Compassionate Breathing

Recently, the Dalai Lama met with a group of 50 professionals from many different spiritual traditions in Dharamsala, India. According to one of the participants, Rev. Mary Manin Morrissey, he taught them a spiritual practice to increase compassion and love on the planet. He encouraged them to "Tell everyone you know about it." We read her account of it, and now share it with you.

The Dalai Lama said, "You must begin by cherishing yourself. It is essential to the progress of the world. To cherish oneself is not easy."

"We are each of us a child of the universe, a child of God. We must cherish the life we are given and cherish the life of others."

There are four parts to the Dalai Lama’s practice.

Reference: An article in The Oregonian newspaper by Nancy Haught, October 25, 1999.


In his 1991 book Path to Bliss:  A Practical Guide to Stages of Meditation, the Dalai Lama reflects on the disadvantages of the self-cherishing attitude. He sums up his comments with the following verse from Lama Choepa:
"This chronic disease of cherishing myself
Is the cause of unwanted suffering;
Perceiving this, may I be inspired
To blame, begrudge and destroy
This self-cherishing demon."
Now, we are told, he teaches us we must cherish ourselves. How are we to understand this?

The traditional Buddhist teaching warning about cherishing the self refers to the illusionary self that we imagine as separate from other sentient beings and somehow more special and deserving. This is the selfish self, the one filled with attachments and craving. In this sense, self cherishing would be to place an unwarranted value on our own happiness to the detriment of others. It would be an elevation of ego that would lead to selfish behavior that generates pain and suffering in the world.

Now, if we are to practice compassionate breathing, in which we "Breathe in cherishing of the self; breathe out cherishing of others," we must be cherishing something other than the problematical "Self-cherishing demon." Rather we can cherish the self as equal part of the whole. It is not just "I" that is important. We are all in this together. When we breathe out cherishing others, we activate our heart of compassion. We are sending our love out into the world. We come to understand that the needs and desires of others are as important as ours. When we express love in the world, it comes back to us. The consequence of love expressed is joy.

As we breathe in self cherishing, we can cherish the self that is a manifestation of divine consciousness. We may visualize it as our Buddha nature, or as Christ consciousness, or as a spark of the Universal Soul. We are  individuals in relationship with others as the in-breath is in relationship to the out-breath. Inhaling and exhaling are distinguishable from each other, but they are part of an integrated process. Our self identity and the identity of others are distinguishable, but we are necessarily in relationship together, as we are with the entire cosmos and the whole of consciousness.

Breathing in, I cherish the life I have been given
Breathing out, I cherish the life of others.

I breathe in cherishing of the self.
I breathe out cherishing of others.

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© 2002 Tom Barrett