Keeping Your Heart Open in Hell: Tonglen

By Nicholas de Castella

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Introduction to Keeping Your Heart Open in Hell: Tonglen
  • Keeping your heart open when you are in Hell?
  • Tonglen
  • The Practice of Tonglen
  • The practice is as follows:
  • Tonglen is the way out of suffering.
  • Resistance causes pain, welcoming eases pain
  • What you resist controls you.
  • What you push away from you you add energy to
  • Fighting keeps us stuck
  • In welcoming it in it is no longer pain
  • Tonglen is about surrender, not a macho practice
  • Tonglen is not masochism.

Learn the alchemy true human beings know.
The moment you accept what troubles you’ve been given,
the door will open.’Rumi

Keeping your heart open when you are in Hell?

Last week in ‘What is Tantra?’ I set out the path to celebrating your life, cultivating joy and pleasure, by savouring the moment.

But what do we do when things are not going well? When we are in pain or feeling sick, when we see someone we love suffering, when we are under pressure, when things seem to be going wrong, when other people are giving us a hard time – being moody or aggressive, when we are rejected, disapproved or humiliated, or even worse, when we are contracted, up tight and giving others a hard time…?

How can we make the best of it and remain peaceful and open hearted when things are not going well? How can we best respond with compassion to others suffering?

A most powerful and liberating way of responding when there is suffering is to welcome the experience ‘in’ (like an old friend) and give back peace and love. We sometimes call this ‘Conscious Suffering’. Like many spiritual attitudes we do the opposite of what is the norm. At the centre of most Christian churches is a statue of Christ on the cross and on the wall are plaques to the suffering of the crucifixion.

“Are you nuts?” I hear you say. Yes in our culture we try to avoid discomfort, kill pain (take Pain Killers) and distance ourselves from suffering. Both our own and others. We often don’t want to get too involved in others suffering because it brings up our own

The practice of welcoming in and giving back in Buddhism is called Tonglen. It is a path that leads to compassion, peace, love and freedom. (I am most grateful to Pema Chodren for her teachings on Tonglen and I suggest if you have not heard of her you look up her website).

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