Practice of Tonglen

Tonglen Instructions

Three Stages of Tonglen


On the Spot Tonglen Practice



Pema Bio

Gampo Abbey






































Three Stages of Tonglen

Pema: OK, so now, here are the three stages of tonglen.

The first stage is, I'm going to hit the gong [gong sounds], and just listen to the gong and let your mind rest [sounds resonates out]. It's called a moment of openness, traditionally called a flash of absolute bodhichitta-- that sense of openness. Just listen to this sound of the gong, and sometimes that really evokes a sense space. [gong sounds, sound resonates out]

Do you see what I mean? It's just a beginning with a feeling of opening or stillness or not being caught up. And in the next class, when we have time for questions and answers, and in your discussion group you can talk about this a little bit. But, beginning with a sense of not caught up as the background. So, listening to the gong. So, that's the first stage, openness. Just a moment, beginning with openness, or stillness, or gap. Just a flash. Just a moment.

Then, second stage. Breath in the texture of claustrophobia. The texture of all caught up. Breath out the texture of relaxation, or spaciousness, or letting go. So, usually how this is taught (with the eyes open or closed): Breath in, a sense of heavy, hot, dark. Breath out, a sense of fresh, cool, light. Breath in the heavy, hot, dark. Breath out, light, cool, refreshing. You can breath into your heart, with the idea of making the heart very big. Welcoming it in. Allowing a lot of room for it to come in.

And then you breath out, radiating it out. Sending it out. Or you can breath in to your whole being, like breathing in to a big sky. The point is to open, when you breath in. To welcome it in. To allow room for what usually we push against. To open. Training the heart muscle, the chitta, to open. That which is so scared, so frozen, training it to open, when we breath in--and using our breath to help us.

And breath out. But the point is, whether you're breathing into the heart, getting bigger and bigger and bigger, or breathing in to your whole being, there's no place for it to get stuck. You're just opening. You're not capturing it. You're not making yourself sick with it. You're making yourself healthy and loving and compassionate by opening the heart in the very situation where you usually close down. Or, if you already feel the open heart, because this is someone on your list, then you nurture that open heart by breathing in and sending out.

Nurturing. Like cultivating that which is already here. You water the seed that is already here. Do you see? And, if you feel there is no seed here, all you feel is panic, then there is a seed here.

If you open around the panic, youčll find the tenderness, you'll find the soft spot. Hidden behind that armor of: I don't want this, this isn't safe, go away, it's you're fault , it's my fault . You see? The hardness behind there is the tenderness.

If you breath in, you're finding the tenderness, finding the soft spot, experiencing it. You may not feel you do experience it, but you're training. You're training in the process that will allow you to experience your own heart, your own tenderness. And to let what is frozen, fixated, and caught. . . to let it flow again. Let it flow again. Maybe like when you were a little child. Love and compassion, flowing. So, breathing in the quality of the claustrophobia, or the I don't want-- the pain. The pain. Dark, heavy, hot. . . in. Clear, cool, and light. . . out. And you visualize this however you wish to. In and out. And we'll do that for a little bit.

Then will move on to the third section, which is doing tonglen for a particular situation, and expanding that out. Which is to say, do it for someone on your list, breath in for them, breath out for them. Breathing in for them is breathing in the pain that they feel; the pain that you feel for them. Breathing in the pain. Knowing the pain as best you can. You may not know exactly what theyčre feeling, but you know that you feel their suffering in you. And you breath in, and you feel that. For them.

And for yourself, too. You breath in, and you send out-- something specific if you wish to, but otherwise, just relaxing out. And you also think, There's other people like this one in the world. The world is filled with people who are terrified. . . Or a little child that is terrified or hurt, or an animal that is being beaten, or whatever it is. Someone who is sitting and lonely. You think, It's not just them, there are many people like this.

So, always, tonglen stays very specific, but you have a sense of how universal the situation is.

Or, you find the compassion is blocked, either because you go completely numb, or because resentment comes in, something seems to interfere with your flow of compassion. But, not really. Because, you just shift the emphasis, and that becomes the subject of your tonglen. In which case, you breath in--say the resentment, or whatever it is, you may not know what to call it-- but you breath in the feeling of No or the feeling of [pushes away with her hands], or the feeling of [pulls toward with her hands]. You breath that in. Opening to it. You see? That's the point. Opening to it. You are dissolving the barriers. And the method is, opening your heart, opening your being.

You breath in for yourself and all the other people in your situation, so the realness of your immediate, personal situation, you never leave that, you respect it, it's self-compassion, but it's also empathy for everyone else in the same boat.

That's the third stage: something very personal and real, and the universalness of that very real pain that you feel, for yourself in yourself, or for another being. So, those are the three stages:

  1. The flash of openness or stillness, like a pause of not being caught up. Sometimes people visualize something, like the ocean, the sky. But today, I think the gong helps-- listening to the gong.
  2. Then, second stage. Breath in. . . First there's no subject matter, you just breath in the quality, the heat of pain; the narrowness of it; the heaviness of it. And you breath out. . . That can be fun, just visualizing, sending out. Equally, in, dark. . . Equal breath, out. . . (equal length) light and cool and fresh. Just sending it out.
  3. And then you move on (and I'll be guiding this), you move on to the particular situation, someone on your compassion list, or if you're blocked, just do it for what youčre feeling. You know, if you want to chose another subject, you can, if one readily comes up.

I'm just trying to help you out here. I don't care what you do the tonglen on, but sometimes a major obstacle is not being able to come up with anything. I'm offering you your very own list that you made.