Tonglen: Meditation of Compassion (Pema Chodron)

Pema Chodron, a Tibetan Buddhist nun and teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage, describes the Tonglen meditation practice. In tonglen (also tonglin), one visualizes taking onto oneself the suffering of others on the in-breath, and on the out-breath giving happiness and success to all sentient beings. This practice helps to reduce selfish attachment, develop and expand loving-kindness and bodhicitta (“enlightenment-mind”, the mind that strives toward awakening and compassion for the benefit of all sentient beings).


Let’s do tonglen for a world that is falling apart.

So in the in-breath, you breathe in whatever particular area, group of people, country, or even one particular person. Maybe it’s not this more global situation, maybe it’s breathing in the physical discomfort and mental anguish of chemotherapy—all the people who are undergoing chemotherapy, and if you’ve undergone chemotherapy and maybe out the other side, it’s very real to you. Or maybe it’s the pain of those who have lost loved ones, suddenly or recently, unexpectedly or over a long period of time, someone dying.

But the in-breath is—you find some place on the planet, in your personal life or something you know about—and you breathe in with the wish that those human beings or those mistreated animals, or whoever it is, that they could be free of that suffering. And you breathe in with the longing to remove their suffering.

And then you send out—I often say just relax out—and send enough space so that people’s hearts and minds feel big enough to be able to live with their discomfort, their fear, or their anger or despair, or their physical or mental anguish. But you can also breathe out for those who have no food and drink. You could breathe out food and drink. For those who are homeless you could breathe out—send them shelter. For those who are suffering in any way, you could send out safety and comfort.

So with the in-breath you breathe in with the wish to take away the suffering, and you send out with the wish to send comfort and happiness to the very same people, or animals, or nations, or whatever it is you decide.

So do this for an individual or do it for large areas, and if you have more than one subject in mind, that’s fine.

Breathe in again with the wish to relieve their suffering, and on the out-breath sending them relief. And just keep breathing in, deeply, and breathing out, taking in as fully as you can, radiating out as widely as you can.

About Pema Chodron

Pema ChodronPema Chödrön was born Deirdre Blomfield-Brown in 1936, in New York City. She attended Miss Porter’s School in Connecticut and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. She taught as an elementary school teacher for many years in both New Mexico and California. Pema has two children and three grandchildren.

While in her mid-thirties, Pema traveled to the French Alps and encountered Lama Chime Rinpoche, with whom she studied for several years. She became a novice nun in 1974 while studying with Lama Chime in London. His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa came to England at that time, and Pema received her ordination from him.

Pema first met her root teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, in 1972. Lama Chime encouraged her to work with Rinpoche, and it was with him that she ultimately made her most profound connection, studying with him from 1974 until his death in 1987. At the request of the Sixteenth Karmapa, she received the full monastic ordination in the Chinese lineage of Buddhism in 1981 in Hong Kong.

Pema served as the director of Karma Dzong, in Boulder, until moving in 1984 to rural Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to be the director of Gampo Abbey. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche asked her to work towards the establishment of a monastery for western monks and nuns.

Pema currently teaches in the United States and Canada and plans for an increased amount of time in solitary retreat under the guidance of Venerable Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche.

Pema is interested in helping establish the monastic tradition in the West, as well in continuing her work with Buddhists of all traditions, sharing ideas and teachings. For more information, visit


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