AUDIO: Tonglen Meditation — Benefits and Techniques to Cultivate Compassion and Awakening [Dharma Talk MP3]
The Taking-and-Giving Meditation: a detailed dharma talk on how to do it and what the techniques, benefits, and results are; and using it to cultivate compassion to overcome your own pain, stress, and suffering.
Using Tonglen meditation to ease suffering, overcome problems, cultivate the brahmavihārās, and attain Buddhist awakening (streamentry)
In this dharma talk I dive into the details of a somewhat-lesser-known meditation technique that anyone can use to overcome mental suffering, physical pain, and generate deep and transformative states of compassion and gratitude. I also cover the importance of Right Effort, determination, and good teachers, and how these are critical to cultivating resilient states of contentment and to making spiritual progress.
Introduction to the Dharma Talk
(a transcription of the introduction)
After talking with a student briefly about Tonglen, the taking-and giving-meditation, I was asked to go into more detail on the purpose, technique, and benefit of Tonglen as a meditation practice and the following unscripted dharma talk is an excerpt from what was otherwise a longer conversation.
But before we get started, I would like to take a moment to talk about Tonglen. For the sake of brevity, I will assume that you already know, at least at a high level, what Tonglen is. Tonglen, the process of breathing in the pain of others and breathing out ease and comfort to send back to those who are the object of our meditation sounds simple at face-value. But Tonglen is so much more than what is typically covered and talked about by other teachers. It's even much deeper than what I talk about in this dharma talk, mostly because, what I refer to as Level 2 and Level 3 Tonglen were beyond the scope of this teaching and beyond the reach of this student. But we all have to start somewhere and we must learn how to walk, before we can learn how to run, as it were.
Tonglen, when approached skilfully and correctly can not only help us cultivate and develop our capacity of selfless and painless compassion for the plight of others, but it can also be one of the most effective techniques we can leverage when we are experiencing extended periods of our own suffering. It can help us process our pain by putting our dukkha into perspective, whether it be periods of fear and anxiety, doubt and insecurity, anger and ill-will, greed and jealousy, or any of the many other forms that our suffering can take, whether it be our mental pain or physical pain.
Doing the taking-and-giving meditation can very effective at easing our unwanted mental and physical states by transforming our pain into gratitude and appreciation. While that sounds like a far stretch, it's entirely attainable, even with only a little practice. It forces us to approach our own experience of pain from the perspectives and the feelings of others who are experiencing similarly painful feelings or conditions, many of whom are experiencing conditions and situations far worse than we are. And that has the power to pull us out of our narrow-minded perspective and free us from the self-cherishing mind and afflictive mind-states that pull us down. It frees us from the negatively tainted mind that thinks, 'I’m the only one who is suffering like this, no one else feels what I feel, or is treated so unkindly like this.'
Because so often we take our life or situation for granted and focus on a few unwanted or unfortunate circumstances. This perspective leads to negative thinking, which not only leads us down the path of sorrow, fear, anger, or resentment, but it all too often also leads to wasting the many wonderful opportunities that are available to us, but are otherwise clouded by our afflicted mind-states. So, it's important to recognise, appreciate, and be grateful for the fortunate circumstances that we have available to us and not waste them, and this is where Tonglen can provide us with so much practical value.
Tonglen diverts the grasping mind from clutching at our ego, and our ego is generally at the very center of our painful and harmful feelings and emotions. It does so by helping us cultivate selfless compassion and lovingkindness for others, which is a form of compassion, that when coupled with wisdom, understands that compassion for others is truly compassion for ourselves.
It has the power to do this because it serves to break down the solidity of our ego — which ultimately is often the source of so much of our suffering — it chips away at the strength of our strong sense of self, and opens the doors of our compassion and love by softening the hard exterior of our heart; that is, the hard protective coating that we've slowly developed, layer-by-layer, over a lifetime of painful experiences and hurt.
But Tonglen is more than just a practice that can cultivate and develop the qualities of non-self, but it can also help us develop and mature truly genuine states of the brahmavihārās, otherwise known as the limitless ones. These are the wholesome qualities deep within each and every one of us that can be cultivated limitlessly, without limit, those of compassion, lovingkindness, sympathetic joy, and equanimity for all sentient beings, even when faced with direct threats to our contentment and general sense of peacefulness and well-being.
And anything that can do that, and do it consistently, reliably, and in time, easily, is a very powerful practice indeed, and therefore, something that's worth taking the time to explore, learn, practice, and cultivate.
But don't get me wrong, we don't have to be in pain for the practice of Tonglen to be powerful and transformative, it does that all on its own when we approach it skilful and properly. Tonglen is a practice that anyone whether they are Buddhists or not, can learn, develop, and benefit from.
But beyond all that...
Tonglen can additionally be used to settle our mind before we transition into a period of mindfulness of breathing meditation. Contemplating the dukkha experienced by those less fortunate that we are can fuel our motivation to transform our own moment-to-moment adversity and discontentment into continued progress along the path. It helps to calm and stabilise our mind and body before we meditate, which will lay a better foundation for us to observe our breath peacefully, mindfully, thereby opening the doors to deeper levels of concentration, which is ultimately the purpose of meditation.
I hope you find the following dharma talk on Tonglen to be of value to you and to your practice, and if you enjoy this teaching, please share it with others, and visit the rest of this website to access more of my teachings or to learn more.
A Brief and Incomplete Outline
The dharma talk is preceded by a 5-minute recorded introduction: see the transcript of the introduction above.
Here is a completely incomplete outline of the dharma talk that follows:
If you enjoyed reading this, please consider making a donation to our student community to help make future teachings possible. Why Donate? Learn More Here.
But perhaps most of all, would you mind sharing this with others on your social media platform of choice?
If you liked this, you may also enjoy these popular posts...
Falling Asleep During Meditation? 5 Tips to Quickly Stay Focused and Energised
What Are the Eight Worldly Concerns and Why Must We Let Them Go?
The Relationship Between Meditation, The Dharma, and Enlightenment
How to Nurture Your "Buddha Nature" to Develop a Strong Sense of Happiness
The Importance of Contemplating Death (and how it can help you) - Buddhism
Other Recent Posts:
AUDIO: Mettā Meditation and Analytical Meditation - How to Do Them Correctly [MP3+Transcript Included]
A Guide to Giving Constructive Feedback and Advice Like a Buddhist
Practical Guide to Patience & Tolerance for Buddhist Practitioners
Pity vs Compassion: How to Spot the Difference
Buddhist Renunciation for Laypersons Explained (a practical how-to guide)
Meditating on Emptiness? Stop, You're Wasting Your Time - Buddhism Explained
The Sagacious Buddhist Blog
Michael Turner is a pre-monastic ariya-puggala and a full-time Buddhist anagārika; and he is also a deeply accomplished streamentry mentor and applied-dharma teacher. He emphasises and teaches the practical application of the Buddha's teachings in our everyday lives to overcome our human problems that stand in the way of making measurable progress toward Buddhist enlightenment and he is particularly adept at explaining them in ways that can be easily understood and practiced by Western Buddhists. He has been meditating and cultivating the views and techniques that generate indestructible resilience, inner-strength, and direct experience for almost 30 years and has helped countless numbers of students and peers enhance and course-correct their practice to make veritable progress along the path toward Nibbāna.
do good. be kind. help others. be peaceful.™