Beauty Led Me To Compassion and Unselfishness

This morning as I was finishing my meditation practice, an exceptionally beautiful sunrise saturated the layered clouds in red and pink. I just gaped, knowing that in another few moments when I blinked and opened my eyes again, it would have passed back into ordinary beauty. Which is still the kind of beauty that is mythical, quested for.

I drove my daughter to school this morning, left the dishes in the sink, walked the dog, thought about my weekly accounting that needs to be done, breathed the spicy and sweet air as we walked among the pepper trees and the citrus.

The gophers have been busy in one of the rows between the tangerines. Nature is always moving. What looked one way yesterday is different today. The census of bunnies and birds is daily changing as the hawks and owls and coyotes do their thing. Nothing can be paused, except on film, and yet we humans try--to capture and hold on to what we like and reject what we don't. I have been learning so many lessons lately that keep coming back to the good old four noble truths that Buddha taught.
1. Life is suffering
2. Suffering is caused by attachment
3. Suffering can be alleviated by releasing attachment
4. The way to release attachment is through meditation (and the 8 fold path).

This is so basic to everything. Any time I am suffering I have to remind myself. Like this morning--when it was an Olympic challenge to rise out of bed for meditation. I was attached to how easy it has been on other days, and therefore was grumpy, and made it harder for myself.

But the most surprising thing this month of beauty questing has led me to is something that at first sight, seems like the opposite of beauty. When in Hawaii earlier this month a little book found its way to me and I started experimenting with a Buddhist meditation practice called Tonglen. Tonglen is a way of engendering compassion and getting out of selfishness. It is sometimes called the practice of transformation.

In this practice you turn everything upside down and instead of inhaling what you like and want and exhaling what you don't like, you do the opposite. You breathe in all the dark, ugly, negative, hurtful, claustrophobic emotions and thoughts and you breath out light and peace and calm and the desire to alleviate suffering. It's a 4-part process and you start personal but get wider as you go, so that soon you are breathing in not just your own suffering but that of others who are in the same situation, and breathing out the beauty and alleviation of that suffering.

It's actually a transformation that happens within. You are not emptying yourself of good and filling yourself with bad. I believe it gets one in touch with their own power to transform the dark into light and it connects us with others in a way that actually feels satisfying. We put up walls to others suffering out of natural instinct to grasp what we want and reject what we don't.  This practice breaks down walls, helps us connect with people in a way that we really wanted all along. It can be done in a sitting practice as well as in the moment, when the guy on the road cuts you off, or your 11 year old says she hates you. You inhale the hatred and the anger and exhale peace and a wish for healing of the wounds that have contributed to her suffering.  Instructions on how to practice Tonglen can be found here. Or you can google it. Pema Chodron has some YouTube videos.

I have been teaching Kundalini Yoga meditation for a long time, and I still think it's one of the most amazing and fast technologies for elevation and change, but I see a lot of people get attached to the outcomes and "magic" that it can and often does bring. I feel like a weekly or daily practice of Tonglen is a good way to keep balanced and remember that it's not just about making our own lives better. This is the kind of contemplation practice that led the Buddha to realize four noble truths.

I would love to hear your experiences with Tonglen.


Nam Joti Kaur


  1. I really love this post. I've been trying to understand my life's mission and the mission of others in my family. Trying to understand why we are facing so much evil. (Satanic ritual abuse.) This helped me sort out my feelings. I chose a life that is a Tonglen meditation. I feel peace about it when I look at it that way.


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