Thong Len is a Tibetan buddhist practice – the practice of giving and taking. Over many years of practice I have found this to be a powerful meditation for transforming many uncomfortable states that have arisen within.
It is a powerful practice that can break through many of our barriers. It is highly regarded and somewhat radical as you breath in another pain or suffering into your heart and transform it.
In many ways this can seem dangerous and threatening to people, as you breathe in the dark, not the light. In fact you breathe in all the dark and transmute it into light. You become like a human air conditioner.
It is in times like these, specifically this week with the Coronavirus pandemic heightened concern that surrounds each and everyone of us, there has been a want and a dire need to transform fear into compassion and healing, whilst acknowledging the impermanence of all things.
This is where I have found Thong Len to be my “go-to” practice.
I first came across this practice through a renowned Australian physiologist and my neuroscience lecturer at the University of Queensland in 2003 – Professor, Jack Pettigrew. In 2003 he was ahead of his time in integrating western science and Eastern meditation practices. At the time he shared with us valuable insight into the practice, which I have later sourced within a published article What Buddhists Know About Science.
Thong Len is a meditative technique developed by Tibetan Buddhists almost 800 years before the discovery of anaesthesia. It’s explained in that classic of Tibetan Buddhist thought, the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. It works by imagining someone else’s pain, like a burn, and drawing it into oneself. As you take the pain from others, your own hurt disappears.
Adepts of the technique are constantly practicing Thong Len, every minute of the day, drawing pain from those around them and enhancing their own sense of well-being. They’ve been described as “shit filters,” taking negative energy out of the world and replacing it with positive.
You can explain what might be happening when you anesthetize your own arm … But people in a room with a Thong Len practitioner have also said they feel better. How do you explain that? Scientists don’t know, but they know it works, powerfully.
Thong Len is a powerful practice, and in previous more traditional times it was seen to be wise to be kept as a “secret practice”. Yet, I believe, and agree with Pettigrew:
Western science could use Eastern introspection, or meditative techniques, to deepen its understanding of how the brain works and to provide practical help to people in distress.
Thong Len can be a difficult meditation for some, however below, where I provide a complimentary meditation, my aim is present this in a gentle and accommodating way. The basis of Tonglen is the practice of giving and receiving: the giving of love and kindness, and the receiving of others suffering in order to remove it from them.
The practice, as per The Seven Points of Mind Training By The Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche Geshe Lharampa, involves “imagining other living beings in front of us, many or just a few. We can imagine people in pain, people we know who are sick, people in distress or suffering. We imagine that we send these people happiness and the causes of happiness as well. For this to happen, we imagine that we give them whatever goodness we can think of, and we imagine that we receive whatever suffering and causes of suffering, all the distress and negative emotions they experience. We imagine that by being freed from suffering and its causes, they experience happiness and well-being. We practice this again and again and thus become more and more used to taking away the suffering of others and giving them our own well-being and causes of happiness. By training in this sending and taking practice, the regarding of oneself as more important than others diminishes and regarding others as more important becomes stronger and stronger…”
If you would like to read more about the scientific benefits of Thong Len please do read the article Tonglen: How to awaken compassion.