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Tonglen: A Loving Kindness Meditation

Updated on September 23, 2013

Adding More Peace in This World

  • Tonglen
  • is the meditative practice of taking in the suffering of others and sending back Love and Peace. Each and every day we see suffering in our daily lives. Our child has a bad day at school, a friend is dealing with an illness, a coworker just got fired, someone we walk by on the street is homeless. The amount of pain in the world often feels overwhelming and we are left wondering what we can do. It may feel like our hands are tied - very few of us can personally stop bullies at school, cure illnesses, or offer employment. Volunteering is a great opportunity to help, but it may not touch those other people we see suffering. There IS something you can do - Tonglen. The focus you spend on others CAN ease their pain and yours!

  • In order to develop true compassion we must be familiar with suffering. This simply means that we explore what causes heartache or pain to others. If a dear friend is suffering from depression after a break up, we can certainly tell them we are sorry, but is her depression truly understood? This is the time to ask her "What are you really feeling?" Then to assist her - focus on her pain.
  • As stated before, Tonglen is the practice of visualizing someone's pain, taking it into our being, and sending back Compassion and Love. "What?" you say, "Take on her pain? Why should I do that?" This act is not the same as inviting pain into your life - it is the act of trying to feel as she does. Tonglen invites her pain away,
  • transmutes it
  • into love and tenderness, and send it back in a warm bath of love. Imagine the feeling of seeing your child crying and wanting to take away his or her pain. In Tonglen, this is expanded to other individual people, larger groups, or perhaps whole countries.

The Tibetan Book of Yoga - Techniques on How to Cultivate the Heart by Geshe Michael Roach

The Tibetan Book of Yoga: Ancient Buddhist Teachings on the Philosophy and Practice of Yoga
The Tibetan Book of Yoga: Ancient Buddhist Teachings on the Philosophy and Practice of Yoga

Heart Yoga is infused with tong-len, a Tibetan meditation of "giving and taking" where the practitioner generates compassion through a mental image of taking away pain from others and giving joy. In later chapters, Roach walks his readers through the 10 exercises that form the core of the daily, 30-minute Heart Yoga practice. Each exercise is described in modest detail (with a few accompanying black-and-white photographs) before Geshe Roach offers his commentary on how the exercise serves the development of the five levels. Throughout, he remains centered on the fifth level, world-seeds, and the generation of compassion, as the vital foundation for successful, long-term practice.

 

How to Perform Tonglen

Create a Daily Space for the Ritual Meditation of Loving Kindness

1. Find a comfortable seat

2. Visualize someone you love sitting directly in front of you

3. Imagine the stresses, anxieties and worries he or she might be experiencing

4. Picture a bright, red rose at your heart center with a shiny diamond in the middle

5. Inhale and draw out his or her pain like a dark murky cloud. Draw the cloud close to you

6. Inhale and take the cloud of suffering in

7. The moment the cloud touches the rose in your heart picture a flash of light - all the pain has been dissolved

8. Exhale and send a new cloud of bright light and warmth filled with your love for him or her

9. Picture your loved one enveloped in this warm cloud of appreciation.

Start with someone you care for, but eventually expand out to acquaintances, people you've never met, remote communities and countries in need.

Hear More About Tonglen - A Buddhist Practitioner Describes his Experience of Giving & Taking Back

"Tonglen, or the practice of sending and taking, reverses this process of hardening and shutting down by cultivating love and compassion. In tonglen practice, instead of running from pain and discomfort, we acknowledge them and own them fully. Instead of dwelling on our own problems, we put ourselves in other people's shoes and appreciate our shared humanity. Then the barriers start to dissolve, our hearts and minds begin to open. " - From Pema Chodron

"'Give and Take' mounted on the breath is the magic device

Bringing love, compassion, and the special mind.

To save all beings from this world's great ocean,

Please bless me to awaken true bodhimind."

From "An Offering Ceremony to the Spiritual Masters" by The First Panchen Lama

"Compassion is a far greater and nobler thing than pity. Pity has its roots in fear, and a sense of arrogance and condescension, sometimes even a smug feeling of 'I'm glad it's not me.' As Stephen Levine says: 'When your fear touches someone's pain it becomes pity; when your love touches someone's pain, it becomes compassion.' To train in compassion, then, is to know all beings are the same and suffer in similar ways, to honor all those who suffer, and to know you are neither separate from nor superior to anyone." - From Sogyal Rinpoche

Pema Chodron's Audio CD on Tonglen - Learn About Compassion in the Car!

Good Medicine: How to Turn Pain into Compassion with Tonglen Meditation (2 Discs)
Good Medicine: How to Turn Pain into Compassion with Tonglen Meditation (2 Discs)

Within Buddhism, there are many stories that refer to its founder as the "supreme physician" – a healer of all illness – mental, physical, and spiritual. The Buddha’s prescription for right living led directly to tonglen, a Tibetan meditation practice that is today the medicine our hearts have been searching for. On the new enhanced CD edition of Good Medicine, American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron shares the gift of this simple and elegant meditation system: a way to befriend ourselves, accept the past we have rejected, and widen our circle of compassion.

 

I think everyone has experienced a bad day at work when everyone seems to want even more from you. There are frustrated coworkers, clients, and customers knocking on your door with even more demands. Loving kindness is especially important, because even a little bit of compassion from you could brighten someone else's day tremendously. Tonglen at work is easy. Imagine the last person you had to work with, imagine the stresses he or she is also undergoing, and send a wish that his or her burdens be eased. It will calm your heart which will in turn calm others.

Chogyam Trungpa on Loving Kindness - Chogyam Trungpa, the founder of Shambhala Buddhism, offers wisdom on Compassion

Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness
Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness

Warning: Using this book could be hazardous to your ego! The slogans it contains are designed to awaken the heart and cultivate love and kindness toward others. They are revolutionary in that practicing them fosters abandonment of personal territory in relating to others and in understanding the world as it is. The fifty-nine provocative slogans presented here—each with a commentary by the Tibetan meditation master Ch�gyam Trungpa—have been used by Tibetan Buddhists for eight centuries to help meditation students remember and focus on important principles and practices of mind training. They emphasize meeting the ordinary situations of life with intelligence and compassion under all circumstances. Slogans include, "Don't be swayed by external circumstances," "Be grateful to everyone," and "Always maintain only a joyful mind."

 

There are other day-to-day activities where we can bring some extra peace. Standing in line at the express lane in the grocery store when the person in front of you has a cart full. In traffic when someone cuts you off. When your neighbor wakes up earlier than you to mow the lawn. This does not mean that you are all accepting and submissive in your life, but that you take some time to imagine that person's experience in life before you take action. It brings objectivity and gentleness into our actions.

Ready to Try Tonglen to Bring Loving Kindness to Your Loved Ones? - Where Do You Find Love? Which People, Moments or Activities inspire Love, Compassion & P

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    • MelissaInTheSky profile image

      MelissaInTheSky 6 years ago

      What a beautiful lens! Thank you for sharing this helpful information. I feel blessed to start my day here. :)

    • sheriangell profile image

      sheriangell 6 years ago

      Your lenses always deliver a meaningful, important message and are so beautifully done. This one is no exception. Blessed by a Squid Angel today and featured on Pay It Forward.

    • profile image

      Goodpal 6 years ago

      As a practitioner of mindfulness meditation for several years, I easily relate to the ideas presented in this lens. You have provided a wealth of useful information for any keen learner.

      Thank you.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Meditation brings us closer to humanity, suffering and pain. To understand our sufferings better, it is the only way to attain wisdom.

    • Mickie Gee profile image

      Mickie Goad 6 years ago

      I know several people who could use some compassion and peace. I should really get back to meditation. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • toriphile81 profile image

      toriphile81 6 years ago

      Really enjoyed this, definitely will add this meditation to my list :)

    • VarietyWriter2 profile image

      VarietyWriter2 7 years ago

      Blessed by a SquidAngel :)

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 7 years ago from California

      I find peace in nature and in quietly just "being".....I really liked this...Blessed by an Angel :)

    • clemency lm profile image

      clemency lm 7 years ago

      Beautiful lens, very inspiring. Caring for my family brings me peace. 5*****

    • profile image

      aishu19 7 years ago

      very nice lens... certainly reminds us to stop allowing the world to run us down and do what it takes to care for our health....

    • KarenTBTEN profile image

      KarenTBTEN 7 years ago

      Very nice. I think there is evidence of a certain amount of soul to soul communication in the world.

    • Richard-H profile image

      Richard 7 years ago from Surrey, United Kingdom

      I'd have to say in that special smile from my wife. Very inspiring lens :)

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

      Just being in nature, seeing the trees and listening to the birds. This is indeed a lovely lens, and one of many from you!

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 7 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      Great topic.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Lately, it has been my cat. She jumps into my lap and rubs her head against me, purring the whole time.

    • ayngel boshemia profile image

      Ayngel Overson 7 years ago from Crestone, Co

      Sending you much love... such a lovely topic.

    • Mihaela Vrban profile image

      Mihaela Vrban 7 years ago from Croatia

      In the face of my little girl.... ;) Wonderfully done Shannon!