In the practice, one visualizes taking onto oneself the suffering of others, and giving one's own happiness and success to others. As such it is a training in altruism in its most extreme form. The function of the practice is to:
- reduce selfish attachment
- increase a sense of renunciation
- create positive karma by giving and helping
- develop loving-kindness and bodhicitta
- it refers to all of the Six Perfections of giving, ethics, patience, joyous effort, concentration and wisdom, which are the practices of a Bodhisattva.
This practice is summarized in seven points, which are attributed to the great Indian Buddhist teacher Atisha Dipankara Shrijnana, born in 982 CE. They were first written down by Kadampa master Langri Tangpa (1054–1123). The practice became more widely known when Geshe Chekawa Yeshe Dorje (1101–1175) summarized the points in his Seven Points of Training the Mind. This list of mind training (lojong) proverbs or 'slogans' compiled by Chekawa is often referred to as the Atisha Slogans.
H.H. The Dalai Lama, who is said to practise Tonglen every day, has said of the technique: "Whether this meditation really helps others or not, it gives me peace of mind. Then I can be more effective, and the benefit is immense".  His Holiness offers a translation of the Eight Verses in his book The Path To Tranquility: Daily Meditations.
- Kamalashila (1996). Meditation: The Buddhist Art of Tranquility and Insight. Birmingham: Windhorse Publications. ISBN 1-899579-05-2.
- Trungpa, Chogyam. Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness. Shambhala Classics. ISBN 1-59030-051-3
- H.H. The Dalai Lama. The Path To Tranquility: Daily Meditations. Viking Adult, 1999. ISBN 0-67088-759-5.
- The Heart-Practice of Tonglen
- The Practice of Tonglen by Pema Chodron
- The Tonglen and Mind Training Site
- Tonglen - 'Sending and Taking' by Thrangu Rinpoche
- Tonglen - Quotes Sogyal Rinpoche's Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
- Tonglen - Meditation on Taking and Giving
- Pema teaches Tonglen in these videos.
- Generative meditation and Tonglen