"The traditional mind training practice of Tonglen, or the "sending and receiving" practice.
In the sending and receiving practice, the mind is trained in a meditative way, with a basic understanding of the friendship and the goodness that could be brought about. There is also a sense of responsibility towards eliminating the sufferings and the confusions of others. To begin with, we sit in the formal meditation position and follow the breath. With the outgoing breath, we send out towards all beings whatever goodness, health, and wholesome situation we have. As a result, all beings radiate with goodness, health and well-being, creating an environment of richness and sanity. You can also be more specific, sending out joy and health to a particular being, such as your mother or the person for whom you have the greatest concern. Whatever seems appropriate is fine. Then, while remaining confident in your ability to accommodate the negativities of others, you take in with the incoming breath all the confusion, limitations, and sufferings of other beings.
Working with the breath in this way, you train the mind by offering others all the wakefulness you have, and by taking all the confusion and paranoia of others on yourself. It is as if a bright light were going out with the breath towards all beings, representing your good and wholesome qualities. With the incoming breath, it is as if the embodiment of all suffering were coming towards you, which you then gladly take in. This giving and taking is, in a sense, what we have been trying to do in the practice all along, but up to this point we have not been able to generate true compassion or cut through the ego-clinging. On the contrary, everything has been for the purpose of self-gratification, for protection and security, and has only resulted in greater dissatisfaction. This is why it is necessary to change your attitude and the way you relate to the world at large.
Through this practice, we are able to see ourselves more clearly and let go of our clinging, loosening the state of fixation while also generating compassion towards others. Nurturing this attitude in our minds is important, because, although we often do some sort of giving and receiving, it is always incomplete because of the self aggrandizement we seek and the doubts and expectations we have. One moment we will be glowing with a bright smile, and the next moment we will be completely frozen, because we have not been properly trained.
To that end, a vital meditation practice will be consistent and will incorporate the Tonglen discipline of sending and receiving. It will also bring positive effects into post-meditation situations. If you understand and take your responsibilities sincerely, and meditate consistently, it is entirely possible that you will have the ability to produce these effects. You will feel that everyone, no matter who they are, is actually quite friendly and amiable, and that no one intentionally means to do harm. You will begin to understand that there may be great confusion in the surrounding world, but there is also some capacity for friendship. Whatever dissonance is taking place will not be seen as intentional, but will be recognized as a result of the confusion and limitations beings suffer, and this will only inspire you to take on even more responsibility. Furthermore, in all activities you will generate kindness, tenderness, and compassion; you will speak gentle and kind words accompanied by comforting body gestures. You will be constantly giving of yourself to others. There will be no sense of self-concern or selfish pride because you will identify with the responsibilities you have taken.
There may be situations where kindness shown towards beings who cannot appreciate it, will result in projections of further confusion. However, because of intensive meditation, and because of the understanding that has been developed, you will be able to accommodate that neurosis and perceive its unintentional nature. In this state of compassion, there is a sincere desire to benefit others however we can. Because of these sane intentions and activities, there will be a great deal of inner and spiritual development. Outwardly, you become a very decent, responsible, genial person.
We like to talk about the possibilities of a sane society where everyone is responsible and can generate a friendly environment and live in a dignified, or uplifted, manner. This is definitely possible in the ordinary world, as well as in terms of the spiritual realm and the experience of bodhisattva realization. It is not something out there beyond reach; instead, it is an inherent quality that is as close as home. It is simply a question of some work and integration. If you could become truly responsible for yourself and for others, if you could become responsible for your total liberation, then you could make a tremendous contribution to creating a very dignified and sane society. This is what the Tonglen training can bring into the world."Taken from a transcript of a teaching given at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche. The transcript is available in its entirety from Namse Bangdzo Bookstore.