Background and tips from a Tibetan master on the use of lojongs, slogans that aid meditation and open the mind.
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For many centuries Indian and Tibetan Buddhists have employed this collection of pithy, penetrating Dharma slogans to develop compassion, equanimity, lovingkindness, and joy for others. Known as the lojong—or mind-training—teachings, these slogans have been the subject of deep study, contemplation, and commentary by many great masters.
In this volume, Traleg Kyabgon offers a fresh translation of the slogans as well as in-depth new commentary of each. After living among and teaching Westerners for over twenty years, his approach is uniquely insightful into the ways that the slogans could be misunderstood or misinterpreted within our culture. Here, he presents a refreshing and clarifying view, which seeks to correct points of confusion.
Background and tips from a Tibetan master on the use of lojongs, slogans that aid meditation and open the mind.
From Point Five: Measuring the Success of Mind Training
We may want to assess our mind training practice from time to time in order to evaluate our progress. The four slogans contained in this point are dedicated to measuring our progress on the path by establishing whether our minds are becoming more other-centered or whether they are simply mired in more subtle habitual perceptions of the world. We need a balanced approach to this lojong point, because an obsessive concern over our progress is just another form of fixation, while failing to attend to it at all is equally detrimental. Committing these sayings to memory will make them a self-regulatory aspect of our practice. Each of these slogans is a pithy, succinct, often enigmatic saying that reveals its depths through repeated contemplation. They are known as the four methods of appraisal for evaluating our ability to exchange self for others on the lojong path.
19 • All Dharma has a single purpose
The word Dharma (Tib. chos) does not literally mean "teachings," but it has come to be synonymous with the Buddhist teachings themselves. This is because the Buddhist teachings deal with “knowable things,” and the full Tibetan expression for the word Dharma is shes bya chos, where chos means “phenomena” and shes bya means “knowable.”The Buddhist canon describes knowable things in the context of physical and mental phenomena and also in the context of confused and enlightened states of being. The reason for this is that the whole soteriological thrust of the Buddha’s message is that only through understanding knowable things can we come to understand the key aspects of our existence. Questions such as “What are ignorance and wisdom?” “What does it mean to be in the confused state of samsara?” and “What does it mean to attain liberation from that samsaric state?” are all rendered comprehensible through an examination of knowable phenomena. In other words, knowledge of conditioned existence is only gained from insight into knowable things.
The Dharma is very vast, even if we are only referring to the sheer volume of the teachings. It’s not like the Bible or the Koran or the Old Testament, which are able to be contained in one volume. The Buddhist teachings are so extensive and diverse that we might easily assume that its various numerous streams have different purposes, leading to dissimilar goals. However, this simply isn’t true; all of the Buddhist teachings have an equivalent purpose and intent, leading to exactly the same quality of liberation from the same type of imprisonment.
The goal of all the Buddhist teachings is to overcome our state of ignorance. Our delusions obstruct our vision so that we draw all kinds of spurious conclusions from our experiences and cause ourselves immeasurable suffering. The main component of our delusory mental states is our egoistic preoccupation. The more we fixate on our experiences from that perspective, the more unmanageable our delusory mental states become. The more depressed our mood, the more we indulge in all kinds of projections onto other people, convincing ourselves that nobody really cares about us. Our self-obsession fans our negative emotions and compels us to obsess over our inner turmoil until we’re incapable of seeing anything clearly. Dharmaraksita explains:
Since your ego is your enemy, against whom shall you
Since your ego itself is the protector, whom shall you
It is the very witness of all you have done and left
When you have tamed your ego, you shall be liberated.
All the Buddhist schools agree that the source of our ignorance comes from our conviction that there is a self-sufficient, discrete self and a substantial, immutable other. The conviction in a self comes from thinking we possess some kind of psychic substance, and the conviction in phenomena comes from thinking things have inherent existence. According to all Buddhist teachings without exception, these mistaken beliefs cause us to wander aimlessly in a distorted and improbable world. The single purpose of this slogan is therefore to reduce our delusory mental states through meditation and realize selflessness. Buddhist meditation is not just a psychological mechanism for producing certain psychic states, but a way to transcend our egoistic preoccupations. The Tibetan hermit Godrakpa sings of this transcendence of ego:
In the darkness of illness and suffering
I lost the path leading to liberation,
But was guided on the path by the sun
Of the removal of impediments.
Self-interest was lost, but I've no regrets.
In classical Buddhist literature, this notion of selflessness is traditionally demonstrated by the example of a chariot. A chariot is made of wood, shafts, spokes, metal rims, reins, a seat, and so on. When all the parts are put together, we have a chariot, but when all the parts are strewn about in separate locations, no such chariot can be found, proving that neither the parts nor the whole can be understood to inherently exist as something called chariot. Chandrakirti outlines this argument:
Now if the chariot consisted of the mere collection of
The scattered fragments likewise would comprise the chariot.
But if there is no owner of the parts, there are no "parts,"
And neither can the shape, or simple pattern, constitute it.
Using this analogy, the early Buddhist teachings enumerated five "psycho-physical constituents" (Skt. skandhas; Tib. phung po) that constitute a person. These are physical form, psychic propensities, feeling, cognition, and consciousness. When all of these parts come together, we have the concept of a self, but just like the chariot, which is only a cohesive entity when all the pieces are put together in a specific formation, no “self ” can be found independent of its constituent parts. Through analysis, we gradually understand there is no such thing as a self-sufficient, discrete, and immutable self. In fact, that belief in such an entity is the wellspring of ignorance. As Rupert Gethin, from the University of Bristol, elucidates in The Foundations of Buddhism:
The occurrence of physical and mental events is not just arbitrary or random; on the contrary there is a deep and real relationship of causal connectedness between events or phenomena. And it is the concern with the nature of this causal connectedness that lies at the heart of Buddhist philosophy and which is seen as validating all Buddhist practice.
In Mahayana literature, the selflessness of persons is extended to encompass the selflessness of phenomena. We learn to deepen our understanding of selflessness through an understanding of dependent arising, which says that we can form the concept of a self only if there is the concept of an “other,” for self and other are mutually defining and contingent. A discrete, autonomous entity that is unconnected to anything other than itself is completely untenable and invalidates any claim external phenomena may make toward the status of inherently existing entities. The selflessness of phenomena is coterminous with emptiness, which insight, for the Mahayana teachings, is the ultimate antidote to ignorance. Patrul Rinpoche illustrates this point with the following story from the Kadampa tradition:
Drom Tonpa once asked Atisha what was the ultimate of all teachings. “Of all teachings, the ultimate is emptiness of which compassion is the very essence,” replied the Master. “Realization of the truth of emptiness, the very nature of reality, is like a very powerful medicine, a panacea which can cure every disease in the world. It is the remedy for all the different negative emotions.”
All Buddhist teachings have the same purpose: to put an end to ignorance by realizing there is no such thing as a self-sufficient, permanent, substantial “self ” or “other” in phenomenal existence. As long as we entertain the belief in this poorly constructed falsehood, we’ll be immured in a state of suffering. As soon as we develop an appreciation of the nonduality of subject and object, appearance and reality, deluded consciousness and wisdom consciousness—we’ll start to gain a proper insight into our true condition. That insight is the purpose of all the Buddhist teachings, because it leads to liberation. The way that this slogan helps us to appraise the success of our mind is by assessing how well we are able to relinquish our egoistic preoccupations. Konchok Gyaltsen makes this point very clearly:
Therefore if your spiritual practice in general, and your practice of mind training in particular, fail to counter self-grasping, then [the realization of] mind training has not arisen in you. For whether mind training has arisen in your heart is determined by whether it has become an antidote to self-grasping.
Traleg Kyabgon (1955–2012) was born in Eastern Tibet and educated by many great masters of all four major lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. He is the founder of the Kagyu E-Vam Buddhist Institute, which is headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, with a major practice center in upstate New York and a practice community in New York City. He taught extensively at universities and Buddhist centers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Southeast Asia beginning in 1980, and is the author of numerous books that present Buddhist teachings to Western readers, including The Essence of Buddhism and Mind at Ease.
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I just finished reading this book. I read it slowly, every morning just after leaving bed. It can easily be read one, two or three pages at a time, since the book is mostly divided into the discussion of 59 short tips (slogans). Indeed, I believe that this book should be read slowly since all of these ideas are profoundly inspiring and potentially life-changing. One or two pages of this book can give you a lot of inspiration for the whole day, if not for all of your life. Lojong is mostly about how to make use of your everyday experiences to improve your spiritualism and the life of us all. The idea of Lojong or Mind Training and its 59 slogans are an old tradition of Tibetan Budhism. The author certainly holds no credit on that, but his profound, and yet clear explanations, make this book a gem.
This insightful book discusses various Mahayana techniques of meditation and enlightened through following the path of lojong. This book is very guiding and very easy for a someone just discovering Buddhism practices. This book helps you do exactly what the front cover says. Cultivate peace and compassion through training the mind. By the end of this book I felt inspired to lead a better life and to take time for myself to truly love me for me. This book teaches you that you can't be content with other people without being content with yourself first. I also think Traleg did a good job at translating the truth pith instrunction of lojong practice so that english, westerners can clearly understand and follow it. I also love the practice of lojong because it is a way of life that I think encourages you to be who you are. Also it is such an ethical fundamental approach where no one idea seems to far fetched. Overall a solid read and I would suggest it to all who wish to learn more on meditation and Buddhism.