How to Do Tonglen

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal (Archive #2123)

Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave this brief outline of tonglen, the meditation practice of generating bodhicitta by taking on the suffering of others and giving them happiness. This teaching is excerpted from Advice for Saka Dawa Duchen, a teaching given at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, on June 4, 2020. Transcribed by Ven. Joan Nicell. Lightly edited by Sandra Smith.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche, 2009. Photo: Kunsang Thubten (Henri Lopez).
With Compassion, Take Suffering and the Cause of Suffering on Your Self-Cherishing Thought and Destroy It

With compassion, all the sufferings and the cause of suffering, delusion and karma, everything, including the undesirable suffering places, all absorb into your heart in the form of dark smoke. You give this to the self-cherishing thought, your enemy, your real enemy, that made you suffer from beginningless rebirths and remain in samsara. By following that [self-cherishing thought] you will suffer endlessly. It will let you suffer.

You will experience all the six realms’ oceans of suffering again and again, numberless times. The self-cherishing thought didn’t let you achieve enlightenment up to now. It didn’t let you achieve enlightenment, so destroy it. Destroy it, like a bomb. Like in America, when it was fighting Iraq, there was an army place, and from very, very, very far away they would shoot the missiles. Then it would exactly hit and blow the army camp to pieces. Like that, you destroy the self-cherishing thought.

With Compassion, Take Suffering and the Cause of Suffering on Your I-Grasping Ignorance and Destroy It

The self-cherishing thought cherishes the real I that is believed to exist by the I-grasping ignorance. This ignorance holds the I as real, as existing from its own side. It is gone, totally gone! Not there! Meditate on emptiness for a little while.

With Loving Kindness, Give Your Body, Enjoyments and Merits to the Numberless Sentient Beings

Meditate on loving kindness, and then do the giving practice. When you do the practice of giving, the merit is increased by not just one hundred million, but so much more, therefore I will explain in a little detail how to do the meditation.

1. Give Your Body to the Numberless Sentient Beings
First, giving your body. My root guru Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche answered my question about the visualization. Here in lamrim, you don’t visualize like in chöd, the red distribution and white distribution, giving mountains of bones and flesh to the spirits. Here you visualize your body as wish-granting jewels. Tibetans use wish-granting jewels. The main thing, even if you don’t know the shape of a wish-granting jewel, is to know that anything you pray for, you will get, and there is not only one wish-granting jewel; there are numberless. Numberless!

Think that the numberless hell beings receive what they want. Then the numberless hungry ghosts—your body becomes numberless wish-granting jewels and they receive these. Then numberless animals—the numberless tiniest ones in the water and large like mountains, all kinds, in the water, under the ground, in the bushes, all the ants, mosquitoes, the tiniest, whatever, snakes, tigers, whatever, in the trees, bushes, under the earth, in the sky, the birds—you give to everyone.

Then you give your body in the form of numberless wish-granting jewels to every human being. There are numberless universes. When I say human beings, you should not think only of this world; there are numberless universes, therefore there are numberless human beings. It is the same thing for the hell beings, hungry ghosts and animals. There are numberless human beings in numberless universes. The Buddha said, and also it is scientifically mentioned, that there are numberless universes. So you make charity to numberless human beings.

Then numberless suras and numberless asuras—each one receives numberless wish-granting jewels from you.

After that, to keep it short; in the commentary on the sutra by Kachen Yeshe Gyaltshen, I think Do De Phälpo Che, I don’t know what it is called [in English],1 so many details are explained that even just by hearing them you might get exhausted. You might fall asleep. You might run to the beach or go to climb Mount Everest. You either go to the beach or climb Mount Everest. I’m joking.

2. Give Your Enjoyments to the Numberless Sentient Beings
After that you give all your longchö, all the enjoyments, money and everything, all the enjoyments you give, again, to the numberless hell beings, to every sentient being. What I’m saying is you give all the enjoyments to every hell being, then to the hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, asuras.

All the enjoyments are like wish-granting jewels, and every enjoyment fulfills all their wishes for happiness. You have to think that, not just giving them. No! All the enjoyments, big or small, are wish-fulfilling for them.

3. Give Your Past, Present, and Future Merits to the Numberless Sentient Beings
You give all the merits from past lives, from beginningless rebirths, now and in the future. You give all the merits to numberless hell beings, numberless hungry ghosts, numberless animals, numberless human beings, numberless suras and asuras.

Sentient Beings Get What They Want

That is so good, to give to them. You give to them so they get happiness, what they want. It is like when people have died, the monastery, the monks, are asked to pray for them, then they do puja. They collect merits by offering to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and making charity to sentient beings. They collect merits, and depending on how much they know how to practice, then they give the merits away. They give them as charity to sentient beings for the person who has died. Then they become free from the lower realms, meet Dharma, and achieve all their needs.

You have to think like this. You have to know that. So now, all the merits collected in the past, present and in the future, you give to everyone—to every hell being, hungry ghost, animal, human being, sura and asura. Now, they get everything that they want, happiness. They get everything that they want.

Sentient Beings Get What They Need

The next one is they get what they need. They receive a perfect human rebirth, they all meet Mahayana teachings, meet a perfectly qualified guru revealing the unmistaken path to enlightenment, and by following and pleasing most the holy mind, then they achieve enlightenment. They achieve all the realizations and are freed from, liberated from, the disturbing-thought obscurations (nyön drib), and subtle obscurations (she drib), the obscurations to achieving a fully knowing mind. These are purified, then they all become enlightened. Everyone becomes enlightened—the hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras and asuras, all like that.

That is how to meditate. It is a great, great, great practice. Wow, wow, wow.


1 Avatamsaka Sutra. [Return to text]