19 February 2009

Taking by Means of Compassion:
a beautiful meditation anyone can do

The following is considered an advanced spiritual practice in Mahayana Buddhism, called Taking by Means of Compassion, but it is actually quite practical and easily accomplished, on a basic level, by anyone who cares to give it a try. You don't have to be a Buddhist, or believe anything; if you just sincerely follow the instructions, it works.

Sit quietly, eyes mostly closed, completely relaxed. Don't worry about sitting cross-legged on a cushion; just sit comfortably however you can, but it's important to sit upright and keep your back straight. Take your time. Let your body really relax. For a few moments, just watch with your mind's eye the inhalation and exhalation of your breath. If your mind wanders, just gently drop the thought and return to the breath. Don't worry about it; this is natural. You may have to return again and again, but it can be relaxing, if you don't fight it. After a bit, you will begin to feel a mental peace arise. Think to yourself, I will imagine sincerely that my meditation is real, and that what I do in my meditation actually helps others. This is important; it gives your mental practice authenticity. It doesn't matter whether you intellectually believe in the power of meditation, just think this, and stick with it for the short time it takes to do this meditation.

Now, imagine some particular person, some group of people, or, if you can, all living beings, and develop compassion for them. Try to actually see them in your mind's eye. Think "how wonderful it would be if all their suffering were to end permanently." Seeing them in your mind suffering, you feel their suffering and develop a strong wish for it to end. Keep thinking this, while focusing your inner attention on them. Actually see them, and think how wonderful if they did not suffer.

Now imagine all their suffering, or maybe some particular suffering, even something as simple as a headache, and imagine that it takes the form of a dark cloud of black smoke.

Now imagine that this cloud of smoke forms a jet of dark smoke that pierces your body and fills your heart. It destroys all your negativity, selfishness, and obsessive concern with your own life, which we all have. In its place arises purity. Your body transforms into light. Feel your body is light, and that your heart is like a jewel. Imagine that the person or beings whose suffering you have taken away in the form of dark smoke are now relieved, free from suffering. They are happy. Take a moment to actually see them as happy, as not suffering. From this, a feeling of joy arises in your heart. Keep your mind focused on this feeling of joy as long as possible. This feeling of joy is the actual object, or main focus, of your meditation.

When you arise from the meditation, think, may may practice actually benefit all living beings.

This simple meditation is extremely powerful, and creates a very pure state of mind, which indirectly benefits others, and also benefits you. For example, if you yourself are suffering, this meditation will make you feel better, by refocusing your mind on others' suffering. It also creates causes for future successful spiritual practice.

Based on the practice described in Eight Steps to Happiness, by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Rinpoche (a commentary on Lojong Tsig Gyema ("Training the Mind in Eight Verses") by Bodhisattva Langri Tangpa (1054-1123)). This practice is also one of the meditations of lam rim, ("stages of the path"), taught by the great Buddhist masters Atisha (Dipankara Srijnana, called Atisha (982-1054)), and Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419); described in very practical form in Kelsang Gyatso's A New Meditation Handbook.

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