In its simplest form, tonglen is a specialized form of meditation of ‘taking and sending.’ In an in-depth analysis of what tonglen is, it’s complicated and takes years to perfect. My purpose here is only to expose you to this interesting practice that many believe to be beneficial in their world views and life practices. I have never practiced tonglen, but learning this information makes me curious.
Have you ever said to someone or had someone say to you something like: “I wish I could help you carry that burden.”? You were in a good space and your friend was obviously suffering either from something physical or emotional. You wanted to help comfort and sooth your friend.
A simplified way that tonglen works is that, during meditation, you breathe in while thinking about a particular pain or suffering – either your own or that of another. You’re breathing in the wish to do away with this discomfort. On the breath out, you send wishes of comfort and relief from the person’s pain or suffering. In the process we begin to learn for ourselves and for others.
Practicing tonglen is said to increase our compassion as we enlarge our view of reality. It increases our ability to be open – open to ourselves, other things, and other people. It can be done for people who are ill or dying or are suffering pain. As with all meditation practices, it can be done formally, informally on the spot, or while walking or out and about. As with many prayers, there is a structured practice in the formal tonglen.
Practicing tonglen formally a person is to 1) get quiet and be still for a moment or two, 2) visualize what the pain or suffering might feel like and what the positive energy will also feel like, 3) if you are struggling with helping another, focus first on any aspect of a painful situation for yourself and then think of the person you are trying to help, and 4) expand the compassion and love you feel with each in and out breath. You can expand it out from one individual to a larger group or larger situation; you can include your enemies. You can practice tonglen for an entire race or for animals, religious groups, etc. The practice is limitless.
The concept of taking in pain and sending out relief is straightforward, regardless of the situation. It teaches us greater compassion and the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of others who may be struggling. I like the idea of increasing my ability to be there for others. Think you’ll try it?