Really when we meditate, what is it we are doing? Much of what we are doing is training the mind. Perhaps all of what we are doing. It is said that there are 84,000 Dharma Doors or ways into the dharma, and one way is the Tibetan Practice of Lojong.
I was only introduced to it myself just this month so it’s new for me in formal introduction. But once I started studying it, it felt like an old friend. My very first thought was that it was a Tibetan version of a koan, which isn’t exactly true, but that’s the most obvious connection you might make when you start learning about it. So many of the slogans were already very familiar territory for me. I’ll come back to slogans in a moment.
So, this is just one more way to practice the dharma, and it’s a way that is supposed to be particularly effective at training the mind, hence the name “Mind Training!” It utilizes aphorisms, known as slogans, which as I said makes me think of Koans.
A teacher named Atisa is credited with its creation but he developed it after studying with a sumatran teacher for 12 years and then cultivated it beyond. I think I read that it was developed fully over the course of 300 years. Think about that for a second…a training for the mind that was established and then honed for three centuries before being considered ready for prime time! That, to me, puts some serious weight behind it.
These 59 slogans are kind of grouped into 7 areas. And of course there’s been many commentaries done on them over the years. The ones I’m using for my practice this month are the book “Training in Compassion: Zen teachings on the Practice of Lojong by Norman Fischer” and the Tricycle articles by Judy Lief, as well as the practical daily usage of Pema Chodron’s Compassion Cards, the latter of which solidified my love of this practice.
The seven points or groupings are:
The preliminaries which are the basis for dhamma practice
The main practice of training in Bodhicitta
Transformation of bad circumstances in to the way of enlightenment
Showing the utilization of practice in one’s whole life
Evaluation of Mind Training
Discipline of Mind Training
Guidelines of Mind Training
My assignment this month in my Dharmacharya program is to choose one to write about. It was a tough call because there were many that I enjoyed, and several I found challenging for different reasons. Some are difficult because the practice isn’t one I normally do (Tonglen). Some are challenging because they’re very, very in depth. But the slogan that jumped out for me first was the last, and after reading them all and working with about half of them this month (I’m taking them one per day so it will be another month before I work through them all) I’ve chosen to write a bit about:
59. DON’T EXPECT APPLAUSE (Don’t expect to receive credit for your good deeds, just do them anyway!)
I knew when I read this one that I’ve made a lot of progress in my lifetime on this, and most of that during my buddhist practice. But I also knew that I have a “long way to go and a short time to get there”, in the immortal words of the great sage Jerry Reed. I’ve come a long way with this slogan’s practice and I largely feel I’ve got it fairly well in hand, but I also know I have to pay close attention to it and always question not only what I’m doing but also (and most especially) why.
It’s an ongoing practice – a mindfulness practice, really – that I must be prepared to stay with always, lest I slip into old habits of the ego. It’s a challenge I’m prepared to face for the long term, which is why I consider it the most difficult. To further quote The Snowman’s song “East Bound and Down”... I’m “gonna do what they say can’t be done!”
Those old habits of the ego are not so far in my rear view mirror that I don’t still feel the suffering they can cause, and these days I’m watching the road ahead much more attentively than I did in the past. In my younger days, and even now when I’m not mindful, I can often fall into the trap of doing good for the sake of being seen doing good. A low form of generosity, to be sure. The highest form of giving then, is said to be that of the bodhisattva giving with an utter disregard for the benefit to oneself, only out of compassion.
The other aspect of this slogan is that it’s not limited to just good deeds and generosity, but anything at all that one does and then seeks praise or applause for. It could be an accomplishment in one’s own life such as a promotion at work, or washing the dishes at home. And take it from me, spouses don’t generally find it all that impressive when we do the same chores they do and wish to be congratulated for it!
Even as I write this blog post, a portion of which will serve as my homework for the month, the irony of that is not lost on me. Blogging is in some way a fame seeking endeavor. Assuming you have followers or want them. Luckily I blog solely out of the hope that it will be of some use to someone who might see it. It’s essentially a journal that I hope others may find useful. But, I must be mindful of what’s going on “behind the scenes” as I write and what my intentions are. So it’s the intention of the blogging, not the blogging itself, that I look for.
Do I just want to be seen as being knowledgeable about Lojong or Buddhism? Am I trying to come off as a great and wise teacher or gain notoriety as one? Am I sharing the dharma out of compassion for other beings in the hopes that they will find something useful in these words? Is it a mixture of all of these things? If I’m sharing for fame and glory…why?
Anyone who knows me would likely say that I am enthusiastic, to say the least. And that’s the main effort for me. I have to pay close attention to the difference between enthusiasm and bragging. I guess really it just comes down to the fact that when you do anything, be it acts of generosity or awesome feats, if you do it with the expectation of being lauded for it, you’re more firmly establishing a false sense of “I, Me, Mine” and thus missing the mark of the dharma entirely, not to mention devaluing the good deed you may have done.