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

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Pema Chodron teaches Tonglen, a practice for difficult times.

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

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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).

Bonus: Gampo Abbey video.

One more:

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anonymous Mar 3, 2015 8:33pm

This made me weep. What a shear delight to have read this…I understand more profoundly now than ever before your relationship to Buddhism. Simple joy! Thank you! xo

anonymous Feb 21, 2015 1:31am

I think “other people feel this” is likely to be a powerful thought for me because I often isolate myself from others and assume that I am looked down on in a way others are not. Remembering that whatever pain I feel is also felt by others will take away the isolation and make it clear (I hope) that I am having a painful experience, which will not last forever – rather than seeing myself as a rejected object which is alone and cannot be redeemed.

anonymous Oct 31, 2014 6:56am

This practice was introduced to me in my crisis communications class. The individual pain that I feel daily over a home life that is falling apart made me lose my center, lose my emotional core to a new practice that I was forced to try. After class I was overwhelmed with a horrible emotions of depression, anger and in less control over the sadness. Two days later I have decided to try this again, and today I still experience the same affects. I am an English Major, a title that I feel deserves capital letters, because of its importance to me. It is my Tonglen, it is my center and focus. Tomorrow I will try again.

anonymous Feb 20, 2014 3:42am

I enjoyed her videos very much! Will look for more. Thank you for the post.

anonymous Nov 5, 2013 9:09am

I found Pema Chodron at a critical time in my life. Her thoughts in her books (sep: The Wisdom of No Escape) changed my life. What a wonderful human. And, she has done a great job of staying humble and thus, effective. I love Pema.

anonymous Sep 13, 2013 5:28am

The world has never needed meditation and kindness more than now.

anonymous May 17, 2013 5:06am

Nice then doing the same thing with Oprah—well I realized agai

anonymous Apr 15, 2013 11:20pm

[…] Click here for two five-minute videos on practicing a style of meditation for troubled times. […]

anonymous Apr 4, 2013 10:58am

I love the way you have described all this. I have been searching for this information and now I found it. Thanks and keep posting new things.

anonymous Apr 4, 2013 10:54am

It was nice to read the complete blog post. I like the way you explain things.

anonymous Jan 23, 2013 8:40pm

[…] […]

anonymous Jan 2, 2013 9:54pm

[…] […]

anonymous Dec 29, 2012 11:22pm

[…] all blames into one”—can you recommend any readings re: narcissists and how to approach tonglen with those who repeatedly cause harm to others (and one’s […]

anonymous Dec 14, 2012 5:21pm

Thank you for given credit to the Indian monnik Atisha Dipankara Shrijnana. Nowadays American yogis act as if yoga and meditation is their invention.

anonymous Nov 21, 2012 2:50pm

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

anonymous Nov 19, 2012 11:30pm

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

    anonymous Feb 1, 2013 2:33am

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

anonymous Nov 19, 2012 6:03am

[…] 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. […]

anonymous Nov 8, 2012 3:28pm

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

anonymous Oct 29, 2012 6:50pm

[…] 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 […]

anonymous Oct 20, 2012 11:32pm

[…] 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 […]

anonymous Sep 27, 2012 11:56am

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

anonymous Sep 22, 2012 2:47pm

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

anonymous Sep 18, 2012 6:07pm

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

anonymous Sep 18, 2012 5:12pm

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

anonymous Jul 30, 2012 4:23pm

[…] 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 […]

anonymous Jul 20, 2012 9:41am

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

anonymous Jul 14, 2012 1:21am

[…] Cheerful Birthday, Pema. […]

anonymous Jul 8, 2012 3:58pm

[…] […]

anonymous Jun 25, 2012 10:56am

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

anonymous Jun 21, 2012 3:52pm

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

anonymous May 2, 2012 3:33pm

[…] 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 […]

anonymous Apr 11, 2012 3:34pm

Thank you

anonymous Mar 20, 2012 6:41pm

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

anonymous Jan 1, 2012 3:34pm

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

anonymous Dec 26, 2011 11:51pm

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

anonymous Oct 16, 2011 5:04pm

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

anonymous Aug 26, 2011 10:05pm

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

anonymous May 22, 2011 6:37pm

[…] 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("http://www.youtube.com/v/kh9TqjJOfwA&rel=0&fs=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=0", "vvq-169550-youtube-1", "425", "344", "10", vvqexpressinstall, vvqflashvars, vvqparams, vvqattributes); Waylon Lewis, founder of elephantjournal.com 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. elephantjournal.com | facebook.com/elephantjournal | twitter.com/elephantjournal […]

anonymous Mar 19, 2011 12:11am

[…] 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. […]

anonymous Feb 8, 2011 3:44pm

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

anonymous Dec 16, 2010 12:23pm

[…] 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 […]

anonymous Sep 27, 2010 8:16pm

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

anonymous Apr 28, 2010 5:13pm

[…] good news is there’s a middle ground, as Pema Chodron says, get out there. Don’t wait to be […]

anonymous Apr 27, 2010 4:23pm

[…] 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 […]

anonymous Apr 25, 2010 6:48pm

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.

anonymous Apr 20, 2010 11:58pm

[…] 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. […]

anonymous Apr 6, 2010 2:30am

[…] 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 […]

anonymous Mar 29, 2010 12:15am

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

anonymous Feb 14, 2010 7:47pm

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

anonymous Jan 25, 2010 2:30pm

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

anonymous Dec 25, 2009 2:36pm

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

anonymous Jul 25, 2009 11:08am

[…] 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 […]

anonymous Feb 15, 2009 4:42pm

Wow … such a string of precious jewels!
I just discovered elephantjournal.com 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 – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/waylon-lewis/what-the-world-needs-now_b_166563.html
2 – http://www.elephantjournal.com/2009/01/elephant-journal-columnist-frank-berliner-in-hospital-is-fine-please-do-tonglen-for-him/

anonymous Feb 14, 2009 8:50pm

[…] 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) […]

anonymous Jan 24, 2009 10:53pm

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

anonymous Jan 19, 2009 12:12am

[…] 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 […]

anonymous Dec 9, 2008 8:52am

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

anonymous Dec 6, 2008 2:29pm

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

anonymous Nov 25, 2008 7:56am

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

anonymous Nov 24, 2008 7:38pm

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

anonymous Nov 7, 2008 3:29pm

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

anonymous Oct 21, 2008 9:35am

[…] 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 […]

anonymous Sep 23, 2008 12:34pm

i saw her speak in NYC once

anonymous Sep 23, 2008 12:29pm

Thank you Way~ love to Pema*

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Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of Elephant Journal & 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. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, touches on modern relationships from a Buddhist point of view. His dream of 9 years, the Elephant “Ecosystem” will find a way to pay 1,000s of writers a month, helping reverse the tide of low-quality, unpaid writing & reading for free online.