I am writing to you from Queensland where 70% of the State is severely effected by our recent torrential rains and overflowing rivers and dams. While many thousands of people throughout much of Queensland and northern New South Wales have had to abandon their houses and businesses to the flood waters, I feel so fortunate to have a relatively dry and waterproof house, situated on a high hillside that allows the water to rush past, rather than into our house.
And so the question arises, how can we help those afflicted by the devastating destruction, damage and losses of life, livelihood and property? Of course we can and should give money to aid the recovery process. However it is equally obvious that this incredible flooding has huge social and spiritual implications, as well as the obvious material losses. I feel that each of us – wherever we are in the world when we hear of this and other disasters – can help in a powerful way by opening our hearts and practicing some form of the traditional Buddhist Tonglen practice: a practice of taking in suffering and giving out love and relief from suffering.
This Tonglen practice of opening our hearts to take in the suffering of others can take many forms and the essence idea can be done as one goes about one’s ordinary life, washing dishes, cooking, cleaning and watching the TV news as it shows pictures of the destruction and reports on the developing situation as the consequences of the continuing rain and flooding rivers flow south through Australia.
Essentially, the idea is to feel one’s heart open and pure (perhaps filled with light) and then draw into this clear, open heart space the fear, grief, despair and concerns of the many, many people suffering from the effects of this particular natural disaster. Feel their suffering – in whatever forms that come to mind – as black smoke and see that as the smoke of their suffering is drawn through your heart space it is transformed into white light that returns to fill their hearts and bodies. I generally choose certain values – such as determination, confidence, patience, endurance, peace, compassion and wisdom – to also permeate this light and fill their being. This practice can be done many times a day, in your own particular way, but always focussing on your open heart and the sending of your mind gifts as you connect with those whom you know to be in need.
For those of you who are familiar with formal meditation practice, here is one particular version of Tonglen practice that you may like to practice, or draw from, in a meditation session targeted at the flood victims. You will note that it begins with clearing your own being before moving on to addressing the suffering of your loved ones and those you have difficulty with. At times such as these when there is a major disaster triggering your compassionate response, I generally choose to begin with clearing my being and then move straight to those beings I am concerned about.
First, establish yourself as a being of light.
Second, feel the stickiness and darkness of the particular negativity or form of suffering you are addressing in yourself or others and exchange it with the cool, soothing light of love, joy and wisdom in your heart.
Third, project a mirror image of yourself, also as a being of light, but covered in dark blotches of unhelpful emotions – negativities of mind.
Fourth, breath in the negativities of your mirror image in the form of black smoke and filter this through the sun of your Buddha nature [essential purity of being], returning as the golden light of love, joy and peace.
Fifth, do the same with your loved ones [or anyone you are concerned about and want to help].
Sixth, do the same with someone you have, or have had, difficulty or conflict with, or groups of people [such as those who are perceived as enemies] whom you perceive to have hurt or threatened you or your loved ones.
Seventh, finish by seeing the objects of your meditation as surrounded by your family, friends and all beings. Breath in their suffering, seeing it transformed in your heart as you breath out love, peace, joy and wisdom [or the particular qualities you feel would be of most benefit].
A further enhancement to this practice would be to begin with the visualisation below, to help you feel yourself as a being of light.
Transforming to a being of light
Imagine a ball of light – all the colours of the rainbow – above your head.
Feel it massaging your head and body, turn first your head and then, one by one, all the organs and limbs of your body to light.
Feel the ball of light running down your spine and chest; up and down your legs; over your shoulders and down your arms, massaging your hands and turning them to light.
Stomach, liver, spleen, kidneys, bowels, intestines, lungs, heart, glands, brain – all turned to light.
You are a being of light with the sun of your true, pure nature shining brightly at your heart centre.
Then proceed with the Tonglen practice described above.
I hope you can draw something from this practice that will help you feel connected in a compassionate, loving way to the many people you are witnessing – through the media or directly – as suffering severe loss, discomfort and uncertainty through the destruction of rain and floodwaters.
If you wish to add any further suggestions of how to help, or any reflections on this natural disaster we are all witnessing, directly or indirectly, these would be much appreciated.
With warm wishes,