Heal yourself and the world through Tonglen Meditation

Tong means “giving or sending”, and len means “receiving or taking”. Tonglen is also known as exchanging self with other.  The origins of Tonglen date as far back as the 11th Century. During this era leprosy wreaked havoc, causing many deaths in Tibet. Meditation masters brought Tonglen over from India to help those who were suffering from the disease, and also to heal themselves so they could continue to help others to recover.

The function of the practice is to: reduce selfish attachment, increase a sense of renunciation, purify karma by giving and helping, develop and expand loving-kindness

TONGLEN INSTRUCTION by Pema Chödrön  (excerpt and adapted)

When you do tonglen as a formal meditation practice, it has four stages: 

1.First, rest your mind briefly, for a second or two, in a state of openness or stillness. 

2.Second, work with texture. Breathe in a feeling of hot, dark, and heavy-a sense of claustrophobia-and breathe out a feeling of cool, bright, and light-a sense of freshness. Breathe in completely, through all the pores of your body, and breathe out, radiate out, completely, through all the pores of your body. Do this until it feels synchronized with your in- and out-breaths. 

3.Third, work with a personal situation-any painful situation that’s real to you. Traditionally you begin by doing tonglen for someone you care about and wish to help. However, as I described, if you are stuck, you can do the practice for the pain you are feeling and simultaneously for all those just like you who feel that kind of suffering. For instance, if you are feeling inadequate, you breathe that in for yourself and all the others in the same boat, and you send out confidence and adequacy or relief in any form you wish. 

4.Finally, make the taking in and sending out bigger. If you are doing tonglen for someone you love, extend it out to those who are in the same situation as your friend. If you are doing tonglen for someone you see on television or on the street, do it for all the others in the same boat. Make it bigger than just that one person. If you are doing tonglen for all those who are feeling the anger or fear or whatever that you are trapped in, maybe that’s big enough. But you could go further in all these cases. You could do tonglen for people you consider to be your enemies-those who hurt you or hurt others. Do tonglen for them, thinking of them as having the same confusion and stuckness as your friend or yourself. Breathe in their pain and send them relief. 

Tonglen can extend infinitely. As you do the practice, gradually over time your compassion naturally expands, and so does your realization that things are not as solid as you thought. As you do this practice, gradually at your own pace, you will be surprised to find yourself more and more able to be there for others even in what used to seem like impossible situations.

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