YMD6 Lojong: Don’t Let The Dream Snake Bite

Updated On — 5th Jul, 2015

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.”

It’s crazy.

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.

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About Tom Davidson-Marx

Former Buddhist monk, now father of two and full time registered nurse, my passion is sharing what I have learned from a life-long love, study and practice of the early Buddhist teachings. Thanks for reading.

14 thoughts on “YMD6 Lojong: Don’t Let The Dream Snake Bite”

  1. I think I’ll begin this contemplation tonight. With all the events of the last week, it’s been harder to concentrate on a lot of things. I’ve only come close to something I think ties into this ‘waking up to our senses’.

    In college I remember zoning out watching myself tap the end of my pen on the edge of my folder, asking myself ‘am I feeling the contact between the two because I’m seeing it with my eyes, or because my brain is telling me contact has been made & what it’s expecting me to feel, or am I really feeling it because it’s physically there at all?’ My perception shifted so much in that period of time that I felt like I was perceiving reality differently, more clearly…then I looked at the clock and 45mins had passed!

    I’d really like to focus on the concepts in this post, thanks for this!

  2. How do you think this unveiling occurs via sitting practice? Do our minds learn to recognize our conditioning and tendency to objectify through the inevitable perusal of the smorgasbord of thoughts, plans, judgments and anxieties that arise when we sit?

    • Yes, exactly as you said. This is an absolutely crucial step to master, and we never ever really master it, but we get enough clarity to do the next step as described in the latest post. How I see it is that a routine regular sitting practice builds our capacity for attention, which is necessary to hold its own against the push of our conditioning to overcome attention and go off into its stuff. We need to build the strenght of our capacity for this attention so that we can use it in the direct methods of “investigating unborn awareness” of which there are many cool ones I hope to share as we proceed. When we have sufficient attention capacity built up we can sustain the momentary glimpes into Buddha Nature AKA unborn awareness with the pithy instructions from the direct methods taught in Mahamudra, Dzogchen and Zen. Stay tuned, as this is a lifetime’s practice summarized in 59 lines.


    Being conscious means being aware, at all times. Intuitively knowing of my connection to the greater consciousness.

    Being conscious means noticing when I am operating from ordinary mind, and then surrendering to what is in the moment.

    Being conscious means seeing the void nature of ordinary, conditioned reality and reconciling that awareness with my wish to understand myself and to know my true nature of Oneness.

    Being conscioius is a freedom I experience when I am empty of thought.
    I only goal in life is to become aware of who I am and to live in the Now.

    When it is my turn to awaken then I will say: ‘Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha’. This phrase means:

    “Homage to the awakened mind which has gone over to the other shore.” The one who has gone over means: the enlightened one, who has done away with views, ideas, and perceptions and who looks upon reality without any obstructions of mind.

    • Thanks very much Steve. I really appreciate this. The latest post in our series just begins to touch on this level of understanding, but in baby steps. We begin to see I think that all the mature expressions of “enlightenment” agree, in the features you eloquently mentioned. I am so glad to have you along. Thanks and take care, my friend.

  4. Thanks Tom. I like the way you ground the teaching in your own lived experience–what the words mean for you and how they work in your life. The student also has to be his or her own teacher. Good examples.

    • Thanks very much Louis. I do get that! I often feel like a hypocrite writing these posts, but what I am actually doing is forcing myself to get into these reflections as I need to do this work very badly…Thanks again my friend.

  5. “From the settled, clarified state we can see how much we fall for the dream-like quality of objectification”.

    There is something pivotal here for me, Tom. I often wonder who is doing the ‘dreaming’? And how do I find this ‘dreamer’ and have a chat with him/her?

    • Hi Nick. Thanks for this. In the latest post YMD7 we talk about who is doing the dreaming, but with experientail exercises. The deal is that we see that ultimately it is no one dreaming, only appearances seemingly appearing to the mind. But on closer examination through the exercise in YMD7 we start to see that the mind clarified of obscurations is still, vast, spacious and delightful. But nothing is actually happening. We see even more subtley that what we have taken for “mind” and its “appearances” are actually the same thing. We come to glimpse what major spiritual traditions have seen: non-duality. The mind that sees and that which is seen are the same. The subject/object duality collapses for a moment and we simply rest in that seeing for a few moments. That is a glimpse of the ultimate mind, what this new slogan calls “unborn awareness.”

  6. This is sound stuff, Tom, in my opinion. I liked your two examples of botheration: getting the taxes done on time, and the nurse’s opinions. In the years since I gave up meditation, I’ve adopted a practical approach to dealing with thoughts like these when they tap me on the shoulder.

    I accept them as messages from my somatic self, the Id, whose concern is for my survival and safety. This is why they interrupt my conscious processes, keep me awake in the night, break rudely into my mind-constructed experience of the illusion or dream.

    They’ll go on bothering me till I take notice and *take appropriate action*.

    When when we let the dream take over, and repress the niggling voice of our inner friend. That’s when the snake really bites.

    • Thanks so much Vincent. Yes, very clear. By the way, just made reference to you in the latest post in this series just published. Would you care to provide a link to your insightful blog in a comment for others to see?

  7. Tom, this is now making more and more sense to me especially after helping me out the other day in your email about my Centering Prayer meditation practice. Sorry I have been kind of absent in the comments, but I did appreciate the cheat sheet. I am grateful Tom for this insight about how much of my life is as you say “off” because of the way I see through rose colored glasses. I am still here, just thought I would let you know.

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