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Buddha Nature and Tonglen

Connecting with our Buddha Nature, our enlightened nature, usually feels very far away, like it’s not even possible. But it is much closer than we think. For example, when we are suddenly moved to compassion for someone or for a group of people, right then our Buddha Nature is shining through us. If we tune into ourselves at that moment we can feel our innate goodness, our unconditioned pure being. Or when someone looks at us with complete love, we can allow it in and feel the same.

Buddha Nature is both the awakened seed within us that can sprout and blossom into full enlightenment, and it is our true nature. So it is both our essence and who we truly are the union of clarity, luminosity, and emptiness, primordial purity, awakened presence. It is also called the union of wisdom and compassion.

Tonglen, which means taking and sending, is a meditation practice that cultivates unconditional compassion and love. In Tonglen, as we open to our own or others’ suffering and allow it to be transformed into compassion, it powerfully opens us to the awakened compassion and love that is core to who we are. We first bring loving awareness to our human self and then exchange self for other. Taking and sending for ourselves can bring of issues of self-hatred, low self-worth, deficiency, and unworthiness, among others. As we gradually work through these feelings and open to increased kindness and compassion for ourselves, it helps heal our core wounds and loosens our self-fixation, facilitating a deeper opening into compassion and love.

When we engage with taking and sending for others, we start with those whom we love, then those we like, those groups we naturally feel compassion for, and those we feel neutrally about. This shifts the dynamics between us and others. Then we move into working with, those we dislike, and on into those we find very challenging. Doing Tonglen for people we dislike or who are hurtful can bring up feelings of anger, frustration, disappointment, sorrow. Again, we work through these feelings as much as possible. We can, in time, have compassion for them as well through realizing the causes and conditions and the ignorance that has led them to their actions. This is not to say that their actions are excused. People can be held accountable and compassion can be present simultaneously. Through this we can eventually have compassion for all beings and ourselves equally. As our hearts open, we connect directly with our Buddha Nature.

The Tonglen that my teacher, the previous Kalu Rinpoche, transmitted, comes from the fully enlightened wisdom dakini Niguma, an 11th century woman from Kashmir. This extraordinary form of Tonglen has additional elements in the process which further assist us in opening to our Buddha Nature. In it we pray to the bodhisattva of compassion Chenrezig, (Avalokitesvara in Sanskrit) for our love and compassion to fully blossom. Chenrezig, who embodies all the Buddhas awakened love and compassion, then dissolves into us and we become inseparable from him. This helps shift us out of ego consciousness into awareness. Furthermore, a small Chenrezig appears in our heart chakra, and in his heart is a brilliant diamond vajra of light. The vajra is both a symbol of our indestructible ever-present Buddha Nature, and it is such as well. This visualization powerfully enhances our connection to awakened mind, awakened presence, right here, right now.

Opening through our hearts into Buddha Nature is one part of the whole. When we let everything in the taking and sending dissolve into emptiness, we let go of the doer, we let go of anyone to do anything for, and we let go of anything to be done. This is nondual wisdom. We let our minds rest right there in openness inseparable with the love and compassion that has been cultivated. In this way we open further into our Buddha Nature.

Tonglen assists in both in clearing our obscurations to who we truly are, and opening a path right into our Buddha Nature. Following this pathway brings us much closer to actually feeling our awakened presence.

Extraordinary Tonglen Meditation in Eight Steps

Step One: Rest in Open Awareness
•Rest in Open Awareness. Meditate with your eyes open, soft gaze.
Step Two: Awakened Sanctuary
•Call on the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, the Awakened Sangha, the Dharma, your own teachers to be present with you. They arrive quickly and sit in the sky in front of you.
•Pray for refuge and transmission from the Awakened Beings. Open to a sense of connection, sanctuary, and transmission.
•The Refuge Beings dissolve into you and you become inseparable with them.
Step Three: Cultivating and Uncovering Bodhicitta—Altruism
•Cultivate the wish to awaken in order to completely free others and yourself from suffering and to establish everyone in complete awakening. Think that you are engaging in meditation on behalf of all beings.
Step Four: Stepping into Love
• Call upon Chenrezig, the bodhisattva of compassion, embodiment of all the Buddhas awakened love. Pray to him for your innate love and compassion to be fully actualized.
•Imagine Chenrezig dissolving into yourself. Feel that you become inseparable with awakened compassion and love, and now appear as a body of light, as Chenrezig.
•A small Chenrezig with diamond vajra of light in his heart appears in your heart chakra. The vajra radiates out love as five-colored light to all beings.
• Chant the mantra of compassion Om Mani Padme Hum.
Step Five: Begin Taking and Sending with Yourself
• As Chenrezig, imagine your ordinary self in front of you, facing you. Open into feeling any suffering that is present in your human self, and generate loving-kindness and compassion for yourself.
•Breathe in the suffering as black smoke into the vajra in your heart. As soon as it touches the vajra, a lightning bolt emerges from the vajra, instantly transforming the suffering into white light that is awakened love and healing energy.
•Breathe out the white light into your human self. See the light filling your ordinary self, bringing compassion, love, and awakening.
•Optionally, after doing Tonglen for yourself, contemplate all those who are suffering in a similar way, and think, “Oh, just like me, many people suffer in this way! By my suffering, may all those suffering from this be freed from this pain.”
Step Six: Taking and Sending for Others
• Imagine the person or people in front of you that you want to work with. Contemplate their suffering and generate loving kindness and compassion for them.
•Breathe in their suffering as black smoke, and see it instantaneously transformed by the lightning bolt emanating from the vajra. Continue the Tonglen as above.
•Gradually extend your meditation to include all beings, imagining them in front of you. Finally imagine everyone filled with white light, healed, completely awakened. Rest in this.
Step Seven Dissolution
•Let all that you have engaged with dissolve into space and openness. Rest in awareness naturally.
Step Eight: Dedication
• Dedicate any and all benefit of your meditation to all beings happiness and liberation.