Up to this point in our series, the contemplations have been straightforward; that is not so say necessarily easy to do, but at least not too challenging to understand. Things can get a little challenging in Point Two of this Lojong text, which is often titled by translators as “The Actual Practice – The Cultivation of the Awakening Mind.” Note: for shorthand, let’s call this text we are working with, the Seven Point Mind Training, by it’s Tibetan name, as it’s shorter, and has become well-known by it: Lojong.
There are nine slogans in Point Two of Lojong which present the essential “actual practice” of Mahayana Buddhism. And they do this with amazing efficiency. But we need to go over these two important points before we proceed any further with Lojong Point Two contemplations.
First, I have received oral instructions from several Eastern Buddhist teachers on this Mind Training in Seven Points (Lojong). I have read and practiced using five or six good Lojong commentaries by Western Buddhist teachers. The differences between the commentaries for me were initially quite startling; even among the Eastern ones. It later became clear that the commentaries were coming from each teacher’s lived experience of the text.
I need to emphasize that what I am writing here in this series is mostly my personal experience “trying on” different teachings on these Lojong slogans; and sharing what has been most helpful, along with my own practice suggestions.
Please keep this in mind. This is important because I need you to know I am not trying to convey that these posts are somehow some kind of “teaching.” I am just a guy trying to share what’s worked for me; and speculate as best as I can how and the why these Lojong contemplations work. I do this practice as much as I can in my life.
Second, these slogans come from an oral tradition within Indo Tibetan Buddhism known as “pith instructions.” There are some similarities with koans, as these are highly condensed one line teachings which, like the most exquisite tea, when immersed in an alert and curious mind, yield a stimulating and illuminating perfusion.
But we need to be cautious with pith instructions: we can’t rush them to reveal their riches; and we must handle them with utmost care,
I am not sure of the historical context here pertaining to Indo-Tibetan cultural world, but in Greek mythology there is the snake and staff symbol traditionally associated with the healing arts, attributed as the single-snake emblem of Asklepios, or the double one we see in the emblem of medical associations.
Many Lojong pith instructions are like the snake, which holds healing powers, but if we if we don’t hold them in the right way they can turn around and bite us, poisoning our insight.
We also are allowing a dimension of mystery and delayed judgment with these contemplations.
The nine Lojong slogans in Point Two are exquisitely nuanced. I can’t control what will develop out of your practice; I can only point out some directions to explore that work for me.
Here is the first slogan of Point Two: The Actual Practice, which is also the second of the 59 slogans (the first, remember, was “First, train in the preliminaries”).
Regard everything as a dream
Lets’ talk about how we can actually do this contemplation.
In my practice, there are some underlying assumptions here that the contemplation addresses:
1. Many of us suffer because we fall prey to the tendency our minds to project or objectify our thoughts.
2. When closely examined with a mind that has been ripened with an ongoining meditation practice, it becomes increasingly clear how so much of our lives are lived in reaction to, at the mercy of, working out, or otherwise involved with material which is distorted, inflated or otherwise a little “off.”
3. For me this is what is meant by “a dream.” It may be exaggerating a little, as in worst case scenarios, such as people who are experiencing thoughts of self harm, or harming others, but we start by examining how much of “everything” is a dream.
4. Granted, with patient meditative practice, we live less and less in what Buddhism calls “delusion.” But let’s assume the worst and work forward here. Let’s assume that we are not aware of how much “delusion” we live with, as that is the defining and tricky thing about delusions.
5. This contemplation basically says hey, have a look to see the extent to which you live under a cloud of delusion, which may be contributing to your ill-at-ease-ness: addictions, malaise, depression, relationship issues, etc.
6. Then work to see what is true and what is just not, by using the clarity of your meditation practice to help.
When we do our regular meditation practice, we start to see that a thought about some anxiety producing situation (like right now, I am worried about getting our tax returns done on time for our kids’ financial aid application deadlines) is just a thought. As the modern day Bengali Buddhist Munindra famously remarked: a thought about your mother is not your mother. It is a thought about your mother.
In meditation we wake up to the lived reality of our lives.
This means that over time, our lived reality is seen to be just thinking, hearing, smelling, touching, hearing and seeing. What usually happens if we don’t meditate is we confuse our lived reality with a consensual, socially constructed reality, which indeed can be nightmarish, seductive, and problematic.
Take the socially constructed nightmare, for many people, created by Obama’s re-election. There was even a wife who I believe shot her husband for not voting in the election.
This is an extreme example, but the mechanics are identical, it’s just the scale is different as I examine when I think “I’ll never get the taxes done on time.”
Or when I think at work “that nurse’s opinions really bothers me.”
Who or what is bothering who or what?
I am bothering myself in both cases.
When I say “I can’t get the taxes done on time” I am also feeling a sense of projected doom.
The projection is the “dream.”
The reality is that I am simply having a thought “I can’t get the taxes done on time.”
When we become intimately acquainted with the nightmare creation process, we also see the mechanics involved here.
We “objectify” what is really a subjective experience.
And that objectification often is a little, or a lot, off.
When we wake up to the actual reality of our lived experience it’s like waking up from a dream.
I would suggest we take this slogan just this far for the week.
A word of caution, this snake can have a mean bite — by regarding everything as a dream, we do not fall into the trap of thinking that nothing is real, or nothing matters.
Let’s just take it slowly.
There is a very good reason this is the first Lojong slogan of The Actual Practice section.
Here it is again: we sit in meditation we “clarify” our lives much like butter is “clarified” into ghee by letting it settle. We see clearly that our lives are really quite simple, and easy: we wake up to our senses, you could say, of just thinking, just feeling, just hearing, just smelling, and just touching.
We stay present and close to the actual truth of our lives in this simple and intimate way.
From the settled, clarified state we can see how much we fall for the dream-like quality of objectification. And we see how much of the dream we have taken for reality – social norms, attitudes about races, sexual orientation, poverty, even the most ludicrous assumptions like the choice of automobile we purchase deeply matters.
We see what I think Shakespeare might have meant when he wrote: “There is no good or bad, only think makes it so.”
Let’s regain our sanity.
But don’t let the snake bite you by thinking it’s all a dream and doesn’t matter.
See ya next week, when we’ll add a little more to this contemplation, and work with the next slogan.
Please comment below, so we can really get clear on getting started with this Lojong slogan.