The Dalai Lama's Lecture on Tong-len
Tong-len is a special type of visualization meditation which aims at strengthening one's compassion. Moreover, it can also be used in order to transform one's personal suffering, thereby enabling the practitioner better to deal with it. One can use this practice to increase one's compassion by visualizing relieving the suffering of others, by purposely (and rather extraordinarily or mysteriously) absorbing and dissolving their suffering into one's own. This Dr Cutler calls "a sort of suffering by proxy." (The Art of Happiness, p. 178.) As this is a straight meditation visualization given directly by the Dalai Lama, there's no need to paraphrase or interpret as a straight transcription of his words would be far more authentic:
|More cloud at Baldoyle, Dublin, last Sunday|
To begin this exercise, first visualize on one side of you a group of people who are in desperate need of help, those who are in an unfortunate state of suffering, those living under the conditions of poverty, hardship and pain. Visualize this group of people on one side of you clearly in your mind. Then, on the other side, visualize yourself as the embodiment of a self-centered person, with a customary selfish attitude, indifferent to the well-being and needs of others. And then, in between this suffering group of people and this selfish representation of you see yourself in the middle, as a neutral observer.
Next, notice which side you are naturally drawn inclined toward. Are you more inclined toward that single individual, the embodiment of selfishness? Or, do your natural feelings of empathy reach out to the weaker group of people who are in need? If you look objectively, you can see that the well-being of a group or large number of individuals is more important than that of one single individual.
After that, focus your attention on the needy and desperate people. Direct all your positive energy to them. Mentally give them your successes, your resources, your collection of virtues. And after you have done that, visualize taking upon yourself their suffering, their problems, and all their negativities...
This Tong-len practice can become quite powerful if you combine the "giving and receiving" with the breath, that is, imagine "receiving" when inhaling and "giving" when exhaling. When you do this visualization effectively, it will make you feel some slight discomfort. This is an indication that it is hitting its target - the self-centered, ego-centric attitude that we normally have. Now, let us meditate." (Op. cit., pp. 178-180)