Tonglen – A Tibetan Breathing Meditation


Do you ever beat yourself up for things that have happened or situations that have spun out of control? Do you take the weight of the world on your shoulders – feel bad for others when they are ill, down or out of sorts and then feel exhausted yourself by the experience too?

There is enough fear, frustration, anger and pain in the world, so when this arises in ourselves – or in others around us – rather than taking it on board, there is another, ancient method that helps relieve and release the mental, emotional and physical pressure.

Based on the wisdom that, in order to have compassion for others, we have to have compassion for ourselves too, Tongen is practiced by Buddhists and many spiritually independent types as a way of proactively caring about other people. Those are fearful, angry, jealous, arrogant, proud, in unhealthy life situations, trapped or overpowered by addictions of all kinds, miserly, selfish, mean, catty – by being able to actually have compassion for and to care for these people means being strong enough to face the potential pain of finding these things in ourselves.

By practicing Tonglen, your whole attitude towards pain can change – rather than running away from painful situations and the person or people involved, it allows you to open your heart and to feel it as something that according to Prema Chodron ‘will soften and purify’ and ‘make you far more loving and kind’.

Sound too good to be true? Give it a go to find out!

Why? To overcome fear of suffering, of other people’s actions and what they mean when they are being outrageously mean. And for those who truly are sick, unwell, in places of real physical discomfort – it all begins with working with the breath, for yourself.

1.    Breath in the discomfort/pain – whatever it is that has been provoked within you as a reaction to what you have seen/heard/felt/had happen.  Acknowledge whatever it may be.

2.    Breath out and send this person or situation happiness, joy, release, relief, sobriety, freedom, whatever would relieve their pain.

3.    Repeat!  And again – and again… Until you feel lighter – a place of relief, of more compassion, more self-love until the darker, uncomfortable feelings are released.

This is the core of the practice: breathing in others’ pain so they can be well and have more space to relax and open. When you breath out – send them happiness, in whatever form is appropriate, for whatever it is that they are denying themselves or that they seek.

This practice of Tonglen does go against the grain of wanting things on our own terms – of wanting everything to work out in the way we want to. What we resist persists, so rather than resisting the pain and situations to which there appears no way out, simply breath on the spot.

When you practice Tonglen, do it for all the people who are just like you, for everyone who wishes to be compassionate but instead is afraid, for everyone who wants to face their demons and choose a better way to deal with personal explosions. And through this practice you shall gain strength – and send strength to others – and through the letting go of wanting to make everything alright, you let go of the controls. And with this letting go, comes compassion, love and ultimately peace.