Tonglen Meditation is a special form of breathing meditation. In Tibetan, Tonglen Meditation means, ‘Taking & Giving,’ which enables a person to TAKE in the ‘negative’ aspects or energies of life, transform this energy into a useful purpose (destroying one’s selfish ego) and then GIVE OUT positive healing energy.
The origins of this method go right back to Buddha Shakyamuni and were originally taught from Master to Student.
Kadampa master Langri Tangpa (1054-1123) first wrote down the instructions for this Buddhist meditation technique and Geshe Chekawa Yeshe Dorje (1101-1175) summarized and popularised the method in his ‘Seven Points of Training the Mind.’
Of course you don’t need to be a Buddhist to practice this method of transformation and the benefits of Tonglen Meditation have become more popular due to the work of people such as Michael Breen (NLP Trainer), Steve Gilligan (Psychotherapist, Author – ‘The Courage to Love’) and Michael Neil (Success Coach.)
One of the amazing things about Tonglen is that you can use it to transform any kind of negativity. By simply imagining your anger, hatred, fear, paranoia, jealousy etc. as black smoke you can then begin to transform it. Another outstanding benefit of the Tonglen process is that no Psychological Analysis is required: You don’t need to torture yourself asking questions such as, “Why am I so stupid?” And there is no need for ‘Psychological Archaeology’ – digging around in your past trying to find ‘root causes.’
It’s an empowering process focused on transforming your feelings here and now in the present.
Developing Compassion with Tonglen Meditation
When you have practised and gained some familiarity using Tonglen on your own negativities you can begin to experiment with taking on the suffering of others. Maybe you know someone that is suffering from illness or grieving.
However you may well have some resistance to taking on their suffering at first as Buddhist Nun, Pema Chodron points out in her article The Practice Of Tonglen –
“This is the core of the practice: breathing in other’s pain so they can be well and have more space to relax and open, and breathing out, sending them relaxation or whatever you feel would bring them relief and happiness. However, we often cannot do this practice because we come face to face with our own fear, our own resistance, anger, or whatever our personal pain, our personal stuckness happens to be at that moment.”
“At that point you can change the focus and begin to do tonglen for what you are feeling and for millions of others just like you who at that very moment of time are feeling exactly the same stuckness and misery.”
My Personal Experience with Tonglen Meditation
Like most westerners, when I first came across Tonglen I thought it a bit odd! Most western psychological models are still based on getting rid of things that are wrong or bad. With Tonglen, of course, we accept the negative energy, take it on and indeed harness the energy for transformation! It’s a very beautiful way for dealing with your own problematic feelings. Personally I have found Tonglen to work where other approaches / techniques don’t. Because I’m into NLP modelling I’m not bothered about serious theories of why this or that works, I’m interested in what gets results when you apply it. Tonglen gets results!
I believe it is very special for several reasons: Firstly, as all Spiritual / Shamanic traditions assert, the breath / breathing is sacred. Tonglen directly utilises breathing and as Tantric Meditation Master Geshe Kelsang Gyatso states in ‘Eight Steps to Happiness’ –
“By harnessing our breath for virtuous purposes we purify our inner winds, and when pure winds are flowing through our channels pure minds arise naturally.”
Secondly, the actual act of imagining taking on the negative energy (black smoke) lifts you into a state of courage: A powerful energy field.
From reading and hearing about experienced practitioners it seems once you can deal with some of your own negativities you can begin to practice Tonglen for others. It is said that with practice you can cultivate your love and compassion to the point where you can actually heal peoples suffering directly. Until that time I find it very useful for balancing and calming my own mind.