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Lions Roar : May 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2007 107 understand the destructiveness of the ego, we sometimes believe that we are simply wretched creatures. However, this is an incorrect view and will only interfere with our mind training and spiritual goals. We are wretched in one way only, and that is in our egoistic self-obsession. When something undesirable happens, rather than blaming somebody or something else, we should look at how we might have contributed to the event. Because our per- ceptions are not always correct and may not be a genuine reflection of what has taken place, we should always ask our- selves, “Maybe this isn’t how things really are. It might just be my own biased, ego- istic mind projecting something onto the situation.” If we examine how we constantly per- sonalize everything, we’ll see that the real source of our misery is this failure to man- age, educate, and transform our mental states. Whenever something goes wrong, we look for someone or something exter- nal to blame, and become completely out- raged by whatever we decide is respon- sible for our discomfort. That is really no solution to our predicament, for even if we do find someone or something to blame, it only inflames our anxiety, frus- tration, and resentment. We might think that the act of blaming others releases us from unfair responsibility, but it really only disempowers us. We’ll have to spend our entire lives trying to stop other people from causing problems for us, something that realistically can never be done. In or- der to cure an illness, we need to make the correct diagnosis. The lojong perspective is the correct diagnosis for our samsaric condition and is the exact antidote to the incorrect diagnosis, which is thinking that other people are to blame. As Shantideva points out, dealing with our own reac- tions to things is a far more practical way to mitigate our suffering: To cover the earth with sheets of hide— Where could such amounts of skin be found? But simply wrap some leather around your feet, And it’s as if the whole earth had been covered! When the lojong teachings say that we should look at our own egoistic mind, and blame everything on that instead of blam- ing everybody else, it is not denying that other people influence us. In fact, this is why the lojong texts say that we ourselves will become great if we consort with great beings, whereas consorting with evil peo- ple will ensure that we are contaminated by evil. The Mahayana teachings use the myth of a gold mountain and a poison- ous mountain to make this point. In this myth, the gold mountain turns the sur- rounding area into gold, while the poison- ous mountain turns everything to poison. As Gyalsay Togme Sangpo advises: When you keep their company your three poisons increase, Your activities of hearing, thinking, and meditation decline, And they make you lose your love and compassion. Give up bad friends— This is the practice of Bodhisattvas. We’ll never gain insight into the real source of our suffering until we truly un- derstand our existential condition. The ego always adopts some kind of defensive posture; however, this will guarantee a certain level of paranoia by always trying to determine whether a situation is for or against it. In fact, this is another way in which there is a clear link between negative states of mind and our experience of suf- fering and pain. On so many levels, our ha- bitual way of thinking is very taxing and undermining. This is why we need to train in the mental strengthening of lojong and stop thinking that every time we have a painful experience it is someone else’s fault. If we don’t critically analyze things, we become lost in a world of make-believe that has very little correspondence with reality. Shantideva compares self-obses- sion and its attendant conflicting emo- tions to a demon: All the harm with which this world is rife, All fear and suffering that there is, Clinging to the “I” has caused it! What am I to do with this great demon? The Buddhist definition of a demon is something harmful. In fact, self-obses- sive emotions are listed as one of the “four demons” (maras) of the Mahayana tradi- tion. Self-obsession is not an isolated ex- perience that only takes place in our own mind: it drives us to do all kinds of very unwise acts. Thus the Mahayana teachings advise us that if somebody completely los- es control, “blame the poison, not the per- son,” because the poison is what is driving him or her to that extreme behavior. If we understand this, we can cultivate a differ- ent perspective in the way we respond to others. We will cease to be provoked by their actions and stop thinking the worst or expecting the worst from other people, or we can at least give them the benefit of the doubt. Aryadeva states this clearly: Just as a physician is not upset with Someone who rages while possessed by a demon, Subduers see disturbing emotions as The enemy, not the person who has them. Some Western Buddhist authors have presented this slogan with a slight twist: They play down the need to relinquish our fixation on our personal stories, anguish, and resentments, claiming that Western- ers have fragile egos and thus need to build a healthy ego first before they can decon- struct it. That sort of logic is total non- sense. The lojong approach has nothing to do with weakening the part of us that helps us function. Only people with a genuine We can train ourselves to harness the ego’s energy on the spiritual path, and in doing so, we transform a problematic aspect of our lives into something transcendent and inspiring. Training the Mind continued from page 43