Tonglen Meditation, which means ‘Taking & Giving’ in Tibetan, is a special healing practice, with an emphasis on the breath. Tonglen Meditation 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 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.
|Taking & Giving (Tonglen) Healing Meditation in 3 Steps
1) TAKING: Begin by representing whatever you feel is negative as black smoke. Simply imagine, sense or pretend that there is a cloud of black smoke in front of you. Begin to inhale this cloud of black smoke through your nostrils. Imagine the smoke entering into your body and settling at the area of your heart chakra. Pause your breath there for a moment as you allow that energy to destroy ‘the demon of demons’ – your ‘self cherishing demon’ or ego!
2) GIVING: Now slowly and gently exhale pure white wisdom light through your mouth. You could if you wish imagine beautiful rays of white light and nectars radiating from your body. You are giving away all that is pure, coming from deep within your infinite potential: Your Indestructable Buddha Nature! As you exhale imagine the white wisdom light is blessing every living being, bestowing peace and happiness!
3) REJOICING: As you’re exhaling allow yourself to feel joy at practicing giving peace and happiness to others. Pause for a moment at the end of the breath and indulge in it!
REPEAT: You now simply go back and start the taking & giving cycle again.
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.”
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 useful for shifting unwanted states of mind where other approaches / techniques didn’t work.