Tonglen meditation means ‘giving and taking’ meditation in Sanskrit. This type of meditation brings many benefits to the body, mind and spirit. LotusBuddhas will provide detailed instructions on how to practice Tonglen meditation and information about this type of meditation in this article. The article is written by a member of LotusBuddhas named Uyen Phuong, who has been practicing Tonglen meditation for two years and has felt positive changes in her mental well-being.
Alright! As I sit here in a quiet and comfortable space, I invite you to join me in exploring the gentle and transformative practice of Tonglen meditation. Through Tonglen, we learn to breathe in the pain and sorrow, and breathe out relief, love and compassion.
Tonglen meditation involves the conscious act of taking in the suffering of others and oneself on the inhalation, and offering love, healing, and relief on the exhalation. This form of meditation is focused on developing empathy, compassion, and a sense of interconnectedness with all beings.
Now you understand what Tonglen meditation is, don’t you? Next, let’s explore the origin of this form of meditation!
The origin of Tonglen meditation
Tonglen meditation originated from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. It is an ancient practice that has been passed down through generations of spiritual teachers and practitioners. The term “Tonglen” is derived from the Tibetan words “tong” meaning “to give” or “to send”, and “len” meaning “to take” or “to receive.” In essence, Tonglen meditation represents the exchange of suffering and compassion, a transformative process that cultivates empathy and interconnectedness with all beings.
The practice of Tonglen is closely associated with the teachings of bodhisattva ideal, which emphasizes the cultivation of love, compassion, and wisdom for the benefit of all sentient beings. Many great spiritual masters, such as the 8th-century Indian Buddhist scholar Shantideva and the 14th-century Tibetan teacher Atisha, have emphasized the importance of Tonglen meditation in the path of awakening and personal transformation.
Over the centuries, Tonglen meditation has been practiced and taught by numerous Tibetan Buddhist lineages, including the Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, and Gelug schools. In recent years, the practice has gained popularity in the Western world, where it has been adopted by people from various spiritual backgrounds who seek to develop greater compassion and empathy in their daily lives.
Some techniques for Tonglen meditation
When I began exploring Tonglen meditation six months, I came across some techniques that helped enhance my experience and deepen my understanding of this compassionate practice. I am honored to share these techniques with you, as they may provide additional ways to connect with the essence of Tonglen and further develop your empathy and compassion.
Focusing on the breath
Throughout the practice of Tonglen meditation, the breath serves as an anchor for our attention. By maintaining awareness of the breath, we create a stable foundation for the visualization process. Pay close attention to the rhythm and sensation of your inhalations and exhalations, allowing your breath to guide you in taking in suffering and releasing compassion.
Using phrases or mantras
Some practitioners find it helpful to use phrases or mantras during Tonglen meditation to reinforce their intention. As you breathe in, you might mentally recite, “May I take in suffering,” and as you breathe out, “May I offer love and compassion.” These phrases can serve as gentle reminders of the purpose of your practice and help you stay focused.
Although the traditional visualization of inhaling dark, heavy smoke and exhaling bright, healing light is commonly used, you may find other imagery that resonates more deeply with you. For instance, you could imagine inhaling suffering as a storm cloud and exhaling compassion as a warm, golden sunbeam. Feel free to experiment with different visualizations to find one that best supports your practice.
Expanding the circle of compassion
As you become more comfortable with the practice of Tonglen meditation, you can gradually expand the scope of your compassion to include larger groups of people or even all sentient beings. You may choose to focus on specific populations, such as those affected by war, illness, or injustice, or simply hold the intention of offering love and compassion to all beings.
Practicing in daily life
Beyond formal meditation sessions, you can integrate the spirit of Tonglen into your daily life. In challenging situations or when encountering others in distress, try to silently and compassionately breathe in their suffering and breathe out love and support. This can be a powerful way to cultivate compassion and maintain a sense of interconnectedness throughout the day.
Although you may be following the method of a particular teacher if you are new, I still encourage you to explore these techniques, trust your intuition, and find the methods that resonate best with your heart.
How to practice Tonglen meditation
Ok! You now have a basic understanding of the Tonglen meditation techniques that I have shared above. In this section, I will guide you through the practice of Tonglen meditation. All of this is based on my personal experience from practicing this type of meditation for 2 years.
1. Find a quiet space: Choose a comfortable and quiet place where you can sit undisturbed for the duration of your meditation. It could be indoors or outdoors, as long as you feel at ease.
2. Settle into your posture: Sit in a comfortable position, either cross-legged on the floor or on a cushion, or in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Keep your back straight, yet relaxed, and rest your hands gently on your thighs or in your lap.
3. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths: Allow yourself to become centered by focusing on your breath. Take a few deep, slow breaths, inhaling and exhaling fully. As you do this, observe the sensation of the air entering and leaving your body.
4. Bring to mind someone who is suffering: Once you feel settled, visualize someone who is experiencing pain or difficulty. It could be a loved one, a stranger, or even yourself. Hold their image in your mind with an open and compassionate heart.
5. Inhale their suffering: As you breathe in, imagine that you are taking in the suffering of this person in the form of a dark, heavy smoke. Allow this smoke to enter your body and your heart, where it will be transformed.
6. Exhale relief, love, and compassion: As you breathe out, envision a bright, healing light emanating from your heart. This light carries with it relief, love, and compassion for the person you are visualizing. Offer this light freely, with the intention of alleviating their suffering.
7. Expand your practice: Continue to breathe in suffering and breathe out compassion for several minutes. Gradually expand your focus to include other people, groups, or even those you perceive as enemies. Recognize that all beings experience suffering, and extend your compassion to each of them.
8. Conclude your meditation: After 10-15 minutes, or however long you wish to practice, gently release the visualization and bring your awareness back to your breath. Take a few more deep breaths, and then slowly open your eyes.
If you are a beginner, it may seem difficult to imagine your own or others’ suffering, as it was for me in the past. However, through regular practice, you will find that your ability to empathize and your compassion will increase, and your sense of connection with all beings will deepen.
Benefits of Tonglen meditation
You may wonder what benefits there are to embracing suffering of others. It’s difficult for us to express compassion towards others, even though we may talk about lofty ideals such as ‘giving to receive’ or ‘doing good for others to make them happy.’ Sometimes, I also used to think that practicing Tonglen meditation was just like that – all talk and no action. But no, my friends! After two years of practicing Tonglen meditation, I have realized that I have changed a lot, from my thoughts to my actions.
For example, I did not have the habit of helping homeless people when I encountered them on the street before. But since practicing Tonglen meditation, my heart has expanded, and I practice compassion whenever I have the opportunity. I have realized that we are all interconnected, and we must overcome the suffering in this life together. Uyen Phuong – article author
Tonglen meditation has allowed me to develop a deep sense of empathy for others, understanding their suffering, and realizing the interconnectedness of our experiences. This understanding brings a profound sense of compassion and unity, fostering more loving and supportive relationships in my life.
Developing emotional resilience
By breathing in suffering and breathing out compassion, I have learned to face my own pain and the pain of others with courage and an open heart. This has helped me develop emotional resilience and the ability to navigate through life’s challenges with greater ease and grace.
Through the practice of Tonglen meditation, I have found the strength to extend compassion even to those I may have perceived as enemies or who have caused me harm. This powerful shift in perspective has allowed me to mend relationships and let go of lingering resentments, cultivating forgiveness and a deeper sense of peace.
In recognizing the suffering of others, I have also learned to acknowledge my own pain and to extend the same compassion and love to myself. This self-compassion has brought about a greater sense of self-acceptance and emotional well-being.
Reducing stress and anxiety
By focusing on the breath and the visualization of transforming suffering into love and compassion, I have found that my stress and anxiety levels have decreased significantly. This practice brings about a sense of peace and tranquility that permeates my daily life.
Expanding spiritual growth
Tonglen meditation has deepened my spiritual journey, opening my heart to the interconnectedness of all beings and fostering a genuine wish for the happiness and well-being of all. This has led me to a more meaningful and purposeful life, guided by compassion and love.
Through the practice of Tonglen meditation, I have discovered a powerful tool for personal transformation and spiritual growth. I sincerely hope that you too may experience the profound benefits of this compassionate practice and share its gifts with others, spreading love and healing throughout the world. If you are in Vietnam, you can contact me via Email: UyenPhuong1992@gmail.com to practice together and receive the wonderful benefits of Tonglen meditation.