Who can practice tonglen?

Feb 1, 2022




Dearest Venerable Robina,


I hope this finds you very well and happy.


With great fortune and joy I was able to attend your weekend of teachings recently.


I know you are extremely busy with all your traveling, teaching and many commitments, and can’t even imagine how many people write to you every day.


I have a question. Can anybody make prayers of aspiration and practice tong-len, even those who in reality would not be capable of giving away all one’s possessions or body?


It feels “fake” when I pronounce the words, particularly in regards to the offering of the body; but then I also think aspiring to something means you are not there yet, so…still I am not sure if one needs some kind of permission to do these (so wonderful!) practices.


Until then, I send all my kindest and very warm wishes,




Dearest S,


I have received your email — good to hear from you. 


As with everything we learn to do, it has to start with the thought. Nothing will happen without that! When you make a cake, you start with the thoughts, which is the recipe. Then gradually you put the recipe into action. Same with playing the piano, learning mathematics — everything.


So, same here with our practice of tonglen. We must start with the thought. You can’t be “capable of giving away all one’s possessions or body” unless you start thinking about, wanting, aspiring to do so. Of course it’s “fake” — but no choice. We must start somewhere.


The first time you climb onto a bicycle is definitely fake! You fall off immediately. But we have to start somewhere.


So, be brave, practice tonglen. Such a courageous practice! Wanting to give others our happiness and to imagine taking upon ourselves their suffering, according to Lama Zopa Rinpoche, is incredible purification. It puts atomic bombs under our self-centeredness!


Much love and many prayers to you,



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