Tonglen Buddhism


Tonglen or tonglèn (Tibetan: གཏོང་ལེན; wylie: gtong-len; "giving-receiving") is a meditative practice of mind training (lojong) in Tibetan Buddhism for developing compassion.


Opening up to others is often a matter of good intentions: we all have preconceived ideas and reticence that block us at the last moment. However, if we really want to transform ourselves in depth, we must overcome these obstacles.

Tonglen, a Buddhist meditation practice, teaches us to absorb what is negative in order to give it back in a positive form, to overcome our fears and to develop our capacity to accept external events.

It proposes a reversal of the egocentric logic: "Most people always try to unload the bad on others and to centralize the good in themselves; that is the problem. This has always been the tragedy of society and of the whole world.

This technique using bodhicitta can also be described as an equalization and exchange of oneself with others: on the inhalation of the breath, one takes upon oneself with compassion the suffering of others, a specific person or the whole world; on the exhalation, one gives back benevolence and peace.

According to Chögyam Trungpa: "The tonglen approach is not particularly subtle. [If you think of Buddhism and its deep wisdom, refined philosophy and sophisticated techniques, it's amazing that anyone could come up with such a simple, primitive practice.

But we do it and it works. It seems to have worked for many centuries. Whole generations of practitioners have perfected the technique; it has proven itself. "


This practice is part of the Lojong principles attributed to the Indian Buddhist master Atisha Dipankara Shrijnana, born in 982. These instructions were first written down by a Kadampa master, Langri Tangpa (1054-1123).

The practice became better known thanks to the geshé (lama) Chekawa Yeshe Dorje (en) (1101-1175) who mentions it in his Seven Points of Mind Training (point on relative bodhicitta). This list of proverbs or slogans later compiled by Chekawa is often called Atisha's Slogans.

The fourteenth Dalai Lama, who is said to practice tonglen daily, is quoted as saying of this technique, "Whether this meditation really helps or not, it gives me peace of mind. Then I can be more effective and the benefit is immense.  His Holiness has already offered a translation of the eight verses in one of his books.


There are different types of tonglen practice. Generally speaking, one should first sit down, bring the mind to itself and perceive its true nature, then take upon oneself the suffering of one or more beings and give them our happiness, well-being, peace of mind.

This practice is supported by the breath. We imagine the suffering of beings in the symbolic form of smoke; when we breathe in, it disappears in the center of our being. Then, when exhaling, a wonderful light representing what is best for each person is sent back.

As such, it is a training in altruism in its most extreme form: "If being true [through the practice of tonglen] hurts us, it is good, because then we can really exchange ourselves for others.

Our work will have become so authentic and honest that we will want to share it with others. It's not so much a matter of simply giving them our pleasure and taking on their pain. There is something more: we want to offer them our authenticity and absorb their hypocrisy. "

Sogyal Rinpoche advocates practicing tonglen for oneself before practicing tonglen for others: to cultivate love and compassion within oneself, to heal oneself of "any reluctance, distress, anger or fear that might prevent you from practicing tonglen wholeheartedly.

There are several types of tonglen preliminary practices:

tonglen practiced on the environment: spreading calm, clarity, joy, purifying the atmosphere around you;

tonglen practiced on oneself: dividing oneself into two aspects, and communicating what is suffering and negativity in oneself with the warmth of compassion, without judgment;

tonglen practiced in a living situation: imagine a circumstance in which you have done something wrong, accept your responsibility by breathing in, breathing out reconciliation and forgiveness;

tonglen practiced for others: start thinking of someone close to you, then extend the practice to all sentient beings, without exception.

Other advanced visualizations exist. According to Chögyam Trungpa, "tonglen is of great importance in vajrayana. Without tonglen it is impossible to practice the vajrayana disciplines of utpattikrama (creation stage) and sampannakrama (completion stage). [Otherwise] the meditator is transformed [by these visualizations] into a heartless deity, a papier-mâché deity. "


The purposes of this practice may be to

reduce selfish attachment;
increase the sense of paramita nekkhamma (renunciation, non-attachment)
create positive karma by giving and helping;
developing serenity and bodhicitta;

The Six Perfections of giving, ethics, patience, joyful effort, concentration and wisdom are also referred to as part of the practice of a true Bodhisattva.


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