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Tonglen -- The Meditation of Giving and Receiving
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The Dalai Lama has been interviewed many times concerning his feeling about the Chinese holocaust in Tibet in the 1950s. They killed one sixth of the population, torched 6,000 monasteries and tortured many of the monks, nuns and lamas The Chinese rape and pillage extended to the land. The beautiful Tibetan plateaus are now nuclear dumping grounds and the great herds of wildlife extinct. I am always moved when the Dalai Lama responds with compassion for the Ignorance and pain of the Chinese that must underlie their actions. In his compassion he practices a form of meditation called tonglen for their benefit, taking on their pain, and gives them his happiness and joy. This extraordinary meditation of giving and receiving has been very helpful in bringing about forgiveness in my own life.

People sometimes fear that tonglen will harm them when they imagine breathing in pain, ignorance or illness. The Tibetan lamas say that the only thing we can harm with tonglen is our ego and its self-grasping which will dissolve in the intention of compassion. Nonetheless, until you are comfortable with tonglen, perform it only for yourself or loved ones. When you feel more secure, you can extend it to strangers whom you feel judgments about, or feel sympathetic to, and then to others about whom your judgments are stronger. In time, you can extend it to your worst enemies, creating peace and compassion where there was pain and fear. Tonglen is truly a yoga that transforms pain into forgiveness.

Before we learn to practice tonglen on behalf of others, we will learn to do it for ourselves. The first step is to open our hearts so that we have something good to give. So begin by bringing back the memory of a holy moment; a time that your heart feels open to nature, to a cbild to a pet; to beauty. Now imagine that you are sitting, facing yourself Look into your eyes and see the beauty of who you are~ and the pain that keeps you out of touch with that beauty. Imagine that all your pain is like a thick, black smoke covering your heart. Inhale that smoke into your own heart; and exhale the peace, love and happiness of your own true nature. Continue this meditation of breathing in pain and breathing out happiness. Since you can only experience love and jay by giving it away this meditation is a form of “wise selfishness.” It will make you happy.

Now bring a loved one to mind and imagine any pain, confusion, illness or unhappiness they might be experiencing as a black smoke around their heart. Breathe that smoke into your own heart and return your peace and happiness. Continue to do this for a few minutes until you feel a sense of completion.

Next; ~ it feels right for you, practice tonglen for a stranger whom you might otherwise pity. Whether it’s a homeless person, someone you read about in the paper or see on the news, imagine breathing in their pain in the form of black smoke. Take it into your heart and return your happiness to them.

Next, bring to mind someone that you hold in judgment. Imagine the pain and ignorance that led them to behave in a way that was
hurtful. See it as a thick black smoke that obscures the true light in their heart. Breathe the smoke into your own heart’s Light; and return your Light to them. Continue until the lights in your two hearts touch.

You can do tonglen for areas of the world where there is war, famine or other suffering, for all the people who are grieving, for those who are sick...~.... The practice is universally applicable to all pain and sorrow.


During the day, be aware of any negative emotions that arise. If the emotions have a message to give you, make sure that you attend to it before you use tonglen to transform the emotion. Begin by getting in touch with just how miserable your anger, jealousy, spite or sadness is making you feel. Then take a few deep breaths and do your best to bring back the memory of a holy moment when you felt connected with the universe. Then practice tonglen for yourself.