There are many breathing meditations, and one popular version involves breathing out our disturbing thoughts, distractions, problems etc. in the form of thick smoke and breathing into our heart happiness and blessings in the form of light.*
I find it can be very useful to target this breathing meditation against specific delusions or problems that I’m having, and to breathe in their opponent positive state of mind. It works for any delusion, eg, love vs hatred, renunciation vs attachment, rejoicing vs jealousy. I’ll explain one way I do below, here based on reducing our miserliness and increasing our generosity, its opposite, just in time for the holidays …
First I remind myself that delusions are just thoughts, they have no arms or legs as Shantideva points out, so only harm me insofar as I insist on thinking them, following them, buying into them. All our thoughts arise from the blissful clarity of our own mental awareness, but some are based on inappropriate attention whereas others are more realistic and therefore conducive to mental health and happiness. With some effort, the habitual miserly thoughts that cause us pain can change into other, more generous thoughts, which are their opponent — like light cancelling out darkness in so far as you cannot have a miserly thought about something and a generous thought about it at the same time. Anyone who is reading this can do this because our minds can change completely, we can learn to think thoughts of our own choosing.
To begin with, and here is where breathing meditation comes in handy, we sometimes just need the wisdom to know that we can first accept and then let go of our thoughts rather than perpetually having to fight or grapple with them.
Also, as always when training the mind, we must identify with our potential and not with being miserly – “Hey, I’m a stingy b****, but I’m trying to practice giving here”, as we offer someone the last slice of pizza – this feels unnatural, it doesn’t take. The example of quitting smoking might be helpful here.
(1) Relax, sit in a good posture with your back straight but not rigid, your shoulders level but relaxed, your mouth lightly closed, and your eyes either lightly closed or slightly open. My feeling is that these days we can just as well sit in chairs to meditate effectively because we grew up on chairs – so, if you find it difficult to get into a full lotus posture, don’t panic, you didn’t start out in life sitting this way at your mother’s knees (unlike Indians and Tibetans in the old days) and it is not essential for gaining realizations. (Geshe Kelsang has even said we can get enlightened in an armchair!) The main thing is to stay upright so as to stay alert. Focus on how you’re sitting, come into the present moment, forget about everything else.
(2) Drop from your head to your heart. Immediately distractions will diminish and you’ll sense the spaciousness and peace of your Buddha nature. Just drop your awareness, your center of gravity. Don’t think about it. We can do all our meditations from this vantage point and it makes them a lot better.
(3) To overcome distractions focused outward, now think that that everything outside the room melts into light and disappears, including the past and the future — what you did today and what you have planned for tomorrow. Then the walls of the room melt into light and disappear. Then everything inside the room, outside of your body, melts into light and disappears.
(4) All that remains is your body, suspended in empty space. To relax and unwind your body, first become aware of any tension, tightness, pain, or heaviness starting at your crown and working your way down to your feet. Are your shoulders tense, for example? Are your hands tense? (often a good indicator of whether the rest of you is). Think, “I don’t have to hold onto all this accumulated physical stress”, and drop it, like dropping heavy luggage. Every muscle relaxes, and your body melts into light so that just its merest outline remains.
(5) You think, “My body is hollow, made of light, as if I could pass my hand through it without obstruction. It is as weightless as a feather. It is so comfortable that I’m hardly even aware that it is there.” Enjoy this deep physical relaxation for a little while.
(6) Now you can relax and unwind the mind with breathing meditation. Remember you’re in your heart. Identify any miserly thoughts you’ve been having eg, ignoring the homeless guy, not wanting to share your possessions or your time or your friends, and remember some of the faults of hanging onto these thoughts (see this article.)
(7) Let these take the form of thick heavy smoke and breathe them out through your nostrils. They vanish into space, never to return. With every outbreath you feel lighter and more peaceful. Do this for as long as you want with conviction and concentration.
(8) Now imagine that all around the outline of your body is the most blissful sphere of light, the most beautiful light you can imagine. In aspect it is light, but its nature is all the peace, love and generosity from throughout the universe, including all the blessings and inspiration of all holy beings. Wherever it touches your body, you experience bliss.
(9) Breathe this clear light into your heart, where it joins the inner light of your Buddha nature. Ride the light into your heart.
(10) Focusing on the peace at your heart, think, “Whatever peace I am feeling, however slight, indicates my potential for lasting peace. Whatever generosity I am feeling is my potential to be totally open-hearted, like a Buddha. This is me.”
(11) This light radiates like a sun shining inside. It spreads out until it dissolves my body. Then it spreads out further to reach the clear light in the hearts of those around me, whether physically close or mentally close as in my family, friends, pets, etc. It activates their Buddha nature and they become blissfully happy, generous, etc.
(12) As an addition, I sometimes think that once I have fully realized this potential and ripened my Buddha nature, I will be a fully enlightened being, like Buddha, who is now sitting in front of me. Understanding that faith in Buddha necessitates faith in my own enlightened potential, and that we’ve always had this connection, I recite the Liberating Prayer as a request for more blessings.
(13) Any feeling of peace we experience during this meditation and in general is the same as Buddha’s blessings, not separate. On this point, I have decided to share here as the second half of this article a beautiful, helpful comment that someone left on this blog some time ago. Please keep reading below if you’re interested.
*I personally don’t use the terms “black” smoke and “white” light as I feel in our modern culture that these can actually sound racist, whereas they were just colors back in Tibet. And as these are symbolic of our negative and positive thoughts, I think they perhaps could be any colored smoke or light. For me, thick heavy smoke and clear light (in fact the most beautiful light I can imagine) works better. But if black and white works for you, go for it.
What’s the relationship between blessings and inner peace?
Venerable Geshe Kelsang has said that the function of Buddha is to bestow blessings continuously upon living beings and cause them to experience inner peace. Often I take these words superficially without relating them to my daily experience; but on those rare occasions when I do …
My experience of peace now, at this time, is arising from the blessings or inspiration of holy beings affecting my mind here and now!!! …
… a completely new world opens up before me.
Such a difference between words to the ear understood by the intellect, and wisdom from the spiritual guide experienced, even just for a moment, within daily life.
A beautiful piece of advice that Kadam Morten gave in the New York Festival was to learn to recognise the presence of blessings in our lives. Whenever we experience some degree of inner peace, we should recognise that experience as moments of blessing, to enjoy those moments with an understanding of the deep and close connection we have with enlightened beings. As he said (according to my recollection, so please forgive mistakes):
When you experience inner peace, right there is your Buddha nature, right there is Buddha and Buddha’s blessings.
Often when we experience some inner peace (and I can only speak for myself) we can easily take these moments for granted and let them pass without noticing what is actually happening. When those fleeting moments pass and the clouds of disturbing conceptions have rolled back, covering the pure inner sky of our mind, we are once more unhappy and wondering where we can go to, what can we hold on to or push ourselves away from to return to that pure space. When the mind is peaceful – and thus blessed – it is easy to feel connected to holy beings and develop our relationship with them. By contrast – again I speak for myself – when the mind has no peace it is hard to develop faith in, or even remember, our connection with Buddhas and their unobstructed power to bless and transform our mind. The instinct is to immediately search outside the mind… and so journey further into suffering.
To me this shows a lack of deep understanding of where peace and happiness really come from. We need to take Geshe-la’s teaching to heart – to develop a deep understanding and belief in the non-deceptive dependent relationship between Buddhas’ blessings and our own inner experience of peace and happiness.
The more I think about this dependent relationship and, more importantly, the more I learn to experience it in daily life, the more I start to realise that we are not the independent entities we normally perceive – unrelated to, and separate from, everything else in the universe. Normally it feels like our state of mind just is what it is, from its own side, existing as a discreet entity whose qualities of peace or disturbance do not come from anywhere but are simply inherent characteristics of our mind itself. However this feeling is mistaken. Just as a rainbow arises entirely from the gathering of different necessary conditions and cannot be separate from them, so our peaceful mind arises from the blessings of Buddha.
For me, learning to let go of my sense of independence and separateness goes hand in hand with learning to become more open and receptive to blessings. While on the one hand we long to feel more connected to Buddhas and be nourished by their blessings, our grasping at an independent self creates the illusion of a big gap between our self and these beings, undermining our receptivity. Our mind that we wish to change feels “in here” while Buddhas and their benevolent power seem “out there”. These two, which we yearn to experience as deeply related and connected, are held by our ignorance to be truly separate, different, unrelated. While we try to feel ever closer to our Spiritual Guide and develop powerful faith so as to receive the blessings of all the Buddhas, our inner ignorance always holds us at a distance, weakening the power of our faith. The ignorance in our heart doesn’t really believe we can change, let alone “be changed”, by the influence of a pure being so “different” and “other” to ourselves.
With faith we make sincere requests but ignorance makes it feel as if our prayers are telegraphed across a big existential gap and that blessings are received from some distant Dharmakaya or holy space.
Through contemplating the dependent relationship of our own experience of inner peace and blessings we begin to realize that we already have a deep, profound, powerful, and intimate connection with enlightened beings. That relationship is already there – we do not need to create it. But we can learn to recognize it and increase our trust and reliance upon this relationship as a dynamic and vital source of refuge and transformation.
When I recognize (on the basic level that I am able) that all that I am and all that I experience is entirely dependent on other factors, that every moment my mind and my self are being re-created and transformed by many conditions, I let go (however slightly) of my sense of existing independently, permanent, and separate. Instead I can begin to experience my self as a dependently arising be-ing, in connection with the universe and receptive to conditions of transformation. There is no real gap between myself and Buddhas, no space between my mind and their blessings. This wisdom opens the heart more and more to the blessings of our Spiritual Guide, which in turn further awaken our Buddha nature.
Likewise there is no real gap or difference between ourselves and all other living beings. We already have, right now, a profound, powerful and intimate connection with all the countless mother beings of the universe. We do not need to create this relationship. It is already there. Just by recognizing this relationship our heart begins to open with a natural, uncontrived love and compassion, through which the blessings of Buddha can pervade and transform the entire universe.