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The Tibetan Art Of Tonglen

The following is an article from one of the Mystic Visions Discussion Forums posters, Phoenix, that I believe will benefit many:

Tonglen (sometimes spelled “tonglen” for folks who would like to do some research of their own) is apparently a practice that comes to us from Tibet.

It is practiced entirely through breathing. As the fellow in the book (cited below) says, “If you can breathe in and out, you can practice tonglen.”

As you inhale, you think of people you want to help who are suffering. You can visualize those people if you know them, or think of their names and locations if you do not. You may work on specific problems, or do general work.

As you think of them, you inhale and bring into yourself their pain and suffering. Do not worry that you will somehow be contaminated by their problems; you will transform and exhale the problems almost immediately.

You exhale, and send with the outgoing breath healing, relief, or compassion. When you exhale, imagine and see your breath as flowing expansively outward, reaching all the people whom you are trying to help.

It’s not a forceful practice (you don’t “suck in” as much air as you can and then force it across the room), but it is deliberate; you should pay attention to each inhale and exhale, and breathe with the purpose of accepting suffering of, and sending healing to, others.

And here is a very interesting point about this practice if you are doing it for yourself. If you can breathe in the suffering and pain of other people who are experiencing the same thing as you, you are sharing the burden of your suffering and thereby reducing it (“a burden shared is a burden lessened” as they say). As you breathe out healing, you heal not only others with the same affliction, but yourself.

I believe the key here is to set aside the “I” and merge with the “us.” It is not recommended that you work on just yourself; you should include others who are experiencing the same thing you are. You need not do this on an individual or personal basis (you may not know the name or location of a person with the same problem), but there are 6 billion people in the world today: whatever you are experiencing, you are certainly not alone.

To work on yourself, when you inhale, say or think or intend something like “I breathe in the suffering of all of us who have a pain in their left arm” (or whatever your problem is; it need not be physical, this practice may be used to relieve anger, sadness, grief, etc.). Exhale and say/think/intend “I offer (or send) healing to all of us.”

If, at the end of your practice for the day or session, you should feel that you are still connected to someone else’s suffering or problems, disconnect by saying “I am done now,” or simply “Good-bye!” Repeat if necessary. (Sometimes, if we are working on an emotional problem that triggers us, it will bring up troubling things which we must dismiss for the time being. You could always work on it again during another healing session if needed.)

FYI, I learned about this in a book by Andrew Weiss titled Beginning Mindfulness, New World Library, Novato CA, 2004, ISBN 1577314417. The book presents a ten-week mindfulness course, and the practice for the tenth week is tonglen. There is a Buddhist slant to the material, but the author incorporates other practices as well. (Wanting to develop my own mindfulness material, I am reading what is already out there so as to avoid duplicating it.)

I used the tonglen method four days ago on my arm; I have carpal tunnel, and have had pain of one kind or another in my hands every day for the past three years. (I am having massage therapy for the condition. That helps quite a bit, but sometimes I move the wrong way, or grasp something the wrong way, and it aggravates the condition.) The other day, my left arm, from the heel of the hand to the shoulder, was just about killing me. I did this tonglen practice for ten to fifteen minutes, and my left hand has been completely pain free ever since….and I do mean completely pain free which is nothing short of a miracle! It may start bothering me again, but the last four days have been heaven as far as my left hand is concerned!

Phoenix

About Asoka Selvarajah

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6 comments

  1. Phoenix,
    Great info. Thanks for sharing.
    I’m glad it helped. Sounds like you’ve found a solution to keeping your carpal tunnel under control.

    Do you think the visualization is a big part of the healing process? I’ve found visualization helps me in a lot of issues and has provided solutions or should I say resolutions for a number of things.

  2. Sue,

    You’re welcome. I found tonglen to be such a powerful method of helping others (and myself) that I use it in my daily healing practice. Tonglen itself is practiced just through the breathing in of pain and suffering, and breathing out of health and wellbeing. The part about visualization is something added to the practice. I wanted to clarify that because pure tonglen does not call for visualization.

    Visualization is a powerhouse practice in and of itself! It has helped in many areas of my life. Most recently I used it to clear the way for a road trip, and my husband and I have never had an easier drive. We had the road all to ourselves for hours.

  3. Phoneix – thanks for sharing this with me. I am surprised to learn that there is a name and history for this practice, something that I have been doing as my prayer practice for those requesting healing prayers for the past two years. It has felt more natural to me than the conventional method of prayer taught by our traditional Christian religions.

  4. Christy,

    I’m delighted to hear from someone else who practices tonglen!

    Healing prayer of any kind is extremely beneficial, but I agree that we are more likely to practice faithfully with a glad and open heart when we find the style that most comfortably fits our personality and lifestyle.

  5. hello Phoenix,

    I just read your story about carpal tunnel.
    A very simpel help for this is 2x or 3x a day uses vit B complex, it helps to calm down the nerves and it helps me great. the doctor said i need an operation but with this vit b complex i dont need to let mij hand to operate bij a doctor.
    A couple days ago i got involved in Tonglen and i tried it on mij dog and all the dogs of the whole world who has intestine problems.
    It really helps, it realy does.
    Hope you understand my english, i am from the netherlands.

    take care and allllll the best for you.
    Bo

  6. Hi Bo, I understand you perfectly! On about the same date as your post, another person advised me to take Vitamin B complex, also. Two people with the same advice nearly on the same day was advice I knew should listen to! I started taking Vit B complex in November, and it has helped. Thank you for sharing your experience with carpal tunnel.

    I’m glad the tonglen practiced helped your dog. I hope he or she is doing well now.

    Take care,
    Phoenix

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