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Eco-Tonglen

A Guided Meditation for the Biomes of the Earth

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The Tibetan Buddhist practice of taking and sending (tonglen) is primarily a method by which we address our often self-centered view of life by asking us to imagine taking the suffering of others and sending them the good things we have, including our love and compassion. As such it is a training in developing compassion and an open heart. I have also found it to be a helpful structure for coming face-to-face with the suffering of others, especially when that suffering might otherwise be overwhelming.

In Tibetan practice, there is a traditional tonglen meditation in which the six realms of samsara (hell, hungry ghost, animal, human, asura and god) are visualised in turn, and taking and sending is done for all of the beings in the realms by imagining their respective sufferings.

For this meditation, I have replaced those six realms with the six major biomes on this planet – polar regions, mountains, forest, grassland, desert, and the rivers, lakes and oceans – but the approach remains the same. It is not designed to replace engaged environmental action but rather give us a space to work with our emotions in addressing the threats faced by each one of these ecosystems.

In addition to the formal practice, tonglen can be done in any moment when we are dealing with emotions around environmental threats or damage, taking even a moment to work with that.

In the Zen tradition, we make four Bodhisattva vows, and the first of these seems relevant here:

“To save all sentient beings, though beings are numberless.”

Saving all beings, and all ecosystems and habitats, is endless work. But we have to start somewhere.

Here is an audio recording for download with just the meditation bells and prompts:

      Eco-Tonglen Audio - Kokuu Andy McLellan

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Kokuu Andy McLellan

Kokuu Andy McLellan

Kokuu Andy McLellan is a transmitted teacher in the Rempo Niwa-Gudō Nishijima lineage of Sōtō Zen. They previously worked as a plant biologist in the Institute for Environmental Science at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, but a career in science was cut short due to the onset of a chronic illness that continues to this day. Their interests in Buddhist practice are divided between supporting sangha with physical illness and disability, and exploring the use of the buddhadharma in helping us to work with current environmental crises. They have an ongoing project to record audio readings of the Shōbōgenzō of Eihei Dōgen, a key Sōtō Zen text, and other Buddhist teachings, for those who struggle to read print text for any reason. These recordings can be found on Soundcloud.

Kokuu’s home sangha, Treeleaf Zendo, has pioneered online Zen practice over the last two decades, including priest training for those unable to access traditional training, through the Monastery of Open Doors.
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