Metta & Tonglen

I think this is a great idea.
See my post in DW.

Does Theravada have a practice similar to Tonglen in Mhayana?


It would be good to look at this post also.
The Theravadan practice of metta (or more generally the brahmaviharas) is somewhat similar in spirit to tonglen, but can be safely practiced by anyone based on reading the instructions from the Suttas (Metta Sutta translation challenge!) or skillful modern interpretations.

Many Vajrayana practices such as Tonglen are very powerful and correspondingly risky. My understanding is that they should only be undertaken under close supervision by one’s guru.


According to Theravada, you can not take others suffering to you.
It does not mean to say that you can’t help to alleviate suffering of others.

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I don’t dispute whether the Tonglen practice is effective or not. I just wish to contrast the very different styles between Theravada and (some) Vajrayana practices, and associated risks. Personally I am very cautious with any practice involving visualization.

For clarification, I’m posting a quote from the DW thread that I linked to above that talks about the risks.

"Re: Tonglen?
Post by Grigoris » Fri Feb 24, 2012 10:12 pm

Dear Sheila,

there are do-it-yourself manuals for dream yoga, chod and everything else you can imagine. When I was taught tonglen it took five days of 6 hour teaching sessions to get the basic points across. This is mainly because an un-informed practitioner may do tonglen from the position of self (“I” am taking on the suffering of others) and run into all sorts of problems. Tonglen requires guru yoga at the very least in order to be truly effective, otherwise it either becomes another ego-bolstering practice (look at “me” taking on everybody’s suffering) or can easily lead to disillurionment (“I” cannot possibly deal with everybody’s suffering).

Books are for info, teachers are there to teach you practices (and deal with all the issues that arise from the practice).

Tonglen can be done by anyone that has been taught tonglen."

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… in my experience, this sort of practice is not uniquely Buddhist, and could be problematic in terms of reinforcement of the conceit of “self”.

Is there anything about this sort of practice in the EBTs?

Metta. Karuna. May suffering cease.

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Chanting of parittas - protective suttas - is the Theravadan practice I have seen used most often with the intent of relieving the suffering of others.

Parittas have their origins in the EBTs, e.g. the Angulimala paritta as described starting here: SuttaCentral

In this pattern, an individual first improves themselves, then uses the powers that accompany their attainment to relieve the suffering of others.

Magical thinking imo is a significant hurdle on the path, but one has to start anywhere, and the Buddha spoke to all, right where they are, yes, imo also.

I am no longer sure what is and is not within the scope of this thread, and so i will retire from it.

:slight_smile: May all be happy, and peaceful, and ultimately liberated.

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lol… turns out my indirect encouragement above to stay somewhere nearish the topic at hand didn’t quite work. Nevertheless, thanks to those who realised there’d been a little over-straying. I’ve now moved connected posts to that thread.

There’s no wish at all to be ridged; conversations naturally evolve, it’s a wonderful thing. At the same time, it’s probably be good to relate new lines of thought to the original theme in some sort of way.


A new thread has been started about mindfulness and attention, but there is a separate tangent here about metta and Tonglen. So perhaps another new thread, if there is sufficient interest. (I am interested). @SarathW1 : would you like to do the honors of opening the new thread, since yours was the first post here directly on that topic, I think. I have learned how important the title and original post are.

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Hi moderating team
Could you be kind enough to create this for me.
Thank you


Interestingly HHDL said that he has no healing powers and he is skeptical about it.
It appears he does not believe in Tonglen any more.
At least the aspect of taking suffering of other on to yourself.

I find, when talking to people who practice them, that many of these practices have multiple levels. There is a literal level, where the practitioner believes that devas or bodhisattvas are “real” beings that can be called on to work what from a Western, scientific perspective we call “magic”. At a social level, there is also a very special interaction that happens when someone requests a chanting be done for the sake of an ill or dying friend or relative. I am amazed at how universal this is, where I can accompany a nun to the grocery store in a little rural town in California, and have strangers come up and ask whether “you people” do “prayers”, and then hear from them how their son or mother is suffering.

But at another level the practice of chanting parittas can be seen as a way of cultivating the brahmaviharas, and that can certainly have a direct effect on the practitioner, including assistance in following the path, with indirect effects for those that interact with that individual in the future.


I fully agree with what you are saying. The problem is many people never move from this position. Country like Sri Lanka even in place like Tibet, people are more engross with rites and rituals.


There is a problem if the monastics are corrupt, and encourage the rites and rituals in order to get donations. On the other hand, if the monastics perform the rites and rituals as skillful means to establish a relationship of trust so that people will come to listen to the Dhamma, then I don’t see that as a problem.


Very nice observation. I was at my local Wat today to help the head monk practice his English. A young woman, her mother, and grandmother had driven an hour from a nearby city to have the young woman’s new car blessed by the head monk. (Parenthetically, the head monk asked me to assist him which was quite an honor for me since I have only been attending the Wat for a few months!)

I talked to the young woman, her mother, and grandmother at lunch after the car was blessed. It seemed to me to be a typical story for other families I have met at the Wat. The grandmother, who immigrated to the United States from Southeast Asia, still actively practices Buddhism. The mother, a first-generation U.S. citizen, speaks her mother’s native tongue and observes Buddhist practice, but not as much as her mother. The young woman, a second-generation U.S. citizen only visits the Wat on occasion.

After lunch, the head monk, generous and well-meaning as always, spoke to the young woman whose car he blessed and reminded her of Dhamma teachings. He gave her a chanting book with English transliterations and kindly guided her through some concepts she knew from childhood lessons at the Wat. It was gratifying to see that what could have been a pro forma blessing of a new car turned into an opportunity to re-establish the young woman’s relationship with the Dhamma.


Good point.
This is what I have seen missing in many Sri Lankan monks. They just go alone with the lay people rather than to use the opportunity to establish them in Dhamma.


And also, perhaps, an opportunity for all 3 generations to help each other where they are, which seems to me to be a gift (edit: or generosity) the monk could facilitate. Lovely.


Oddly… i do find intention to have effect, a magic, but … it is separate from the rites rituals, or material aids. Extending one self to another … sometimes … ripens something? In a good way.

edit : maybe that is included in “cultivating the brahmaviharas”. But it exceeds apparent boundaries (such as self, or species, for example), conventionally seen.


I guess that some Vajrayana practices can be done at different levels of intensity. This article is addressed to the general reader, and to me it offers a really nice way of doing karuna practice. Pema Chodron’s suggestions seem more personal and direct than tangling with mantras of the “May all beings be relieved of their suffering” type sometimes does.