When we reflect on the situation of living beings, we see that all beings are searching for happiness and trying to avoid suffering. All of our activities are directed toward that purpose. We focus on the external world, on objects outside ourselves, and hope to find genuine happiness there. But if we depend only on our external circumstances for happiness, we find that they don’t last. Their nature is to change. We can find some temporary happiness in the external world, but it’s not long-lasting or genuine.
We can find a genuine sense of peace and well-being within ourselves. Peace comes about when our thoughts begin to calm down. Only through working with ourselves, with our mind, can we find peace. It’s not something to be bought in the marketplace.
When we meditate, we begin to calm the busyness in our minds. Our thoughts, especially our negative thoughts, begin to calm down. We need a point of focus to calm our minds. The simplest method for calming our mind is to focus on the breath, an object that is uncomplicated and from which we are never separate.
Instructions for Calm Abiding Meditation
Take a seat on a cushion on the floor or in a chair. Keep your back straight and allow your gaze to rest in the space in front of you. Allow your mouth to be slightly open and the jaw relaxed.
Notice your breath as it enters and leaves your body. Begin to count your breaths. Count each inhalation and exhalation as one breath. Continue counting until you reach twenty breaths, then begin again with number one. If you lose track of your count, gently begin again with number one. Alternatively, you can count your breaths using a mala (Buddhist rosary). With each breath, count one bead until you have completed one round.
Notice as thoughts rise, but don’t follow them. Allow your focus to remain on the rising and falling of the breath. If you find yourself carried away by your stream of thoughts, return to following your breath.
Rather than doing one long session where you get tired or bored, do short sessions many times each day. Also, take breaks within sessions. For example, if you’re just beginning, you might count twenty breaths and then take a short break. If you feel comfortable with a longer session, that’s also fine. The main point is not to be too tight in your focus. We need just enough attention to remember our reference point.
It’s important to have a noble intention as the motivation for our practice. Have a kind heart and wish that your meditation practice be of benefit to others. In each session of practice, consider training for half of your time on calm-abiding and the other half on developing loving-kindness and compassion through tonglen.
Tonglen is a meditation practice through which we can give rise to the loving and compassionate intention known in the Buddhist tradition as bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is the sincere and genuine wish that all sentient beings be freed from suffering and its causes and that they achieve a state of ultimate happiness.
Tong means giving, and len means receiving. What do we give and receive when we practice tonglen? We mentally give others all of the happiness that we possess, as great or as small as it may be, and we receive the suffering and difficulties that other beings experience. The purpose of this practice is to reduce our fixation on ourselves and to develop love and compassion for others. Through this meditation, we turn our mind inside out—we step out of our self-centeredness and turn our minds toward the needs and circumstances of others. . As our concern for others begins to increase, the intense fixation we have on ourselves, and our disturbing emotions, begins to decrease. As this process unfolds, we begin to feel more ease and peace of mind.
When we practice tonglen, the easiest way is to join the visualization with the inhalation and exhalation of the breath. On each breath we either give or receive. Breathe through the nose and the mouth. This will help you develop calm-abiding at the same time. The meditation begins with one person then broadens in scope as we progress through each step.
We hold the mind one-pointedly on the breath. As you breathe in, you think that all the sufferings, non-virtues and negativities of sentient beings comes into you in the form of black light. It comes through your mouth and dissolves into your heart. Then you think, “May that person be free from suffering.”
When you breathe out, think that all of your happiness and the causes of happiness flows to other in the form of white light that look like moon rays. All of your assets, good fortune, talent, wealth, virtue, all of that positive energy dissolves into the beings before you. As you breathe out think, “May these beings have happiness.”
1) Begin by bringing to mind one person whom you care for deeply, someone who has been extremely kind to you, like your mother or father. Practice the visualization of giving and receiving with that person, allowing love and compassion to arise in your heart.
2) Think of your loved ones–your family, friends, and anyone for whom you have a strong affinity and concern. Practice the visualization of giving and receiving with these people, again allowing the heart to open.
3) Think of individuals who experience great suffering. They can be either humans on non-humans and may be near or far away. Imagine the pain and difficulties these beings experience and practice giving and receiving.
4) Think of a person you don’t know and toward whom you feel totally neutral. Knowing that this person, like all beings, seeks happiness and wishes to avoid suffering, practice giving and receiving.
5) Think of a difficult person in your life, someone who you don’t like or get along with. Practice tonglen for this person.
6) Imagine all sentient beings before you. Embracing every living being without exception, practice giving and receiving.