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Lions Roar : May 2007
THE TIBETAN WORD lojong translates into English as “mind training,” yet it actually transforms the heart as much as the mind. It transforms your whole life, in fact. “Lojong shows us how to work openheartedly with life just as it is,” writes Pema Chödrön in her book Start Where You Are. “It shows us how to accept ourselves, how to re- late directly with suffering, and how to stop running away from the painful aspects of our lives.” Although it was not widely known in the West until Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche began teaching the practice in the 1970s, lojong has a long history. The Indian yogi-scholar Atisha (c. 982–1054) learned lojong from his teacher, Serlingpa, and later established the tradition in Tibet. For years, the practice was only taught orally, but was finally codified by Chekawa (1101–1175) in his book The Root Text of the Seven Points of Mind Training. This text summarizes lojong into 59 pithy aphorisms or slogans, and divides them into seven points or sections: 1) The preliminaries; 2) Realiz- ing bodhichitta; 3) Using adversity; 4) Practicing in life and death; 5) Eval- uating mind training; 6) Committing; and 7) The guidelines. The thrust of all these points, however, lies in point two, realizing bodhichitta. Bodhichitta, literally “awakened heart or mind,” has two aspects: relative and absolute. The practices of relative bodhichitta, to which most of the lojong slogans are devoted, teach us how to develop com- passion and skill in all our interactions with others. The practices of absolute bodhichitta involve the true nature of mind and reality, and If we are skillful and precise about generating love and com- passion, it will make us a person of significance—with integrity, dignity, depth, and weight—rather than someone who adds to another’s sense of self-inflation or advances his or her own repu- tation by eliciting a positive response from others. This slogan is about the development of compassion. In Ma- hayana Buddhism, compassion is identified with “skill in means” (upaya) rather than self-sacrificing or self-serving acts. It is al- truistic motivation merged with insight, as John Schroeder, a scholar of early Buddhist studies at Saint Mary’s College of Maryland, explains: Very generally, upaya refers to the different pedagogical styles, meditation techniques, and religious practices that help people overcome attachments, and to ways in which Buddhism is com- municated to others. [It] arises from the idea that wisdom is 40 SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2007 Atisha are best summed up by slogan two: “Regard all dharmas as dreams.” Nothing is real, this slogan teaches us—there is only emptiness. But why be compassionate when nothing ultimately exists? Chögyam Trungpa explains: “When you begin realizing nonexistence,” he says, “you can afford to be more compassionate. You have lots to gain and nothing to lose.” It sounds inviting to leave self-centeredness behind, yet doing so requires practice. After all, putting others before oneself is contrary to the way humans tend to live. One way that lojong can be practiced is to memorize the slogans. The idea is that once you know them by heart, they’ll pop into your mind when you need them. You’re think- ing, for example, that if your kids would be quiet, you wouldn’t yell at them. Or if only you didn’t have a headache, you’d be happier. Then suddenly you remember the slogan, “Drive all blames into one.” The slogan is brief to the point of being obscure, but when you remember it, you also remember its meaning: you are the sole author of all that you experience. “You are ultimately responsible for your present cir- cumstances,” says B. Alan Wallace in The Seven-Point Mind Training. “Suffering actually arises from the stuff of your own mind.” Lojong also emphasizes a powerful meditation practice called tong- len, which literally means “sending and taking.” “Tonglen strikes a chord with practitioners in the West,” says Judith Lief, who has taught lojong extensively, “because it is similar to forms of prayers in the Judeo-Chris- tian tradition.” Tonglen involves taking in negativity and suffering with each inhalation and sending out bodhichitta, peace, and joyfulness with each exhalation. It could be your own suffering that you take in or it could be that of another person, but either way, tonglen, like lojong in general, helps you to connect with what all humans feel. It helps you to see there’s really no distinction between self and other. ♦ embodied in how one responds to others rather than an abstract conception of the world, and reflects an ongoing concern with the soteriological effectiveness of the Buddhist teachings. The cultivation of bodhichitta, or an enlightened heart, has two aspects and two associated sets of skillful means: absolute and relative. You could define absolute bodhichitta as the wis- dom mind and define relative bodhichitta as the cultivation of a compassionate heart. While relative and absolute bodhichitta are ultimately inseparable, it’s important that we first learn to distin- guish them. The lojong teachings are predominantly concerned with the cultivation of relative bodhichitta, but we should never forget that absolute bodhichitta is the main frame of reference and therefore the basis of our training. The cultivation of compassion is the veritable heart of the lo- jong teachings. Compassion is not just about alleviating the suf- Mind Training 101 BY ANDREA MILLER