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Buddhadharma : Fall 2013
60 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY FALL 2 0 1 3 affected. It gets super salty. If you take the same amount of salt and put it into Lake Michigan, it has virtually no effect. Tonglen transforms our mind from a shot glass into Lake Michigan. On every level, suffering is the result of the mind’s inability to accommodate its experience. Lama Zopa Rinpoche says: Try to die with this motivation. If you die with this bodhichitta thought, your death becomes a cause of your enlightenment and a cause for the enlightenment of all sentient beings. Live your life with this precious thought . . . . As you get closer to death, you should think, “I’m experiencing death on behalf of all sen- tient beings.” Try to die with this thought. In this way, you are dying for others. Dying with the thought of others is the best way to die. —from Wholesome Fear, by Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Kathleen McDonald The Indian sage Shantideva said, “If you want to be miserable, think only of yourself. If you want to be happy [even in death], think only of others.” Tonglen is therefore a way to practice the good heart of bodhichitta. When asked what practice he would do during death, Trungpa Rinpoche once replied, “Tonglen.” Reverse Meditations Tonglen is part of a family of practices we could call “reverse meditations.” They are called reverse because with these practices we do things that are the opposite of what we usually associ- ate with meditation. Reverse meditations expand our sense of meditation and prepare us for death. They are based on the tenet that if you can bring unwanted experience into the sanctuary of sanity provided by meditation, you can transform that obstacle into opportunity. This approach applies to life and especially to death. If you can bring death onto the path, you can flip it into enlight- enment. The most unwanted experience trans- forms into the most coveted experience. Tonglen is a classic reverse meditation because it takes in the darkness of others and sends out our light. This is the reverse of how ego operates. Pain meditation is a reverse meditation that prepares us for the painful bardo of dying. In addition to the emotional pain of letting go, there is often physical pain associated with disease. To prepare for this pain, we voluntarily bring it into our experience now, on our terms. Reverse meditations are done within the con- text of shamatha meditation. This provides the crucible for establishing a proper relationship to the unwanted experience. For the pain medita- tion, after doing shamatha for a few minutes you can bite your lip or tongue, or dig your fingernail into your thumb, and explore the sensation. Go into the pain. What is pain? What is it made of? What happens if I dissolve into it? Reverse medi- tations are not pleasant. But neither is death. Do them for short sessions, and remember that mas- ochism is not the point. While the pain may not disappear, the suffer- ing does. Pain meditation helps us erase what Trungpa Rinpoche called “negative negativity,” which is the resistance to the pain. Negative negativity is like being shot with two arrows. The first arrow hurts you physically. If you can stay with that pain and relate to it directly, it will still hurt, but not as much as when you bring in your story lines. The second arrow is the mental commentary that transforms simple pain into complex suffering. By becoming one with the pain, there is no one to hurt. And the character of the pain changes. This practice radically alters our relationship to discomfort. It reverses it. The next time you get a headache, turn that pain into meditation. Watch the pain transform before your eyes. Reverse meditations require diligence. We would rather sit in tranquility than plunge into pain. But to establish a healthy relationship to unwanted experiences, we have to spend time with them. It’s always easier to do so on our own terms. We may think we’ll be able relate to pain or death just by having read about it, but that attitude is seldom realized when we actually hurt or die. Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche says: It is very difficult to transform an experience of intense suffering if we have no basis for work- ing with pain to begin with. Therefore, it is ini- tially necessary to work with minor pains and illness and discover how we can bring these to the path. Then, as more severe sicknesses come to us, we are able to bring those to the path as well. Eventually, we become capable ➤ continued page 83