Practice of Tonglen

Tonglen Instructions

Three Stages of Tonglen

On the Spot Tonglen Practice




Pema Bio

Gampo Abbey

















Tonglen Q&A

I feel if I were to explain the tonglen practice to somebody, it would just sound masochistic.

Transforming Confusion into Wisdom, City Retreat

Berkeley Shambhala Center, Fall 1999

Pema: I think the important thing is, What do you say to yourself? Right now. Do you feel it's masochistic?

Student: No, no.

Pema: It's all right if you do.

Student: No, no, it doesn't at all.

Pema: So, why not?

Student: Because I feel like I'm helping.

Pema: And how?

Student: That I'm changing my perspective and realizing I have something to give, I have something positive to give.

Pema: So, that's what you could say to them. All you can say is, Well, listen, I can understand where you're coming from, but herešs my experience. It's opening the heart to where you usually shut down. Because we all know, there's this common practice where you breathe in what's pleasant, and send out what's unpleasant. Right? I think that's a common visualization thatšs done. From the point of view of logic, that's what we want, right?, if you want to be happy, you breathe in what's pleasant, and you get rid of . . .

Tonglen is actually just a little more sophisticated. A little bit more in touch with what the root of suffering and the root of happiness are. It isn't like the other is "off the wall." It's just that if you want to go deeper into the real root of suffering, it's closing down, and the real root of happiness is opening the heart, or dissolving the armor.

We just go right into that which we usually armor against. And, conversely, when therešs attachment or addiction, we train in letting go of those things. It doesn't have to do, really, with morality or ethics, per se, at all. It just has to do with what brings an individual happiness. And what then brings happiness to the bigger picture as well. But, it is good for us to do this, that's the interesting thing.

We're not doing it because we want everyone else to be happy, therefore we're willing to suffer--although sometimes the teachings do sound like that. But, the truth is, it's what will also bring us happiness.

It takes courage, that's why the image of the warrior or the bodhisattva-- warrior or bodhisattva are two names for the same thing-- it's the one who cultivates courage. Because it does take courage to go to reside with this kind of energy-- you want to get away from it. Whether you know what the core fear, core belief, is or not, you know what that energy feel like.

And you know you want to get out of there.

And then you begin to acknowledge your thoughts--like all the ways you get out of there: it's her fault, it's his fault, it's because of me, I'm bad. . . endless.