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Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong
on January 8, 2013
Western philosophy frequently holds that a person is either compassionate, or not. That they can be encouraged to grow, but those who lack compassion ... well, they're simply lacking.
"Lojong is the Tibetan Buddhist practice that involves working with short phrases (called "slogans") as a way of generating bodhichitta, the heart and mind of enlightened compassion. Shambala Publications"
I could never, in a million years, begin to explain the contents of this book. Mainly, because I am still struggling to adopt and adapt, and learn. I can, however, share the very beginning - "[t]he first point of Zen mind training": Train in the preliminaries.
It was as though the sentences which follow were written for me. I would imagine many people feel the same way. To train in the preliminaries is to resolve to let go of everything that came before the moment where one begins to train. To learn that "... this is your life and you are the only one equipped to deal with it."
Powerful idea, isn't it? Let go of all that came before and find the courage to continue in a different way. To break old habits and patterns - what a freeing concept.
In Tibetan and Mahayana Buddhism, there are traditional reflections used in meditation as a way of training in the preliminaries.
The rarity and preciousness of human life:
When one considers the number of other creatures on the planet, the odds of molecules and DNA combining in such a way as to become human beings is pretty much a million to one - against. As such, each human life is precious.
The inevitability of death:
This is a concept that is difficult for much of Western society, or so it seems. If you live your life, knowing that eventually it will end, how much less significant are the issues of today, or worries about tomorrow?
The awesome and indelible power of our actions:
We've all heard of karma, the concept that every action produces a result. Our thoughts, actions, and words have consequences. Whether we know it or not, we are affecting the world around us. So, we ask ourselves if we wish to be a force for good or do nothing and make things worse. (Are we part of the solution or part of the problem?)
The inescapability of suffering:
It is inevitable, like death, that there will be loss, sorrow, and suffering in our lives. People we love die or leave us. We become ill, grow old, lose jobs, get divorced. There is no life without suffering. Doesn't it make sense that we strengthen our minds and hearts for the suffering that will someday come?
This (Train in the preliminaries) is the first of 59 'slogans' that are part of the Buddhist practice of lojong. It can take weeks or months of meditation / contemplation to grasp, to internalize, this slogan and the 4 reflections. And they are some of the most straight-forward, easily understood slogans.
Lojong is not difficult and it is not simple. It is a thousand-year-old method by which we can teach ourselves to let go of behaviors and attitudes that are damaging to ourselves and those around us. To embrace thoughts and actions and beliefs that free our hearts and our minds to love and value life, ourselves, and all living creatures.
I do not pretend to understand half of what Zoketsu Fischer is sharing in this book. Much of it flies in the face of everything I've learned in 56 years on this planet. However, I do know that, as I add slogans to my meditative practices and attempt to embrace the teachings of lojong, I am changing in powerful ways.
Those looking for a step-by-step instruction guide to enlightenment (insert tab A into slot B) might be disappointed. One reflects, meditates, works on a specific slogan for days or weeks, only to find that the next slogan contradicts what came before. Or, worse yet, instructs the student to completely ignore the previous slogan.
As with any new skill, it takes time to break old patterns; to undo old habits. Muscles long idle must be taught the motions of the new dance. Such is the nature of learning new ideas - the muscles of the mind are resistant to new steps.
I may not get it all the first time through, but I trust Zoketsu Fischer to lead me where I need to be.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary electronic galley of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.com [...] professional readers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.