Buddhist Philosophy

Beginner Tonglen Meditation

Tulku Migmar explains in this video clip how we can begin to work with the profound practice of Tonglen. Moreover, he advises how we can incorporate this “Beginner Tonglen” within any of our meditation sessions. The term tonglen is most frequently translated into English as “Giving and Taking” or “Sending and Receiving” practice. Tonglen practice was first taught by the great Bengali master Atiśa Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna (982-1054 CE). Kadampa master Chekawa Yeshe Dorje (1101-1175) also made these teachings the basis of his own training.

Beginner Tonglen
Chekawa Yeshe Dorje (1101-1175).

Beginner Tonglen: Extending Kindness and Love

In the video, Tulku describes how this visualization practice works mainly to develop our love and compassion. And in that way, this practice belongs to the path of accumulating merit. First, we spend some time reflecting that we, ourselves, want to avoid suffering and desire happiness. After we acknowledge that we can then look around us and realize that all other beings feel the same way. So why do we all suffer? Tulku reminds us that all suffering comes from the negative emotions of ignorance, attachment, and anger.

Beginner Tonglen: Breath and Visualization

Tulku-la explains how to gently coordinate the visualization of taking and giving with our breathing process. Initially, we imagine our close family and friends. While we think of them, we visualize breathing in all of their pain, unhappiness, and suffering. Try to picture all the negativity as a cloud of thick, black smoke. And then, we exhale all our happiness, our health, and goodness. As we do this we can visualize light rays sending beautiful clear light to our object of compassion.

Atiśa Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna (982-1054).

Again and again, we repeat this process, but without any clinging or expectation. If we begin to feel tired or anxious, we can simply rest in meditation for a few minutes.

A key take away from the teaching is to begin slowly and gently with the practice. Gradually, we can work to expand our circle of love to all beings. Moreover, Tulku suggests that we can incorporate this practice within any of our meditation sessions. And if we do Tonglen on a daily basis, we will see for ourselves how our negative emotions decrease.


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Suggested Reading

Dudjom Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, trans. and ed. by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991), vol. 1, pages 468–474.

Ngawang Zangpo, Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2002.

Nyoshul Khenpo, A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biographies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage, trans. Richard Barron (Junction City: Padma Publishing, 2005), pages 41–48.

Padmasambhava, Legend of the Great Stupa, Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1973

Padmasambhava & Jamgön Kongtrul, The Light of Wisdom, trans. by Erik Pema Kunsang (Boudhanath: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1986-1999), pages 43-47 & Appendix 5.

Taranatha, The Life of Padmasambhava, Shang Shung Edizioni, 2005

Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Shambhala, 1996.

Yeshe Tsogyal, Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, translated by Kenneth Douglas and Gwendolyn Bays (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978, republished 2008).

Yeshe Tsogyal, Lotus Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2004.

‘The Life of Guru Padmasambhava’ in A Great Treasure of Blessings, The Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2004.