Fear and suffering have always been a part of the human experience. Often, we tend to avoid facing the emotions connected to negative occurrences such as frustration, anger, pain, guilt, confusion, rage. Sometimes we might even try to ignore these natural inner responses, thinking that there’s no point in clouding our minds with such feelings because they can’t possibly lead us to a positive outcome.
The Tonglen meditation completely overturns this common belief. This ancient practice found in Tibetan Buddhism can be translated as “giving and taking”, and is based around reversing the logic of avoiding suffering and seeking pleasure. Keep reading to find out how this form of meditation works.
There are four main steps to the practice of the Tonglen meditation.
1. Put your Mind to Rest
First off, you need to concentrate on finding a place of clarity and openness within your mind. Traditionally, this state is called flashing on Bodhichitta and is necessary to invoke a sense of inspiration and compassion. This is necessary to achieve the objectives of the Tonglen: the purification of karma, increase sense of renunciation and reduction of selfish attachment.
2. Start the Visualization and Breathe In
Now it’s time to breathe in the physical or emotional pain of others, as a way of taking in all of their suffering. You can either visualize a particular individual, such as a person you care for or you’ve come in contact with, or a group of people that you know are facing a common adversity. This doesn’t mean that you’re burdening yourself with other people’s misery, but rather you’re acknowledging its existence and you’re accepting it in order to move forward.
3. Breathe Out
In the process of practicing the Tonglen meditation, you begin to feel in touch with your inner self and you can use the suffering as a path to reach a state of compassion. Once you’ve gathered all the negativity, the next step is to transform it into its complete opposite. Breathe out safety, comfort and joy to benefit with every out-breath the people who are suffering. You can see the pain as a mass of black smoke that gradually dissolves and transforms itself into a cooling light of well-being, with each of your out-breaths being represented by purifying rays for the discomfort of others.
4. Expand your Compassion
When you’re first starting to practice the Tonglen, it’s better to begin by doing it for a specific person that you care about and wish to help by giving them peace of mind, happiness, healing and fulfillment. Afterwards, you can make the taking and giving bigger, by extending it to others who are dealing with a similar situation. This practice affects you as much as it affects others: you’ll find that, over time, your ability to be there for those around you will flourish substantially. In other words, Tonglen will help you get in touch with your inner self and expand your compassion.
If you’re thinking of trying out the Tonglen meditation, a soothing soundtrack will definitely help you putting your mind to rest.
Have you ever practiced the Tonglen meditation? Are you willing to try it? Let us know in the comments below!