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Tonglen meditation's effects on compassion in novice meditators

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McKnight, Daphna Erin




Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies


Capitanio, Joshua
Demyan, Amy
Shakya, Miroj


This study, as well as the initial pilot study, are the first known, stand-alone, empirical studies of the Tibetan Buddhist tonglen meditation practice, which is intended to increase levels of compassion (and the benefits that come with that), in addition to reducing less helpful mind-states such as fear and egotism. The premise of this larger proof-of-concept study was to investigate whether tonglen meditation can 1) increase self-compassion and compassion for others, 2) in novice meditators 3) with very little instruction, and 4) short amounts of practice time. This study examined changes in self-compassion and compassion for others through a pre/post intervention study design (α = .05). Subjects (n = 53), who were novice meditators, were given only ten minutes of introduction and instruction; after which, they were asked to participate in an 18-minute guided tonglen meditation, practice on-the-spot tonglen for 30-seconds twice a day for six days, then do one additional 18-minute guided tonglen practice. Results showed a statistically significantly increase in the total scale score of self-compassion (p < .01) and statistically significant beneficial changes in each of the six subscales as measured by Neff's self-report questionnaire, the Self-Compassion Scale (SCS). An increase in compassion for others, though trending up, could not be determined through Pommier's self-report questionnaire, the Compassion Scale (CS), due to a ceiling effect. In addition to the study results, this dissertation includes a detailed discussion of the findings and of the results from the qualitative feedback, which offers insight into the perceived benefits subjects reported, including a reduction in pain, increased communication skills, and the ability for greater perspective taking. The dissertation also contains an introduction to tonglen meditation, a tonglen troubleshooting guide, a chart of tonglen commentaries in English organized by century, and an extended literature review of a cousin compassion meditation practice, loving-kindness meditation (LKM).

Degree Granter

University of the West



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