Introducing a three part series on meditations that open oneself to a deep, inner radiance.
We are always looking for something greater in this life but how do we truly reach into ourselves, interact harmoniously with others, and introduce freshness into our experiences? In this three part series we unpack the transformational qualities of three beautiful Mahayana meditations: Tonglen, The Four Immeasurables, and The Six Paramitas. These practices are the heart of the “Mahayana” Buddhist tradition, which at the core are focused on how we can be of benefit to others. These practices will be taught in the Mahayana Retreat at Tara Mandala on June 27 to July 4, by Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo & Pieter Oosthuizen.
With the practices of Tonglen, The Four Immeasurables, and The Six Paramitas, we gain an insight into ancient wisdom while learning simple daily tools that make any situation an opportunity for transformation and compassion. Why are they important? In the Mahayana tradition, we aspire to cultivate a “vast view and an open heart,” so we can live in equanimity and peace. “Mahayana” means “the great vehicle,” and now more than ever, the world will benefit greatly from integrating these practical teachings of this beautiful Buddhist path. We begin this series with Tonglen.
Tonglen was introduced to larger Western audiences through Pema Chödrön’s best-selling book “When Things Fall Apart.” Her description of the practice was about softly touching the open wounded heart. The very sensitive part of our heart that recoils due to resistance, fear, doubt, grasping and even hope, is continually building armor around itself. These layers of protection can work against us, instilling deep levels of disconnectedness. This is something that we all experience as human beings. Yet, this very experience is what gives us the awareness and wisdom to transform our difficulties into empathy and love by simply being present. Tonglen is a classic meditation technique to transform pain into joy and spaciousness. While we start this practice for ourselves, we quickly move to doing Tonglen for the benefit of all beings. We embody the bodhisattva, which is to set an intention and aspiration to relieve all beings from suffering, putting their enlightenment before ourselves. The concepts of the bodhisattva and bodhicitta (“awakened heart”) are fundamental to Mahayana Buddhism.
“The important thing is to break this separation between ourselves and others. We all have this separation, and it is our primary delusion. It’s a very radical practice, and if we do it from our heart, it transforms us.” ~ Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, from her book Reflections On A Mountain Lake.
With Tonglen, we have the power to be present with the open wounded heart that lies beneath all of us. From this place in our heart, we can roll back the waves of pain and rest in an infinite ocean of interconnectedness. We do this with the qualities of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity, and with the quantity of boundlessness. This revolutionary practice is called The Four Immeasurables, a core “Mahayana”, or “great vehicle,” meditation.
Where Tonglen may be challenging to some, The Four Immeasurables offers us easy access to expansiveness. While Tonglen provokes an instant activity, The Four Immeasurables takes time to settle in our oft-times limited conceptual minds. And this is its very purpose. When meditating on love, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity, we are lifting the limits of our day to day capacities. The added magic of the fourth immeasurable, equanimity, is that it supports balance of the previous three, while also allowing them to spread boundlessly. Equanimity requires disciplining oneself to sincerely wish for relief of suffering for all beings, not just those that we like or our relations. This practice supports the Mahayana philosophy that “all beings have been our mothers in another life,” and dissolves away our clinging to good and bad, love and hate, and hope and fear. Like Tonglen, this practice allows us to truly embody the bodhisattva, which is to set an intention to put the well-being of others before ourselves.
“The bodhisattva aspiration leads us to enlightenment, to the fullness of wisdom and compassion, so that we may be of eternal benefit to others. It is a most profound aspiration. One aspires to be a bodhisattva not in order to reach out for the bliss of paradise, heaven, or any kind of pure land, but rather to come back, again and again, in whatever form that will be of benefit to others…” ~ Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, from her book Into The Heart Of Life.
Through practicing The Four Immeasurables, we cultivate boundlessness, and the aspiration to benefit all beings. With this boundless motivation, our activities and the virtue that supports them are “perfected” with The Six Paramitas, or “six perfections.” We find daily life has infinite opportunity to joyfully practice the perfections. We gradually see that in every moment we are continually “giving birth to Buddha nature,” which is the pristine view cultivated in Mahayana Buddhism.
Have you ever heard someone say that you have “gone above and beyond?” There is a good feeling in helping a little more than expected, and this is the same for adopting The Six Paramitas in your life. Paramita means “to go beyond,” which is to say that practicing the paramitas is to embody the bodhisattva, and go beyond self-centeredness.
What are the six paramitas? They are: generosity, morality, patience, enthusiastic effort, meditation, and wisdom. The first three help perfect one’s virtue, while the second three refer to one’s discipline. They all support each other, with a strong focus on the sixth, wisdom. Wisdom is also referred to as prajna, which means an awareness that is unobscured and continuous. It is the ultimate and final perfection, and gets us to that place of being simply present with life. To everyday practitioners this may seem impossible, but it can truly be understood and experienced through cultivating the other five perfections. We are familiar with the popular term “mindfulness,” which is another term for the fifth perfection – meditation. Mindfulness practice is promoted through almost all industries these days, but what elevates this practice to develop a peaceful and meaningful life, is to integrate it with these five other secret ingredients. Practicing the six parimitas is one of many complete pathways in Mahayana Buddhism.
“The Buddha said that mindfulness was like salt in curries. In other words, it is what gives taste to everything that we do. It brings everything alive, because it is as though we are doing it for the first time. The world becomes vivid and clear…This quality of mindfulness is very important in developing the spiritual qualities of our daily lives. And it is something which we can all cultivate during the day and night.” ~ Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, from her book Into The Heart Of Life.
We hope you enjoyed this series on “Being Beautifully Human” and have a deeper appreciation for the richness of the Mahayana tradition. At the Mahayana retreat this Summer we will learn these practical tools for transformation, while integrating ancient wisdom that alleviates the suffering of ourselves and all beings.
Below, read more about the upcoming Mahayana Retreat and teachers, and we look forward to welcoming you to Tara Mandala.
~ With Blessings, Tara Mandala
About The Retreat
With Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo and Pieter Oosthuizen
June 27 – July 4, 2018
This retreat will explore new developments that took place during the Mahayana period such as the Prajnaparamita Sutra, Madhyamaka and Yogacara philosophies, Buddha Nature, and the greater emphasis on compassionate motivation. Meditations on Tonglen, the Four Immeasurables, and the Six Paramitas will also be taught. We are excited to announce that this year, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo will join us for three days of teachings to offer a commentary on Atisha’s “The Bodhisattva’s Garland of Jewels,” one of Atisha’s most well-known texts on Lojong (Mind-Training) More →
About The Teachers
Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo was raised in London. In 1964, aged 20, she traveled to India to pursue her spiritual path and met her Teacher, His Eminence the 8th Khamtrul Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist Lama. She became one of the first Westerners to ordain as a Tibetan Buddhist nun. The inspiring story of her life, including 12 years of secluded retreat in a Himalayan cave, is the subject of the biography, Cave in the Snow. A popular Buddhist teacher, she presents the Dharma in an accessible manner … More → | Register Now
Pieter Oosthuizen is a teacher and entrepreneur and a long-time student of Tibetan Buddhism. He has been teaching various practices and retreats in Lama Tsultrim’s lineage in the US and abroad since 2006, offering a blend of incisive insight and genuine compassion. He co-leads the Boulder Tara Mandala Sangha with his wife, Lopön Charlotte Rotterdam … More →