Tonglen meditation, which has its origin in Tibetan Buddhism, aims to face suffering through conscious inhalations and exhalations. We explain why it can help us in the current crisis.
More and more people are finding meditation a way to relieve anxiety and stress and to better connect with their ideas and thoughts. One of the most fashionable trends in recent weeks is that of tonglen, a Tibetan Buddhist term that translates to “give and take.”
Instead of seeking pleasure, this age-old practice attributed to the great Indian Buddhist master Atisha Dipankara Shrijnana (982–1054) deals directly with suffering, both his own and that of others, and does so through inspirations and exhalations that we They connect with shared problems.
In this way, tonglen invites us to inhale the pain of the other (so that he can have more space and rest) and to exhale to send him all the calm he may need at this time. A mental process that is especially relevant in the current crisis situation.
Without fear of own suffering:
One of the best known phrases of this oriental meditation is that of “to have compassion for others, we must first be able to have compassion for ourselves.”
We hear it often from Pema Chodron, a renowned Tibetan Buddhist nun of North American origin, who has published books like Tonglen: The Path of Transformation and is known for her interpretation of Buddhism for Western audiences.
For Chödrön, tonglen meditation helps to change our attitude towards dukkha or suffering: instead of running away from it, we can allow ourselves to feel it in the first person, and that can help us to be kinder to ourselves and also to others .
As Ji Hyang Padma, a professor of meditation at Omega Institute who specializes in Zen, explains, “By practicing meditation and being compassionately present with our own pain, we develop the ability to respond to others with compassion.
By doing so, we cure that illusion of isolation and separation, which is a primary source of suffering, especially now during the pandemic. ” Another important point of this Buddhist meditation is that, although our physical or emotional suffering has an external origin, the work to be done is ours: we are the ones who must face our own pain, its causes and its consequences. And open ourselves to him.
The four stages
Tonglen meditation consists of four different stages, which can be done with the eyes open or closed:
The first, to relax the mind, usually with the help of the sound of a gong
The second is to find coordination between inhalation (sensation of heat and suffocation) and exhalation (sensation of freshness and calm)
The third, think about a particularly painful personal situation.
Make “taking” and “giving” spread out and encompass many other people who are in the same situation as us. In other words, to do it, we can first focus on our own pain and then on all the people who may be feeling the same as us.
We inhale with the desire to remove that fear and pain from that person / s, and, as we exhale, we send them strength so that they can free themselves from it.
You can also go a step further and practice tonglen by evoking those people who have recently hurt us or who we consider our enemies. In fact, one of the foundations of tonglen is that we are never separated from the rest, and that is why taking care of others is also taking care of yourself.
Tonglen and pandemic
“With physical distancing, there is a greater sense of individual isolation that generates more anxiety, stress and a feeling of being alone. But, through the practice of tonglen we can experience a connection that does not depend on being in the same room.
And this is curative, ”says Ji Hyang Padma, who is also director of the Comparative Religion Program at the California Institute of Human Sciences.
“We have all experienced a sense of helplessness related to the pandemic. This is where we have power: when other resources are depleted, we can access our spiritual resources and invest in social capital, re-weaving the structure of the community, ”continues the specialist, who is currently working on ways to develop mindfulness and serenity over time. stressful or uncertain.
For her, tonglen meditation empowers us and allows us to support each other, while allowing us to be more resilient on a day-to-day basis. And, to finish, it reminds us of the recognized vow of the Bodhisattva (someone embarked on the path of the Buddha): “As long as space lasts / And as long as beings remain / So long can I also remain / To cleanse the suffering of the world.”