Giving & Taking on the Breath


Freak Out Your Ego and Attachment

The Importance of Motivation

Giving and Taking on the Breath presents Chapter 9 from Freedom Through Understanding and is based on teachings given in 1975 by Lama Yeshe at the Royal Holloway College in England during the lamas’ first trip to England and edited by Nicholas Ribush. Multimedia presentation created by Megan Evart.

In this chapter Lama Yeshe guides us through the Mahayana practice of tong-len.

Earlier we did a meditation for training our mind in detachment by giving away all our possessions, including our body, to other sentient beings. This time we’re going to do the same thing, sending all sentient beings all our goodness—our knowledge-wisdom, good qualities and positive energy.

Lama Yeshe during a public lecture in Kensington Town Hall during the lamas’ first trip to England in 1975. (Photographer Dennis Heslop)
Lama Yeshe during a public lecture in Kensington Town Hall during the lamas’ first trip to England in 1975. (Photographer Dennis Heslop)

Technically, the way we do this is to mentally transform all this goodness into white light and, as we exhale through our right nostril, send this light into others’ left nostril. As they breathe in it enters their heart and they experience an extremely joyful feeling.

Exhale white light (image source)
Exhale white light (image source)

Then, when you breathe in, inhale all others’ sickness and problems in the form of smoky black energy—it leaves their right nostril, enters your left nostril and goes into your heart. This is the kind of negative energy and suffering that your association of ego and attachment completely dislikes. For countless lives, and even in this one from the time you were born up to now, you have been trying to avoid such problems as much possible, always obsessed with goodness for yourself, I. So this time, bring all that negativity into your heart; it completely mashes your ego and attachment. They freak out—let them freak out.

Inhale cloudy black energy. (image source)
Inhale cloudy black energy. (image source)

“Attachment wants to avoid any unpleasant feelings whatsoever. So this time we act in completely the opposite way.”

Totally changing the attitude of your ego-attachment’s attitude is very useful because the personality of attachment is limitless want: “I want every pleasure the universe has to offer.” And at all costs, attachment wants to avoid any unpleasant feelings whatsoever. So this time we act in completely the opposite way. Without the slightest hesitation, we send all our goodness, wisdom and joyful life energy—all our positive physical, mental and verbal energy—to others. We exhale through our right nostril and send joyful, blissful white light energy into all other beings’ left nostril without discrimination—not just our dear friend; all living beings in the universe.

Lama Yeshe, Beatrice Ribush, and Lama Zopa Rinpoche in meditation at Chenrezig Institute, Australia, 1975. (Photo Wendy Finster)
Lama Yeshe, Beatrice Ribush, and Lama Zopa Rinpoche in meditation at Chenrezig Institute, Australia, 1975. (Photo Wendy Finster)

Then bring their biggest problems, those that you don’t even like to see, let alone experience, in through your left nostril into your heart, where they smash into your ego and attachment, which completely vanish as a result; your ego completely freaks out.

Normally your ego’s attitude is such that if somebody who is not a friend barges uninvited into your house, you freak out: “How dare you come in without knocking?” Compared to your heart, this is nothing! So visualize bringing all sentient beings’ problems and sickness through your left nostril into your heart.

Breathing in and out (video source)

We call this kind of meditation tong-len. Tong means giving; len means taking. And we also say lung wai gyö par cha. Lung means breath: to give and take together with breathing.

In summary, send all your goodness, the positive energy of your body, speech and mind, your mental control, whatever, out on your breath through your right nostril. It enters others’ left nostril and goes down to their heart, which completely fills with joyous energy. Rejoice. Then bring others’ worst diseases and psychological problems—everything your ego dislikes—in the form of black smoke, in on your breath through your left nostril into your heart.

Rejoice. (image source)
Rejoice. (image source)

Breath out. Give away all your causes of happiness to others. Breath in. Take into your heart all their causes of suffering. How does it feel when you do this?

Just let your ego and attachment freak out…

“For countless lives, and even in this one from the time you were born up to now, you have been trying to avoid such problems as much possible, always obsessed with goodness for yourself, I.”

Perhaps you find it difficult to bring sickness and so forth into your heart. However, visualize old people in the West, many of whom are confused, suffering greatly in nursing homes; they don’t know what’s going on. Send them positive energy. Think of all the people dying of hunger and thirst—such things do exist in the West, even though there might be supermarkets full of food nearby; because of their individual situation, many people still go hungry. Think about wars: thousands of people killing, thousands of others dying. Send your positive vibrations to all people suffering like this. Visualize that your positive energy enters dead people’s bodies and they come back to life; take all their bad karma and its results in the form of black light in through your left nostril into your heart.

Imagine all the people who are experiencing suffering, how their suffering dissolves when you breathe in and how happiness fills their heart when you breathe out.

Even with your dearest friend, the situation can arise where you have to make the choice, “There’s no way out, either my friend has to suffer or I do.” When it comes to that point, even though intellectually you say, “I will take any suffering for your happiness,” when the actual situation arises your self-cherishing is going to make the decision for you: You’re going to choose happiness for yourself and let your friend suffer.

Contemplate how your self-cherishing mind is so powerful that you would let your dearest friend suffer instead of you.

Normally we consider ourselves clever and intelligent because we know how to avoid disease and things like that. We feel so superior. Actually, it’s just attachment—obsession with pleasure and aversion to the unpleasant. This is not a good attitude. Of course, avoiding disease and so forth in order to remain healthy and use your life for the benefit of others is OK but doing so with self-cherishing is not.

“So really bring what you normally don’t like to even hear about into your heart and check how your ego reacts; examine how you feel.”

So this time, bring others’ sickness into your heart. Let your ego freak out; let your attachment freak out. And when you do this meditation, from the psychological point of view it’s especially important to watch how your ego reacts to your bringing others’ sickness into your heart. Transform others’ TB, cancer and so forth into black light and bring it through your left nostril into your heart and check how your ego likes it. You’ll find there’s a tremendous ego reaction when you do this.

Feel how your ego totally freaks out when you breathe in the sickness of others.

Again, consider old people in the West. They’re incredibly miserable. They don’t have any mind training to help them understand themselves; they have no meditation with which they can keep their mind together. I’ve seen this myself; this is my scientific experience. When people in the West get old they become incredibly miserable, much more so than old people in the East. This is going to happen to all of us as long as we don’t die. At the moment we don’t even want to see old people’s faces but every day we ourselves are getting closer to having that kind of face.

Every day we are getting older and older. (image source)
Every day we are getting older and older. (image source)

Think about it: if all of a sudden your face became that of a one-hundred-year-old person, do you think your ego would freak out? Check up now; it’s possible, not a dream. The potential is there. Every day you’re getting closer to having an old person’s face.

However, if we train our mind in releasing attachment and developing detachment, even if we get old we’ll have no problem; we’ll be able to deal with the situation and comprehend our own mind. Even though physically we may be one hundred years old, our mind will remain young, like that of a child. It’s possible. This is the power of the human mind…and we can progress the human mind into everlasting peaceful, joyful realization, whatever you call it: nirvana, enlightenment, salvation—it doesn’t matter; they’re just words. What matters is that you can gain insight into ultimate reality. That’s so worthwhile. Therefore, mind training is extremely important. Those who have trained their mind can deal with any bad situation that arises, transform it into joyful energy and in that way always have a joyful life. Irrespective of whether the world is up or down, they always remain joyful.

Take a moment and contemplate how you can train your mind to transform anything you experience into joyful energy.

Tibetan lamas do twenty-one repetitions of this meditation, sending out their good qualities to others on their breath through their right nostril and bringing in others’ bad qualities, sickness and any other problems in the form of black light through their left nostril into their heart, and check how their ego reacts.

The tong-len practices of Tibetan lamas…

At the same time they make the following determination: “For countless lives, and even from when I was born up to now, I have always grasped at temporal pleasure. With a grasping attitude and the self-cherishing thought I’ve wanted the best happiness for myself and tried to avoid all suffering. I now recognize this as the main psychological problem behind all my mistaken actions. As long as I don’t change, as long as I don’t do something about this, I’ll continually experience unhappiness and miserable reactions. Real everlasting joy and true happiness are beyond the attachment of the self-cherishing thought, so for the rest of my life, as much as I possibly can, I’m going to put all my energy into releasing attachment and the self-cherishing thought. This is my main path to real liberation, inner freedom and enlightenment.”

Make a strong determination to practice releasing attachment and the self-cherishing mind as much as possible.

Feeling equilibrium with all universal living beings is really powerful, as is the experience of sending all your goodness to others and bringing into yourself all their sickness and problems. The result you get is incredible joy; your mind is really balanced and you enter the middle path. Attachment and hatred are exaggerated extremes, so if you can stay on the middle way between them and deal with people from there, it’s really worthwhile and most beneficial, because most of our problems arise from dealing with other human beings.

Lama Yeshe with students at Chenrezig Institute, Australia, 1975. (Photo by Wendy Finster)
Lama Yeshe with students at Chenrezig Institute, Australia, 1975. (Photo by Wendy Finster)
Expand this practice of taking and giving to all living beings for a powerful, joyful incredible result…

Attachment Has So Many Other Shortcomings

Check up: Lord Buddha said that we should not be attached to even the realizations of nirvana or enlightenment. He also said that it’s wrong for his followers to be dogmatically attached to his doctrine, that that’s another type of psychological sickness or disease.

Guru Shakyamuni Buddha
Guru Shakyamuni Buddha

That’s incredible, isn’t it? Most of the time we think, “My idea’s good,” but if somebody says, “Your idea is bad,” we freak out. That’s attachment. Lord Buddha said, “I don’t want any of my disciples to be attached to concepts, such as the highest goal of enlightenment or any of my other philosophies or doctrines.” Also, in Tibetan Buddhist tantric yoga there are vows forbidding us to criticize the doctrine of any other religion. Can you imagine? Lord Buddha has us take vows against that; it’s incredible. This is a fantastically skillful method and shows how wonderfully well he understood human psychology. Unbelievable, isn’t it?

I mean, worldly people are going to say, “My idea is best,” and if you contradict them they freak out. That’s because of their attachment; they’re not realistic. Lord Buddha says that instead of freaking out, don’t have attachment in the first place, because as long as you’re attached to your religious ideas and philosophies you’re setting yourself up for inner conflict, and that will destroy your inner peace and joy.

Therefore we should take the middle path and avoid extreme views as much as we can. That’s the real path, the true path to liberation, enlightenment or whatever you call it; the words don’t matter. If you reach beyond attachment and self-cherishing I can guarantee that your life will be free of physical and mental problems and there’s no way that you’ll engage in mistaken actions—the door to suffering will forever be closed. But whenever you open the door of attachment and self-cherishing you also open the door to all problems.

The greatest human problems are actually rebirth, aging and death, but if you are free of attachment you can even die with much pleasure; dying is like going home. If you die with attachment to your material possessions, friends and reputation, your death will be miserable; if you don’t have attachment you’ll have an incredible death; your experience of dying will be blissful, joyful.

Really, Buddhism teaches us how to die. Buddhist education starts at the beginning of life and continues all the way through to its end; it’s a total experience. Actually, it’s not that difficult; it’s easy. If you have the skillful method and wisdom to release attachment and self-cherishing your life will always be happy. You don’t need to pretend; it will be natural. Happiness will be natural; control will be natural—you won’t have to pretend.

That’s why I always say that the human mind is very powerful—positively powerful and negatively powerful. You can direct it either way; it’s flexible. The energy of the human mind is not fixed.

You can see how the energy of attachment and selfishness is like a needle in your heart; when you release it you feel incredible joy. You lose that uptight tendency in your heart and you’re physically relaxed.

(image source)
(image source)

The Benefits of Meditation

Through meditation we can really reach a state of everlasting joy, so if we don’t do something to get there we’re really foolish, aren’t we? And we can reach that joyful state without having to spend any money. But we forget that and instead get overly concerned with material things and, exaggerating their value, run after sense objects of attachment. We’re totally unrealistic.

Do a comparative check: which offers you more, material things or knowledge-wisdom? Of course, material things do give you some level of comfort, but if you spend all your life working only for them, when you die you end up with nothing. On the other hand, if you spend your time developing knowledge-wisdom and releasing attachment and self-cherishing, it’s incredibly powerful—your whole life becomes content. Even if the earth goes up into the sky and the sun and moon crash down to earth, no matter how much the external world changes, control and wisdom are always with you. Material things always cheat you—sometimes they’re there, sometimes they’re not. Many rich people die hungry. It’s never certain; money is no insurance or guarantee against hunger. I think you know that, but it’s important. Really check up, seriously.

“Material things do give you some level of comfort, but if you spend all your life working only for them, when you die you end up with nothing.”

So for at least a short time every day, compare the benefits of chasing materials with those of developing your mind. You have plenty of time to do so. You just need to meditate and train your mind for ten minutes, twenty minutes, half an hour every day in the meditation techniques we’ve been teaching you here. These practices are incredibly powerful. In just a short time you can produce such joyful energy in your heart. That’s much more worthwhile than running after transitory samsaric pleasures, which simply bring one miserable, useless result after another.

Lama Yeshe after the Sixth Meditation Course at Kopan Monastery in Nepal, 1974. (Photo by Ursula Bernis)
Lama Yeshe after the Sixth Meditation Course at Kopan Monastery in Nepal, 1974. (Photo by Ursula Bernis)

The potential for pleasure and joy is already within your mind; you don’t need money to buy it. Anyway, you can’t buy that kind of joy; it’s already there within you. If you use that energy skillfully it will always be with you. Whether you go up into the sky or down into the ground, it will always come with you. Material possessions are the exact opposite.

Meditating is also much easier than going to the supermarket. You probably think I’m exaggerating, but think about it. Going to the supermarket is not necessarily that easy. First, you can’t walk; you have to go by car. Then, maybe your car doesn’t work. Anyway, you know; I don’t have to go into details. There can be all kinds of difficulty in getting to and from the supermarket. Check up. In contrast, a short meditation can immediately relax you and keep you consciously aware all day. That’s really worthwhile. It can bring you everlasting joy. Physically you may be old but mentally you can be experiencing an incredibly joyful awakened state of mind. It’s so worthwhile. We’re all going to get old but we can make sure that when we do, our life will still be joyful. It’s possible and therefore so worthwhile that we abandon collecting garbage with attachment, which is so unreasonable.

However, I’d like you to check up for yourselves; I’m not trying to push my ideas onto you. You’re intelligent, so check up for yourselves. Actually, Western people aren’t that easy. You have much learning but you’ve also picked up a lot of garbage. But now you can look into that garbage and learn from it; you have much experience to check on. It’s much more difficult to teach primitive people the things we’re talking about here; they find it much harder to understand subjects that Westerners find easy.

Lama and Yeshe Khadro meditating by the ocean in Australia, 1974. (Photographer unknown)
Lama and Yeshe Khadro meditating by the ocean in Australia, 1974. (Photographer unknown)

More Resources for Study

Thank you for exploring this multimedia title designed by Megan Evart presenting Chapter 9 from Freedom Through Understanding edited by Nicholas Ribush and based on teachings given by Lama Yeshe at the Royal Holloway College, England, in 1975. We hope it touched your heart and mind.

Learn more about Lama Yeshe.

More video from Freedom Through Understanding can be viewed on the Lama Yeshe wisdom Archive Youtube channel.

More photographs from the lamas’ teachings given during 1975 can be found  in the LYWA photo galleries.

The entire text of Freedom Through Understanding is freely available for reading on the LYWA website.

The paperback or ebook of Freedom Through Understanding can be ordered on the LYWA website.

The full length video of Freedom Through Understanding can also be ordered.

The Big Love Blog offers regular installments from the upcoming biography of Lama Yeshe.

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LYWA hopes that these multimedia presentations will serve to immerse you in these precious teachings and will enhance your meditation and practice. By weaving Archive resources together in this multidimensional way we intend to offer you the means to deepen your experience of the teachings – almost as if you had attended the teachings in person.

This multimedia version of Lama Yeshe’s Giving and Taking on the Breath adds to our growing collection of multimedia titles including Lama Yeshe’s How to Meditate and Freedom – Courage – Realization, Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s The Merely Imputed I and the Bodhisattva Attitude multimedia series beginning with Everything Depends on Your Attitude. Experience the complete collection of LYWA multimedia titles here.

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