Skip to main content

A 20 minute read


In a recent praxis group meditation we did a practice called Tonglen. I wanted to offer this post script to bring more clarity and care around it. This post will provide an over view of the practice and touch on some of the benefits it provides. Tonglen is a Tibetan word meaning “sending and taking”. In essence Tonglen is a practice aimed at increasing our capacity for love and compassion through visualization. Compassion or altruism as we can also think of it, is the most important attribute that we develop on the path of spiritual awakening. From my understanding, paths of spiritual development, no matter their outer forms, are aimed at cultivating the felt sense of the oneness of all life. In coming into a more comprehensive and accurate recognition of the true nature of the human condition, we are better able to serve the plan of evolution. Even in the development of the capacities of intellect, our reasoning and discerning capabilities, we are growing those faculties which are most useful in the skillful service of Love and its transformational powers.         

As we expand our understanding of the nature of the self and come into ever more complete comprehension of universal laws, we realize that our own liberation is interdependent with the liberation of others. Our practices with meditation and the transpersonal experiences they afford us, reveal the interconnected nature of things. This brings us ever more fully into caring for other beings, and more competently nurturing the growth and well being of the larger community of livingness.

Our sense of self-hood, or what we include in the feeling of our “I” ness, gradually expands beyond our own personal lives to include more of the world. The practice of meditation helps us to grow our sensitivity to our interconnection. With the greater attentiveness afforded to us by meditative focus, the subtle and complex dynamics in the interplay of causal forces in the world, reveals the shared interests and interdependence between all people.    

Those patterns within consciousness that obscure this reality from us are gradually replaced by the deeper and more numinous insights that come through our practices.  It becomes increasingly clear that the grievances we carry, the limitations on our capacity to make charitable interpretations of the real motives and drives of others, are hinderances to our own sense of inner wholeness. This is because at least in part, our perceptions of others, our judgments and our instinct to withhold loving kindness injures our own hearts. How we see others is a kind of hypnotic auto-suggestion. Our unconscious mind takes everything we say and think personally, internalizing our perceptions of others as measurements of ourselves. It’s essential then to grow beyond our armoring and become joyful vehicles for the love that heals the ancient wounds of separation.      

At more advanced stages of our development, our increasingly sensitive intuitive awareness enables us greater empathy. With greater awareness brought on by meditation and other practices comes greater emotional capacity. We feel everything with greater force and with greater depth. The slightest ripple in the pond across from us becomes a wave of great magnitude in our own hearts. Our attention and intention being ever more available to our intelligent direction also affords us the opportunity to look more deeply into others, to know their joy and their pain, and what ever lives in our loved ones and in the world, is also in us because we are, in the fullest understanding, one with them. When we have the care and concern for others coupled with a greater set of inner resources, we become more able to take responsibility for nurturing the growth and well being of others as well.

This may seem to some as too heavy a load. Our own healing and awakening often times feels like more than we can bare ourselves. And it is. If we had the will and wisdom to throw off our own suffering, we would in an instant! But as its been said, we can not solve our problems from the same level of consciousness. We need the wisdom and will from our next higher degree. We need a helper from beyond our personal limitations to guide us through it. This doesn’t necessarily mean we need a healer or physical teacher, some times that’s the case. It means rather that we need an intelligence of love that exists beyond our pain. Healers and teachers can be a temporary place holder while we learn to access our own inner teacher. And when external teachers serve our healing in a powerful way, as all true healers will report, it is because they are accessing the inner light that is within them and beyond them.

Love’s luminous intelligence, I humbly and honestly believe, is in each and every one of us. It is a point of light in the heart that comes directly from the Source of creation. If it were not there, sentients wouldn’t be either. It is the very life force that constitutes our consciousness. While we can be unaware of it and experience its concealment, it is always and forever the Source and center of our beingness. When we give our burdens to this point of light, what some may call the Holy Spirit, Shekinah, divine love or simply our inner wisdom, we find that it is capable of carrying any load, reconciling any conflict in our lives and enables us to do far more than anything we could ever do on our own.

When the master Jesus said, “I of my self can do nothing”, he was referring to this point of light and its boundless love and wisdom. He knew, that all things are possible when we are joined with the Source of creation and its perfect Law of Love, and that it is the true doer of all good deeds. This power is not unique to him, nor did he have any special strength that isn’t also available to us. Accessing this point of light requires only that we ask for it. But its not an ordinary kind of prayer, casually recited or repeated from scripture or rote memory, we must really mean it in a way that calls up our whole being to share in its passion. It is only one authentic prayer away from revealing its limitless presence and working its miracle in our lives.

When we don’t ask for it it is often because we feel unworthy, lost in our confusion and our doubt and because the emotional armor we carry from years of stress and isolation is too thick to allow ourselves to reach our prayer beyond the shell of vulnerability and despair. We have been shut into our own inner world, seemingly isolated and alone for so long that a true prayer of such faith and passion will utterly over turn the ancient story we have been living out, shattering our deep seated belief in separation. We need time to heal and prepare ourselves with the determination that would make us ready to receive the potency of this gift. It is always available and always on offer, but our need for it and our readiness to receive it must first ripen to the stage where we are no longer able to stay inside our armoring. When we give up all hope that we “of ourselves” can accomplish our healing and yet our need for it persists in a fiery blaze of aspiration, our desire will shine forth like a bolt of lightening and pierce the shell of armoring surrounding our heart, exposing the point of divine light resting there.

This moment comes in its own way, in our own timing, according to the wisdom of our bodies and emotional natures. Yet it is not merely an instant as there are often times many moments like this in our lives. It is both a process and an instant, with numerous small victories building up in us the faith that such a miracle might indeed be possible, and lord willing, we’ll never know unless we try. And as we ripen in earnestness, the alternative is increasingly seen as unbearable, so lets try!

Though we can not reach the point of light before our ripening, we can do much to accelerate it. Our work with meditation, study, contemplation and introspection, greatly accelerates it. When our burden is particularly heavy and our traumas and self doubt have laid a dark curtain over our heart, as was certainly the case for me, practicing compassion on ourselves can be exceptionally difficult. If we feel unworthy of Love’s healing grace, even if only subconsciously, it can be much easier to practice giving it to others.

As its been said by someone much wiser and more loving than me, empty hands that give are filled. So too we could say empty hearts that give are healed. The doctrine here, if its not too pretentious to call it that, comes from one of the aspects of the Law of Love. That law says, what we give to others is given to us. When Love is given, unlike most other things in the world, its total measure in the world is increased. By giving it away we increase its portion in us. Such a thing is in itself a sacred miracle. So even though our capacity may be small, just to reach for our next degree of loving kindness by practicing is powerful beyond measure. Tonglen provides us a succinct practice to do just this.

Six Virtues in One Practice

In the practice of taking the suffering away from others and sending them love, in our mind’s eye, we are preparing ourselves, ripening ourselves to receive our next degree. We are offering our subconscious minds the suggestion that compassion matters and we wish to bring more of it into our lives. The eastern sages tell us that in this simple meditation we are cultivating six virtues all at once. What an efficient approach to our development!

The first is generosity. Even if we have small or no means to give physical goods or knowledge to those in need, we can sit for a few minutes and give our attention and positive intention to people in need. Such an offering will expand our ability bit by bit. Before long our means will be great. The next virtue is ethical conduct or simply goodness. By spending a few moments on sending compassion to others we are practicing one of the Law of Love’s most wholesome precepts. Honoring the sacred value of love and developing our strength as its servants. The next is Patience. Everything meaningful that’s worth doing takes time. Most of all undergoing the pains and strains of evolutionary development. By sitting with the intention to bring benefit to others, knowing that no one will see or pat us on the back for it, we are going against the instant gratification conditioning so much of our lives is invested in. Gradually, and imperceptibly, training our minds to be more disciplined.

The next virtue we are learning is right Effort. Most of the things we have a lot of energy for with the exception of parenting, aim to bring about improvements to our own personal lives and fulfillment. There’s nothing wrong with this, but when our efforts are aimed at making things better for others, especially those we don’t know and in a way that brings no special benefit to ourselves, usually the energy available to us drops off significantly. Taking some moments to focus on being a benefit to others privately will strengthen the muscle of our generosity.

The next is Consentration. As with all types of meditation we find the mind has a tendency to drift and wander here and there in unproductive ways. Training our minds to hold still affords us the quality of attention that goes beyond surface appearances and reveals the numinous in ever increasing measure.

Lastly, we are practicing the virtue of Wisdom, which effects so many things that it is a kind of master key for the improvement of all other capacities. In meditation we are cultivating wisdom because we are touching on some of the most meaningful things in one of the most efficient and effective ways.

By practicing in this way we are rehearsing to be our true Christ-Buddha selves. Putting on the quality of presence and loving kindness that is the hallmark of the awakened mind.

Here I will make a step by step process to recap the practice we did so you can spend a short time practicing it without  the full hour long meditation.

  1. Centering: Take a moment to practice mindfulness using the five postures. Its important to only practice this meditation in a state of peace and restfulness, so take as long as you need to  come to stillness.
  2. Invocation of the White Sun: Imagine in your higher heart a brilliant White Sun. this is a symbol for the Divine point of Light and the true Source of compassion within. Remember that it is not us that takes away suffering and gives healing compassion, it is the White Sun. This visualization is an invitation for it to work in and through us. We are not the doers, but only  a vehicle through which the One Life works in the world.
  3. Deep Rhythmic Breathing: Breathe in to the low belly with full deep breaths at a comfortable pace. You can breathe either through the nose or the mouth. Whatever is most comfortable. The important thing is finding a steady pace and letting the breath be the link between the White Sun and the image of the person you are working with.
  4. Visualize the person who is suffering: We are often instructed to start with ourselves to better activate our inner connection to compassion, but you can also feel free to go directly to visualizing other people. Make an image in your mind of the person you are working with. See them as clearly as you can. If its yourself you can imagine a mirror that shows you your reflection.
  5. Breathe Out Compassion: From the top of the White Sun exhale love and healing to the person in front of you. Feel to the best of your ability the feelings of Love and your genuine desire to see them be free of suffering.
  6. Breathe In Their Suffering: As you inhale breathe in their suffering. Imagine it as a black smoke or black light coming out of them and into the bottom of the White Sun in your higher heart. Remember you’re not taking on their suffering or karma the White Sun is. It can handle anything and will transmute it into wisdom.
  7. Repeat This Process: Breathe out love and compassion filling them up healing and purifying them. Breathe in the pain, fear or negativity in whatever form, making a circle of white light and dark light between you and the recipient.
  8. The Expanding Circle of Care: This part of the practice simply invites you to include more people in your practice. Only do this if it feels available to you without significant strain. The most powerful people to practice with are those with whom we have experienced the most difficulty in our lives. But we need not struggle beyond our capacity. Practice at first with people who you feel less challenged by and build up your strength until you are ready to work with them.
  9. Grow The Reach of Love’s Power Within You: There are four major degrees of care; Our selves, our family and communities, our planet and all people, and the divine plan of creation with all beings past, present and future. These degrees are summed up as ego-centric, ethno-centric, global-centric and cosmo-centric degrees of compassionate care. Only practice to the degree you feel genuinely aligned to practicing with.

In the fullness of understanding, according to the wisdom of my teacher and the aspiration of my heart, the true Self encompasses the entire cosmos and all of time. There is One Universal Soul and Body or Family of Light which supports the foundation of beingness. It is the basis of our Oneness and Unity. The whole of Creation is a Superconscious Superorganism, or what the Kabbalists call Adam Kadmon (which include Adam and Eve prior to their separation) and we individuals are but small fragments of this generic humanity. At the center of our being, deep within the White Sun is the memory of our cosmic heritage and the true nature of the Self as the One offspring of the most high. By practicing Loving All That IS, we are resonating the fullness of this truth within us.

Yet we need not believe this to be true or accept it in any way to practice it. We simply need to make a genuine effort to cultivate compassion within us.

Lastly, I wanted to address a couple common questions that come up around this practice. As healers we are often taught permission is required in order to “heal” others. Anytime we do energy work or engage in any kind of therapeutic practices we are obligated to get consent from the recipient. All healing after all is self-healing, and they need there own permission to heal.

So why then should Tonglen be any different?

To answer this question requires that we have some appreciation for the nuanced and variegated perspectives that exist at different vantage points. The answer to this question is different at different levels. In the sake of brevity I will only offer this partial account. As I mentioned, all healing is self healing. Whenever healing and transformation comes to us by grace and the ripening of our readiness, it is because we have elected to do so. We are always the ones to choose to accept or reject the new perspective and transformational energy that comes to us. While the White Sun is the Source of ALL healing, we are the gate keepers to accepting it. Whether there is another person involved in our process or not, we are always the main character partnering with the One True Healer. Permission then is not so much about giving permission to the “healer” but seeking permission within our selves to accept the unconditional offering thats always present.

Moreover, and this may be a bit more challenging for some to understand, in Tonglen as well as other healing practices, we are not healing the people who we put onto the screen of our mind. Rather we are healing our image of them. We each hold an image idea of the people and groups for whom we would offer healing. Our mind has created a representation of others, even those who we are in direct physical contact with. In a fundamental sense, we are never truly seeing people or the world directly. We are not seeing it as it is. We are seeing the image idea we have made of it. We are seeing a representation of them. That representation holds all the aspects WE have given it, which warrants our most sincere attempts at the undoing of errors. What we are seeing is deeply colored by what is in us.

So when we say all healing is self healing we mean this literally. Whoever our hearts enlist us to be inservice to it is in a profound way, an aspect of ourselves that we are healing. This is a hidden meaning in the phrase, “healer heal thy self”.  This is all we can ever really do! When we practice Tonglen then we are healing the image we have made of them. Yet it should be noted that there is an important way in which our image of the “other” is interconnected to the actual other. But this bit will have to wait for another time to go into.

Another question that comes up is if we are taking on the karma, or suffering of others when we breathe in their black light. Put simply no. The answer given above may have provided some insight on this issue already, but I will reiterate briefly for clarity. No one can really take away the suffering or karma of another. If that were possible it would mean the universe is broken. Karma like all things serves the Law of Love by teaching us through the consequences of our errors, and goading us to move toward the wisdom needed to correct them. If we could simply remove someone’s suffering for them we would also be removing their ability to learn.

Certainly there are many things we can and should do to alleviate the useless suffering that is within our direct influence. If a child or anyone is hungry, needs medicine or comfort and we are there, with the capacity to provide it it is our duty. If we can provide knowledge where there is confusion, provide assistance to a struggling friend, stop an instance of abuse, intervene in a crime or bring an act of evil to an end, it is our ethical duty to intervene.

In doing so we are acting on behalf of goodness itself. The love that moves us to do so is the White Sun. In most cases if we do not help, we are making negative karma for ourselves, since divine love requires personality vehicles to do its work in the world and we are training ourselves for this very purpose, and no other. Many forms of suffering in the world are useless vestigial patterns of ignorance yet to be repaired by human kindness and scientific intelligence. As humanity matures more mercy will live in the world and retire the outdated and harsh forms of learning we use to require for our development. With more maturity and its attendant capacity for intelligent compassion, the world will out grow the path of pain and instead humanity will favor a proactive approach to growth. We will instead enter into conscious collaboration with the guiding principles of universal law, Love’s law and radically improve the human condition.

Finally, honesty demands from me the acknowledgment that, though I earnestly concern my self with the reports of the sages, and seek to merit the privilege of validating them in my own direct experience, I do not confuse my aspiration with attainment. My inclination to speak on these things far exceeds my capacity to demonstrate them. As the saying goes; my reach exceeds my grasp. Though I work to cultivate reasoned faith and aim myself toward the virtues mentioned here, I have no claim to them. I have as much to grow as anyone else, with seen and unseen qualities to transmute. Yet I am fortified by the knowledge that as we practice together we are strengthened beyond measure, making progress toward the goal of love more quickly together than we ever could alone.      


with  love,