Exploring Tonglen Meditation: A Path to Compassion

Exploring Tonglen Meditation: A Path to Compassion

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Tonglen Meditation Picture

Have you ever heard of the meditation practice known as Tonglen? It's a technique rooted in Tibetan Buddhism and offers a unique perspective on meditation. When most people think of meditation, they often associate it with finding calm and tranquility in life. At least that's what I always thought of. This pursuit of calmness is integral to certain Buddhist traditions, specifically the practice of Samatha. It encourages individuals to delve into self-discovery by clearing their minds using breath-focused techniques—a remarkable starting point for those new to meditation. However, Tonglen takes a different route, and it's a practice that truly sets itself apart.

The word "Tonglen" can be translated to "sending and taking" in Tibetan, but what exactly are we sending and taking? This question has been on my mind for some time. What are we sending out into the world and what are we taking, is it even worth our time to think about this? Traditionally for my early days of practice, meditation was predominantly a self-centered endeavor. It revolved around the idea of inhaling the goodness or calmness of the world and exhaling negativity. But isn't there more to it? After all, life isn't just about the self; it's about others too. This is where Tonglen meditation becomes truly remarkable.

Tonglen takes a unique approach, focusing on embracing and transforming suffering. It involves inhaling the pain and suffering not only of oneself but also of others and exhaling happiness for all. As Pema Chodron beautifully puts it in her book The Places That Scare You, "we breathe in what is painful and unwanted with the sincere wish that we and others could be free of suffering. As we do so, we drop the story line that goes along with the pain and feel the underlying energy. We completely open our hearts and minds to whatever arises. Exhaling, we send out relief from the pain with the intention that we and others be happy." This is a different kind of meditation, one that requires us to acknowledge and accept pain, giving it the attention it craves. With each exhalation, we replace pain with a more positive concept. For example, inhale sadness, acknowledge it, and then exhale happiness to all those who are suffering. Inhale anger, exhale kindness. Inhale the sufferings of war, exhale the concept of peace.

Pamela Gayle White elaborates further, "Tonglen practice begins with breath awareness and continues with a wish to establish beings in happiness and free them from suffering. This wish is expressed in an image. You imagine that as you exhale, you share the light of freedom, of well-being and its causes, with everyone who needs it. And as you inhale, you relieve beings (including yourself—self-compassion is a natural part of the process) of the darkness of distress and its causes." It's a powerful practice that has the potential to bring more peace into the world, both for yourself and others. Give it a try and let us know what you think!

Tonglen meditation is a testament to the boundless compassion that can arise from within us. It challenges the traditional view of meditation for most westerners, inviting us to look beyond self-improvement and toward the alleviation of collective suffering. So, take a moment to explore this practice and consider how it might transform your perspective on meditation and the world around you.

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