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Lions Roar : May 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2013 48 own development is not enough. You cannot be free from suffer- ing if you know that others around you are still suffering. So the awareness you have cultivated through sitting practice makes it hard to ignore the suffering of others, and it gives birth to greater empathy and compassion. Likewise, the silence and stillness cultivated in your shamatha practice gives birth to a sense of vastness, openness, and continual expansion. This wide- open quality, since it is free of deception or any boundaries, con- cepts, or limits, is referred to as emptiness, or shunyata. Meditation The practice of sitting meditation continues to be important in the Mahayana. But in addition to the cultiva- tion of mindfulness and awareness, there is an emphasis on the cultivation of the heart and on meditation in action. The term “meditation” usually refers to more formless prac- tices, such as placing attention on the breathing process. But once the mind is somewhat settled, you can engage in a variety of con- templative exercises as a mindful way of reflecting on a particular subject. This kind of reflection could be about obstacles you need to overcome or it could be about qualities you aspire to cultivate. In one traditional contemplation, you contemplate the quali- ties of loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equa- nimity, known as the four immeasurables. This is not done in a dry or abstract way; you aspire to tap in to the limitless energy of each of these benevolent emotions and direct it outward to beings near and far. So at one and the same time, you are deepen- ing your understanding of these four qualities and you are evok- ing them on the spot. Perhaps the most well-known Mahayana practice is that of tonglen, sending and taking. This practice is also referred to as exchanging yourself for others. It is a radical reversal of the habit of putting oneself before others; in this practice, others come first. When others are experiencing difficulty or pain, you breathe that in; when joy or confidence arises within, you breathe that out to benefit others. You practice tonglen in relation to your own mental- emotional process and you practice this in relation to others, start- ing with those closest to you and extending from there. Tonglen practice challenges our sense of territory, limits, and boundaries; it confronts us with the limits of our thoughts, and the limits of our love and compassion for ourselves and other beings. In the Mahayana, the practice of tonglen is complemented by the ongoing practice of bringing wisdom and compassion into our ordinary, everyday encounters. This is called meditation in action. Formal practices are like basic training, but the test of that training is how it manifests in your daily life. It is easy to be compassionate in theory, but putting it into practice is not so easy. So along with tonglen practice, you can work with a set of Mahayana slogans called lojong (mind training) that serve as pointed reminders to continue the cultivation of loving-kind- ness and compassion in the midst of daily life. These powerful little slogans will not let you off the hook. Although such Mahayana practices as tonglen have become popular, Mahayana wisdom practices are equally important. In the Madhyamaka, or middle way approach, you work with a sophisticated system of logical reasonings to deconstruct your ego-clinging and fixed views about reality. These cut off any escape from immediate experience and leave you groundless, in a kind of no-man’s-land. Although this might sound desolate or devastating, it is simply the pain of emergence from the con- straints of our fear and ego-clinging. A related practice is the systematic contemplation of the dif- ferent aspects of emptiness. Once again, you are using reasoning