Pema Chodron: How to do Tonglen, a meditation practice for difficult times.

Via Waylon Lewis
on Sep 23, 2008
get elephant's newsletter

Tonglen, a simple yet counter-intuitive meditation practice for tough times. Reverse the flow of ego.


In times of things falling apart, duress, heartbreak, stress…a meditation practice to baitswitch our silly crazy mopey ego and engender happiness, compassion, equanimity.

This is great for tough heavy powerful times. Buddhist meditation.
You don’t have to be Buddhist.

If you do this, you do have to sandwich between simple meditation.

Pema Chodron​—she’s just amazing, soothing, for intense times.

I grew up knowing Pema Chodron (the second most popular Buddhist in America, after that Dalai Lama guy). Or, rather, she knew me (I was just a little kid running around not paying attention to anything). My first memory of her is at Whittier Elementary in Boulder, Colorado, where I attended kindergarten. She and my momma were, and are friends.

As I grew up, I got to know her a little (doing service shifts at her cabin at Shambhala Mountain in 1992, where she helped Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche teach his first Seminary) and was always struck at how strong and powerful this kindly, small woman was—what a leader.

Everyone knows she’s sweet (that voice!). But seeing her on Bill Moyers, not even nervous or blinking, then doing the same thing with Oprah—well I realized again and again that this woman knows exactly who she is, and what is what.

These days, I still know her a little bit, though I only rarely see her (recently saw her a little at the Karmapa’s first visit to America).

Here (below) she talks about tonglen practice, one of the fundamental meditation practices of Buddhism as taught by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. It’s great for doing if a loved one is dying, or your mind is in particular tumult…you can learn how to do it from her books or at your local Shambhala Center, it’s easy to learn and actually very practical, powerful and easy to do. Video (or, click here to check out her and Oprah’s conversation).

It’s good to set the stage by meditating (click here for Trungpa’s classic instruction) for a few minutes before, and after, your tonglen practice—so that you don’t hold onto the black/hot/heavy inbreath or the white/cool/bright outbreath (you’ll know what I mean when you watch the below videos).

It’s great to see a younger Pema surrounded by the traditional Shambhala Buddhist/Eastern TigerLionGaruda and Dragon banners in the below videos:

Bonus: Gampo Abbey video.


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. | | | | | Google+ For more: publisherelephantjournalcom


65 Responses to “Pema Chodron: How to do Tonglen, a meditation practice for difficult times.”

  1. yeye says:

    Thank you Way~ love to Pema*

  2. Tom says:

    i saw her speak in NYC once

  3. […] if you grew up in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, please comment below and add some info or ideas—I did my best but am not […]

  4. […] My everfavourite Elephant Magazine recently posted several videos featuring Pema Chodron speaking on the practice of Tonglen. […]

  5. […] How do you do tonglen, traditionally done for loved ones near or far when they’re in need or in ill-health? Click here. […]

  6. David Cope says:

    Dear Susan
    You may not remember me, but I met you when Allen Ginsberg first invited me to read my poems and speak at Naropa on Charles Reznikoff (1980). I was introduced to you briefly at a reading or party, later told by others of the importance of your place in building both Naropa as a school and as a community. This is a brief thank-you for a job well done and a life well-lived; peace to you always. David Cope

  7. […] Pema Chodron ~ though Pema is a best selling, accessible, wise, safe teacher, and Oprah loves her…I nearly disqualified […]

  8. […] Pema Chodron ~ though Pema is a best selling, accessible, wise, safe teacher, and Oprah loves her…I nearly disqualified […]

  9. […] Seven Points of Training the Mind are a brilliant contemplative practice—you can buy a little blue book that has all 15 kajillion of his slogans, read one every morning […]

  10. […] a link on how to do tonglen—sending and taking—a Buddhist meditation practice traditionally done for loved ones (and […]

  11. […] Pema Chodron: ‘An analogy for Bodhicitta is the rawness of a broken heart. Sometimes this broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic, sometimes to anger, resentment and blame. But under the hardness of that armour there is the tenderness of genuine sadness. This continual ache of the heart is a blessing that when accepted fully can be shared with all.’ (The Places That Scare You, p4) […]

  12. Ben Tremblay says:

    Wow … such a string of precious jewels!
    I just discovered via an articl on Huffington Post [1] and, snooping around, found this from an article here on Frank Berliner’s health. [2]

    To top it off? In early ’92 Pema did her first “tonglen” dathun … at Gampo Abbey … where huh huh I was her cabin attendant. (Actually retreat liason / logistics support, but I did hers too. Gotta luv wood heat!)

    So wow, a real sangha connection here!

    ben aka Karma Chöpal

    1 –
    2 –

  13. […] practice that, in my limited experience, works best as a tonic for sadness or madness is called tonglen, or sending and taking practice. Via Chogyam Trungpa: Sending and taking is a very important […]

  14. […] Still, I love Christmas, always have. Even if I was raised Buddhist (!), and still practice. […]

  15. […] this is tremendous fuel for tonglen practice—especially as we contemplate the orphaned children, the thousands suffering from fractures or in […]

  16. […] practices of Tonglen, sending and receiving, is designed to awaken bodhicitta. To put us in touch with genuine noble […]

  17. […] do Tonglen for those helpless victims of our confusion, such as Gypsy, and for those we might hate (Michael […]

  18. […] the alleged thief? The traditional Buddhist approach is…our enemies are our best teachers. Do tonglen for the alleged thief. So, again, let’s turn this into a constructive situation, at least to a small extent. Use […]

  19. […] figured out how to keep ‘em lit ‘gainst the wind) we listened to speeches, we practiced tonglen, and many of us, particularly our Tibetan friends with friends and family effected directly, cried. […]

  20. Greg says:

    Waylon, you are so fortunate to know such a wonderful teacher as Pema Chodron. I imagine her kind touch lingers from the days when you were a wee one.

  21. […] an enthusiastic woman who gets fired up about everything from Pema Chodron to Larkburger, it is not unusual for me to fall passionately under the spell of various causes […]

  22. […] more on this really-hard-to-do-tonglen-for woman, click over to Huffington […]

  23. […] it’s good to be like the king, to work on ourself first, to learn to meditate and practice tonglen (giving and taking) in order to erode our habit of clinging to “me” and to […]

  24. […] practice that, in my limited experience, works best as a tonic for sadness or madness is called tonglen, or sending and taking […]

  25. […] Surprising arrest made in tragic lululemon athletica Bethesda murder of Jayna Murray. {Prayers} Above: Jayna Murray, the much-loved victim. We are asking our community pray for at least a moment, or do tonglen for her. […]

  26. […] And so Tonglen is the main practice, here—and through it these very same times can wake us up and connect us with the openness of our hearts and minds. swfobject.embedSWF("", "vvq-169550-youtube-1", "425", "344", "10", vvqexpressinstall, vvqflashvars, vvqparams, vvqattributes); Waylon Lewis, founder of and host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat.” Named #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green content by Shorty Awards, Changemaker and Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best Shameless Self-Promoter at the Westword Web Awards and Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter and best friend of Redford (a rescue hound). His aim is to bring the good news beyond the choir and to the masses. | | […]

  27. […] the Buddhist tradition, we do tonglen for those who may be suffering. Still, impermanence is fundamental to this life, and death may come […]

  28. […] Someone asked the Dalai Lama what surprises him most. This was his response. ~ Click here for how to meditate. Or here. […]

  29. […] forward 10 years or so and my Buddhist practice of tonglen (compassion meditation, you could call it) and my newfound passion for environmental responsibility […]

  30. Agapeyoga says:

    This is my first intro to Pema and Tonglen practice. When the student is ready…

  31. John Elia says:

    Waylon, you are genuine! I never thought so based on the "SELF" oreinted stories on EJ. Stick to the basics and " start where you are". Everyone should read this book! Pema has always been one of my favorite writers for explaining things in simple terms. Namaste

  32. Aleksandra says:

    Thank you

  33. […] because I am here.” This reminds me not to get wrapped up in the things I can not control. Stay in the moment. Worrying about tomorrow doesn’t solve anything. Removing your existence won’t solve […]

  34. […] solid spiritual practice requires you to face your shadow, move through obstacles, witness your habits, and take responsibility for your […]

  35. […] do the self-care stuff. I practice tonglen and take baths after work. Time goes by, but I can feel the cold seeping […]

  36. […] In such times, we Buddhists practice a meditation or active prayer that develops compassion. There’s nothing mag… (click here for video […]

  37. […] years ago I was giving a talk on compassion with Pema Chödrön in a large hall in San Francisco filled with at least three thousand participants. At one point a […]

  38. Mike says:

    I want to thank Pema for sharing her wisdom with us.

  39. […] And when it burns with cold and we’re shaking like leaves trying to keep our heads up? Tonglen. […]

  40. […] Pema Chodron: Buddhist Tonglen Meditation. | elephant journalSep 23, 2008 … Pema Chodron teaches the Buddhist meditation practice of Tonglen in these videos. […]

  41. […] more on Pema, click here. For a recent one on Obama, here. 1970-2012 Shambhala Buddhism is planted in the USA. 2012 Pema […]

  42. […] It doesn’t work. Fear is conquered through friendship, not aggression; through breathing in and out, not pushing away and closing down, mumbling desperate Hallmark slogans at ourselves. Fearlessness […]

  43. […] what you can prepare, and there’s tips below that will be updated. Beyond that, practice equanimity (meditation instruction here). Do your best to be kind to yourself and your loved ones and […]

  44. […] my commentary: ladidladadidadida talking about it is nice, but not enough. Let’s actually sit down and practice, some time […]

  45. […] Bring to mind a person who is suffering. As you inhale, breathe in awareness of their suffering, and as you exhale, send them compassion and understanding. […]

  46. Mary says:

    Does she practice yoga? Is she married? Where can I find more videos of her? Curious….

    • elephantjournal says:

      Search "Pema Chodron" on elephant, top left, you'll find a ton. Including one about her (ex) husband.

  47. […] Meditate. There’s nothing “spiritual” about meditation. It’s simply sitting still, […]

Leave a Reply