Tonglen for a Young Robin

Sitting in my sanctuary on a Saturday morning.  Journal open.  Pen in hand to capture elusive night messages.

Dream snippets.  Coffee sips.

Sudden thud on the floor to ceiling, wall-wide window.  Reverie broken.  I rise to see what damage done.

A young robin sits still amidst the tall green iris blades.  Tell-tale speckles on his rust red breast and back.  Breathing quick and shallow.  Blessedly alive though in shock.

I soundlessly kneel by the window and begin the ancient practice, trusting its promise for this fledgling sentient being.

Breathing in his incredulity. Breathing out my living yes.

In and out. Slow and steady.

I take into my heart his frozen shock.  I give out to his heart warm life energy.

Despite the solid glass that separates us, I sense a connection.  He appears to sense my prayerful presence, looking up, then finding me, looking at me.

In and out.  Slow and steady.  I direct my breath to him though the glass. Rising ever so cautiously, now through the open window.

I close my eyes.  He does, too.  I open my eyes.  He does, too.

In and out.  Slow and steady.

Head turns from side to side. Check.

Beak opens, closes. Check.

Wings flutter. Check.

Eyes focus. Check.

In and out.  Slow and steady.

And now I can’t see him, hidden under the ledge.

And now I can’t see him, having flown away.


Tonglen is the Tibetan word for “giving and receiving” and is the name of a Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice for developing deep compassion and lessening the fear of suffering. Through this practice, we visualize receiving all the pain and suffering of another person (or other sentient being) and giving back to that person (or sentient being) all of our love, joy, well-being and peace.

The Heart’s Twin Sisters

Buddha's Daughter coverMy final summer reading was Buddha’s Daughters, a collection of teachings from women who are shaping Buddhism in the west. (In sweet synchronicity, I see the publication date is my birthday!) I didn’t quite finish, as by the September 2 due date there was a hold from another library patron. I did read enough to know that this, too, might need a home in my own library, though which book to relinquish to make space?

Blanche Hartman, in “Just to be Alive is Enough,” shared a teaching from Tara Tulku Rinpoche on gratitude and generosity. She relates a time when the teacher asked them:

“to think of everything that we thought was ours and to consider how it came to us. Our food, clothing, houses, books, tools, toys, health: anything we can think of comes to us through the kindness of others…Gratitude and generosity generate each other.” (123)

As I read this teaching, I was sitting in my “sanctuary” and paused to look around me. It was true. Everything in that room, on which my eyes rested, on which I rested, had come to me as a gift from the generosity of others. Absolutely everything. Then I looked beyond into the next room and found the same. And as I mentally reflected throughout each room in our home, I discovered much the same.

In that moment, my heart filled to overflow and came through my eyes.

I knew the truth of these words, “gratitude and generosity generate each other.”

Gratitude and generosity, the heart’s twin sisters.