Tonglen Meditation:

Exchanging Oneself for Others

One is asked to approach this Sending-and-Taking meditation with an attitude of extraordinary compassion and love for all. Think about all the suffering in the world. Wouldn't it be wonderful to be able take all that pain and convert it to happiness, health and well-being? Wouldn't it be a wonderful thing if you could open your heart, accepting suffering and being able to transform it into love and goodness? Lets do it now.

Start by accepting your own being

Many teachers recommend that you begin the practice of sending-and-taking with yourself. To do this, you simply consider yourself as having two parts. One part is loving and compassionate; the other needs love and compasion. Envision yourself being able to send love, care, and acceptance back to your own being.

I highly recommend that you begin your sending-and-taking practice with thoughts of your own being, your life and your journey. When trying to generate compassion for all beings, it is essential to remember that you are one of them. You have to be strong, confident and accepting of yourself before you can begin accepting others. Use tonglen to forgive yourself for the things about which you feel guilty, inadequate or responsible; use tonglen as a spiritual healing, and return to wholeness and wellness through this soulful healing practice. As Lao-Tzu said, "When you accept yourself, the whole world accepts you."

Extend your Love and Acceptance to Others

After you have warmed your own heart with love, extend the circle of beings for whom you feel love and compassion. Begin with those who are close to you - your parents, your family, your children and friends. Gradually extend that circle until you are able to encompass enemies as well as friends. Finally, extend your circle of compassion until you feel all the beings in the world are soothed and healed by the tenderness of your love.

Exchange Happiness and Love for Suffering and Pain

Begin the Tonglen practice by relaxing and centering yourself. Return to yourself, come home to the present moment. To start this practice, just for a moment flash on absolute bodhicitta as you understand it. Pure presence, being itself. Gaze into the sky and become aware of emptiness. Everything is empty, like a dream. But it's not just like an empty room; it's a sparkling sunlit day, and the sun is filling all the spaces. Awaken to ultimate presence, and dissolve in the luminous emptiness of the moment. Open to the infinite boundless expanse, startling yourself into total wakefulness. Enjoy this natural great perfection, things are just as they are.

Ride upon the Moving Breath

In the Tonglen meditation, you follow your breath. Ride the in-breath; ride the out-breath. Concentrate. Follow the inhalation; follow the exhalation. Breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth. Breathe in and out, again. Accept the in-breath; let go of the out-breath. Don't be stingy; take it all in, and breathe it all out. Let it flow, let it go. Why hold back?

As you breathe, visualise that you are inhaling darkness, like smog. Hoover it up like a giant vacuum cleaner. But you're not getting stuck with this dark smog. You hold the breath for a moment, letting everything dissolve. Everything is resolved in the spacious, clear awareness of bodhicitta. Then exhale; visualise all that smog streaming out of you as shining light. You are exhaling luminosity, like sunlight and cool fresh spring breezes.

Meditate on Interwoven Sending and receiving
and Begin the Receiving with Yourself

This is one of Atisha's slogans from the 'Seven points of Mind-training'. The practice begins by inhaling your own conflicting emotions, your own negative karma, and your own difficulties. A moment of transformation. Then exhale, as you visualise all this negativity riding out as a breath stream of happiness and joy.

Continue exhaling and inhaling - riding the breath, as you begin to empathise with the problems of the world. Inhale all the darkness, disease, unhappiness. Inhale:"May all the difficulties, doubts and fears in the world be absorbed into the empty nature of my mind.' Exhsle: 'May all beings have all my happiness, faith and fearlessness.'

A Healing Attitude

As we think, so we become. The Tonglen meditation is done with the hope of healing one's attitude and restoring it to wholeness, as well as healing the troubles of the world. It helps train us to be genuinely present with difficult situations, and to bring more enlightened principles into daily life, without excessive reactivity. Through Tonglen practice, we can change the entire atmosphere. We can loosen up and dissolve the dualism between light and dark, good and bad, positive and negative, wanted and unwanted circumstances. We take in the bad, and we give away all that is desirable. We do this as an exercise in generosity, transcendence and nonattachment.

When you first start this practice, you may have some difficulties as you try to visualise giving away all your advantages, assets and delights to people you dislike as well as people you care about. But over time, this will change. As you explore your inner resources, you will discover that you have an abundance, more positive resources than you can possibly imagine. Reach into the infinite spiritual richness of your innately compassionate and wise Buddha-nature.

Note: 'Bodhicitta' means the purified and fully developed heart-mind.

Some Links

Tonglen meditation with some wonderful expert commentaries on the practice

Tonglen Meditation in prison

More excerpts from Awakening The Buddha Within.

The Eighteen Root Bodhicitta Vows

Questions & Answers about Bodhicitta

Glossary of Buddhist terms - includes Bodhicitta

Biography of Atisha

Another page about Atisha and spreading the Buddhadharma

Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness

Chasing Buddha

The Gyuto Monks on tour Downunder in 2001

Buddhist Quote of the Moment

Tibetan Healing Meditation

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