Filed in Family, Tibetan

Family Practice

Lama John Makransky

Wisdom Collection

To access the content within the Wisdom Collection,
join Tricycle as a Supporting or Sustaining Member

I’d been away on a silent retreat for several weeks. We’d engaged in a Dzogchen preliminary practice of self-inquiry in which one asks, “Who is meditating? Who, what is aware?” By retreat’s end, wondering how my family was doing, I called home.

Jonathan, who was three at the time, answered the phone.

“Daddy!” he said, excited.

“Yes.”

“WHO are you?”

I was stunned; my mind stopped. Jonathan giggled. “Just teasing, Daddy!”

Tibetan heart-mind training translates ordinary thoughts and feelings into fuel for the path. These practices redirect clinging and suffering into compassion; these practices empower mind to disclose its innate openness.

Family can act as a charged arena within which all such ordinary thoughts and feelings, clinging and suffering can arise. And the family is an intimate matrix for the exchange of self and other, the heart of training. Shantideva, the eighth-century father of this practice, wrote: “All the joy in the world comes from the wish for others’ happiness. . . . Whoever wants to protect self and others should practice the great mystery: exchanging self for others.” The instant we perform Shantideva’s exchange, infusing others around us with our sense of self, sensing them as the very focus of our “self”-concern, we find relief from our suffering, our self-obsession. The “mystery” is really something simple, accessible: it is the key to all our well-being, our deepest freedom.

It’s good to first practice this exchange when alone for short periods: bring family members to mind, one by one. Allow your own sense of self, your most intimate self-concern, to arise within each of them. A natural wish for their happiness as one’s very “self” accompanies the shift. Radiate well-being and happiness to them from the heart. Secretly explore taking their suffering, worries, anxieties into yourself, and allow all this to dissolve completely into the empty ground of your being.

Do this privately, secretly in daily practice. Feel its quiet power, the natural joy it elicits. Little by little let this secret exchange exercise itself in the bustle of family life. When you pick up your children from school, or when you do homework together, or play: exchange self for other. Take their subtle suffering, worries, anxieties into your empty nature and radiate your deepest well-being into them as if they were your very self. Allow the practice to naturally extend itself to neighbors, coworkers, all whom you pass on the highway, all who come to notice in the newspaper and evening news. Gradually, our practice senses them through the heart in just the way it has sensed our family: no difference.

As we privately learn to do this practice with increasing rigor and continuity, family life itself transforms into training center, into multi-year “retreat”: quietly, dharma communicates its own deep curriculum to us, our loved ones, and others . . .

Share with a Friend

Email to a Friend

Already a member? Log in to share this content.

You must be a Tricycle Community member to use this feature.

1. Join as a Basic Member

Signing up to Tricycle newsletters will enroll you as a free Tricycle Basic Member.You can opt out of our emails at any time from your account screen.

2. Enter Your Message Details

Enter multiple email addresses on separate lines or separate them with commas.

Become a Supporting Member

*With Autorenew

  • You Get
  • Tricycle | The Magazine - a one-year subscription to premier Buddhist quarterly
  • Tricycle Retreats - a new online video teaching every every week by a contemporary Buddhist teacher
  • Tricycle | The Digital Edition - web based edition of the magazine
  • The Wisdom Collection - nearly two decades of teachings by the world's most compelling teachers, from the pages of Tricycle
  • Tricycle Gallery - the best in Buddhist art to download and share with friends
  • Tricycle Book Club - online discussions with leading Buddhist authors
  • Tricycle Discussions - teacher-led explorations of dharma in daily life
  • The Tricycle Blog - our diary of the global Buddhist movement
  • Daily Dharma - heart advice delivered direct to your inbox
  • The Tricycle Newsletter - the latest news, teachings, events, and more, every Monday

Become a Supporting Member

Become a Sustaining Member

*With Autorenew

  • You Get
  • Tricycle | The Magazine - a one-year subscription to premier Buddhist quarterly
  • Tricycle Retreats - a new online video teaching every every week by a contemporary Buddhist teacher
  • Tricycle | The Digital Edition - web based edition of the magazine
  • The Wisdom Collection - nearly two decades of teachings by the world's most compelling teachers, from the pages of Tricycle
  • Tricycle Gallery - the best in Buddhist art to download and share with friends
  • Tricycle Book Club - online discussions with leading Buddhist authors
  • Tricycle Discussions - teacher-led explorations of dharma in daily life
  • The Tricycle Blog - our diary of the global Buddhist movement
  • Daily Dharma - heart advice delivered direct to your inbox
  • The Tricycle Newsletter - the latest news, teachings, events, and more, every Monday

Become a Sustaining Member