Giving and Taking is one of the most effective meditations for helping other people and becoming a more compassionate person. If you’ve come to a spiritual practice for the right reasons, which is always a motivation to help other people, then this is the meditation for you.
The “tong” in “ton glen” means “to give away something”, and “len” means “to take something”. This special meditation can trace its roots back 2,500 years to Lord Buddha, and was taught very strongly by Master Shantideva, who wrote the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life about thirteen centuries ago.
Then in Tibet, it was popularized around 1000 A.D. by the Kadampas, the people who wrote what we call lojong texts. These are texts and special instructions to make your heart pure, clean, and compassionate.
The First Panchen Lama has described the connection between the practice of giving and taking, and compassion in the following verses:
Meditate for yourself to find an attitude of disgust
For this world of cyclic life, three realms where every one of us
Is tortured as though in a pit of fire no one could ever bear,
Suffering in just this way the pains of birth and death.
Look at the miserable state of your own pain, and try to guess from it
How allyour mothers, pitifulliving beings, must suffer the same;
Develop in this way a state of genuine compassion,
And practice constantly giving and taking, alternating the two.
This huge machine that runs our birth and death as impure things
Is something that’s created by our projections, and nothing more:
It has in it not a single atom of existing some other way—
Throw yourself then into the realm of the real, pure fearlessness.
Options for Further Study
To deepen your study and practice of Giving and Taking as introduced in this meditation, please refer to the following course on The Knowledge Base:
Daily Practice Series Course 03: Contemplation on the Practice of Giving and Taking (1997, Connecticut)
This is an excellent meditation practice to develop a caring attitude in our hearts toward everyone in our lives, especially those that we have difficulty with. And it’s a wonderful meditation to do when one has an illness, to cultivate empathy, or to generate happiness. Tong Len practice cultivates love and compassion for ourselves, those we are indifferent toward, and those who harm us. It’s a great way to learn to be kind to yourself and others. This course was taught by Geshe Michael Roach at Godstow Retreat Center in Redding, CT in the winter of 1997.