Tonglen meditation has made its way into many spiritual and formal meditation practices. However, its root lies in Tibetan Buddhism and it essentially is a Buddhist meditation practice. It’s a Tibetan word that means “giving and taking”.
The essence of this meditation practice lies in breathing. In Tonglen meditation,
- It is believed that we can release positive emotions as we exhale.
- During it, the practitioners are requested to imagine releasing positive emotions as they exhale.
- It’s believed to give you a meaningful life
Tonglen is very different from other formal meditation practices because it has a positive intention towards other sentient beings, not the practitioner. Here, I’ll share how you can practice Tonglen meditation at home.
A Guide on How to Practice Tonglen Meditation
Tonglen meditation is very adaptive, but certain guidelines can help you focus better.
Find a Quiet and Comfortable Place
Find a comfortable place before you get into meditation. You don’t need a mirror or candle like some other forms of meditation. Just find a place with proper ventilation and a suitable temperature.
Wear Comfortable Clothing
Wearing uncomfortable clothing will definitely make your attention waver. So, wear something of breathable material so you don’t get sweaty over time.
Take a Few Deep Breaths
Taking a few deep breaths before will help you acquire breath awareness, which will help you calm yourself down. Also, it’ll help you clear out your respiratory tract so you can breathe easily.
Ponder on Bodhichitta
You should begin to practice Tonglen meditation by resting your mind on absolute stillness for a few seconds. Try to imagine taking a walk through a calm forest, or an absolutely still lake.
Focus on Your Suffering
Thinking of your suffering is a way to bring humility to your soul. Without humility, it’s very hard to seek the suffering of others. So, focus on a memory that depicts personal suffering.
In most cases, people do Tonglen meditation when they want to make someone else feel better. However, if you can’t find any memory about others, you can try focusing on your traumatic memories as well.
Bring to Mind the Suffering of Others
Once you feel you’re ready, it’s time to focus on the suffering of those around you. If you take a close look, you’ll find that there is a lot of suffering in the lives of the people around you. Suffering that you haven’t noticed or realized before.
When you do Tonglen meditation, the aim is to do it for as many people as you possibly can. It can be a person you saw on the TV or on the street. It doesn’t matter if you know that person or not. Tonglen extends its focus to all the people and even mistreated animals you can think of.
It can also be people who hurt you or hurt others. Imagine them being in a state of confusion where they aren’t even aware of their wrongdoings because it’s their form of suffering.
You don’t have to push it initially. Meditation masters opine that Tonglen meditation naturally expands compassion towards everyone you meet in your everyday life.
Breathe in the Dark
While you think about others and their suffering, try to take in all of their pain and suffering through your breathing. With the in-breath, imagine inhaling pitch-black smoke full of pain.
Exhale your Inner Peace and Energy
Before you start out breaths, imagine your good intentions purging all the dark, and exhale positive energy only. Imagine your out-breath as smooth rays of light, like the beams of the shining moon. Full of light yet comfortable and soothing to the feel.
There are different methods to practice Tonglen meditation. There’s the traditional method and the modern method.
The traditional method is the simpler one. In this, you breathe in the bad and exhale the good with active compassion. The key is connecting your thoughts to your breathing.
In modern meditation practice, the entire practice is divided into phases as described here. It just helps to structure the meditation even better. However, keeping all these in mind can be a bit difficult for beginners. So, initially, people are allowed to free flow their thoughts as they settle in.
Continue for several minutes
Once you settle into the perfect mood for Tonglen practice, you should be at it for a few minutes. Tonglen practice doesn’t have to last for hours. You can try it for a few minutes a day.
This is the best thing about Tonglen practice because even the busiest people can find some time to perform it.
End the practice with a few deep breaths
When it’s time to end the meditation, you should do it by taking a few deep breaths. This marks an end to Tonglen’s practice.
Benefits of Practicing Tonglen Meditation
Here are some of the benefits that you can expect from doing Tonglen meditation.
Cultivating Compassion and Empathy
So you may think that practicing Tonglen won’t help other people heal directly. While that is true, those who perform Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice believe that it helps cultivate compassion and empathy in a person.
In turn, this helps you reflect compassion on the people around us. So, while meditation may not directly affect the lives of others, it’ll motivate you to do so through loving kindness.
Reducing Anxiety and Stress
Taking a closer look at other people’s lives and learning about their suffering makes us realize how small our lives are. We live but a fleeting moment in the grand scale of the universe, and it’s important to enjoy every moment of our lives.
Tonglen meditation helps us live our lives, all the while inspiring us to make others’ lives easier as well. Overall, it leaves your mind with more peace.
Enhancing Mental Clarity and Focus
As you start reflecting on your past trauma and painful situation during the Tonglen meditation script, you start journeying through this spiritual path that helps you see clearly. You not only purify the negative energy around you but the ones within you as well.
Developing a Deeper Sense of Connection
As you peer deep into the lives of the people around you, you start embracing the best of them. You start understanding a person’s pain, and this allows you to understand the reason behind his actions.
This helps you develop a deeper sense of connection. So, over time, you’ll be able to make a lot of healthy connections in your life.
Strengthening Resilience and Coping Skills
Understanding the pain other people go through is a great way of taking lessons. As you learn how people are dealing with their situations, you’ll be more prepared to take on them should you face them as well.
This way Tonglen can make you more resilient and help you develop strong coping mechanisms. It also helps in overcoming fear.
Encouraging Generosity and Giving
Knowing people’s suffering helps make you kinder and more giving toward them. Because Tonglen is all about promoting generosity at its core.
In fact, you don’t even have to do anything for them to be generous. The fact that you’ll be spending a lot of your time thinking about how to make that person’s pain go away is enough.
Promoting Spiritual Growth and Development
Last but not the least, this formal practice is a great way of attaining spiritual growth. This is the meditation that masters like Dalai Lama performed every day to overcome problems. So, it might be a great addition to your daily life if you’re interested in meditation.
Common Challenges in Tonglen Meditation
While it’s simple, it can feel overwhelming to some people. It’s also very hard to perform it for beginners. Here are some of the challenges that you can expect to face.
Feeling overwhelmed by the suffering of others
You enter a state of breath awareness where you can focus deeply on a matter. Any sense of feeling feels stronger in this state. You release positive energy through your breaths, but you have to take negativity through your breaths.
For some people, the negative energy can feel overwhelming initially. This is normal. You will get used to these as you keep practicing. If you feel overwhelmed, you can call it a day. The key is to not push yourself.
Difficulty in cultivating self-compassion
Cultivating loving kindness towards yourself can be very tough. A lot of us don’t feel much positivity toward ourselves, so we stumble through the meditation initially. This feels like a wall and people often give up.
We’d recommend you don’t give up, but use your emotional intelligence to confront this. It would be a very intelligent way of overcoming this challenge.
Resistance to taking on the suffering of others
Some people find it hard to take on the suffering other people are going through. It only makes sense because we live with traumas of our own, and it’s very hard to find space for more.
Difficulty in Staying Focused and Present
Due to living a fast life, our attention span has been reduced to a great extent. This is why we face difficulty in staying focused. Thankfully, Tonglen is one of the mind training techniques that help you enhance your focus.
Giving into negative self-talk is very easy while performing any form of meditation. If you face such unwelcome situations, you should try to focus on the pain of others. This will help pull out negative self-talk.
Here’s a guided Tonglen meditation video:
Tonglen mind training practice helps promote basic goodness, leaves you with an awakened heart and mind, and promotes personal and social well-being. Following the discussed methods will help you perform it in your home.
Just remember, a lot of people give in to negative energy because it overwhelms them. Make sure you’re prepared for it so you can take part in seeking happiness easily. If you’re unsure about doing it yourself, it’s always wiser to consult an expert.