Tonglen is Tibetan for “giving and taking” (or “sending and receiving”), and refers to a meditation practice found in Tibetan Buddhism.
Tonglen is a practice of meditation in which we aim to offer our sense of joy out into the world; and to offer ease from suffering to those who are suffering. Through this practice we are able to share the joy were are feeling to humanity. We are also able to connect with our own suffering, to recognize that we are not alone in our experience, and to offer the same relief that you are craving to all who are suffering similarly.
Tonglen at the Core
“When things are pleasant, think of others; when things are painful, think of others”. If you experience something wonderful, wish that others can experience the same sense of joy. If you are suffering, wish that others who are experiencing the same things, relief. If you only take away one thing from this piece, let is be this.
Tonglen can be used as a practice to move away from the ‘at least I have it better than that guy’ form of gratitude to a more compassionate perspective and (almost) way of being. As a practice, Tonglen has the potential to shift your negative mindset and allow yourself to be open to interconnectedness, compassion, and gratitude.
By practicing Tonglen, we open ourselves to the opportunity to connect to the human experience as a whole and to our being outside of ourselves. By practicing Tonglen we are asked to step outside of our own needs and desires in order to connect with the bigger picture. This often looks like leaning toward, instead away from, pain and suffering and relinquishing our instinct to shy away from this. The moment we release, we are connected to a greater sense of being and we become more akin to gratitude as a way of being.
However, there are times when we choose to avoid or look away from the suffering of others. In these circumstances, you can practice Tonglen for yourself and for those across the world who are struggling to face the suffering, as well. Your feeling of stuck or helplessness is another method of connecting to the similar feelings around you. Once comfortable here, you will be able to move onto breathing in the suffering and pain you see, and breathing out the relief. The practice, therefore, has stages and elements in itself to meditate on at your own stage.
Instead of pushing our own pain or the suffering of others away, the practice of Tonglen becomes a stepping stone to an open heart and mind and to recognize that we are not alone in our suffering.
We are not practicing Tonglen when we reject the feelings and experiences that we find uncomfortable. Even if you look away or block out the pain and suffering, the feeling does not go away and it still manifests in your body and subconscious in some way.
- When you avert your eyes and cross the street to avoid a homeless person on the sidewalk.
- When you see and ignore a lost pet poster as you’re driving through your neighborhood.
- Thinking, “I shouldn’t feel sad because so many others have it worse than I do”.
- Shaming yourself for not giving money to a charity, even if you might have wanted to.
- Thinking yourself unworthy of love because of past relationship failures.
- When you read about a tragedy in the newspaper and become angry at your feelings of helplessness.
By practising Tonglen you process the emotion, allow it to pass through you, and offer good intentions out.
Now What? - The Practice
Breathe in whatever particular area/group/country/person/planet/personal life/animals
Breathe in with the wish that they could be free of that suffering, longing to remove their suffering
Breathe out what it is they need
**Breathe in with wish to take away, breathe out with wish to send comfort and happiness. Breath in the pain and suffering, breath out the relief. Or breathe in the pain you and others would feel seeing someone else in pain, breathe out compassion for yourself and others.
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