Tonglen is a powerful technique for developing compassion and going beyond ego. Tonglen is a well-known method originating from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The name Tonglen means “giving and receiving” – it is a process of taking in suffering and replacing it with love. Tonglen is not the same as praying for another person. It is feeling another’s suffering and transforming it.
Tonglen opens the heart and removes any blockages in this area. It is an efficient method of subliming egoistic attitudes into love and compassion. Tonglen removes our patterns of self-cherishing. It helps us to correct the habitual tendency of acting only for ourselves without thinking of what happens to others. Through our awareness of others, we forget about our ego, purify the personality, and can realize our true consciousness.
Tonglen can be used to heal an area of your body, or to remove your emotional and mental limitations. With Tonglen, you can send healing energy to other people who may be in pain, suffering, or illness. You can also expand the practice to situations where there is anger or strife between people or nations.
Tonglen can be practiced as a sitting meditation, or at any moment when you see another in pain. When the first instinct is to turn away, you can instead, breathe in the others suffering and send love in its place. This will give the other relief and will also help you to overcome your resistance and fears. You will reverse the usual instinct to always seek pleasure for yourself and instead awaken compassion and a feeling of unity with others.
Tonglen Meditation Technique
Before starting the Tonglen practice take five minutes to calm the mind and center your awareness in the area of the heart.
First, practice Tonglen with yourself. It is important to have compassion for your own limitations, problems, or pains. To have compassion for others, we must first have compassion for ourselves.
- On inhalation absorb your limitations or problems. Feel your suffering – whatever it may be at the moment; fear, anger, frustration, guilt, doubt, confusion, or even physical pains. Pause for a moment after inhalation, keeping the suffering in the heart will help to transform it into light and love.
- On exhalation send love and compassion to all the aspects of your being. Pause for a moment after exhalation to stabilize feelings of healing, peace, discernment, and well-being.
After you are comfortable using the Tonglen technique on yourself, begin to use this meditation with others who you know are in significant pain or anguish. Start with a person you feel very close to, then perform the technique on a person you are indifferent to, then with someone who you dislike, and then try it with someone you feel is an “enemy”. You can even extend the practice out to all beings in the universe.
- Visualize the other person, feel their suffering as fully as possible. Imagine every aspect of their pain: physical, mental, and emotional.
- On Inhalation, breathe all these energies into the heart, embrace them without resistance. By allowing them into the heart, they will be destroyed completely and replaced with feelings of love.
- On Exhalation, breathe out all your warmth, joy, and happiness.
At the end of the meditation, let go of the mental focus and rest in a state of awareness.
Will I Absorb the Negative Energy of Others if I Practice Tonglen?
No. There is no need to fear that by practicing this technique you will take on the pain or impurities of others. The only thing that is harmed with Tonglen is the ego. We drop the defensive strategies of the ego, our self-protection. When we surrender in this way, the fear of being tainted by another person’s pain or impurities dissolves and the heart is opened. When our mind comes into the heart, there is no judgment, fear, or ego. The mind becomes purified. When we let things pass through our heart, our expression in the world becomes one of love and compassion. We can take negative energies and transform them into love.
Using Tonglen to Move from a State of Duality to Oneness
Most of us live in our own ego bubble and are unaware of others. With the practice of Tonglen, we connect to a wider dimension of our being. This meditation can help us move from a place of duality into oneness. Tonglen helps us to keep the awareness and connection with others. We feel the suffering of the world and no longer play ignorant to the pain of others. In situations where we usually run from the problems of others, creating further separation and duality, we can now use these situations as opportunities to move into a feeling of oneness.
Remember, we do not truly help another person when we act from the ego. Bringing everything to the heart helps us detach from personal involvement and allows the radiance of a higher power to come in.
Compassion vs. Pity
Remember that compassion is not the same as pity or charity. Pity comes from a place of fear and arrogance. There may even be a feeling that we are glad it is not us in that situation. When we pity others we only strengthen our pride. When we practice compassion, we are coming from a place of love and a feeling of oneness.
“When your fear touches someone’s pain it becomes pity; when your love touches someone’s pain, it becomes compassion.”
~ Stephen Levine
Using Tonglen in Daily Life
Tonglen is not only for situations where people are overwhelmed with suffering. Some people may seem just fine, but everyone can use compassion. Use the practice of Tonglen in daily life anytime you encounter an individual who is angered, frustrated, arrogant, or just having a bad day. Instead of judging others by their actions and reactions, we can use Tonglen to strengthen our empathy, our ability to feel our self as others and others as our self. By practicing in this way, we will realize that we are not all that different after all, and will have greater compassion when we encounter people in stressful situations.
“If her past were your past, her pain your pain, her level of consciousness your level of consciousness, you would think and act exactly as she does. With this realization comes forgiveness, compassion, peace.”
~ Echkart Tolle