Understanding Suffering and the Practice of Tonglen
If you want to achieve happiness, it is imperative that you understand the nature of suffering, as it is the real situation of our life here on earth, and is our constant companion from our birth until our death. Being aware of this fact and practicing Tonglen to exchange your happiness with the suffering of others will, in the long term, bring you real happiness and bliss.
My question is a personal one. When you experience suffering, how do you detach yourself from that suffering? Do you have any advice for someone who is westerner and would like to find happiness and contentment? Thank you.
We Tibetans have an old saying: practitioners who live with ease and abundance become even more vulgar when disasters befall them. It means that at the time of ease and abundance, some claim themselves to be Dharma practitioners and able to handle all forms of suffering, but when suffering befalls them, since the Dharma has not merged with their mindstream, their response may be even worse than an average person.
Tibetans receive education regarding death from childhood, but many westerners and Han Chinese people are afraid to talk about it, let alone accept it. Tibetan Buddhism has introduced to the world, how to face the arrival of death, the suffering of death, and the method to deal with such suffering. In Mahayana practice, we are taught to accept suffering in this way. We take in the sufferings of others and, in exchange, give them our happiness. This is a practical antidote to suffering. When you exhale, you visualize giving away your happiness to others; when you inhale, you visualize taking away the suffering of others. This will bring you peace and bliss of body and mind.
As is said in Buddhism, we should understand that everything is imbued with suffering and learn the method to eradicate this suffering. Buddha taught that the nature of samsara is suffering. Because of the suffering of samsara, babies are all born crying; no one comes to the world laughing. This is a manifestation of suffering. When a person dies, scientists have also found that there are three stages of crying in the physical response to death. Therefore, not only are we born crying, we also die with tears in our eyes. There is a lot of suffering just in everyday life. What we call happiness is sometimes actually suffering as well.
Given these teachings, we should take them into our practice; just understanding them theoretically and without actual practice will not enable us to handle suffering. I often use this example: everyone can drive when the road conditions are good, but in dangerous conditions, it is difficult for those lacking good skills. Similarly, if practitioners always practice earnestly, when suffering befalls, they will be able to handle it by using one of the many pith instructions. Without earnest practice, however, when suffering arises, it ends up controlling you.