this Cat called Spencer. Ann Marie shared with me she had learn how to Love from me .. Like WOW! I said to her, “You did. Thanks sweetie; what a great thing to tell me.”

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