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Tonglen Meditation

Posted by Betsy McCall from Art Monastery Project


Group size

1 – 500

Is participant experience relevant?

It's okay if participants haven't seen the inside of a classroom in years.

Physical trust needed

Mental trust needed



10 minutes – 60 minutes

Experience level of the facilitator

routine as participant OR professional facilitator

Number of facilitators



Level of activation


Woo-Woo Level – How touchy-feely is this method?

From 1.Rationalist-Materialist “No feelings here, folks.” to 5.Esoteric-Shamanic Bleeding Heart:

Innovation Phases:

3 Fostering New Perspectives & Ways of Thinking
4 Idea Generation

Method Category:

Appreciative / Community building
Ceremony / Ritual
Conflict resolution


Tonglen is a powerful meditation practice central to Tibetan Buddhism. In this practice, one visualizes taking into oneself the suffering of others on the in-breath, and on the out-breath sending happiness and wellness to all sentient beings.


Sending and Receiving Meditation, Giving and Taking Meditation



Buddhist teacher, author, and nun Pema Chödrön gives tonglen instruction as follows:
"On the in-breath, you breathe in whatever particular area, group of people, country, or even one particular person – maybe it’s not this more global situation, maybe it’s breathing in the physical discomfort and mental anguish of chemotherapy; of all the people who are undergoing chemotherapy. And if you’ve undergone chemotherapy and come out the other side, it’s very real to you. Or maybe it’s the pain of those who have lost loved ones – suddenly, or recently, unexpectedly or over a long period of time, some dying. But the in-breath is – you find some place on the planet in your personal life or something you know about, and you breathe in with the wish that those human beings or those mistreated animals or whoever it is, that they could be free of that suffering, and you breathe in with the longing to remove their suffering.
And then you send out – just relax out – send enough space so that peoples’ hearts and minds feel big enough to live with their discomfort, their fear, their anger or their despair, or their physical or mental anguish. But you can also breathe out for those who have no food and drink, you can breathe out food and drink. For those who are homeless, you can breathe out/send them shelter. For those who are suffering in any way, you can send out safety, comfort.
So in the in-breath you breathe in with the wish to take away the suffering, and breathe out with the wish to send comfort and happiness to the same people, animals, nations, or whatever it is you decide.

Do this for an individual, or do this for large areas, and if you this with more than one subject in mind, that’s fine… breathing in as fully as you can, radiating out as widely as you can."


Tibetan Buddhism


1 Connect with your breath

Come to a comfortable seated position where your spine is vertical and free (it's ok to be sitting on a chair, but sit forward so you're not leaning on the back of the chair). Bring your attention into your heart. Breath in and out of your heart a few times, feeling the anatomic heartbeat and allowing your heart to soften and open. Imagine, or sense, or intuit that you become very permeable, and almost invisible.

When you are ready to begin, breathe in whatever ailment comes to mind. Imagine that it comes in to you as dark, heavy tar. Then activate your imagination and create as many pyrotechnics and special effects as you like as your heart transforms this problematic stuff into its opposite -- breathe in fear, breathe out love. Breathe in sickness, breathe out health and wellbeing. Breathe in greed, breathe out generosity. Breathe in loneliness, breathe out connectedness. Trust in the power of your heart. The human heart is the great energy transformer. As you breathe in the problem is instantaneously and completely transformed into its opposite. There is nothing you need to do -- your heart knows how to do this itself. The transformation is bright and effortless.

3 Closing

After you have done this as long as you want to, let it all go. Breathe in and out of your heart a few times. Slowly come back into your body and allow yourself to become solid again. Bow to yourself and to your compatriots, internally wishing "May this practice be for the benefit of all beings."


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