Tonglen

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Tonglen (Tibetan: གཏོང་ལེན་Wylie: gtong len, or tonglin[1]) is Tibetan for 'giving and taking' (or sending and receiving), and refers to a meditation practice found in Tibetan Buddhism.[2]

Practice[edit]

In the practice, one visualizes taking onto oneself the suffering of others on the in-breath, and on the out-breath giving happiness and success to all sentient beings.[3][4] As such it is a training in altruism.[3][5]

The function of the practice is to:

The practice of Tonglen involves all of the Six Perfections;[2] giving, ethics, patience, joyous effort, concentration and wisdom. These are the practices of a Bodhisattva.[2]

H.H. The Dalai Lama, who is said to practise Tonglen every day,[6] has said of the technique:

"Whether this meditation really helps others or not, it gives me peace of mind. Then I can be more effective, and the benefit is immense."[6]

His Holiness offers a translation of the Eight Verses in his book The Path To Tranquility: Daily Meditations.

Practical aspects on this meditation[edit]

Taking onto oneself the suffering of others and giving happiness and success to all Sentient beings seems a heavy task, especially for a beginner in the practice.[2] It might be appropriate to start out with smaller issues, like working with oneself to increase one's own wellbeing, increasing harmony in the family, open one's own mind to communicate better with other people or just finding more peace in doing the necessary daily chores. This is an area where it might be easier to experience some success in order to be able to go on with taking on the unhappiness or conflicts among other people, even though the principal aim is to develop one's own selfless and empathic qualities more than or at least as much as creating a real difference for others.[7] The principle of taking in the suffering or disharmony on the inbreath and spreading an antidote of joy, harmony or peace of mind (or whatever might be needed in the specific case) on the outbreath is the same as described above. It is also a good option to use a small pause after the inbreath to convert the suffering or disharmony to the positive antidote which is to be breathed out.

Taking on suffering does not really mean to burden oneself with the misery of the world, but rather to acknowledge the existence of it and accept the state of the art. This makes it possible to increase one's own peace of mind at the same time as taking suffering or disharmony in, so there is not so much contradiction as there might seem to be from the outstart.[3][4]

In mental training as a part of Autogenic Training, it is recommended to concentrate on the same issue for one week and not mix too many different problems or issues. This should be adapted to the difficulty and extent of the task set, which means that getting oneself to achieve a small goal might be solved in one session, whereas a longstanding conflict in a workplace might need a week or two, and happiness for all sentient beings may well require an unknown number of lifetimes.

A possibility to increase the power of the exercise is to breathe together with another person or maybe several people. It seems that simultaneous breaths will reinforce the effect.[8][9]

History[edit]

This practice is summarized in seven points, which are attributed to the great Indian Buddhist teacher Atisha Dipankara Shrijnana,[10] born in 982 CE. They were first written down by Kadampa master Langri Tangpa (1054–1123). The practice became more widely known when Geshe Chekawa Yeshe Dorje (1101–1175) summarized the points in his Seven Points of Training the Mind.[11] This list of mind training (lojong) aphorisms or 'slogans' compiled by Chekawa is often referred to as the Atisha Slogans.[11]

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Further reading[edit]

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