Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Online Advice Book
Practice Advice :
Transforming Problems / Tong-len
- Tong-len: Exchanging Self and Others
- Tong-len and the Four immeasurable Thoughts
- Transforming Problems
Tong-len: Exchanging Self and Others
|A Magnet for Bad Situations|
|A student felt he was a magnet for bad situations, people and environments. He asked Rinpoche for advice.|
Your deities: Kalachakra, Secret Vajrapani, Gyalwa Gyatso, Secret Hayagriva. Generally it’s good to receive initiation for all of these deities, then you can choose whichever one you feel closer to.
I’m going to tell you what Kadampa Geshe Khamlungpa said in regards to attracting bad situations like a magnet: “Even this present small suffering finishes past negative karma and there will be happiness in the future, therefore meditate on rejoicing in the suffering.”
That is thought transformation; looking at suffering as happiness. You transform the suffering into happiness, instead of worrying. If your mind is trained in thought transformation, then the more you suffer, the greater the happiness you can experience.
For example, Geshe Lama Konchog was a great teacher and meditator at Kopan Monastery. In the summer time, the rainy season, he fell down and as he fell it made a huge sound. Immediately he thought he received all his obstacles and his mind was so happy, even though he fell down so heavily on the stone step.
Kadampa Geshe Chengawa prayed all the time to be born in the hells, as a practice against the self-cherishing thought. That’s what he did instead of being a friend of the self-cherishing thought, instead of working for that. When he was dying he said, “Oh, I didn’t fulfill my wishes!” As he was dying he saw a vision of the pure lands, so he left the suffering world and was born in Buddha’s pure land. This is the result of the good heart wishing to experience suffering for the benefit of sentient beings.
When we don’t practice, especially when we follow the self-cherishing thought, we wish happiness for self and suffering for others. When we follow bodhicitta, we wish to suffer for others and for others to have all our happiness. So it’s very, very important to understand Dharma and particularly thought transformation, then we are able to transform suffering into happiness. That means even when we face suffering, we can transform it into happiness.
Read my book, Transforming Problems into Happiness, it can give you good ideas. If you cannot find a copy, ask Ven. Holly to send you one.
Lama Chöpa (verse 96) says:
Even if the whole environment is filled with undesirable things,
And everyone becomes negative including myself,
And (countless numbers of) problems come like rainfall
Please bless me to continually accept this
By understanding that I am finishing past negative karma.
Here it is saying that when we are suffering, we should think that we are finishing past negative karma and feel happiness. For example, if we have a heavy disease, then when we get an injection or treatment we might have some pain, but we feel very positive because through that we won’t have to experience the heavy suffering any more or even die. For example, if a poisonous snake bites us and we have to cut the skin to take out the poison, even though it will cause pain, by doing that the poison won’t spread through the body and we won’t die, so it is regarded as incredible happiness.
Especially in Mahayana practice, suffering is used in the path to enlightenment, the highest, peerless happiness, not just to achieve temporary happiness, liberation from samsara—but for peerless happiness, the cessation of not only gross defilements but also subtle defilements and completion of all the qualities. So it’s just amazing. Complete understanding. So we use suffering, by experiencing it with bodhicitta for the benefit of sentient beings—for them to be free and to achieve peerless happiness, the dharmakaya.
Lama Chöpa (verse 97) says:
In short, whatever appears, bad or good,
Please bless me to use it in the path to develop the two bodhicittas
By practicing the five powers—the very essence of the Dharma—
And to meditate only on a happy mind.
So you should get the commentary to those verses in His Holiness’ book, The Union of Bliss and Emptiness, (pp. 159-161).
Also, Panchen Shakya Shri Bhadra said:
If you are suffering, take all the sentient beings' suffering;
May the ocean of sentient beings' suffering be dried up!
If you are happy, dedicate the happiness for others to collect merits;
May skies of happiness be received by others!
That means all the temporary and ultimate happiness.
When you do tong-len, tong is giving our merits and happiness to others; len is taking others' suffering and negative karma on yourself, right onto the self-cherishing thought and destroying it.
When you do this meditation, it is the most excellent thought transformation, the best psychology, the best treatment for the mind and through that for the body. Taking on the suffering of others and giving your happiness to others is the quickest way to generate bodhicitta, the quickest way to abandon the oceans of samsaric suffering and the quickest way to achieve full enlightenment—having finished all the mistakes, the gross and subtle defilements and having generated all the realizations. And this is the quickest way to be able to free the numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, asuras and intermediate state beings from the oceans of suffering and bring them to full enlightenment.
People who met the Mahayana teachings can practice this. Whenever you encounter problems the mind is so happy. The more you understand thought transformation, the more you experience it, and you are so happy when you meet suffering. You can take other sentient beings’ suffering; you can experience it for others. Also you can give your happiness to others and you are so happy to be able to do that.
Kadampa Geshe Langri Tangpa Dorje Senge was a great meditator and practitioner. He was criticized by one monastery; the monks said he wasn’t keeping his vows. Instead of getting angry, with compassion and patience he made tea offering to all the monks. They gathered in the gompa and he offered tea and thanked them for criticizing him. He thanked them from the heart, sincerely, not in a political way. So, he had so much happiness.
If you know how to practice Dharma, then being a magnet to attract bad people and a bad environment, you can recognize, “Wow, this is great happiness!” The worse it gets, that much more you rejoice with even greater happiness.
One thing, as I mentioned in Transforming Problems into Happiness, is that in the morning you should generate a strong mind, strong determination. Think, “I’m not going to let sufferings agitate or worry my mind and make me unhappy. Instead of that, I’m going to keep my mind happy.” In that book there are so many ways problems can be transformed into happiness. But here, in short, you think about the benefits of problems. Every problem has benefits, so when you think about the benefits of the problems, you transform the problems. You think you have a great need of the problems.
For ordinary people, problems are something to cast away, but for practitioners of thought transformation, problems are something they need. For the practitioner of thought transformation, there is a great need to have suffering and a great need to have people complaining and a great need to have people criticizing and a great need to have people who are angry at you. There is a great need to have these things in order to transform the mind. So, the main thing to transform our problems into happiness is by thinking of that need.
Ordinary people get caught up in worries and fears instead of thinking of the benefits of the problems.
So that’s it. Thank you very much.
|How to Practice Tong-len|
|Rinpoche gave the folllowing advice, explaining briefly how to practice tong-len.|
When we practice tong-len, we take away all the sufferings of each of the realms—the hells, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, asuras and intermediate state beings. There is so much described about all these sufferings.
We take all the sufferings into our heart and we also take the cause of the sufferings, karma and delusions and even the subtle negative imprint, all together. Take these in the form of smoke and pollution. Take from everyone—from the numberless beings. We receive the suffering from everyone, then it goes inside and destroys the ego, self-cherishing thought.
It is the ego, the self-cherishing thought which causes all the suffering from beginningless rebirth—the general sufferings of samsara and particularly the sufferings of the devas, human beings and the beings from the lower realms—hell beings, hungry ghosts and animals. The self-cherishing thought causes not only the past sufferings but also endless suffering in samsara. So, that time, not only the ego, the self-cherishing thought is destroyed, completely smashed, but also ignorance, the root of samsara—holding the I as truly existent—is totally destroyed and becomes non-existent.
So same thing, the object of that ignorance—the truly existent I, the real I, the I appearing from there—is completely gone. We see that it doesn’t exist; it is empty right there, it has never existed from the beginning. Stay there a little bit in meditation on emptiness; emptiness only, tong-pa-nyi. Trying to meditate on this is very good. Do not just meditate on bodhicitta wishing to achieve enlightenment; also meditate on emptiness.
After taking the suffering of all sentient beings, we give them our happiness. Give temporary happiness to those who don’t have temporary happiness, and give ultimate happiness to those who have temporary happiness but don’t have ultimate happiness. Then give peerless happiness, full enlightenment, to those who have ultimate happiness, who are free from samsara, but don’t have that peerless happiness.
By generating loving kindness, we give all our past, present and future merits and the results of all the happiness, all the skies of temporary happiness of samsara, ultimate happiness and peerless enlightenment. Give all of this completely to the numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, asuras and intermediate state beings, so they all achieve the dharmakaya mind and their bodies became rupakaya.
Then we give our own body in the form of wish-granting jewels. We make charity with our own body to numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, asuras and intermediate state beings. Think that they receive everything, even enlightenment.
Next, we give all our enjoyments. However many hats we have: hats for the summertime, hats for the wintertime, hats for the spring, hats to wear outside, hats to wear inside. Give away all these things, from our hats down to our socks. Also, give away however much money we have in the bank, our house, car and the people around us. Give all of this to numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, asuras and intermediate state beings.
When we take the suffering of others we collect unbelievable merits and purification. Numberless past life negativities get purified each time we do tong-len. Unbelievable, unbelievable obscurations get purified.
When we do the practice of giving, there is unbelievable merit. Each time we give temporary happiness, ultimate happiness and enlightenment to each sentient being, so many times skies of merit are collected.
Each time we give our body, skies of merits are collected. Even by giving our body to numberless hell beings, skies of merit are collected, because they are numberless.
We give everything from our hats down to our socks to each hell being, hungry ghost, animal, human being, sura, asura and intermediate state being, so there are skies of merits. Then we give away all the people around us. Each time we collect skies of merits.
Wow, wow, wow! Our lives are so meaningful and rich. Wow, wow, wow!
Thank you for your kind offerings and letter. I am just an ordinary person experiencing the suffering of self-cherishing; nothing special. Becoming special means practicing tong-len for numberless suffering sentient beings of the six realms; then we become special.
It is ok what happened. Do not worry, be happy and try to benefit others. Most important is to integrate your study with the practice of the lam-rim and then try to actualize, as you want to benefit others.
I am very happy with what you are doing. Thank you very much, you're eating food, making kaka, all the things of the day. Make them be for the benefit of sentient beings, the happiness of all sentient beings.
With love and prayer...
|Daily Practice of Taking and Giving|
|After His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teachings, Rinpoche went for afternoon tea with the geshe and some students from a Dharma center. Geshe-la requested that Rinpoche give some advice for the center, and they talked a little about the center’s difficulties.|
We need an open heart. There are different views, so apply the views that are more beneficial. Like a road blocked by rocks, first we have to recognize the roadblocks so that we can clear them away.
A lady sitting next to me had a pain in her jaw and she asked me how to deal with it. I told her it is very important to do this prayer every day:
When we have happiness think:
"May all sentient beings have happiness and peace."
When we have suffering, problems, cancer, AIDS, relationship problems, whatever, think: "May all sentient beings' oceans of samsaric sufferings run dry."
The idea is to do tong-len practice from time to time each day. When we do this practice of taking on others’ suffering, we collect limitless skies of merit each time, because we are taking on the sufferings of numberless beings and purifying not only this life’s negative karma but also our past lives’ negative karma. The stronger we generate compassion for animals or human beings, that many eons of negative karma are purified. When we do the practice of giving, we purify our negative karma from today, this life and past lives—we purify many eons of negative karma.
|Advice for a Homeless Man Practicing Tong-len|
|When Rinpoche was in France, a monk brought one of his friends, a homeless man, to meet Rinpoche. The man lived on the streets in Lavaur and was spontaneously practicing taking other homeless people’s sufferings onto himself, without having heard about Buddhism. Rinpoche wrote him this letter.|
My very dear Jean,
I’m very happy to have met you, especially knowing that you are helping other people by taking their pain and sickness upon yourself. In Buddhism this is called exchanging yourself for others. It is one of the most important practices of Mahayana Buddhism.
All the sufferings, obstacles and problems come from cherishing the I. All unfortunate things come from the I, from the selfish mind, from cherishing the I, even the discomfort of a mosquito buzzing, making a sound in your ear, resting on your nose, flying in front of your eyes and then biting you, or a tiny ant that bites your foot or your small toe. All bad things come from the I, so we need to give that up and throw it away immediately.
It is from the good heart, bodhicitta, and cherishing others that all the collection of goodness comes, peerless happiness—enlightenment, the cessation of all the gross and subtle defilements, of all the mistakes, the completion of all the realizations, and liberation from the oceans of samsaric suffering and its causes: karma and delusion. All of these are ultimate happiness. From these also comes temporary happiness, all the happiness of future lives, and even this life’s happiness and comfort, even the comfort when you feel hot and there is a cool breeze. Bodhicitta and the good heart come from cherishing others. All happiness up to enlightenment, every single comfort in this life, comes from others. Others are the most precious ones. Cherish others.
This is what made Shakyamuni Buddha achieve full enlightenment, cease all the gross and subtle defilements of the mind, which has no beginning, continuing during beginningless rebirths, and complete all the realizations—bodhicitta, the ultimate good heart, renouncing the I and cherishing others.
Every second, you are able to liberate numberless sentient beings from the sufferings of the lower realms (hell realm, hungry ghost and animal realm). Even in one second you are able to liberate numberless sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric sufferings and their causes: karma and delusion. Even in one second you liberate sentient beings from lower nirvana, the lower blissful state of peace for oneself, and bring them to enlightenment. Even in one second you are able to liberate numberless sentient beings from the extremely subtle defilements and bring them to enlightenment. Like this you are able to offer inconceivable benefit to all sentient beings, skies of benefit, in each second.
What you are practicing—exchanging oneself for others—is unbelievable, great, something in which to rejoice. I rejoice in you. This is what makes your life most meaningful and beneficial for numberless sentient beings, for every sentient being, and makes it the happiest life for you. You will have no regrets in the future, after you die, and you will have a most happy death.
Each time you do this practice you purify those very heavy negative karmas collected during beginningless rebirths. Each time you do this, many eons of negative karma from past lives are purified and you collect inconceivable merits.
Thank you very very much.
I checked what practice you should do. I am sorry, it may be a little long for you, but I think it’s most beneficial for you.
1) Calling the Guru from Afar. I think your friend, the monk, can give this to you in French. You can make your own tune for this and you might like to chant it. Maybe you can also play it on the flute in the streets. If you play a nice tune, other people will listen and then you are liberating them from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bringing them to enlightenment; it leaves a positive imprint on their hearts. Each time you recite it mindfully it becomes a direct meditation on the whole path to enlightenment.
Sooner or later you will understand the meaning and achieve the realizations, then, wow! What an unbelievable success in your life—to achieve guru devotion, renunciation, for your mind to become pure and so have a pure life. This allows you to have all the realizations, the realization of bodhicitta, of the ultimate view, emptiness, then the two stages of highest tantra. Then you achieve the two kayas and are able to do perfect works for all sentient beings without the slightest mistake, bringing them from happiness to happiness until enlightenment.
If you are able to do this, it also makes each day of your life so meaningful. Your meditation makes your life meaningful, for your parents who looked after you and gave birth to you, for all the people who bore so much hardship to bring you up, created so much negative karma, and suffered so much for your wellbeing and happiness. This makes all their efforts and hardships meaningful and worthwhile.
2) The other practice it would be so good for you to do is Medicine Buddha practice (the monk can give this to you in French). Even if you don’t understand it, just do it. This practice is amazing! Then all your prayers will succeed. Any prayer you make for others who have problems will succeed. All your wishes will be fulfilled, and especially your wish to help other people. All the prayers you made before in the Calling the Guru from Afar prayer will be achieved.
If you can do this every day, you will have an amazing life. The most difficult problems will become so small. Even achieving the cessation of oceans of samsaric sufferings of each hell, hungry ghost, animal, human, asura, sura, and intermediate state being is so easy to achieve. Achieving enlightenment for all sentient beings, liberating numberless sentient beings from each realm, then bringing them to enlightenment is so easy. Without question, temporary happiness will just come along the way without your even praying for it.
If you can practice Medicine Buddha every day—wow! You are the most fortunate person in the world, the most fortunate person in Toulouse. Your friend Charles will faint and you will have to take him to hospital (just joking).
Thank you very much.
With much love and prayers...
|Rinpoche gave the following advice on how to do the preliminary practice of tong-len.|
Tong-len: This is the practice of taking and giving, the most brave practice of bodhicitta. One way of doing this practice is by reciting verse 95 in the Lama Chöpa:
Tong-len: Meditation on Taking and Giving
LC 95: And thus, venerable, compassionate gurus,
I seek your blessings that all karmic debts, obstacles, and sufferings of mother beings
May without exception ripen upon me right now,
And that I may give my happiness and virtue to others
And, thereby, invest all beings in bliss.
You recite this verse according to the number you need to recite, and, at the same time, do the meditation. Each time you do this, you collect limitless skies of merit. It is an extremely powerful purification method, and you become closer to enlightenment.
This practice helps to develop bodhicitta. This is a most brave practice to generate bodhicitta.
Or, you can base the recitations on a verse from Nagarjuna’s teachings:
“Whatever sufferings there are, may they ripen on me; whatever happiness I have, may it ripen on sentient beings.”
With the first part, you do the practice of taking. With the second, you do the practice of giving. Then, you count on the mala (each time you recite the verse). I think you will be blissed out from this practice and sentient beings will be blissed out.
About the Preliminary Practice of Tong-len
This is a most powerful practice to do. (This is reciting the requesting prayer, together with the meditation of giving and taking.) Here, each time you take the sufferings and the causes of sufferings, including the negative imprints, take all sentient beings’ sufferings, including the delusions and karma, together with the negative imprints, and also the undesirable environments. For example, in hell, there is the ice fire, the ice mountain, the burning ground, the iron house; then, for the pretas, it is a very depressing place with no water, and is so hot and so cold; for human beings, it is a very dirty place full of thorn bushes. You take the environmental sufferings as well, those kinds of things, in the form of black pollution, and you give it to the ego and destroy the ego – one’s own worst enemy. This is the greatest demon that has interfered so far with your being able to achieve enlightenment. It hasn’t allowed you to achieve enlightenment so far, besides that, it hasn’t even allowed you to achieve liberation from samsara, and hasn’t allowed you to enlighten all sentient beings, not even one. In these ways, you can see that one’s own ego is somehow the enemy of all sentient beings, not only an enemy to you.
Also, you collect numberless merits by taking all the sufferings, all the causes of suffering, and also all the undesirable environments. Then, when you give, you collect numberless merits by giving your body as a wish-fulfilling jewel and by giving your possessions to all sentient beings. However many possessions you have, they are given to sentient beings. So, however many possessions you have, you collect that much merit by giving them to sentient beings. Because sentient beings are numberless, you collect numberless merits with each possession.
Then, when giving all the past, present, and future merits, the three times’ merits, again, you collect so many limitless skies of merit. You give all your future happiness – your present happiness, and from the next minute’s happiness up until enlightenment, including liberation, including the realizations – to each and every single hell being, hungry ghost, animal, human, sura, and asura being. You can see that sentient beings are numberless. By giving to each of them, you collect so many numberless merits. You can’t imagine how many. I think if you really knew how much merit you collected, you would faint, fall down, and it might be difficult to get up! I hope it’s not for a long time. I hope people won’t take you to a hospital or a psychologist. I hope your family or friends don’t take you to the hospital because of it!
|A student practicing tong-len wrote to Rinpoche saying she didn’t understand really what it meant to take on others' suffering.|
First, you have to know the benefits of the bodhicitta practice; you have to have a big goal in mind. The purpose of life is to free all sentient beings from all sufferings and to cause them to have happiness, especially to bring them to enlightenment, to free them from all defilements and sufferings.
The next thing, in order to perfectly do that, is that you need the path to enlightenment. The door to enlightenment is bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is the most important thing in life, not only for your own benefit but in order to eliminate all the defilements of countless other sentient beings, for everyone.
You need to know what bodhicitta is: it is renouncing oneself and cherishing other sentient beings. You need to understand this to be able to enjoy and accept the practice (tong-len). That depends on how much you see self-cherishing as the enemy. The more you see it as the enemy, the more you are able to do tong-len practice sincerely.
You are not only taking the suffering of others, you are taking all the undesirable things onto the ego and destroying the ego. The ego is the enemy of bodhicitta. If there is ego, there is no space in the mind for bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is the wish-fulfilling, holy thought that brings all happiness for oneself and for every sentient being.
The more you understand this, the more you will enjoy taking the suffering of others and giving them all your happiness and merit. How this benefits other sentient beings is because the more you renounce the ego, the more you are able to practice bodhicitta. It makes it possible to enter the Mahayana path that eliminates both defilements, gross and subtle, and to attain omniscience, so you are able to become enlightened and do perfect works for sentient beings. You collect vast amounts of merit each time you take others' sufferings or give others your happiness. For example, each time you visualize giving your body to others, you collect so much merit. Each time you give your possessions, happiness, and merits to others, you collect vast amounts of merit. Giving all of these are the cause for achieving ultimate happiness. Each time we take others' sufferings, we purify many eons of negative karma, so we are able to achieve enlightenment soon, even in this life.
The actual benefit of taking others' suffering, the long term, ultimate benefit, is that you become enlightened for the benefit of all sentient beings. This benefit is enormous, like the vast sky, and what you can offer to each sentient being is like the limitless sky.
This is the main benefit of this practice. Then, it becomes more powerful purification than doing a three-month Vajrasattva retreat, with comforts and ego. You are doing the Vajrasattva retreat so you will not be born in the lower realms. This is not a very powerful purification or sacrifice for others. Sincerely taking others' suffering and its causes with strong compassion, just once, purifies more than doing a one-year Vajrasattva retreat.
With much love and prayer...
|Rinpoche made the following comments on tong-len practice.|
One time I was in England and we were driving to an office for a meeting with the Maitreya Project designer, engineer, architect, and environmental advisor, when these people were going to present their ideas. We were stopped at a red light.
There was a middle-aged, well-dressed man, quite short, crossing the road. He had such an awful body, with long, large fleshy protrusions pointing out, covering his hands and face. It was the first time I saw such a face and body. I pointed him out to my companions. This one fortunate time I remembered to practice tong-len. When you see such a suffering being, practice tong-len. I pointed him out to one of my companions and said "Quickly, quickly, practice tong-len." I found that meditation quite effective. You can take the suffering on yourself and give it all to your ego, to destroy the ego, the self-cherishing thought.
One of my companions asked whether by doing this practice it made the man's sickness meaningful, that it would get better. I said it would be extremely beneficial to achieve enlightenment to be able to benefit all beings. One can pray and dedicate the merits from that practice for that person to be quickly liberated from samsara. That means to stop all sicknesses, however many hundreds of sicknesses there are, all sufferings, and all the problems of life. So, this way of praying covers everything. This meditation develops bodhicitta, enables oneself to collect extensive merit, purify negative karma, and achieve enlightenment more quickly. After that, you're able to perform perfect work, not only for that person but for all sentient beings, and are able to free them from the ocean of samsaric suffering and bring them to enlightenment.
|Love and Compassion|
|Rinpoche offered this advice concerning the practices of love and compassion.|
Although we have different definitions for love and compassion, and during tong-len practice love and compassion are practiced at different times, actually, they are not separate.
Just as smoke is a sign of fire, and with fire there is smoke, so, too, where love is present, so is compassion. In practice they come together.
When you are wishing to take on the suffering of others sincerely, then you are also wishing for their happiness. And when you are wishing sincerely for others’ happiness, then you are also wishing to remove their suffering.
Although the thought of love and compassion does not arise simultaneously, in practice they appear together.