I remember in my teen years being introduced to The Tibetan Book of the Dead by my friend Karen. I bought a copy of this classic, but never really got very far into it. It was a seed that was planted and finally did see life when I read it in later years.
I took it off the shelf this weekend after reading something online that referenced a meditative technique developed by Tibetan Buddhists that has been in use for many centuries, and predates the medical use of anesthesia. It’s also something I had read about in the essential teachings of the Dalai Lama
The practice is known as Thong Len and there is surprisingly little about it online. (Wikipedians, get to work.) The interesting aspect of it is that it is not only a technique to relieve your own pain, but, simultaneously, the pain of others. The practitioner is imagining another person’s pain (physical pain like a burn or injured nerve) and then drawing that pain into their own body/mind.
That sound foolish on the surface. Why would I want to take on your pain? Those who practice the technique claim that as you take the pain from others, your own pain disappears. You could view the action as almost selfish. If I was doing Thong Len throughout my day and drawing pain from everyone around me, I would constantly be improving my own well-being.
“I was amazed a couple of years ago when I discovered Thong Len. I had a burnt hand, and (when I used) that technique, it was like an anesthetic had been injected into my arm,” said Jack Pettigrew, a renowned Australian physiologist, at a Science and the Mind conference that was attended by the Dalai Lama.
Pettigrew takes a very scientific approach to the practice. He is intrigued by experiences like when people in a room with a Thong Len practitioner report feeling better though they were not the “subject” of the technique.
Of course, this is only one of many examples where Western science has examined how Eastern practices involving meditative, introspective, and other thought techniques affect the body become a part of trying to understand how the brain works.
Bardo Thodol (Tibetan Book of the Dead)