Being open to the pain of ourselves and others can be very challenging, but that’s really what we’re trying to on the Bodhisattva path. We start with a formless meditation practice, resting in the openness of our minds. We then practice opening and letting go before we engage tonglen practice.

 

By Daniel Scharpenburg

The first time I heard about tonglen practice I thought it sounded really weird.

I don’t connect with visualization type practices very well a lot of the time, so when I read that this was (sort of) a visualization practice I assumed it wouldn’t mean much to me. I was wrong.

Tonglen is called the practice of sending and taking. It’s a sitting meditation practice. You sit and visualize inhaling the suffering as a black smoke and exhaling a clear blue light. We are imagining that we are taking suffering into ourselves and transforming it into love and compassion. This helps us to both develop compassion for others and also to loosen our attachment to ourselves.

Someone once asked the Dalai Lama if tonglen practice really works; if it really helps others and lessens their suffering. “It doesn’t matter,” he responded, “it works to transform you.”

That’s how I feel about it.

Tonglen is a practice that is used to cultivate compassion. It has two main intents behind it:

1) To train ourselves to be more open-hearted by training our hearts to go toward difficulty and pain instead of away from those feelings.

2) To realize that our suffering and the suffering of others is really the same.

Being open to the pain of ourselves and others can be very challenging, but that’s really what we’re trying to on the Bodhisattva path. We start with a formless meditation practice, resting in the openness of our minds. We then practice opening and letting go before we engage tonglen practice.

Next, we breathe in, imagining that we are inhaling our suffering and pain as a black smoke. We don’t try to hide from our suffering or try to avoid it, we choose to bravely face it instead. This is receiving. Then we breathe out and visualize that pain transforming into peace—a clear light. This is releasing.

We start this practice with ourselves, but after a while we extend toward others. We do tonglen for the suffering of someone we like, and then little later we do tonglen for someone we don’t like. Ultimately we want to extend our practice to include all beings; no one gets left out.

We set our intention to transform the suffering and pain of all beings.

That is tonglen practice.

 

Photo: (source)

Editor: Dana Gornall

 

 

Were you inspired by this post? You might also like:

 

 

Confessions of a Zen Zealot: Breaking Down Walls (and Bullies) {Part 2}

 By Tyson Davis See Part 1 hereIn seventh grade I was considered, depending on who you spoke to, a nerd or a dork.I think at the time the terms were fairly interchangeable, whereas now many people proudly claim nerdship as a valued status in society. But...

Top 10 Meditation Blogs Recommended by Our Writers (Plus a few More)

  Everywhere you look people are talking about mindfulness. It's a new buzzword, and you see the word gracing the cover of Time Magazine, and popping up in seemingly unexpected places. Whether you're new to meditation or just looking to clear a little rust out of...

Your Practice, Your Choice

By Jennifer Mazzoni Since meditation is a personal experience, each of us will have a position we prefer. Below are three popular meditation positions that I will describe to help you find your preference: sitting, kneeling, and lying down. We can also...

Scar Tissue is Stronger

 By Brent Purple Oliver My past isn't pretty.For most of my life I’ve felt ostracized by the world, aimless and dismal.I’ve struggled with substance abuse, I've seen my mental stability slip, and even flirted with that seductive swinger---suicide. How did...

Comments

comments

Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel lives in Kansas City. He runs Fountain City Meditation. Daniel is a Zen Priest and Meditation Teacher. He believes that meditation teachings can be shared with a little more simplicity and humility than we often see. He has been called "A great everyman teacher" and "Really down-to-earth." Daniel is affiliated with the Dharma Winds Zen Sangha, where he received ordination in 2018.

Find out more about Daniel here and connect with him on Facebook

Latest posts by Daniel Scharpenburg (see all)

(Visited 312 times, 1 visits today)