Pema Chodron.. A practice for self compassion

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    “We begin the practice by taking on the suffering of a person we know to be hurting and who we wish to help. For instance, if you know of a child who is being hurt, you breathe in the wish to take away all the pain and fear of that child. Then, as you breathe out, you send the child happiness, joy or whatever would relieve their pain. This is the core of the practice: breathing in other’s pain so they can be well and have more space to relax and open, and breathing out, sending them relaxation or whatever you feel would bring them relief and happiness. However, we often cannot do this practice because we come face to face with our own fear, our own resistance, anger, or whatever our personal pain, our personal stuckness happens to be at that moment.

    At that point you can change the focus and begin to do tonglen for what you are feeling and for millions of others just like you who at that very moment of time are feeling exactly the same stuckness and misery. Maybe you are able to name your pain. You recognize it clearly as terror or revulsion or anger or wanting to get revenge. So you breathe in for all the people who are caught with that same emotion and you send out relief or whatever opens up the space for yourself and all those countless others. Maybe you can’t name what you’re feeling. But you can feel it —a tightness in the stomach, a heavy darkness or whatever. Just contact what you are feeling and breathe in, take it in —for all of us and send out relief to all of us. ”


    Tonglen is a practice that is typically done after one is able to visualize the crystal heart of compassion in one’s own body. We breathe in other’s suffering, but those dark tendrils evaporate as they touch our radiant energy. We do not drink it in as poison which we take for others.

    Said differently, if we first stabilize metta, then we have the space of mindfulness to practice tonglen without creating ripples in our own mind.


    You are saying Pema is wrong? Seems Tonglen is not something one waits to do once something else is “achieved”

    She really nails the naysayers and escape artists at the end of the article

    “So on the spot you can do tonglen for all the people who are just like you, for everyone who wishes to be compassionate but instead is afraid, for everyone who wishes to be brave but instead is a coward. ”

    Tonglen is how one finds and understands compassion for themselves by seeing and looking at the struggles all of us face.. by recognizing our sameness we are no longer alone in our struggles



    I wouldn’t have considered my words contrary to Pema Chodron’s, but if quacks like a duck, eh?

    Rather than invent the wheel, consider the following perspective:
    “When I was taught tonglen it took five days of 6 hour teaching sessions to get the basic points across. This is mainly because an un-informed practitioner may do tonglen from the position of self (“I” am taking on the suffering of others) and run into all sorts of problems. Tonglen requires guru yoga at the very least in order to be truly effective, otherwise it either becomes another ego-bolstering practice (look at “me” taking on everybody’s suffering) or can easily lead to disillusionment (“I” cannot possibly deal with everybody’s suffering)”

    This is pretty close to what I learned from my teacher as well… who was also lineaged under Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche with Pema Chodron. Consider that skillful means is knowing what to show whom. Consider also how codependent tendencies often position a mind to self sacrifice for the suffering of others, whereby tonglen practice may bolster ego clinging.

    Or don’t, its just my opinion and those of some others. Plenty of views to go around!

    With warmth,

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