Lyme Liturgy Series 5: Main Practice, Sending and Taking Part 1

The Main Practice, Taking and Sending

Feeling the mother cervical soft spot of kindness, warmth and tender sadness
Touching the raw, naked heart of any feelings, moods or sensations, just as they are, right now…

[Short pause to quickly touch into the feeling heart. Then slowly chant:]

First, with tender-hearted care and calm deliberation, gently and firmly guide the mind
Into riding the regular, alternating furrows of breathing in and breathing out
Softly, gently, barely-there breezes glowing the embers of a silent fire.

Second, on the inbreath absorb constriction, closing – “hot, black, heavy;”
On the outbreath emanate expansion, opening – “cool, white, light.”

Third, starting within the self, then gradually accommodating room, house, neighbourhood
Town, country, continent and beyond, with all numberless sentient beings therein;
This expansive spaciousness gradually establishes a living Cathedral of Sacred Presence
Emanating blazing Awakened Heart Bodhichitta to all sentient beings in the six directions
Seated as gently smiling Monarch on Golden Throne
Kind, luminous, wise, compassionate, noble.

[Practice these three phases of Accommodating and Emanating until expansively spacious.]

Commentary

This section could easily elicit a book-length commentary but we will keep it short. The text is carefully written and in fact gives all instructions needed although it might take a little while for the practitioner to pick up on it. This initial commentary provides a good start. What is involved is far simpler in practice than it is in explanation so this commentary, like the text, emphasizes just explaining what it is that needs to be done and then experience itself will be the teacher in terms of learning to unpack all the many lessons and benefits it may afford the practitioner.

The Title: The Main Practice, Sending and Taking
Main Practice means that this is a meditation practice, differentiating it from the previous sections which were all simple chanting just to get prepared. Note how this practice section is much shorter. This is because the text is really just a series of instructions rather than any flowery contemplation.
Sending and Taking is the translation of Tong-Len which is an old variation of meditation practice developed about a thousand years ago, part of a series of teachings known as Lojong or Mind Training, the idea being that, a little like gymnastics or weight-lifting for example, we can actually train our mind to go in certain directions and/or develop certain skills. Some texts call this technique ‘reversal meditation’ the idea being to reverse the habitual tendencies we have to turn all experience into building up self, or being self obsessed and rather train to make it more about other. The text recommends several phases starting with an initial touch-in:


Feeling the mother cervical soft spot of kindness, warmth and tender sadness
Touching the raw, naked heart of any feelings, moods or sensations, just as they are, right now…


[Short pause to quickly touch into the feeling heart. Then slowly chant:]

Commentary

This short initial section is just to help us switch gears from chanting to practising, in this case going from being rather verbal and a little intellectual to entering a feeling mode. Indeed, the entire sending-taking technique emphasizes feeling, so touchy-feely types tend to enjoy it a lot!
The idea is to stop for a second and feel. The language gives some hint as to how to do it, the notion of cervix being something tender, deep inside, vulnerable, feminine, mothering, personal.
Touching the raw, naked heart of any feelings, moods or sensations, just as they are, right now…
No matter what is going on if we just stop for a second or two there is some sort of feeling going on. It’s a bit like the hum of a refrigerator or the background chatter of birdsong or traffic except in this case it is inside. We are in some sort of a mood, or maybe there is a heavy feeling in the chest, or a headache, or a sense of weariness, or depression, or delight, or anxiety. The words don’t matter, just touching into whatever feeling tone there is. This need take no more than a second or two; don’t think, just do it!

First, with tender-hearted care and calm deliberation, gently and firmly guide the mind
Into riding the regular, alternating furrows of breathing in and breathing out
Softly, gently, barely-there breezes glowing the embers of a silent fire.

Now begins the actual practice except this is preliminary to the actual sending and taking technique. Before we do the latter we need to establish some sense of steady mindfulness, being able to place our mind somewhere and relax with that. So this is an initial mindfulness training session in this case using the breath as object. There are hundreds of different Buddhist and other lineage meditation techniques and the following is not being presented as the only or best. It just fits best with the sending and taking which it is preparing us for. So we follow or feel or pay attention to the inbreath and outbreath, simply tuning into a natural process that is ongoing as we sit quietly in our room or garden, preferably alone and with no distractions.
First, with tender-hearted care and calm deliberation, gently and firmly guide the mind
The tender-hearted care refers back to the naked heart touch-in done before chanting this line, so it is reminding us to bring our feelings into this not only our heads. At the same time we exercise calm deliberation meaning that we are now beginning this practice and deliberately so, moreover will gently and firmly guide the mind in so doing into riding the regular, alternating furrows of breathing in and breathing out.


So we are going to ride the regular alternating furrows of breathing in and breathing out. The breathing is ongoing naturally so all we have to do is pay attention to it and let our mind follow this natural in and out process, forward and backward, a naturally repeating phenomenon.

Volumes have and will continue to be written about meditation of which there are many types. This is a simple mindfulness or placing the mind exercise. Before we can see something clearly we have to focus. Before we can achieve a goal we must see it. Before we can play a musical instrument we have to learn certain basics and become familiar with them. Simply put, before we can do sending and taking meditation which need to gently and firmly guide the mind into riding the regular, alternating furrows of breathing in and breathing out.

There will be a later ‘How to’ section at the end of this commentary with a few tips and tricks but really all you need to know is in the lines themselves already.

Second, on the inbreath absorb constriction, closing – “hot, black, heavy;”
On the outbreath emanate expansion, opening – “cool, white, light.”

Now we come to the actual tong-len sending-taking practice. The “hot, black, heavy” and “cool, white, light” are the feeling tones involved. They are in inverted commas because these were the terms my teacher used the first time he gave instruction for this technique. Basically, on the inbreath we absorb negativity and on the outbreath we emanate positivity. Usually we like to repel negativity and absorb positivity, here we are reversing those habitual tendencies nearly all of us instinctively exercise moment to moment and day to day all life long.


It all starts with feeling. If you can feel a sense of negativity (hinted at by the words ‘hot, black, heavy’) then you can easily switch around to their opposites (hinted at by the words ‘cool, white, light’). Let us say you are feeling terribly tired and depressed on this particular day because once again you only got two hours sleep despite taking CBD oil and camomile tea and all the rest of it. Well, that is a feeling tone, so you just go with it; feel how tired you are, how sluggish the muscles, so many aches and pains, the headache, the emotional sense of despair tinged with looming insanity that insomnia always brings, there is your ‘hot, black heavy’ feeling. No need to analyze each different element just take the whole thing as some sort of hot, black fog and breath it in, take it in, feel it completely without holding back.
And then simply breath out the opposite which is a sense of lightness, relief, clarity. Not with the words, but the feeling. We have already established some sort of deliberate fashion to the breathing because we have been following the regularly alternating furrows of breathing in and breathing out. That regular alternation doesn’t change even as we allow more feelings to come into the process. So we breath in the negatives and breath out the positives in a slow, smooth, deliberate, calm, gentle fashion. That’s sending and taking or reversal meditation.

Third, starting within the self, then gradually accommodating room, house, neighbourhood
Town, country, continent and beyond, with all numberless sentient beings therein;
This expansive spaciousness gradually establishes a living Cathedral of Sacred Presence
Emanating blazing Awakened Heart Bodhichitta to all sentient beings in the six directions
Seated as gently smiling Monarch on Golden Throne
Kind, luminous, wise, compassionate, noble.

There are two aspects to this third section, namely a space awareness element and a self visualisation element. The first space awareness element goes as follows and once you understand the following the text will make better sense. As you are doing tong-len, at first you are self absorbed in that you are working with your own set of self-existing feelings. Now in the process of doing the practice it nearly always happens that the feelings go through changes, each breath involving slightly different ones from the one before. This is natural. No problem. But now we introduce another level, namely to include more than just ourselves in the practice. This involves a certain amount of imagination. So from yourself alone, now include the atmosphere in the whole room around you. Once you are used to including that immediate external atmosphere in your mandalic field of feelings, you then expand to gradually accommodate room, house, neighbourhood town, country, continent and beyond, with all numberless sentient beings therein pausing at each phase. It could be that lots is going on in our neighbourhood and there is so much to work with that you don’t feel inspired to include the town and country and all the rest of it. Fine, just stop there. But at some point you will feel that you have done enough of this – usually anywhere from 3 – 10 minutes or longer – and then even if you have paused at the house or neighbourhood level you still expand out to include something far larger and rest at that level, still following the regular alternating furrows of breathing in and breathing out with negative and positive feelings respectively but now including a large space in that process.
In the How-To section which follows there is a note about different ways of expanding the space as in dealing with particular situations such as family or place-related dynamics.

The second element in this section now kicks in naturally in that you have the feeling that this expanded space feels a bit like being in a cathedral or any other large sacred space. The rest of the text is self-explanatory except for one specific term. The language is a bit flowery here to give a sense of what is being described but the experience is quite ordinary, although often it is very pleasant, even surprising, to feel such spaciousness especially if one has been constricted to very painful, claustrophobic feelings and states because of various vicissitudes, especially those involving chronic disease which this text is specifically designed to address. This spaciousness may bring along feelings of heightened awareness, more vivid sense perceptions, the body feeling less bruised and achy but there is no excitement to any of it, rather spacious calm which is what happens when you absorb the negative and switch to the positive. There is no holding onto either side and the result is some sort of spaciousness that comes from letting go.

Bodhichitta: as with the words Buddha and Buddha Fields perhaps other terms could have been used. For example instead of Buddha we could say ‘enlightened being’ or ‘wise being.’ Instead of Buddha Fields we could say ‘enlightened mandala’ or ‘enlightened atmosphere.’ Instead of ‘Bodhichitta’ we could say ‘enlightened heart and mind’ or ‘awake heart-mind’ because that is what it means. Bodhi means awake and chitta means mind, heart and spirit all rolled into one. It’s not the intellectual mind, it’s not the emotional heart, and spirit is not a ghost but spiritual essence including life force presence. We don’t really have a word in English for all this, though perhaps ‘heart’ sums it up best so we could just drop the word Bodhichitta from the text and say simply Emanating blazing Awakened Heart to all sentient beings in the six directions so if you feel uncomfortable with Bodhichitta just drop it. However, since dropping Buddha and Buddha Fields and in the next line Bodhisattva loses some of the intended sense because English lacks equivalents, the text also here includes Bodhichitta because it is the technical term for the sort of heartfelt awareness and presence that this tong-len practice, especially this expanded aspect of it, engenders.
The text then gives the instruction to practice these three phases of Accommodating and Emanating until expansively spacious after which we will move onto a mantra practice section which involves both stabilizing and relaxing what has been developed by the formal tong-len breath-based practice.

This will be the subject of the next post in this series.

Published by The Baron

Retired non-profit administrator.

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