The Preliminary Practice of Tong-len

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche

This advice on the practice of tong-len was dictated by Lama Zopa Rinpoche to Kendall Magnussen in 2006. Additional advice given by Rinpoche to Ven. Holly and then to Ven. Sarah Thresher. Edited into this format by Ven. Sarah in April 2012. Chapter Two is a short tong-len practice compiled by Ven. Sarah on the basis of instructions from Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche.

See also Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s extensive tong-len practice in The Wish-Fulfilling Golden Sun of the Mahayana Thought Training. For more advice about tong-len, see Rinpoche's Online Advice Book.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching at Royal Holloway College, England, 1975. Photo: Dennis Heslop.
Tong-len: A Short Practice

If you are doing tong-len as a preliminary practice, you can recite and count any of these three prayers along with the meditation. From Lama Chöpa:

And thus, perfect, pure compassionate gurus,
I seek your blessings that all karmic debts, obstacles,
and sufferings of mother migrators
May without exception ripen upon me right now,
And that by giving my happiness and virtue to others
All migrators may experience happiness.

Or Nagarjuna:

Whatever sufferings sentient beings have
May they ripen on me.
Whatever happiness I have
May it ripen on sentient beings.

Or Shakya Shri Bhadra:

If you are suffering, take all the sentient beings’ suffering;
May the oceans of sentient beings’ suffering dry up.
If you are happy, dedicate the happiness for others to collect merits;
May skies of happiness be received by others.

Taking away the suffering of others

When you do the practice of taking, first generate compassion for the numberless sentient beings suffering under the control of delusion and karma and then take:

  • All their sufferings;
  • The causes of those sufferings, karma and defilements, including the subtle defilements;
  • The suffering of the places where they are born.

Take all of these one by one or all together from each:

  • Hell being
  • Hungry ghost
  • Animal
  • Human being
  • Sura
  • Asura
  • Intermediate state being

Take all of this into your heart in the form of black smoke or pollution and think that it absorbs to your ego and destroys your self-cherishing thought. Think that not only the ego, self-cherishing thought, is completely smashed and destroyed, but also ignorance, the root of samsara—holding the I as truly existent—is totally destroyed and becomes non-existent. And in the same way, the object of that ignorance—the truly existent I, the real I, I appearing from there—is completely gone. See that it doesn’t exist, it is empty right there; it has never existed from the beginning. Stay there a little bit in meditation on emptiness only (tong-pa nyid).

You can also take on all the obstacles to:

  • Your gurus’ holy actions to benefit others according to the view of sentient beings;
  • The spreading of the teachings of the Buddha;
  • The benefactors who serve the Dharma and the Sangha.

The taking can be done in an elaborate, medium or short way by taking all the sufferings together; it just depends on time.

Giving every happiness to others

For the practice of giving, first generate loving kindness and then give to all the numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, asuras and intermediate state beings:

  • All your numberless past, present and future merits;
  • All the resultant happiness of these merits up to enlightenment;
  • Your body visualized in the form of numberless wish-granting jewels filling the whole sky;
  • All your enjoyments, material possessions and even your family and friends.

Think that the numberless sentient beings receive all these things and by doing so they:

  • Receive a perfect human body, meet the Mahayana Dharma and find a perfectly qualified guru who can reveal the path to enlightenment;
  • Gain perfect enjoyments, perfect companions and are born in a pure land where there is no suffering and only beauty. It is filled with wish-granting trees and whatever they wish for happens;
  • Actualize the complete path to enlightenment and are liberated from the oceans of suffering and its causes, delusion and karma, including both the gross and subtle defilements;
  • Attain the unimaginable qualities of a Buddha and become enlightened in the form of the deity you are practicing. Their minds achieved the dharmakaya and their bodies become the rupakaya.

Rejoice that you have brought them all to the state of enlightenment. The giving can also be done in an elaborate, medium, short or very short way according to time. Each time you do the practice of taking and giving, you create unimaginable merits and become closer to enlightenment, which means closer to liberating numberless sentient beings.

Concluding prayer

After that, think:

This is just visualization. In reality sentient beings are still suffering. I must liberate them from the oceans of samsaric suffering along with its causes, karma and defilements, and bring them to enlightenment by myself alone. Therefore, I must achieve enlightenment. Therefore, I am going to engage in virtuous activities. May all my activities of body, speech and mind become the cause to achieve enlightenment and enlighten all sentient beings.