What is Tonglen?

Tonglen vs Metta

Metta (which means loving-kindness in the Pali language) is another Buddhist meditation, often practiced within the context of a broader engagement with mindfulness. The Metta meditation focuses on the development of genuine loving-kindness or appreciation for oneself and for all others without discrimination. The practice involves, firstly, feeling loving-kindness for oneself and then extends outwards to encompass a loved one, someone that is neutral (someone you see in the street every day or someone that serves you in a shop, for instance) and then finally to someone that you don’t get on so well with. It can also encompass groups of people such as your teachers, friends, work colleagues, extended family, people in war-torn locations etc. Eventually, just like the sun shines on all indiscriminately, we aim to embody Metta and radiate loving-kindness to all without exception.

How to Do Tonglen Meditation

Homeless man on the street

Why Bother with Tonglen. What are the Benefits?

Exchanging ourselves for others takes bravery, but why bother? In taking on all that suffering, we might ask: is Tonglen dangerous? It’s a lot of intense work and maybe we’d be better off just focusing on ourselves and getting as much pleasure out of life as we can. Do we really want to make all that effort to take away the suffering of people that we don’t know or that we might even hate? The Dalai Lama had something interesting to say on this score: “If you would like to be selfish, you should do it in a very intelligent way. The stupid way to be selfish is seeking happiness for ourselves alone… the intelligent way to be selfish is to work for the welfare of others.”

Woman looking out of a window and appearing sad.
  • We expand our ability to generate true compassion and loving-kindness towards others.
  • We limit the effects of the ego and our attachments to pain and suffering.
  • We develop a much greater desire to be generous with others.
  • We can realise that our own pain and suffering is not personal and that there are many people in the world who are suffering in the same way right at this moment.
  • We develop the ability to be present for our own pain and that of others.
  • We find it much easier to feel genuine loving-kindness and compassion for ourselves.
  • We can create positive karma as we continue to give and take for others, bringing them ease from suffering.

A Tonglen Meditation

1/ Begin by establishing your meditation posture and moving into an awareness of the breath. Simply be present with the breath for a few moments, acknowledging any distracting thoughts as they arise and then returning to being anchored on the breath. Bring your mind to a state of open awareness, clarity, and spaciousness.

Girls in a field of sunflowers and looking happy

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Steve Gooch

Steve Gooch

Author of Reiki Jin Kei Do: The Way of Compassion & Wisdom and Mindfulness Meditation and the Art of Reiki. Creativity and Mindset Coach. Artist.