Someone from the sangha asked me how to I do tonglen in the circumstances that we are presently facing. To practice tonglen in a crisis is quite radical and hard to
do. But who said Buddhist practice was easy? How can we react without pouring more kerosene on the huge
bonfire of hatred and aversion that already exists? Nevertheless, we also cannot be simply complacent, without
One of my sons who studies philosophy at a University talked
to me about an “epistemological crisis.”
He explained it to me as the moment when your story about something gets
blown open. What we conceived as
happening, suddenly, appears not the truth of what’s actually is
happening. This is an example of
understanding ignorance. Very
similar in Buddhism is the moment you actually realize that you are not a solid
self. This revelation is an
existential crisis that, when digested, changes your entire approach to
life. Being stripped away of
delusion is not an easy practice!
For half of America, that happened last week during the election of
Trump. In my tribe, the read on
the pulse of the nation was not accurate.
Even still, I have to say, the margin of winning was very, very
small. Many of the elections in
the past couple decades have shown a society that is split in half politically.
I had the good fortune of teaching at the prison on election
day and the good fortune to be studying the three refuges. What we talked about that afternoon
kept me going this whole week. The
information on Buddhist Faith was mostly taken from the chapter, Buddhist
Faith, in Katagiri Roshi’s book “Returning to Silence.” How do we practice with faith when the
world seems to be falling down around us and not going our way.
Katagiri Roshi called Buddhist Faith – imperturbability. Or zazen. Or tranquility.
Or serenity. Where in
ourselves do we find a place that is imperturbable? This place is not based on reactions to conditions and finds
the equanimity from which practice can originate. May I be at peace with
the ups and downs of life. How
can we be at peace when the Worldly Winds are blowing at hurricane force? We really have to deepen our selves in
imperturbability and find that inner strength that can face anything. This is what Katagiri Roshi called
spiritual stability. We cultivate
this practice of imperturbability in zazen and we actualize it when we face the
very strong ups and downs of living a human life.
What do we trust in when things don’t go our way? Trust is such an essential point in a
spiritual life. We have to trust
in the underlying structure of the universe. We have to trust in the vital force and what Dogen calls
“The Whole Works” or “Total Dynamic Functioning”. Even when the appearance on the surface of life, (our
reactions and stories,) don’t seem just or right, the underlying force of the world is still moving in peace and harmony, as
Katagiri Roshi would say. At times of crisis, we have to dig deeper in our understanding
and stay even more connected to the underlying workings of the world. Samsaric life is ALWAYS
dissatisfying and producing suffering continuously. Meeting each moment with understanding is the release we
need into a much larger perspective.
It is a very radical notion, especially when you demonize the enemy,
that all human beings are exactly Buddha and that I am exactly Buddha. How can we understand this below the
Katagiri Roshi also wrote that we can trust a “step by step”
Each step we take must
be stable and connected.
writes, “All we have to do is just
live. Take one step, and that one
step must be stable. This means,
after using your consciousness with your best effort, then act,
wholeheartedly. All things are
completely melted into this one step.
One step after another step is called Right Faith or Imperturbability.”
I live near farmers (most of them are from a different
political tribe then me). I don’t
want to hate my neighbors. I don’t
want to live a life of fear and hatred.
To me that is not a Buddhist life.
But what I want to say about my farmer neighbors is that they often show
me how to have faith. Some years,
if the conditions aren’t good; too
much rain, an early snowstorm, too much wind etc, they lose their whole
crop. But that doesn’t stop them
in the next season, doing it all over again - tilling the soil and planting the
seed. They have a continuing hope, that this year there will be a harvest.
Tonglen is not an easy practice even in the best of
times. It asks you to be willing
to hold the uncomfortable truth of suffering on the inhale and to demonstrate
your faith on the exhale. It
is particularly difficult when you may be paralyzed by your own fears and
angers. Can I face what that fear
or anger feels like within my own body and mind?
What helps is to think about the two kinds of
Bodhicitta: aspiring bodhicitta
and entering bodhicitta. If I
don’t have the strength and inner stability to really receive the suffering
that is occurring, I can aspire to receive it. Which for me is strengthening my loving-kindness practice,
strengthening my ability to see my neighbor as myself, strengthening my ability
to be stable in the middle of a lot of discomfort. With an aspiring practice we might work on this within
formal sitting times, or we may start with smaller areas of difficulty and
pain. We can work up to doing the
“hardest, most painful condition”.
With Entering bodhicitta, our practice is strong enough to
take it into action. Which might
look like doing tonglen for my enemies, or taking a political action without
hatred and rage. From my point of
view, this is definitely what the world needs, political action that comes from
clarity, strength, and kindness.
Work on your loving-kindness practices or tonglen with the “Line
of Opening up the Practice”:
less difficult practices in the progression:
Begin with yourself (which perhaps is not easy)
Benefactor, a person for whom you feel
uncomplicated sincere gratitude
Good friends, intimate friends, and family
Then, when you feel stronger, enter
into these practices
An enemy or difficult person
Groups of people, this is called “dissolving the
of different races or ethnicities
different groups and notice mindfully how you react when you try to send them
kind, healing energy or do tonglen for them.
Finally you can close with
Doing the practice towards all beings throughout
As I have already said, this is not an easy practice and
perhaps you have to build up to it.
I think these aspiring bodhicitta actions will help when we want to make
entering actions. What is the next
“step by step” action we can do that comes from love or wholesomeness? Our political actions can become clear,
straightforward and strong, if we are not blinded by our own hatred, aversion
Labels: buddhist Faith, Katagiri Roshi, post election buddhist practice, practicing with difficulties, Right Faith, Tonglen, Trust in Buddhism