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“If you would like to be selfish, you should do it in a very intelligent way. The stupid way to be selfish is … seeking happiness for ourselves alone… the intelligent way to be selfish is to work for the welfare of others.”
—His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Tonglen is a Tibetan Buddhist “mind training” technique that helps us change our normal mindset of selfishly finding happiness and gratification for ourselves and those close to us. Instead, we knowingly expose ourselves to other people’s pain. Tonglen meaning can be translated as “taking and sharing,” and it is one of the practices of exchanging selves with others. These mind-training methods originated in India and Tibet over a thousand years ago. Lojong is the Tibetan word for this form of technique. Lojong’s mind training meditation techniques transform life’s challenges into catalysts for a happier, more meaningful existence.
The Tibetan Buddhist master Geshe Checkawa collected and preserved these practices in a succinct prayer called the Seven-Point Mind Training. Tonglen guided meditation is a meditation technique that incorporates loving-kindness and compassion meditations. In the sense of Tonglen mindfulness, love and compassion have different meanings than they do in daily life. Maitri is the Sanskrit term for loving-kindness.
This form of love, according to Buddhist meaning, is not the magnetic desire we have for a romantic partner, but merely wishing others happiness. Compassion or karuna in Sanskrit, on the other hand, entails not only empathizing with others’ difficulties but also consciously wishing to alleviate them.
Meditating on love and compassion is similar to listening to a podcast or watching a TV show which takes the mind through a mental journey that progressively builds up thoughts and emotions. Analytical meditation, also known as vipassana, is a form of meditation. It is a form of meditation in which, rather than emptying your mind, you deliberately fill it with positive thoughts. Analytic meditation is distinct from the relaxing shamatha meditations, which are usually performed by concentrating on the breath. Tonglen guided meditation practice combines all of these approaches, combining analytic meditations on love and compassion with an emphasis on your in and out breaths. Tonglen mindfulness adds a powerful way of imagination by vividly envisioning the taking and giving as streaming streams of light.
Tonglen Meditation Instructions
Tonglen can be practiced in a sequence of steps that may increase strength and intensity, gradually broadening the compassion from one individual to near family and friends, and finally to all living beings as per the below Tonglen meditation instructions. To begin, sit in a meditation pose, either cross-legged on the floor with your seat elevated or in a chair with your legs uncrossed and your feet flat on the floor. Then take the following steps:
- Step 1. Consider someone you care about who is currently experiencing physical or emotional distress. Assume they are sitting right in front of you. Consider how the pain makes them feel and what is going on in their heads
- Step 2. Imagine their agony as a dark smoke forming in the middle of their chest
- Step 3. Consider how amazing it would be if I could alleviate their suffering
- Step 4. What if the only way I could relieve their suffering was to bear it myself? In your imagination, decide that you will be able to do this.
- Step 5. The dark spot spreads like a cloud of black smoke as you breathe in, steadily getting closer to you with each breath until it is a bubble of dark smoke right in front of your nose
- Step 6. Be courageous, let go of your fears, and visualize a bright point of light-emitting love and compassion, which is your true nature.
- Step 7. Breathe in the tiny black cloud all at once with an in-breath and the smoke flows through the body and down into that point of light.
- Step 8. As soon as the smoke comes into contact with the brilliant point of light, a huge explosion of light occurs, totally removing the issue as you exhale.
- Step 9. Imagine light as love energy flowing from your heart to theirs, providing them with all you have, a healthy body, a good atmosphere, food, shelter, friends, family, peace of mind, good teachers, a road to inner happiness, and meaningful life, and even giving itself. Take a breath and relax.
- Step 10. Now we are going to build on these feelings. Consider a massive crowd of everybody on the planet who is dealing with the same problem. Imagine the issue seeping out of their bodies like a dark cloud of smoke, through all of their pores. These clouds have gathered into a large, low storm cloud that is hovering over their bodies.
- Step 11. Create a deep desire to relieve their misery.
- Step 12. Keep the light in your heart.
- Step 13. Inhale deeply into the massive cloud over many breaths. The cloud condenses and enters your nose before descending to your heart.
- Step 14. It causes a wonderful eruption of light rays from your heart in all directions the moment it hits the light/love/energy at your heart.
- Step 15. When you exhale, you send all of your good energy to all of these people. Step 16. Concentrate solely on the out-breaths when resting in giving.
- Step 17. Try alternating between taking on other people’s suffering on the in-breaths and offering something positive on the out-breaths.
- Step 18. Open your eyes after dissolving the vision and exiting the meditation.
Tonglen Practice Precautions And Safety
Even the most scientifically inclined person might find Tonglen practice frightening, fearful that even imagining taking on the suffering of others would make you sick or mentally ill. In general, only the health-conscious can engage in meditation practice. It is best to find a therapist who specializes in the therapeutic applications of meditation if you have psychological issues and want to meditate to cope with serious or persistent psychological problems. Tonglen mindfulness has, however, been practiced by healthy-minded meditators for over a thousand years. As a result, many people have found peace of mind, happiness, an open heart, and even the creation of bodhicitta, the supreme altruistic condition of living one’s existence solely for the good of all sentient beings. Compassion methods, such as Tonglen, have also been extensively studied by scientists and there is mounting evidence that Tonglen guided meditation methods can help people feel less anxious, have more peace of mind, and feel more connected to others. Researchers have experimented with Tonglen on a large scale where hundreds of people perform Tonglen on each other in training sessions with positive results.
Tonglen Guided Meditation
Tonglen practice is particularly beneficial when you or someone you know is dealing with the stress of a difficult situation. Rather than avoiding their suffering or empathizing to the point of overwhelm, you should use Tonglen meditation to transform the situation into an opportunity to increase your own healthy, good feelings of compassion and love. Simply visualize removing the person’s pain and suffering and providing them with all of the material and mental causes of happiness. Then extend to the suffering of those who are experiencing similar issues, recognizing that your friend is not alone, and wish to absorb their pain and breathe out well-being to them.
Positives Of Regular Tonglen Practice
Tonglen practice can be performed in everyday life, which is one of the most powerful aspects of it. You may become conscious of your breath when you have some spare time, such as when sitting, on the train, driving, or walking. As you take a deep breath in, practice taking on the suffering of others. Imagine practicing loving-kindness by giving those around you whatever they require when you exhale. Tonglen meditation can also be beneficial when you are dealing with a dispute in your life. You may remember the practice of Tonglen if you are having a disagreement with your boss, wife, or child. Using Tonglen’s mind training to imagine taking on the frustration and indignation of the individual in front of you and giving them peace of mind and well-being, even though you are in the middle of a confrontation. Tonglen can also aid in the reduction of stress caused by broader global issues such as Covid-19 and racism. Tonglen meditation will help us move beyond a self-centered emphasis on our own problems to recognize our common pain, humanity, and capacity to improve and resolve obstacles. Practicing Tonglen meditation in daily life will soften your heart and minimize tensions over time, while also relaxing your mind and allowing you to remain connected to those around you. You will also become happier and more peaceful as a result of this.
Tonglen For Self
You may also use Tonglen for self to work on yourself, visualizing yourself as the person in front of you and tackling your own issues. When we have an aversion to our own issues and try to drive them further, this can be beneficial. Tonglen for self can help us not only embrace our issues, but its stress-relieving properties can also lead to a reduction in physical and mental discomfort. The Buddhist practice of Tonglen for Self is to simply acknowledge and breathe in your own pain, allowing your compassionate heart to turn it into compassionate light and healing, and then sending that light out when you exhale. It stands to reason that you cannot spread love and kindness to others unless you are full of it yourself. Tonglen for Self is highly recommended for fine-tuning feelings or energies. Tonglen for Self is recommended also for beginners.
Tonglen Mindfulness Meditation
To come to terms with your own potential for pain and healing, Tonglen mindfulness meditation asks you to imagine the pain of others. It may take a few tries to get the hang of it, but once you can separate the sensation of psychic pain from the material that triggered the pain, you will be able to see your inner world in fresh and exciting ways. By imagining the suffering of others, you will cure your own and improve your relationships with both yourself and those around you. You change yourself and encourage others to do so as well.
Tonglen Is Answer To The Current Crisis
The greatest blunder human beings made was to associate development with economic growth. The economic well-being was excessively glorified and gained so much popularity, we forgot to live as humans, plagued with greed and fear, finding accumulation as the only solution to all the sufferings that we currently have. If we as evolved human beings in this world and every other human on this planet start to do Tonglen Meditation, can you imagine what a wonderful place mother earth would be?