Our Wednesday night meditation and study group just completed several weeks of exploring the Mahayana/Tibetan practice called Lojong, which is usually translated as “mind training.” Peter prepared the document posted below that noted this practice from the perspective of someone who has a lot of experience with Theravadin Buddhist practices. He sees Lojong as a way to implement the Wisdom aggregate of the Noble Eightfold Path, which combines clear awareness/vipassana practice with benevolent awareness/compassion practice. It is hoped that those who read this will be inspired to pursue this practice.
I want to create notes and an outline of the steps derived from various commentaries of the Tibetan medieval writings that are known as lojong. This exploration is undertaken to bring the insights we gain through formal meditation practice to bear on the experiences that occur in everyday life. It’s not meant to be definitive or even well-informed in Tibetan Buddhist doctrines. The opportunities of our era allow us to combine the well-developed doctrines that emerged prior to this era, producing a synthesis that supports another rendering of the path to liberation from suffering. As I grow in understanding the purpose of lojong, it seems that the practice supports practical application of the principles and practices outlined in the discourse on The Four Noble Truths of the Pali Canon.
Lojong means “mental training”, or “attitudinal orientation”, and consists of a series of applied steps that include sayings that are meant to provide a series of mental lenses through which various contractions and distortions of the mind can be mindfully investigated. The end goal is the deconstruction of the false notion of an independent, self-controlled ego. Through this practice, a more compassionate and generous organization of constantly changing self-states can emerge, moving towards fulfilling the Bodhisattva Vow, that is, to provide a platform for alleviating suffering for all sentient beings.
An important underlying concept is that of bodhicitta, which typically translates as awakened mind. There are two aspects of bodhicitta, relative bodhicitta and ultimate bodhicitta. Relative bodhicitta represents the mind at a state of awareness dedicated to the alleviation of greed, hatred and ignorance, manifested as the intention to bring relief from suffering for all sentient beings. The term “relative” denotes the provisional, interdependent relatedness of conditional reality, as experienced by the mind. Ultimate bodhicitta is synonymous with sunyata, which is typically understood as meaning openness, emptiness of self, non-attachment to views, and so on. It represents the undifferentiated, ultimate ground of being. This isn’t understood as blankness; it orients awareness towards the immense complexity of life where there’s no need to discriminate an independent “actor” or “acted upon”. The practice of relative bodhicitta, that is, personal spiritual development applied over the course of a lifetime, leads to the emergence and primacy of ultimate bodhicitta. As that practice matures, the intention to be compassionate merges with the ultimate, becoming spontaneous and fulfilling the bodhisattva vow. The fundamental delusion of attachment to a permanent, separate self dissolves.
My rendering of the training points is in red font, which is followed in bold italics with the translation provided by Ken McLeod in The Great Path of Awakening: The Classic Guide to Lojong, a Tibetan Buddhist Practice for Cultivating the Heart of Compassion, written in the 19th century by Jamgon Kongtrul. Another excellent resource for further study is The Practice of Lojong: Cultivating Compassion through Training the Mind, by the contemporary author Traleg Kyabgon. I also made use of the web site https://www.lojongmindtraining.com which contains commentary by several teachers, including Pema Chodron, whose The Places that Scare You and Tonglen, the Path of Transformation are valued resources.
STAGE ONE: PREPARING THE MIND FOR TRAINING
First, there is the assumption that the meditation student is competent in cultivating a level of tranquility and clarity of mind, characterized in Theravaden Buddhist terms as access concentration. Access concentration is noted as the absence or minimal intrusiveness of thoughts that capture the mind, appearing real and demanding action; instead, the dominant mind state is by tranquility and clarity. While experiencing access concentration, there is an effort to note the spaciousness and fundamental creativity of the mind when unburdened by the normal commentary, the “selfing story” and the turbulence of emotional agitation. This contrast (the spacious, reflective quality of consciousness, contrasted with the turbulent and false “certainty” that craving and clinging presents) sets the stage for deconstructing the self, revealing the process of self-cherishing that promotes defending or aggrandizing the ego; this supports spiritual evolution. The expansive quality of awareness contradicts the strongly reinforced limitations of view that are the result of fixation on a particular mind state as being self-defining, accompanied by a strong urge to act out the fixation. The ability to perceive the expansive quality of the mind state diminishes the fixation, allowing the conditioning of the mind to be more clearly noted, as well as supporting more creativity in responding to what next arises in awareness. The expansive quality of awareness reveals a less constricted, less “dense” view of self-states, which can be noted as fleeting, cloud-like and less demanding or urgent. In turn, the more the arisen mind state isn’t troubled by “selfing”, the more naturally kind, compassionate, generous and accepting the organizing of mind-states becomes.
A few suggestions about how to cultivate these mind states:
First, practice aiming and sustaining attention on the routine rhythm of breathing in a relaxed manner. Note and disregard anything arising in consciousness that is not simple breath awareness. A useful strategy is to start with just being aware of the inbreath as inbreath, and the outbreath as outbreath; then move attention “closer” to the breath awareness, trying to note where the touch sensation at the tip of the nostrils is most predominant. Rest awareness on that spot persistently, even when there’s no apparent sensation in the pauses between each breath. Finally, try to notice a particular finite touch point, as precisely and continuously as possible. At this point, the intrusiveness of thought should be significantly reduced, and there may be little jolts of pleasant energy, tremors or vibration in body awareness. This signals the onset of upacara samadhi, access concentration.
Upon establishing access concentration, while watching the breath cycle, briefly sweep through the sensations in the body at the “bottom” of the out-breath, being attentive to areas of contraction, tension or when the mind resists investigating a feeling; willingly surrender the resistance, softening into the sensation, whether it’s strongly urgent or subtly so. Apply this letting go repeatedly, curious as to just how much more subtle levels of contraction or resistance can be noted and released.
In the process of surrendering, try to notice when the mind loses interest in the typical awareness of the “edge of the body”, so that awareness becomes expansive and inclusive of sounds and other environmental phenomena, without reacting. During these moments, realize that there are no limits to consciousness except when conditioned by craving and clinging to the notion of a separate and enduring self. Even physically uncomfortable sensations are not situated “in the body”; for example, there’s awareness of intensely uncomfortable vibrations, with no perceived need to identify or locate the sensations as “knee pain”.
As bodily definition loses interest and awareness becomes more expansive, continue to open the mind to the inclusion of all phenomena that arise as being complete and total. That is, realizing that all sounds, temperature variables, and so on are integral to this moment of being, without the normal referencing to a separate self.
The resulting mind state could be noted as an awareness of density of vibrational sensation within an indeterminate , expansive, and inclusive range of openness. This awareness is relative bodhicitta. The limitless, undifferentiated quality of this moment of being is ultimate bodhicitta.
Second, there are a series of contemplations that provide the motivation to practice diligently:
- The singular opportunities that are provided by simply existing as a human being, providing the perfect stage for spiritual growth; that is, sufficient discomfort to motivate seeking relief (1st Noble Truth) along with sufficient capacity for self awareness/mindfulness and self discipline/renunciation.
- The impermanence of life, reflected in the inevitability of death of the body, as well as the death of plans, careers, marriages, etc. during the normal course of life.
- The fundamental truth of karma, that is, that things happen for a reason, particularly as related to our subjective experiences and the struggle that occurs when the personality is rigidly organized; this points to the 2nd, 3rd & 4th Noble Truths.
- Finally, the impenetrable and ultimately unknowable complexity of the world, known as Samsara.
It is useful to frequently reflect on these four contemplations as an antidote for complacency and forgetfulness of the purpose of the lojong practices.
STAGE TWO: CULTIVATING BODHICITTA
Two important concepts of reality are dominant here:
- Ultimate Bodhicitta Bodhicitta is usually translated as meaning Awakened Mind. This is the limitless, boundless and brightly clear nature of the mind, unburdened by any sense of a separate self. All being emerges in the context of non-duality, that is, an undifferentiated complexity that lacks a “this is self, and this is not self” perception. The concept of paticca samupada,(dependent origination, which I call provisional arising), points to a fundamental misperception of reality which establishes a false belief that there is such a thing as a self, fundamentally independent from that which is other. This misperception is avijja, ignorance.
In the Wisdom aggregate of the Noble Eightfold Path, we find two attitudes, Right Understanding and Right Intention. Cultivating vipassana develops the understanding that there is not enduring separate self, while the four Divine Abidings (lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity) develop an open-hearted intention to dissolve feelings of alienation and separateness. The more unburdened awareness is by the ignorance that creates duality, the less initiating effort or intention is necessary for the divine abiding to manifest. This provides the context in life for applying the Bodhisattva vow, which emphasizes the importance of compassionate action in the world.
THE MENTAL TRAINING PRACTICES
The following represent the training points of lojong practice. The red font represents each training point as interpreted through my studies, while the bold font renders the training points in The Great Path Of Awakening.
Training the mind to cultivate awareness of ultimate bodhicitta
1: Regard all mind states as fantasies. The classical rendering of this is: regard all phenomena as dreams. While practicing vipassana, note all narratives, moods, urgencies, as insubstantial, dreamlike, transitory phenomena. Note when identification with the arisen phenomena makes them appear to be solid, believable, and demanding of action (or inhibiting action). Also note how contraction arises in the body. Note the decreasing identification with the phenomena as more expansive awareness is cultivated, accompanied by the release of the contractions in the body (see the recommendation about relaxing/expanding at the bottom of the outbreath).
2: Be attentive to the range of consciousness not dominated by provisional arisings. This classical rendering is: Examine the nature of unborn awareness. In this training practice, the detachment from arisen afflicted mind-states allows an opportunity to be aware of the undefined, expansive, clear field of awareness that is not identified through the arisen mind state, but simply present. A useful analogy is the expansive sky, within which the clouds arise and pass away. This expansive, non-attached field of awareness, in the context of the provisionally arisen narrative, is relative bodhicitta. It is relative because the duality of the thoughts and the associated clear awareness is still predominant; the vipassana practice allows awareness of the duality impersonally. When that duality is seen through, that is, when there’s direct awareness of the interdependence of the narrative and the reflective consciousness, there is a realization of ultimate bodhicitta.
3: Let the quality of mind be choicelessly aware. The classical rendering is: Even the remedy is free to subside naturally. This awareness is subtle. It represents a mind state that has no preference for figure (arisen phenomena) or ground (the undefined, expansive awareness that is other than figure). This inclusive awareness allows an opening to the experience of shunyata, or voidness. Shunyata isn’t blankness, but simply all-encompassing, non-preferential openness to what is, including the constantly changing nature of phenomena. It is appreciated with a relaxed curiosity, that is, non-striving investigation of what is, while remaining open to what might be arising next.
4: Relax into the choiceless awareness. This is rendered thus: Rest in the nature of all, the basis of everything. With practice, primarily during a long retreat, it is possible to remain in this “primordial process of awareness” for extended periods of time-a peaceful abiding. During that time, there are opportunities to be “choicelessly curious”, investigating whether there is any basis for the existence of an observing or an observed self that is fundamentally independent, autonomous, enduring and singular. This may prompt conditions in the mind that reveal the absence of an independent self (anatta). Another way to describe the insight is that of the complexity of natural conditions that produce a moment of “selfing” without choosing to differentiate into self and other.
5: During the day, be open the provisional “dreamlike” quality of arisen mind states. The classical rendition of this is: In the post-meditation practice, be a child of illusion. During normal daily activities, see if it’s possible to support the conditions that allow awareness of the provisional nature of experience, particularly the strong bias toward personalizing what has arisen. That is, don’t take what happens during the day personally. Personalizing can be recognized as the mind “contracts” into the arisen phenomenon through craving and clinging, creating the false notion of a separate self, an “actor” or an “acted upon”. The lojong training is meant to promote increasingly clear insights as to the insubstantiality of the “selfing” process. One way to facilitate this might be to ask “Do I have to believe this thought just because it occurred?” Another might be to ask “Is it necessarily true that there is an observer and an observed in this moment?”
- Relative Bodhicitta This is the subjective awareness that arises when vipassana investigates the conditional nature of experience with a quality of non-reactive benevolence. This loss of ego defense is spiritually useful, as it investigates how the sense of self operates to create self and other. This awareness is fundamental for the development of the four Divine Abidings: lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and generosity, with equanimity. Lovingkindness promotes unqualified benevolent awareness of what is present, and has no need to sustain the contracted, rejecting mind state called aversion. Compassion is empathic awareness of suffering that comes to mind, with the intention to soften and release the harshness of suffering into benevolent action. It is the foundation for the next training point, tonglen. Sympathetic joy is benevolent openness to the happiness in the world, and is the antidote for the separation created by jealousy or envy. Finally, equanimity brings balance to the first three, so kindness, compassion and joy are not distorted through ignorance into aversion, cruelty, jealousy or envy. Relative bodhicitta is cultivated through intentionally focusing on those mind-states during access concentration, building them into more and more daily life experiences. Fulfilling the practice of relative bodhicitta leads to increasing awareness of the three characteristics of reality: anicca (impermanence), dukkha (the stress produced by craving and clinging), and anatta (the utterly interdependent nature of reality, which eliminates the delusion of a substantial self). The emerging awareness of relative bodhicitta is strongly developed through the practice of tonglen. The ultimate goal of relative bodhicitta is to dissolve the misperception of a separate self through reflecting on the fundamental benevolence of ultimate bodhicitta.
Training the mind to advance in the realm of relative bodhicitta
6: Practice insight into the malleability of mind states through Tonglen. The classical rendition of this is: Train in taking and sending alternately. According to Chogyam Trungpa, tonglen is translated thusly: “tong’ means ‘sending out’ or ‘letting go’ and ‘len’ means ‘receiving’ or ‘accepting’”. The intention is structured as radiating metta (lovingkindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy) and upekkha (equanimity) out into the world on the outbreath, while willingly opening to the unkindness, cruelty, jealousy and envy, and rigidly attached viewpoints that arise in awareness during the in-breath. This is a profound practice, not to be taken lightly or casually. It is the core of lojong practice. Here are some thoughts about the process:
- First establish awareness of the spaciousness and clarity of a mind free from the hindrances during sitting meditation practice (access concentration).
- Realize the inherent flux of moment-by-moment awareness, which acknowledges the malleability of mind-states inherent in relative bodhicitta (the transient, dream-like quality of mental phenomena).
- While breathing in, or simply opening to the experience of suffering present in the mind, be aware that this suffering is the product of a mind (your own and/or others) trapped in the illusion produced by craving and clinging/attachment to views. This opening is not intended to be abstract, but rather a deeply felt physical and emotional awareness of the contraction that accompanies craving and clinging. You can simply reflect on what is presently occurring, or you can pick a topic that has some emotional impact, such as the unemployed/homeless, people who are ill, combat victims, etc. Feel it as openly as possible, remaining curious to the bodily experience of stress associated with the “hijacked” mind-state. It’s important to maintain awareness of the transient, dream-like nature of any story that arises with the feeling, and then let it dissolve into benevolence.
- While breathing out, or with simple awareness of shunyata, (the inherently creative and transformative nature of bodhicitta), transform the suffering into benevolence, radiating it outward with as much body awareness as possible, particularly from the middle of the chest. Awareness of shunyata is experienced subjectively as opening to the spaciousness of the mind, rather than clamping down/identifying with the arisen mind-state. With tonglen practice, it may be helpful to deliberately lengthen the out breath, releasing the tension/contraction of the suffering that’s acknowledged during the in breath. At the end of the out breath, allow awareness to expand and soften, releasing attachment to the suffering being contemplated.
- Imagine that the benevolent radiance is a gift of compassionate action, freely released for the benefit of those who are suffering, with no need to be thanked or for any kind of recognition or reciprocating action from another being.
- When the mind becomes entrapped with the enormity of suffering, or the fear that radiating compassion and generosity is too depleting, revert to the practice of mindfulness of breathing or basic lovingkindness meditation to reestablish balance. Another way to free the mind is to contemplate the impersonal nature of karma (the law of cause and effect ); this can promote equanimity, which emphasizes not taking what happens personally.
- Remember that this practice cultivates the intention for suffering to be transformed into liberating benevolence for all beings. Don’t take it personally.
- It’s also important to keep in mind that the ultimate goal of this practice is to transform awareness from the mundane to the transcendent. That is, to make best use of relative bodhicitta to cultivate an emerging awareness that there is no self independent of the lawfulness of ultimate bodhicitta, which is essentially the incredible complexity that is commonly called Buddha Nature, God, Allah, The Tao, etc. With the realization of ultimate bodhicitta, all mind-states and behaviors inherently arise from benevolence.
7: Be mindful in daily life of the arising of greed, aversion and ignorance in awareness, and cultivate generosity, kindness and clear awareness to counter the unwholesomeness. The rendering here is: Three objects, three poisons, three seeds of virtue. The three objects are pleasant, unpleasant and neutral mind states. The three poisons arise when pleasant feeling turns into desire, unpleasant feeling becomes aversion, and neutral feeling creates dullness. The three seeds of virtue apply tonglen practice to transform greed into generosity/sympathetic joy, aversion into compassion, and dullness into clear awareness. To skillfully practice tonglen, it’s important to master the Four Divine Abidings, metta (lovingkindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy) and upekkha (equanimity). It’s equally important to cultivate the ability to quickly be clearly aware of the arising of their opposites, aversion, cruelty & harshness, jealousy & envy, and attachment & intolerance, so the appropriate antidote can be supported. As the mind grows in wisdom, the active intention to manifest the four benevolent states evolves into an inherent emergence of those qualities, as bodhicitta.
8: The primary mind training in this mode is with self-experiences. The rendition of this is: Begin the sequence of exchange with yourself. It is fundamentally important to recognize clearly that whenever mind-states arise, they are entirely fabricated within the subjective process of selfing. The normal tendency of the mind is to project the cause of individual suffering to “the other”, that is, others’ behaviors, natural events, and so on. Referring back to the training on the provisional nature of subjective reality, be aware that the suffering in the world “out there” is interpreted and conditioned by individual subjective processing. By inference, the insight can be cultivated that every sentient being’s subjectivity in the world is also provisional, that is, subject to being transformed into bodhicitta. This sets the ground for transforming your mind-state through tonglen practice, recognizing that we all are affected by the same characteristics of greed, aversion and ignorance. From that process, your actions are conditioned by benevolence, as seems appropriate to the circumstances. Remember, the practice of the Four Divine Abidings is meant to establish the reality of interbeing, which naturally manifests benevolence.
STAGE THREE: TRANSFORMING POISON INTO MEDICINE—ACTIVATING BODHICITTA WHILE EXPERIENCING ADVERSITY
9: Be mindful whenever possible so everything provides an opportunity for practice. The classical statement is: When evil fills the world and its inhabitants, change adverse conditions into the path of awakening. This could also be termed turn poison into medicine. Buddhist doctrine establishes that all attachments produce suffering; therefore the opportunity to practice is always present. The training commentaries suggest memorizing the training points, so that when the opportunity presents, there’s a quick reference to the appropriate focus for practice, provided that mindfulness keeps awareness ready to practice tonglen. Whether the event appears benevolent or disastrous, bringing the training to the experience provides the material for spiritual growth. The experience of loss, disappointment, frustration and other painful occurrences provides the clearest opportunities to use vipassana, to understand deeply the nature of craving and clinging. The natural tendency is to want to exclude or box in the unpleasantness, which manifests as contraction in the body and fixation in the mind. Instead, this training uses such occurrences to further spiritual growth, as the apparent opacity of the mind states is transformed through the tonglen process. The capacity to stay presently aware with a spacious mind, ready to transform suffering into benevolence is always with us. The more subtle entrapment of pleasant experience also provides that opportunity when the mind is alert and balanced enough to see the opportunity and make best use of it. With pleasant experience, taking in the happiness is amplified by sympathetic joy, that is, to wish that all beings may share in the happiness.
10: Focus on your responsibility for alleviating suffering; don’t displace it to outside sources. The classical rendition of this is: Drive all blame into one. The first tendency of the mind is to look outside of oneself for the cause of and resolution of suffering. Of course, it’s important to recognize that others have their karmic responsibility and to hold them accountable when possible; it’s also important to be willing to turn to others for support when it’s useful. The point of this training is to carefully investigate how the mind gets hijacked into mistakenly assuming that the primary way to bring resolution requires that others change their behaviors, or that the world should be different than it actually is. This may or may not be possible; we can only surmise what conditions motivate another person’s mind, and it’s reasonable to assume that much of what conditions the arising of the other’s attitudes and behaviors are greed, aversion and ignorance. This training keeps the focus on subjective conditions, and relies on the preliminary cultivation of virtue to guide the process, facilitated by vipassana practice. The goal is to diminish self-cherishing, that is, the narcissism that dominates subjective experience. This means opening the mind to the contractions and fixations mentioned in #9, then taking responsibility for managing our own states, not others.
11: Be grateful for the richness of opportunities that life provides to support the training. The classical statement here is: Be grateful to everyone. This follows naturally on the intention to cultivate benevolence and radiate it out during the outbreath, or simply through mindful intention and renunciation. It involves making the commitment to regard all others, human, non-human, or even the challenges of nature such as storms, illness, traffic, etc., as opportunities to manifest gratitude for the chance to practice “turning poison into medicine”. A analogy I use is that of baseball: whether or not I can hit the ball or catch it, I can be grateful that I’m in the game! My gratitude arises out of the heightened interest that comes from the awakening factor of joy, which manifests as an ability to be enthusiastically interested in what life brings for me to practice awakening, regardless of whether the situation is convenient or not.
12: Confusion is to be expected; relate to it as a manifestation of karmic lawfulness, perceived through the lens of relative bodhicitta. The classical rendering here is: To see the confusion as the four kayas, the protection of emptiness is unsurpassable. (The four kayas represent manifestations of various aspects of reality through the lens of Mahayana Buddhist concepts and faith in the benevolent ordering of the world, which I won’t elaborate here.) We all tend to act as if life is supposed to inherently make sense only in terms of what we believe is sensible. This “script” narrative is often mistaken, self-absorbed, arrogant and entitled. It’s normal to feel at least confused, if not offended and outraged or hopelessly defeated when the world isn’t fulfilling the script the mind concocts. We can confidently expect to make mistakes in life—the skill here is to not become harshly overcritical. Practicing the trainings that reveal the provisional nature of transient mind-states brings a mindful, detached awareness to the unfolding of life experience; having confidence in the practice of awakening develops a benevolent humility, recognizing that thoughts really are provisional, and that attachment to outcome is ultimately unreliable. Of course, there’s enough reliability to be able to function effectively more often than not, but those successes come about because conditions warrant, not just because we plan for success.
13: Four applications to support spiritual growth. This is classically rendered as: The four applications are the best method. Here are the applications:
- Purifying mental conditioners. This is also called accumulation of merit. In this context, merit doesn’t mean credit or recognition; instead, it reflects increased capability to be of service to others. When karma has been acted on, the resulting karmic residue is called vipaka. Vipaka is latent karma, and conditions what arises the next time the situation has enough similarity to recall it. This might be in the next moment, or next year. The more effectively the resultant vipaka is purified and unwholesomeness is diminished through vipassana practice, the greater the benefit there is for further growth. In this sense, merit represents competence in lojong practice. In the Bodhisattva tradition, the resulting wholesomeness, or merit, is dedicated to alleviating suffering for all beings.
- Honest self-evaluation. This is also called confession. It doesn’t primarily involve evaluation by others, although it could, but is instead an honest internal review of the consequences of thoughts, feelings and actions. This evaluation is not meant to humiliate or chastise, but to provide a more accurate assessment of one’s spiritual practice, that is, the merit of our actions.
3. Offering restitution. Although the classic commentaries suggest ritual offerings to appease wrathful deities, this can also fit with the concepts in the 12 step movement of Alcoholics Anonymous. The Relevant steps are: numbers 8 and 9–“Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.” “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
4. Trusting the lead of wisdom. This follows the same cultural track as #3, in offerings made to protective deities. In our world view, this could involve providing support and respect for those wiser in the practice, those who have earned trust. He or she can offer insights or strategies to overcome habitual shortcomings.
14: Cultivate a determination to remain mindful during the day, with the intention of reducing the power of self-absorption. This is rendered as: In order to take unexpected conditions as the path, immediately join whatever you meet with meditation. This involves competency in “acquiring the breath” and memorizing the training practices and principles, accompanied by a lifestyle organization that facilitates this process. Acquiring the breath is a daily routine of being mindful of breathing in order to counteract the tendency to fall into old patterns that are counter to spiritual development. The intention of this is to remember to integrate the practice of vipassana and the divine abiding with daily occurrences. This part of the practice will involve some very creative and perhaps challenging adaptations in our work-dominated culture. Ironically, the demands of work, consumption, relationship and other lifestyle factors provide a rich opportunity for spiritual growth, provided there is a substantial effort applied to cultivating mindfulness, vipassana and bodhicitta.
STAGE FOUR: MAXIMIZING LIFE’S POTENTIAL FOR GROWTH
15: Dedicate your life to realizing Bodhicitta. The traditional rendering of this is: WHAT TO DO DURING ONE’S LIFE-a summary of the essential instructions; train in the five forces. Much effort in life is focused on external motivations-wealth, status, etc. Even spiritual practice can become a contest, an urgent drive to succeed, to “win the prize” of enlightenment. When that happens, desire contaminates legitimate spiritual intentions. The five forces that are referred to here are as follows:
- Recommit to meditation and applying vipassana on a daily basis. This seems rather intense and compulsive initially, but is actually more workable in application. We learn personal hygiene practices during childhood, like brushing teeth, bathing, and so on. Sometimes applying them daily seems tedious and inconvenient, but we know that cleanliness is useful for well-being. Life is a series of routines, some of which we get paid for at work, some of which we do because we know they’re beneficial. What if committing to spiritual practice on a daily basis became an organizing principle of life, as important as eating, sleeping, working for a paycheck, and so on?
- Cultivate a familiarity with the training slogans so that the appropriate one easily comes to mind. This facilitates an easy, non-forced application of the slogans during daily routines.
- Use the slogans to enhance Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood. The cultivation of virtue is an essential element for awakening the mind. Buddhism regards virtue as inherent to wisdom; that is, clear insight reveals the elements of a self-state, while virtue orients the mind towards kindness, compassion, generosity and acceptance.
- Reflect on the benefits of renunciation. We live in a culture that strongly encourages self indulgence. An important goal of spiritual development is deflating the ego’s grandiosity, to defeat self-cherishing. Try to note the gentleness and softness of a mind unburdened by self indulgence, compared to the harsh demands of egocentric self-states.
- Cultivate an aspiration to dedicate spiritual attainments to fulfilling virtuous intentions, without becoming “holier than thou”. This reflects back to the third force, virtue. Virtue is best applied unselfishly, that is, without aggrandizing self. The Bodhisattva Vow emphasizes increasing universal spiritual growth through combining virtue with renunciation. The end goal is deflating self-cherishing, in order to realize interdependence.
16: Realize that you are preparing for the culmination of your life. This is classically rendered as: WHAT TO DO AT DEATH-the Mahayana instructions for how to die are the five forces. How you act is important. A core concept of Buddhism is rebirth. Typically, this means that the more spiritually developed you are at death, the more wholesome the next birth is. This builds upon slogan #15, above. Another understanding of this slogan focuses on the existential deaths that are inevitable during life. That is, the death of a loved one, the disillusionment that comes with betrayal, the disappointments that arise when expectations aren’t fulfilled, etc. As spiritual development is enhanced, the ego attachments of self-cherishing lose potency, and this creates a graceful ability to not be burdened by loss, regret, despair and grieving.
STAGE FIVE: CULTIVATING PROFICIENCY
17: All trainings have the same goal. The classical rendering is: All dharma has a single purpose. I’ve noted a difference between the Theravada teachings and the Mahayana; the former seems to focus on discovering the nature of impermanence as a result of renouncing craving and clinging, while the latter seems to focus on the nature of non-self as a result of renouncing craving and clinging. These are simply differing points of emphasis; both traditions acknowledge craving and clinging as fundamental to the cause of suffering. Therefore, my suggestion is to apply the trainings toward the goal of awakening, dedicating advances in proficiency to compassionate action.
18: Be clear about inside and outside judges. This is rendered as: Of the two judges, rely on the principal one. As a psychotherapist, I might help a client cultivate an “internal locus of control”. Many of us over-rely on the opinions of others regarding self-worth. An internal locus of control isn’t intended to justify self-centeredness, but rather to develop a clear, honest ability to be aware of whether one’s motivations are self-serving or are truly determined by the intention towards bodhicitta. This training point reflects a similar intention to those in #10 & #13.
19: Actively commit to cultivating a joyful engagement with life. This is rendered as: Always have the support of a joyful mind. This doesn’t mean to pretend that everything’s fine when suffering is in the mind. One of the benefits of a committed, regular meditation practice is the cultivation of an active curiosity about what’s arising in the mind. This active curiosity is joyful in and of itself. Mindfulness of breathing produces this with proficiency in developing access concentration; lovingkindness meditation is also a prime way to cultivate a joyful appreciation of life’s richness. I heard one of my teachers suggest that true compassion is joyful, not burdened with grief or despair. This is also manifested in the attitude reflected in training point #11, that of gratitude.
20: Practicing during confusing, distracted moments brings great benefit. This one is rendered as: You are proficient if you can practice even when distracted. This training point assumes that you’re committed to practicing bringing bodhicitta more and more thoroughly into everyday life (see #14, above). The point of vipassana practice is to clearly see confusion and distraction as these states arise, or as soon as possible thereafter. The practice of tonglen transforms the clarified awareness into kindness, radiated from the heart to the world. We all have a tendency to want to look good to others (see # 18 above). With humility and a sincere desire to bring the practice to fruition, distracting, even humbling experiences can have great benefit, because the intention is to overcome ignorance, one of the root causes of suffering.
STAGE SIX: COMMITMENTS-COUNTERING REACTIVITY AND PRIDE
21: Keep three points in mind. This has been translated as: Always practice the three general principles. Commitments are promises made to oneself, which in this case means overcoming emotional impulses and self-cherishing.
- The first principle is to maintain spiritual commitments. The five precepts of Buddhism include doing no harm with behavior, speech or sexuality, and avoiding intoxication or taking things not freely offered. The intention of these training points is to maintain a virtuous life.
- The second principle is to not use virtue or meditative competence for self-cherishing. It’s very tempting to set oneself apart through piety or contempt for others, or to overextend one’s capabilities with some grand gesture of piety or sacrifice. There may be a tendency to push yourself beyond what you are actually capable of emotionally or materially; this is not the intention of relative bodhicitta practice. The intention is to profoundly dissolve the hardened ego states, not crush them! Remember, the purpose of lojong is to realize that we all struggle with ego and false pride, and to instead use humility, compassion and reflection to deconstruct the false sense of a separate self.
- The third principle is to cultivate a sense of patience and even-handedness in practice. For example, to be just as patient with a friend as with a family member, or to recognize that, as individuals, we are just as deserving of patience and forgiveness as others in the face of our shortcomings.
22: Practice changing attitudes without pretention or bias. This is translated as: Change your attitude, but remain neutral. The basis for this practice is the cultivation of a relaxed and open mind. We tend to strain ourselves trying to force changes, and this creates a sort of tension that is counter to the intention to alleviate suffering. Having a relaxed, humble approach to acting on these training points actually increases the likelihood of a joyful engagement in the process of awakening (see # 18).
23: Don’t focus on the defects of others. This can be rendered as: Do not talk about weak points. One of the basic virtues of Buddhism is Right Speech, which includes not speaking harshly or contemptuously of others’ shortcomings. This creates a sense of separation, and is likely to transform efforts towards compassion into the “near enemy” of compassion, pity, or the “far enemy”, contempt. Pity requires that the other be diminished in dignity, to be less than, while contempt belittles the other, both of which cultivate self-importance, strengthening ego rather than uprooting it.
24: Don’t become preoccupied with the opinion, behaviors or motivation of others. This can be translated as: Don’t think about the affairs of others. There’s a similar commitment in the 12 step movement: Work your own program. We can become obsessed with the imagined story line of another person’s life, either to compare ourselves to them, or to use them as a reason for our own failures and disappointments.
25: It’s of great benefit to work on your most common or challenging defects. This can be translated as: Work on the stronger disturbing emotions first. We tend to want to just focus on the occasional slip, the most convenient topic first, because there’s a desire for quick and easy success. When bodhicitta is well-established, the most challenging shortcomings we are confronted with provide the greatest opportunity for spiritual growth. However, keep the third principle of #20 in mind, that is, patience and humility. If you do commit to challenging your greatest defect, expect failure for a while—after all, the likelihood of failure is what makes it powerful! Use tonglen reflected upon your own shortcomings to respond with patience, compassion and determination (see #8)
26: Don’t judge yourself by results. This can be rendered as: Give up all hope for results. We live in a competitive culture, which thinks in terms of winners and losers, of goal achievement rather than spiritual growth as a process. This commitment can be seen as a continuation of #24, to uncover the nature of craving and clinging in its most obvious forms. Notice the attachment, and then let it go without judgment or preoccupation.
27: Give up toxic ego food. This can be rendered as: Give up poisonous food. In ways similar to how real food builds tissue in the body, identifying with thoughts builds “ego tissue”. The purpose of lojong practice is to dissolve the apparent solidity of self-states. This is what the intention is regarding trainings #2 and #5, the practice of seeing mental states as dream-like.
28: Don’t completely rely on life being predictable. This is translated as: Don’t rely on consistency. This can be seen somewhat similarly to the title of Suzuki’s book “Zen Mind, Beginners Mind”. All concoctions of the mind’s creativity are provisional, that is, assumptions about what the world presents to awareness. It’s a mistake to expect that life will comply with what the mind projects. I’m frequently amused to note that I can be quite indignant when life doesn’t turn out as my imagining seems to demand.
29: Don’t indulge in malicious speech or sarcasm. This is rendered as: Don’t be excited by cutting remarks. This fits into Right Speech, in avoiding doing harm with words. Sarcasm is quite common in our culture; often, nasty teasing seems to bring rewards to the teaser. Any harshness or cruelty sets apart the other, and any setting apart feeds the toxic ego stream, creating a hardened self image for all who identify with the process of harshness.
30: Revenge is not sweet, but toxic. This is rendered as: Don’t wait in ambush. This sounds like the statement “I don’t get mad—I get even!” Harboring resentments is quite common, and is the result of hostility that is clung to by the perpetrator and the victim. This connects to #26, referring to the poisonous nature of the resulting mind states.
31: Don’t throw your pain at others. This is rendered as: Don’t make things painful. One of the fundamental characteristics of suffering is the isolation that produces it. Aversion to an arisen unpleasant mind state creates a contraction, a hardening, a disconnection from the world. Our tendency when hurting is to lash out at the world, hoping this will make the pain go away. The focus of this practice is to eliminate the sense of separation, exclusion or rejection, to realize that we all are confronted with pain. We can either be compassionate witnesses or hurtful adversaries.
32: Don’t take on more than you are capable of managing. This is rendered as: Don’t put a horse’s load on a pony. As the mind is less burdened by the hindrances, the energy that’s released can create a false sense of confidence, a grandiose sense of what can be accomplished. This is one area where clear awareness and humility are quite useful. The task is to extend your capabilities for deconstructing self absorption, while being alert for overconfidence or taking on more than you’re really capable of. When being overburdened causes difficulty, be humble, try to be clear about what happened, and move on. This same principle applies to what you expect from others as well. We’re all doing the best we can with what we have, so why add unnecessary harshness to the situation?
33: Don’t regard spiritual practice as a contest or a race. This is rendered as: Don’t aim to win. In our competitive culture, we are conditioned to be competitive; that there is one winner and the rest are losers (see # 24 and # 26). Spiritual practice is a process, and doesn’t work well when comparing each other’s level of practice or accomplishment. This comparing process fosters impatience and a false sense of separation, which is contrary to the reality of interbeing.
34: Don’t indulge in magical thinking. This is rendered as: Don’t revert to magic. It would be a mistake to use spiritual practice to ward off unpleasantness. This is like treating God as Santa Claus—if you’ve been good, then you’ll get the present you want; if you don’t get the present, that means you can’t have been good enough, or that there is no God. Cultivating mindfulness and compassion isn’t intended to seek the approval of others or to cultivate self-cherishing. The same holds true regarding the mistaken assumption that becoming more spiritual will automatically make life’s challenges disappear. Spiritual practice doesn’t make life better or worse—it provides the opportunity to be more clearly aware and compassionate, and that is all.
35: Don’t harden your beliefs into weapons. This can be rendered as: Don’t reduce a god to a demon. With spiritual practice, it’s important to balance faith in the doctrine with a clear awareness of using doctrine to create divisions from others. The strongest examples of this would be the factional wars around the world. It perverts the teachings of Moses, Jesus and Mohammed when Jerusalem is a battleground. Keep in mind that the purpose of Buddhist practice is to see through the mind states that are attached the notion of a separate self; interbeing drops that distinction, instead opening to nonduality, shunyata.
36: Don’t relish the suffering of others. This is rendered as: Don’t seek pain as a component of happiness. It’s tempting to feel important or vindicated when someone we’re at odds with suffers—“He had it coming to him…” This is the manifestation of the hindrance of ill-will, that is, a sense of distancing or separating from an unpleasant feeling, attached to a person. Deep self-inquiry reveals a pain and harshness that comes with that hardening of the heart.
STAGE SEVEN: GUIDELINES FOR APPLYING THE COMMITMENTS
Guidelines are intended to provide context for applying commitments. The following guidelines give form and clarity for enacting the commitments:
37: Cultivating mindfulness and compassion in daily life is the basic guideline. This can be rendered as: All active meditation is done in one way. This guideline focuses on integrating these practices into daily life (see # 9). The integration process is accomplished by “acquiring the breath”, which means training yourself to repeatedly notice the breath sensations during your daily routine. This interrupts the intrusive self-talk that prevents us from being clear enough to remember to reflect kindness into the world. It can be quite interesting to find ways to be intentionally more kind, patient, and helpful during the day; nothing grand or self-serving—just thoughtful and kind. Mother Teresa suggested “We can do no great things, just small things with great love.”
38: The practice demonstrates how to transform suffering into salvation. This can be rendered as: All corrections are made in one way. Tonglen is a core practice in this system, and is the “one way”. There are two benefits from tonglen: the first is practice in deliberately interrupting our self absorption, thereby realizing the provisional nature of thoughts; the second is generating kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and acceptance.
39: Recommit to the practice upon waking; review the practice at the end of the day. This can be rendered as: At the beginning and at the end, two things to be done. On retreat, we are encouraged to commit to mindful awareness in all activities, until going to sleep. It is quite beneficial to set up a similar guideline when not on retreat (see Stage Three).
40: Keep your balance through success and failure. This can be rendered as: Whichever of two occurs, be patient. An important guideline for this practice is acceptance of the current situation as it is (see # 7 & #37). Self-cherishing arises when things are going well, and when things are not going well. The intention is to practice with whatever arises; the goal is to transform any separation into non-duality, which requires an ongoing sense of inner balance.
41: Continue to review the Precepts, commit to realizing them, and develop them through applying the lojong practice (particularly tonglen). This can be rendered as: Observe these two, even at the risk of your life. This practice can be applied as a gentle slope upward towards awakening, or a radical, no holds barred determination to practice, even unto death. I personally prefer the former. The precepts are the ethical base of practice: harmlessness, not to intoxicate oneself, not to do harm sexually, not to take something that isn’t yours, and not to be dishonest or hurtful with speech. The applications of lojong are the ways and means to use the ethical base, primarily through practicing lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. Practicing these requires developing mindful awareness, through vipassana.
42: Three stages: come to terms with emotional afflictions, apply transformative practices, and integrate transformation into a lifestyle. This can be rendered as: Learn the three difficult points. Spiritual practice isn’t a shortcut past our emotional struggles and distorted thought processes. This guideline comes close to what Western psychology addresses-good mental health as the foundation for spiritual growth.
- First, use mindful investigation and compassion to see through what I call “the selfing story”, which is the internal narrative we experience (see # 1 & #5). This reconstruction requires seeing depression, anxiety, addiction, etc., as manifestations of craving and clinging to dysfunctional beliefs, self-absorption and poor communication skills. As these are worked through, the personality becomes more functionally integrated, less distorted and less narcissistic. This sets the stage for the development of compassion, patience and generosity.
- Second, practice lojong, from a base of ultimate bodhicitta. This develops the expansiveness in mental functioning that allows the process of tonglen to transform the sense of self-absorption to compassionate awareness.
- Third, commit to continuing this process of self-discovery and transformation persistently. This opens up an opportunity to be more creative in responding to life’s challenges.
44: Three guidelines: teacher, teaching and lifestyle. This can be rendered as: Take up the three primary resources. We live in a culture that doesn’t support spiritual development; it seems impossible to seriously practice lojong. This guideline restates the basic “three jewels” of Buddhism: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Here are three suggestions for fulfilling these guidelines:
- Work with a well-informed and experienced teacher. How will you know this about a teacher? One suggestion would be to discover if the teacher is initiated into a lineage of teachers. At this time in the Buddhist West, such qualified persons, although growing in number, are relatively rare. Regardless of authorization, it’s important to listen carefully to how the teacher presents herself or himself. Are they familiar with the concepts? How much actual retreat experience does the teacher have? Does the teacher seem responsive to the needs of the Sangha, or are the yogis expected to be reverent, simply because of the teacher’s position or charisma? Don’t expect the teacher to be perfect; however, what degree of humility does he or she show about weaknesses or quirks of personality? Make use of the teacher in relationship. In Buddhist practice, the relationship dynamics become part of the spiritual learning experience. A good teacher can respectfully challenge neurotic aspects of your personality without shaming you, as well as appreciate what you’ve actually achieved. Be sure to cultivate an “attitude of gratitude” for the teacher.
- Dedicate a lot of time and reflection to the teachings. In addition to listening to the teacher, approach her or him to get more personalized instruction. Read the abundant literature, either in print or on line. Listen to the many dharma talks that are available. Talk about it with others who are well-informed. Most importantly, meditate regularly, go to retreats, and integrate meditation practice into your lifestyle (see # 14, 15, 37 & 39).
- Develop a lifestyle that supports the practice. This often requires a significant commitment to reorganizing priorities away from material success, toward more meditation practice and relationship practice. We are immersed in cultural distractions—the internet, tv, books, and so on. What if you reprioritized your daily routine to include at least 45 minutes of meditation? It seems that would be impossible; however, we often find the time to distract or amuse ourselves, sometimes for several hours, with activities that are relatively meaningless except for the distraction provided. These economic times seem to demand long hours of work (if you actually have a full-time job!). The demands of family life seem relentless and unmanageable. With the cultivation of ultimate bodhicitta (see STAGE TWO) there is a quality of spaciousness in the mind that is remarkably non-reactive to the normal challenges of everyday life. Speaking from personal experience, the buffer against reactivity that comes with dedicated meditation practice is very useful; when I meditate daily upon waking, tranquility stays with me during the day and I don’t take setbacks and frustrations so personally. With this capacity, it’s possible to turn every challenge into opportunities to practice awakening! (see # 8, 9, 10, 14, 15 & 38).
45: Maintain gratitude for the teacher, along with enthusiastic commitment to cultivating mindfulness through meditation and daily routines of life. This can be rendered as: Don’t allow three things to weaken. This is a restatement of # 43. I often think that my strongest support in life is my ongoing, patient commitment to this practice. I don’t claim to be perfected; however, I’m increasingly committed to perfecting my spiritual practice. It’s been my experience that as I become more spiritually capable, I’m also increasingly grateful for the persistence I’ve manifested over the years. As a teacher, I very much want to set an example for my students, but not be pretentious or phony. My students become my teachers as well. This practice isn’t for the short term; rather, it is the process of organizing one’s life around becoming more aware, more empathic, and more responsive in the world.
46: Make your life and your practice increasingly integrated. This can be rendered as: Make the three inseparable. This sounds like a lot of effort. My experience has been that the practice grows on me, in the same way that living in a comfortable home or wearing a well-worn-in shoe fits. It becomes increasingly apparent that this way of life is greatly enhancing the quality of life for me and for those who are around me. I organized my marriage vows around integrating my spiritual practice into my relationship. My wife is the person with whom I most frequently and intimately cultivate the skills and lovingkindness that I want to bring to all my relationships. A Zen observation is If you want to know the true spiritual attainment of a teacher, ask his wife! The essence of this practice is realizing the interdependence of reality, which is the ultimate inseparability!
47: Don’t “cherry pick” opportunities to practice tonglen. This can be rendered as: Train in all areas without partiality. A core process that produces suffering is the hardening of preferences—an excluding of certain kinds of discomfort. This aversion creates a self that is separating from how things truly are. It might manifest as saying “I’ll practice after this pain subsides”, or “If that person would just be quiet, then I can be at peace”. Of course, it’s not skillful to “put a horse’s load on a pony” (see # 32); however, if the mind is not challenged in these ways, the ego isn’t challenged either.
48: Be especially curious about how strongly uncomfortable emotions are experienced. This can be rendered as: Always meditate on volatile points. Lovingkindness is the antidote for aversion and ill-will. Aversion is a contraction from an unpleasant mind state, while ill-will is a resentment organized around another person or group. Both create a sense of separation and isolation. It’s quite challenging to deliberately address a favorite gripe about life, as we often have elaborate justifications that can be quite logical; however, the sense of separation remains, and overcoming that duality through compassionate awareness is the goal of the practice! It is quite well known among very committed spiritual practitioners of all faith traditions that directly confronting our deepest aversions with kindness and compassion is very powerful practice, provided there’s enough training in equanimity and patience to stay the course.
49: Don’t wait for the right moment to practice. This can be rendered as: Don’t depend on external conditions. It’s a normal part of human existence to cue off of external circumstances. When the mind is trapped in separation and uncertainty, which is also normal for us, we tend to want the perfect environment to practice Buddhism, while meditating and at other times. For example, I might complain about the noise coming from my neighbor’s yard, because it interferes with my efforts to stay with the breath. Then I might start to fantasize about how I should go about correcting him or her, so I can have some quiet time. Even if I do get the quiet time to meditate, I might feel offended later trying to stay calm around my boisterous child, so I tell them to be quiet, which isn’t kind under normal circumstances. The gist of lojong practice is to make good use of what life presents, because it reveals how my mind contracts into aversion, which reinforces the sense the world should be under my control. Recall # 1 & # 5, which emphasize the importance of realizing that my thoughts and expectations are provisional, based on my ego. As regards the example of the noisy neighbor, I might use vipassana to see the thought as if it were a dream, then use tonglen to wish all folks who complain of noisy neighbors could also be free from suffering. In the second example, I might use the “child of illusion” metaphor to realize that my expectation regarding a child’s behavior should be sensitive to what a child is capable of, not of what my ego demands. Turn every moment of turbulence into an opportunity to practice releasing the mind from demanding more of reality than is reasonable.
50: Repeatedly check in with your priorities. This can be rendered as: This time, practice the important points. Buddhist tradition includes the supposition that we have countless rebirths, and that very few of them are in the optimal realm of being human, so we better not fritter away the opportunity. Regardless of whether that’s literally true, or simple points to the fairly constant change of self-states that life creates, the now is the best chance we have for change. Mindfulness functions to help us keep track of our intentions as they arise, and in doing so discover whether this particular mind state is beneficial or hurtful, then make appropriate adjustments, to promote compassion and diminishing the demands of the ego.
51: Don’t confuse your priorities. This can be rendered as: Don’t make mistakes. This follows on the prior guideline, recommending that you not let your life priorities get distorted, with six principles:
- We tend to be more willing to practice patience with circumstances during work, chores and so on, but not with spiritual practice. Be as willing to be patient with your meditation practice and tonglen practice as you would be in everyday life.
- We generate more and stronger aspirations to wealth, prestige, possessions and so on than to spiritual practice. Spend significant time aspiring to practice lojong and tonglen.
- We’re more likely to be excited and inspired by novelty, entertainment and other distractions than interested in deepening spiritual insights. Cultivate heightened interest in what levels of insight, serenity and compassion you can develop.
- We tend to be more considerate and compassionate with others who have some spiritual attainment than those who don’t. Be impartial about who you include in your tonglen practice. In fact, those who don’t have a spiritual path are more in need of compassion than those who already are practicing.
- We tend to forget our spiritual priorities in order to be important to others. Remember, setting a humble example of compassion is more powerful than impressing others with spiritual knowledge.
- We tend to celebrate the misfortune of those with whom we disagree, rather than wish them well. Being glad about the misfortune of those we don’t like creates separation and is counter to the intentions of cultivation relative bodhicitta.
52: Stay consistent with your practice. This can be rendered as: Don’t fluctuate. Most people don’t take spiritual practice seriously enough to get significant benefits, then discount the benefits described by the folks who have dedicated themselves. This would be like sporadically working out, then quitting because you didn’t experience the “runner’s high” that has been described by good athletes. Here’s a quote from Alan Wallace, an expert on Tibetan lojong practice:
“A Tibetan lama once commented that Western dharma practice is often like taking a shower, then going out all spic and span to roll in some mud, then recognizing how filthy we are, going back into the shower, then going out to roll in the mud again…. A lot of time and effort is expended with very little to show for it.”
53: Put your heart into your practice. This can be rendered as: Train wholeheartedly. One of the ongoing problems of our era is that we are too distracted by life’s opportunities. It’s a mistake to say that you put your heart into your family or your work when you’re not mindful of how it feels to be emotionally present. The distractions are everywhere—emails to respond to, texting, listening to music, computer games, tv shows, and so on. Many of these behaviors are benign on the surface, but notice how hard it is to give attention to your body and emotions while engaged in the activities. Training to be mindful on a regular basis, and weaving the intentions of lovingkindness, compassion and generosity into daily life are enriching, but we must make checking in with our heart/mind processes more routine in daily life.
54: Combine mindfulness and investigation as a routine part of life. This can be rendered as: Find freedom through both examination and investigation. Mindfulness is the ability to not lose track of the conditional nature of the mind as conditions that are provisional and not inherently true. All experience is contextual and circumstantial; when the circumstances change, our feelings, perceptions and expectations change as well. When we’re ignorant of this process, we get stuck in self-state identifications that create suffering. Investigation, when supported by mindfulness and loving compassion, allows appropriate changes in self-states as they arise, to promote well-being for self and others.
55: Be wary of self-importance. This can be rendered as: Don’t make a fuss. Because there’s such an emphasis on introspection and self-correcting behaviors and attitudes, it’s easy to take yourself and the practice too seriously. This could manifest as self-criticism or self-pity when confused, or as self-righteousness and spiritual arrogance. Remember the suggestion in #5, “Be a child of illusion”. It’s a balancing process, fostered by understanding and practicing equanimity. This means having enough confidence to pay close attention to what’s happening, without getting too caught up in outcome as self-defining.
56: Don’t harbor resentments or contempt. This can be rendered as: Don’t get caught up in irritation. During the cultivation of bodhicitta, the high states of concentration and tranquility release confidence and joy. It’s quite shocking to encounter the conflicts of ordinary life experience coming from that perspective. There are many stories of highly concentrated yogis becoming angry and irritable when confronted by circumstances that challenge their hard-earned serenity. When irritation does arise, being aware of it as an opportunity to practice tonglen advances lojong practice. When the irritation is not investigated, it can quickly turn into resentment or pious contempt for “lesser beings”. On long retreats, there’s a phenomenon that frequently occurs called a “vipassana vendetta”. Another yogi may do something relatively insignificant, such as absent-mindedly sit on your meditation cushion, at which point the energy released by concentration practice gets stuck in elaborate fantasies about the faults and shortcomings of the other person. You might be surprised to discover that you yourself had absent-mindedly forgotten where your usual place was, and the other person was sitting where they should be anyway!
57: Be alert for mood shifts. This could be rendered as: Don’t be temperamental. This can show up in several ways. It might be that we have a really terrific sitting and assume that they all should be that way, then the next sitting is very scattered and uncomfortable; it could be the other way around, assuming that a bad sitting means you’ll never get it right! It could be that your mood shifts abruptly about the teacher when your see her or him do something that doesn’t fit your model of how a teacher behaves. These shifts in mood are conditional, like everything in life; don’t set a situation apart simply because your mood seems to demand something different.
58: Don’t expect to be thanked for what you accomplish. This can be rendered as: Don’t expect thanks. As was suggested earlier, we often regard the benefit of spiritual practice as coming from the impression it makes on others. This sets up a false judgmentalism; if you’re not praised, you must not be good enough, or it must be that the other people are insensitive jerks! Of course, neither is useful. Stay consistent with the practice and the benefits will show up internally, and that’s enough. The benefits are a decrease in the need for ego gratification or ego defense, and an increase in compassionate awareness and action in the world, regardless of whether others notice or are appreciative.