IN THE TONGLEN PRACTICE OF giving and receiving, we take on, through compassion, all the various mental and physical sufferings of all beings; their fear, frustration, pain, anger, guilt, bitterness, doubt, and rage, and we give them, through love, all our happiness and well-being, peace of mind, healing, and fulfillment.
TONGLEN FOR A DYING PERSON
Now I think you can begin to see how Tonglen could be directed specifically toward helping the dying, how much strength and confidence it could give you when you come to help them, and how much actual, transforming help it could offer them.
I have given you the main Tonglen practice. Imagine now, in the place of your friend in pain, the person who is dying. Go through exactly the same stages as in the main Tonglen. In the visualization in part three, imagine every aspect of the dying person's suffering and fear gathering into the mass of hot, black, grimy smoke, which you then breathe in; and consider too that by so doing, as before, you are destroying your self-grasping and self-cherishing, and purifying all your negative karma.
Now, as before, imagine, as you are breathing out, the light of the heart of your enlightened mind is filling the dying person with its peace and well-being, and purifying all his or her negative karma.
At every moment in our lives we need compassion, but what more urgent moment than when we are dying? What more wonderful and consoling gift could you give to the dying than the knowledge that they are being prayed for, and that you are taking on their suffering and purifying their negative karma?
Even if they don't know that you are practicing for them, you are helping them and in turn they are helping you. They are actively helping you to develop your compassion, and so purify and heal yourself. For me, every dying person is a teacher, giving all those who help a chance to transform themselves through developing their compassion.
Sogyal Rinpoche is spiritual director of Rigpa, an international network of Buddhist centers. "Tonglen" is reprinted with permission from The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (HarperSanFrancisco, 1994).