Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Tonglen Meditation for All

Tonglen is a Tibetan word which means "giving and receiving." Tonglen meditation is a breath based Tibetan Buddhist practice designed to take in and transform suffering for the benefit of all beings. Tonglen practice is generally introduced to people who already have a meditation practice and are familiar with using the breath in meditation; however, one can begin a Tonglen practice without former meditation experience. In fact, Tonglen is a practice holding such strong appeal for many of us who desire to help ourselves and others that it can ignite a true passion for meditation in a complete beginner. It feels like making a difference with our meditation, even though ALL meditation makes a positive difference! Those who have experienced prayer may feel a connection with Tonglen.

So what is the practice? How do you do it? If you can breathe with awareness, Tonglen is not a difficult technique. Sit comfortably with a straight spine and rest your hands in your lap (no particular hand position is mandatory). You can also practice lying on your back folding your hands over your heart. Close your eyes and draw your awareness to your breath. Once you establish a rhythm of your comfortable and complete in-breath and out-breath, feeling settled and focused on inhaling and exhaling, you are ready to practice Tonglen.

1. Form an intention to receive darkness and suffering, and to generate and send out light, mercy, compassion and healing. (This applies to your own suffering as well as that of others.)

2. Breathe in whatever you are feeling, and accept it. Breathe out well-being.

3. Visualize all suffering as black smoke and all well-being as white light. Imagine breathing in black smoke and breathing out white light; you are transforming suffering with your breath.

4. Apply this practice to the suffering of loved ones (people you know) and also to strangers, people in your community, in your state, in your nation and across the world who are experiencing hardships and suffering.

5. Concentrate your attention on the particular experience of suffering you wish to alleviate, and engage in the breathing practice above.

There is no particular professed faith or religious affiliation required to practice Tonglen. It can feel a lot like prayer, since you are using your intention to generate compassion, bestow mercy and initiate healing transformation--but you don't need to believe in the power of prayer to use this practice.

For those familiar with Christianity, Jesus on the cross is symbolic of the transformation inherent in Tonglen practice. In his act on the cross, Jesus exchanged the sins, pain and suffering of all for salvation. The Greek root words sōzō, sōtēr, and sōtēria, "save," "savior," and "salvation" are the foundation of the Christian creeds. Biblical scholars tells us these words have different literal meanings than what we find in most Bible translations. To be "saved" is closer in meaning to being made whole, a "savior" is one who makes whole, and "salvation" is therapeutic restoration. This is the basic intention of Tonglen practice.

Even if the only difference Tonglen makes is your own healing and peace of mind in the midst of suffering, it is well worth any effort and time you put into it.

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