Tonglen is an active practice of loving-kindness; a breathing meditation of sending and taking. Performed by Tibetan Buddhists and other spiritual traditions, Tonglen is a positive, uplifting, constructive, and healing way to care for other people. The heart of this practice is compassion; to breathe in another person’s pain—physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual—and breathe out strength, joy, and peace of mind; whatever gives relief.
Tonglen can be done for people individually—a person who is ill, fearful, in sorrow, or in pain. Or it can be done for people collectively—people in a geographic area that has been struck by a natural disaster such as tornado, earthquake, flood, or famine. Tonglen can be done anywhere, anytime. It can be formal like you see me doing in the photograph, or it can be done while you’re driving, or in bed.
When the Dalai Lama was touring the United States, he recommended the practice of Tonglen. He made it very simple. “Tonglen is giving and taking. As you inhale, take on the suffering of others. As you exhale, give out to them all your gifts, virtues, and positive qualities.” He suggests beginning the practice with equalizing, which means, “To realize that each and every sentient being wants happiness and does not want suffering, just like you.” With that in mind, he imagines that this practice actually reduces suffering in the world, but he says that “Whether this meditation really helps others or not, it gives me peace of mind. Then I can be more effective, and the benefit is immense.”