Sunday, April 12, 2009

Four-fold Process of Exchanging Self and Other

1. Equalizing Self and Other
2. Contemplating the Limits of Self-Preoccupation
3. Contemplating the Benefits of Altruism
4. Exchanging Self and Other


1. Equalizing Self and Other
All living beings want happiness and wish avoid suffering.
Ultimately there is no real difference between myself and others.
From our DNA all the way up to our basic psychology, when the surface "differences" are analyzed not much distinction between living beings can be found.

2. The limits of Self-preoccupation
All suffering comes from I, me, mine.
The most fundamental misperception is our separateness into "self" and "other", which leads to clinging/attachment to objects that are "mine" and aversion/aggression when the "I" is threatened or unsatisfied.
While fight-flight, self-protection, is innate to our biology, so to is love-growth, social instinct, empathy and care, which were essential in the evolution as mammals and human beings. We can override our evolutionary animal instinct of self-protection and develop out mammalian love-growth instinct of cooperation. The Tibetan word for Buddha, Sangye, actually means eliminate/cultivate as in to completely eliminate negative qualities and completely cultivate positive ones.

3. The Benefits of Altruism
All joy and success is a result of the care and concern we received from another living being.
Everything you've learned, every moment of happiness you've experience, every opportunity for growth that has arisen, has done so in relation to, and through the kindness of, other living beings.
The social instict for love and care is our highest evolutionary potential.
Once we intuitively experience no distinction between ourselves and others, than care and compassion are effortless and spontaneous. Like a hand that moves away from the fire when one finger is burned, a mother too acts selflessly and automatically, not perceiving any distinction, when her child in in danger.
Ultimately kindness, care and the connection they produce feel good, provide meaning and lead to true happiness.

4. Exchanging Self and Other
Exchanging self and other is a process of deep empathy, of reconnecting ourselves with others, by dissolving the misperception of separateness.
Empathy for others has a two fold benifit: First, it connects us to people when they are suffering, so from thier side they feel more safe and cared for; and, two, from our side, it reverses and dissolves our own self-habit or instinctual self-preoccupation, the root of suffering and alienation.
When people feel safe, cared for and connected, they are free to achieve their highest potential; therefore love is essential in optimizing the social ethos and bonds between beings.
Seeing things from another persons perspective is "freeing", it loosens our automatic and ridged view of the world and situation and people from our own side. This is why therapy can be helpful, because the relationship acts as an opportunity for a patient to see things from outside the prison of their misperception.

Meditation on Giving and Taking (Tonglen):

• As usual begin with aspiration, particularly the altruistic aspiration to achieve freedom for the benefits of others.
• Do some breathing meditation to settle the mind.
• Select a loved one, neutral one, difficult person, or group of people, to visualize and contemplate upon.
• Reflect on their current experience of suffering.
• Imagine taking on their suffering, in the form of a black smoke mounted on your in-breath.
• Imagine that this black smoke dissolves your own self-habit at the center of your heart.
• Imagine that you are capable of metabolizing negativity, like a good parent who can tolerate the tantrum and trauma of a child.
• Allow your empathy for the suffering of the other to arouse love and compassion.
• Imagine sending love and care to the other in the form of white light mounted upon your out-breath.
• Imagine that they receive this care and that it purifies the destructive self-habit at their heart.
• Imagine that through care both you and the other are freed from the self-habit, the root cause of suffering. Rejoice in this activity.
• Continue giving and taking.
• Dedicate the positive energy to the welfare and liberation (from the self-habit) of all living beings.

The meditation on giving and taking is not a mystical practice that heals others from afar. It works primarily on your mind to: 1) reverse the automatic pattern of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, and 2) dissolving the inner terrorist, the self-habit, at the root of suffering. With a mind firmly rooted in compassion our experience and exchanges and with other living beings in the world inevitably transforms for the better.

More on Giving and Taking (Tonglen):

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