Tonglen: Breathe it All In. Love it All Out.



“Whether this meditation really helps others or not, it gives me peace of mind. Then I can be more effective, and the benefit is immense.” Dalai Lama


In this quote, the Dalai Lama is referring to the Tibetan Buddhist practice of Tonglen,

In Tonglen, you breathe in the suffering of another, and breathe out loving kindness.

Tonglen represents the ultimate in loving kindness practice, because the practitioner must be willing to take the pain of others into her own heart, trusting that her compassion will flourish as a result.

Pema Chodron explains it simply.

As you breathe in, remember, “other people feel this way too.”

This morning I totally missed the garbage can, talking on the phone and shooing my dog out of the way while I absentmindedly emptied the brew cup onto the floor.  Wet espresso grounds everywhere. I was in a hurry, and I did not want one more mess to clean up. I was frustrated.

But then I was able to remember. The nun at the temple yesterday reminded me about Tonglen in her dhamma talk.

I stopped and took a breath.

“Other people feel this way too.”


My big wet mess shrank down to nothing, fast. Other people feel this way too. I imagined the frustration of a mother with no food for her children and the anxiety of a toddler lost in a war zone. I did my best to breathe in their pain, and breathe out compassion. Like many practitioners of Tonglen, I’m always surprised at how much better I feel when I do this. I expect more pain, and instead, I experience a lightness like no other.

In her conversations about Tonglen with Pema Chodron, Alice Walker refers to a softening in her heart.  I could not agree more.

Each time I practice Tonglen, my heart grows softer and lighter.

I think this might be because when I  practice Tonglen, I am telling myself  the truth.

My imperfections are my gifts.  I am connected to you most deeply by my flaws.

We can practice Tonglen with our loved ones.  When they are not acting like their best selves, we can breathe in their pain and breathe out loving kindness.  This is challenging, but the effectiveness of this practice cannot be overstated.  Our loved ones benefit from our quiet acceptance, and we benefit with softer, lighter, expanded hearts.

We are connected to each other in the deepest, darkest parts of ourselves.  What we hide is really what we share.  Our vulnerability is our strength.

Breathe, and remember.  You are not alone.


“Life’s waters flow from darkness.

Search the darkness, don’t run from it.

Night travelers are full of light, and you are too: don’t leave this companionship.

Be a wakeful candle in a golden dish,

don’t slip into the dirt like quicksilver.

The moon appears for night travelers,

be watchful when the moon is full.”



Thank you, Bikkhuni Vimala, for your wise Dhamma talk yesterday.

You are a beautiful example of loving kindness and deep wisdom in action.

Have a wonderful day.




No comments yet.

Thank you for reading!

%d bloggers like this: