On Training the Mind

After something of a gap, I’m back to posting Practice Notes on this site, and hope to continue the Meditation Guide as well, as time allows.

This gap has roots in a complex matrix of causes and conditions, prime among them my depression and confusion following the death of my mother… of which I may write more later. It all has created something of a gap in my meditation practice as well, and so, casting about for some way to get back on the path, I have been digging into my past practices. I’ve begun to do yoga regularly again, and have been relying heavily on anapana – following the breath – and some chanting of the Gate Gate mantra – as well as some minor rituals – reciting daily vows at my morning altar.

These have all been helpful, and I’m feeling closer to resuming a solid daily meditation practice.

Another thing from my past practice that has been very helpful is lojong practice, which comes from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, most famously in this country from Chogyam Trungpa and his disciple Pema Chodron. Though Trungpa was a controversial character, his ‘crazy wisdom’ has been a powerful stream in US Buddhism, and his book Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness has been a powerful influence on my practice.

Although my formal practice was Zen, I have also practiced tonglen, or sending and taking, and used the lojong slogans in my mindfullness practice.

Tonglen is a very powerful practice that should be undertaken only with a solid foundation of shamatha – formless meditation – and preferably with a teacher’s guidance. Of course, I always disregarded that advice and just jumped in where angels fear to tread, but I realize now I really do need a teacher for truly developing the practice. And I certainly would not presume to guide anyone into this practice via this blog.

Even without a teacher, however, the lojong practice – the slogans themselves – seems to be very helpful in dealing with the difficult process of putting the teachings into practice and dealing with the vagaries of everyday life in the Twenty-first Century. The slogans are very down-to-earth practical advice, “a grandmotherly finger-point” on how to apply the Buddha’s teachings to your life situations. Even without understanding them properly and deeply, they are helpful.

I have read Trungpa’s book several times straight through and been through it taking one slogan a day quite a few more times. In addition, I created cards for myself summarizing his commentary about each of the slogans and have been through those more times than I’ve counted. I posted a few of them on the original Shunyata’s Apprentice blog several years ago.

The point of going through the fifty-nine slogans is that one becomes very familiar with them, so appropriate ones tend to come to mind in various life situations, prompting reflection and a meditative awareness that can help turn potential disasters into highly enlightening experiences. “Poison as medicine” is how Pema Chodron describes this process.

In my recent attempt to get my practice back on track, the slogans have been immensely helpful, and I have been going through them with renewed intensity, finding new ways to keep them active in my mind, including making a small booklet from my cards that’s convenient to carry around and refer to. I also have begun posting computer-generated versions on my Instagram feed… with links to these further explications included.

So welcome, if that’s what brought you here! Hope you find these explanations enlightening! Even better if it motivates you to read Trungpa’s little book yourself! Here are a few independent bookseller sources.

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