I did a lot of tonglen in my late teens and twenties, and now seem to get back into it.

It’s one of the simplest and most powerful (effective) practices I know.

Visualize another person sitting in front of you, facing you.

See their suffering as black smoke. When you breathe in, you breathe in their suffering in the form of black smoke. I see it as going from heart to heart.

See it transform into light in your own body. When you breathe out, you breathe out love and clarity in the form of this light. It goes into the other and fills him or her with light. (Again, from heart to heart.)


There is a concern that some have that you will somehow “take on” the suffering of the other. That’s not my experience. And it’s good to remember that it’s all happening within my own world of images. What’s happening is really a healing of my own images of myself, others and the world.

The other can be…. (a) Yourself, your suffering self, or a suffering part of you. (b) Someone you love. (c) Someone neutral to you.  (d) Someone you don’t like, or even an “enemy”. It can also be one or a group, an animal or a human, an ecosystem, the earth as a whole, all beings throughout the universe (whomever they may be), dream figures, and so on. Whom- or whatever appears in your world is fair game. I often start with myself, then a small series or a group of people close to me, then a small series or a group of people my personality don’t like (Bush etc.), then the earth as a whole, and all beings throughout all space and time. It’s also fine to do just one or a few. It’s good to not overdo it (so you don’t overexert yourself.)

Some in the Tibetan tradition say (as far as I remember) that this practice is complete in itself, and will take you all the way. I can certainly see how that may be true.

I also notice some of the effects of this practice for me. It makes the universal human condition alive for me – the suffering, the desire for contentment, and our true nature of love and consciousness. It brings a sense of earthiness and grounding. It increases the sense of light in (or as) my mind and body. It brings a sense of fearlessness.


– breathe in suffering as black smoke, breathe out love/clarity/wisdom as light (heart-heart)
– oneself (suffering parts of oneself), others, earth, etc.

I also notice the fearlessness that this practice seems to bring with it. There is a sense

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