Tonglen Meditation For Beginners [Script]

Tonglen meditation for beginners

In this guide, we will look at Tonglen meditation for beginners. And I will share the Tonglen meditation script for you to practise at home.

Tonglen meditation technique is an ancient practice that is all about cultivating compassion.

Originally Tonglen was a Buddhist practice, and the seventh slogan of Lojong (Mind Training) in Tibetan Buddhism, which involves contemplation, meditation, and compassion. And in the Longchen Nyingthig Ngöndro it is an aspirational Bodhicitta training.

Bodhicitta training means the wish to achieve enlightenment through great compassion. It is an important aspect of Buddhism.

That said, anyone can do Tonglen. Indeed, it is now used in therapy for its ability to develop compassion.

What Is Tonglen Meditation Technique?

The word Tonglen(Tong Len) is Tibetan for “Giving and Sending”.  Tong means “giving or sending”, and len means “receiving or taking”. We take in pain and give out compassion.

You might notice how this seems similar to Loving Kindness Meditation (Metta Bhavana). The primary difference with Tonglen meditation is that we specifically visualize giving out whatever it is that will ease suffering. This trains the mind to turn a negative (suffering) into a positive (the cure for that suffering).

When we follow the Tonglen meditation script, we meditate on giving compassion to different people. For instance, those who are ill, those who are in financial trouble, those who are dying, and those who are facing grief.

Note that you do not need to do this technique while formally meditating. You can do it while you are going about your day. Perhaps you see someone suffering while you’re at work. You visualize taking in their suffering and breathing out the thing that will cure it.

When we practise Tonglen meditation, we change our usual stance on suffering.

Naturally, the mind seeks to avoid suffering. However, this doesn’t remedy anything, it just makes us ignore pain. Tonglen meditation takes a more enlightened approach. It develops our Bodhichitta (enlightened mind) by tackling suffering head-on and seeking to remedy it.  

Let’s look at the Tonglen meditation script.

Tonglen Meditation Beginner’s Script

Before starting, I advise you to read my guide to Buddhist meditation for beginners

1: Sit with good posture. Place your feet shoulder-width apart. Let your spine be long but relaxed. Relax your facial muscles. Gently lower your chin to elongate your neck. Close your eyes.

2: Take a minimum of twenty-five mindful breaths to relax. Watch your breath moving around your body. When you experience thoughts or feelings, label them and let them come and go as you would in Vipassana.

3: Visualize a person you would like to help. Yes, this can include yourself, or a loved one. Imagine seeing this person in your mind.

4: Inhale. Be mindful of the energy of pain that you observe in this individual. You will notice a heavy, dark, dampening energy.  Bring to mind the way in which they are suffering. Visualize being in their position. Breathe in their pain so you are taking the suffering out of the other person and into yourself.

5: Exhale. Breathe happiness into the world. Visualize sending this person whatever it is that they need to ease their suffering. Breathe that healing energy out into the world, towards the individual. Buddhist teacher Patrul Rinpoche (1808–1887) states that we should connect the breath with intent. You want to visualize inhaling suffering and exhaling compassion.

6: Continue for other people. You may include as many people as you like. And you can meditate on easing your own pain as well.   

Notes on Tonglen Meditation for Beginners

1: Yo Momma                          

According to Buddhist tradition, we should start Tonglen meditation technique by focusing on our mothers. However, you don’t necessarily need to start with your mom. You can start with anyone you love.

 2: Use textures

When you breathe in visualizing the pain of another, work with texture. That is, breathe in the darkness and heaviness of suffering. Breathe out light, warm, positive energy and imagine it radiating out from you.

3: Be real

During your Tonglen meditation practice, visualize actual real-world suffering. Specifically, suffering that is close to you. Maybe someone you know is in a serious situation and you want to help them. Work with that. Don’t just use a generalised idea of pain and compassion.

Pema Chodron says, “find some place on the planet in your personal life or something you know about, and breathe in with the wish that those human beings or those mistreated animals or whoever it is, that they could be free of that suffering, and you breathe out with the longing to remove their suffering.” [1]

Tonglen is very much about taking and sending. In Training the Mind and Cultivating Kindness, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche advises us to “develop the psychological attitude of exchanging oneself for others”. In other words, put yourself in someone else’s position, and give them your love.

4: Grow

As you continue to practise Tonglen meditation, make the taking and giving larger. Extend love to everyone. Visualize powerful love and compassion.

5: Enemies

Definitely include people you consider to be “enemies”. This will train your mind to overcome personal biases. An enlightened mind is one with compassion for all. So, include your “enemies”.

6: Video

If you’re new to Tonglen meditation I recommend you watch this video by Pema Chodron.

7: If you dwell on your own suffering

During Tonglen meditation, beginners might notice that they start to dwell on their own pain. When this happens, Pema Chodron advises us to “do Tonglen for what we are feeling and for millions of other people just like us who at that very moment are feeling exactly the same stuckness and misery.”

8: Is Tonglen dangerous?

Tonglen is safe to practice. The one problem you might face is that you feel too much emotion when facing other people’s suffering. If this happens, meditate on less serious instances of pain.

 

Benefits of Tonglen Meditation

There is limited scientific research on the effects of Tonglen meditation. One study [1] showed some improvements in stress and depression. However, the authors state that there was insufficient evidence.

As such, we must refer to spiritual wisdom and sacred texts if we are to understand the benefits of Tonglen meditation.  

Compassion

For starters, the method develops compassion. It is similar to Loving Kindness Meditation and Buddhist Karuna.

We focus on giving compassion to others. And indeed, there is considerable research that shows that Loving Kindness develops compassion. Therefore, it is likely that Tonglen cultivates compassion too. And this is what it was designed to do.

Some organisations, such as the Compassion Institute at Stanford University use Tonglen meditation as part of their practice. They state that this helps individuals to be more compassionate at work and in daily life.

Tonglen meditation teacher Erika Rosenberg calls it, “a powerful practice that helps us learn to be present with the suffering in ourselves and others and envision ways to transform that suffering into ease.”

Turning negatives to positive

One way in which Tonglen is different to most other methods is that it is a two-step process. We visualize taking-in suffering and sending out compassion. This trains the mind to turn a negative (suffering) into a positive (compassion).

This could be beneficial for dealing with negative thoughts and feelings. Often in life, we get stuck in the negative. Tonglen meditation trains us to accept the negative and transform it into a positive. It could therefore be beneficial for alleviating negative thinking patterns.

Altruism

Unlike in Loving Kindness Meditation, we do not visualize other people sending us love. Instead, it is entirely about us taking the pain of others and giving them compassion. As such, it is a training in altruism. That is, selfless concern for others.

In the book Love on Every Breath: Tonglen Meditation for Transforming Pain into Joy, Lama Palden Drolma says that it increases renunciation, purifies karma, and helps with Bodhicitta training.

 

Bodhicitta Training

Tonglen meditation is an important part of Bodhicitta training. A Bodhicitta is an enlightened mind that strives for awakening, empathy, and compassion.

Tonglen meditation helps cultivate the Six Perfections:

  • Giving
  • Ethics
  • Patience
  • Joyous effort
  • Concentration

 

Reduces arguing

From my personal experience, I have noticed that Tonglen meditation reduces arguing. Too often, arguing is based on two people communicating in selfish (or at least not “selfless”) ways. We have our own view, which is opposed to the other person’s view. And we fail to step back, put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, and be compassionate to them.

Tonglen meditation helps us to see from another person’s perspective. And in my experience, this reduces arguing. If you would like to learn this powerful technique, book an online meditation lesson with me today.

 

 

Sources

1: Pagliaro G, Pandolfi P, Collina N, Frezza G, Brandes A, Galli M, Avventuroso FM, De Lisio S, Musti MA, Franceschi E, Esposti RD, Lombardo L, Cavallo G, Di Battista M, Rimondini S, Poggi R, Susini C, Renzi R, Marconi L. A Randomized Controlled Trial of Tong Len Meditation Practice in Cancer Patients: Evaluation of a Distant Psychological Healing Effect. Explore (NY). 2016 Jan-Feb;12(1):42-9. doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2015.10.001. Epub 2015 Oct 26. PMID: 26657031.

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By Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a qualified meditation teacher and writer with more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential through mindfulness, yoga and meditation.