Lojong #3, Examine the Nature of Unborn Awareness

This was Monday’s slogan:

#3 Examine the nature of unborn awareness.

Ah, this is a pithy one!

Simply look at your own basic awareness, mind, noting that if you pursue it to the deepest level (which means spending a lot of very still, silent time) there is nothing there.

No color, no shape, no size, no attributes or qualities – just awareness. Sometimes referred to as “pure awareness.” Awareness that has no content. Essentially, we realize that awareness is simply the potential to be aware of some content. So the mind, in itself, without anything else, is nothing.

Pursuing this, eventually we see that the nature of everything is impermanence, emptiness or shunyata – not that it doesn’t exist, but simply that everything is empty of an independent, abiding nature. So it doesn’t exist in and of itself, it only exists in co-existence with everything else. Everything is Anicca, or changing, in the original formulation from Pali.

This is also sometimes referred to as paticca samupada, or the dependent co-arising of phenomena. This is what the Buddha awoke to, as Joanna Macy says.

As I said, pithy. You might have guessed that this is the essential thing you must get before much else in the Buddhist meditation catalog really works for you… but don’t approach it as an exercise in philosophy to be understood, just stay open, meditate and wait patiently for experience of this reality in your own life.

Lojong (mind training) slogan #1

Another round with the Lojong slogans!

Beginning today, I will do one each day, and try to post commentary here. I’ll probably just re-post the ones I’ve already shared here, with added comments as appropriate, and then continue all the way thru number 59.

Lojong, or mind training, is a daily practice from the Kadampa tradition in Tibetan Buddhism. These slogans were laid out in The Great Path of Awakening by J. Kongtrul, and are presented here as interpreted by Chogyam Trungpa in Training the Mind: Cultivating Loving-kindness.

I recommend reading both of these books, as well as looking for a real teacher, if these teachings seem interesting and helpful to you.

My intention here – beyond motivating myself to dwell on the slogan each day – is to simply introduce this practice, not to try to teach it. It is a fairly advanced meditation practice, and not something I would try to teach anyone. But sharing my own process of working with these slogans seems to have the possibility of helping others to see their application to whatever spiritual path one is on.

The slogans are very down-to-earth, practical admonitions (for the most part) in ways of thinking and being that will help one to stay on that path. They point out both positive ways for maintaining commitment and daily practice as well as potential traps to avoid. Trunpa says the slogans constitute a manual on how to handle life properly, a ‘grandmotherly fingerpoint’ to practice and the spiritual life.

The teachings assume that one has done considerable work in basic meditation – as Point One clarifies – and is committed to a serious spiritual practice. The main meditation practice referred to in the slogans, tonglen, is a powerful practice that requires a basic understanding of the truth that ‘self’ and ‘other’ are mistaken concepts, illusions that arise from our essential ignorance.

Only in this understanding can one grasp the meaning – even the possibility! – of a practice that suggests we take in all the bad stuff around us and then breathe out all that we have that is good. It turns our normal way of looking at the world on its head.

But properly understood and practiced, it is a powerful way to transform one’s life and transform the negative influences that surround us.

If it is helpful to you, dive in deeper and learn the practice. I welcome questions and comments here!

POINT ONE: THE PRELIMINARIES

Slogan #1: First, Train in the Preliminaries

The Preliminaries means shamatha meditation – basic, formless meditation.

This also includes the idea of the Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind (to the path of Enlightenment): 1. the precious opportunity of a human life; 2. impermanence and death; 3. the reality of karma (cause & effect); and 4. the suffering that is samsara – normal life.

Kongtrul, one of the early commentators on these slogans, says: “Take an attitude of devotion to the path of loving-kindness.”

Lojong #14 Seeing confusion as the four kayas…

…is unsurpassable shunyata protection.

This is one of my favorites. Though it is a very complex slogan that seems obscure at first, a little experience with it begins to make it clear.

The four kayas are:

–Confusion,

–Clarity,

–Relating the two,

–and Seeing the Whole.

These describe the four stages the mind passes through in any situation. Observing this process eventually allows one to see that shunyata is the true nature of mind, and that everything is simply this nowness.

Trungpa says there are no origins, everything is suspended in shunyata.

Lojong 13: Be grateful to everyone

J. Kongtrul says: “CONTEMPLATE THE GREAT KINDNESS OF EVERYONE”

Without this world, without others, there is no path, thus no enlightenment.

All the irritations and problems are necessary – Chogyam says, “The details that are seemingly obstacles to us become an essential part of the path. Without them we cannot attain anything at all.” There is no chance to develop beyond self. Feel grateful that others are presenting us with tremendous obstacles, threats, challenges. Without the obstacles and irritations that reveal to us – via our reactions – the truth about our self, we would just remain mired in our delusions.

The other level of this is the realization that our own suffering is always teaching us how to be compassionate. Once we realize that what we suffer, all others are suffering too – that it’s actually all just one suffering – we are truly compassionate, not just compassionate because someone said we should be, or because we’ll get something out of it in the long run, like heaven or good karma or future blessing.

So – we can be truly grateful to all those we encounter. This is a slogan that can be practiced every day of our lives. Something to hang around your neck and try to remember in every situation that arises. Such a practice can be transforming. Instead of becoming irritated, we go to gratitude. Crazy wisdom. Poison as Medicine. Liberation.

For example, when someone makes you angry, thank them for revealing to you that you have this reactive spot that can be pricked into such response. Then focus on the sensations accompanying the ‘anger’ and suddenly you are no longer focusing on the object, and then the anger itself begins to subside.

In fact, if there were only one slogan, this would probably be it. If you can remember this one, it will be enough. If you can only practice one thing, practice this. Notice that like Indra’s Net, this point refracts and reflects all the other points…

Analogs to this include: “Praise God in all things!” (St. Paul) “Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.”

Lojong #10: Begin the sequence of sending & taking with yourself

“Whenever anything happens, the first thing to do is take the pain on yourself.” (Trungpa) — Give up the good feelings so someone else can benefit. This is connected with developing the Paramita of Discipline. Open your territory completely, let go of everything.

Kongtrul says: Take on all the suffering that will come to you in the future, then you’ll be able to take on others’ suffering.

Radical stuff. Like the Tibetan mountain paths, it’s not for the faint-hearted.

But it’s probably the best program ever devised for helping yourself learn to be more compassionate to others…

Lojong # 9: In all activities, train with slogans

In daily life, use the lojong slogans to help you put words to “the first thought” (as in arising anger, etc.). When the feeling of I-ness hits, Trungpa suggests we think: “May I receive all evils and my virtues go to others; profit and victory to others, loss and defeat to myself.”

Sort of a corrective for the usual tendencies, such as putting self first. A little additional help may come from using something like this with your morning vows: “I vow to pursue Bodhichitta and develop a sense of gentleness toward self and others; I promise not to blame others but to take their pain on myself; I vow to put others before self.”

It may seem impossible, but the nature of the Bodhisattva vow is – simply interpreted – that you vow to do what you know can’t be done. Such as save all the innumerable sentient beings on the planet, extinguish your inexhaustible delusions, master the immeasurable Dhamma teachings, and follow completely the Buddha’s endless way.

In the Japanese, it’s:

Shu jo mu hen sai gan do,

Bon no mu hen sai gan dan,

Ho mon muryo sai gan gaku,

Butsu do mu jo sai gan jo.

(Three bows.)

It’s a tall order.

Lojong #7 Sending and taking should be practiced alternately…

… These two should ride the breath.

[HERE BEGINS POINT 2B: RELATIVE BODHICHITTA TRAINING:]

This is a simple description of the very advanced practice of tonglen, which is the main practice in developing relative Bodhichitta, awakened heart. Extensive practice in basic meditation, beginning with awareness of breath (anapana in Pali, shamatha in Tibetan), is essential before attempting this practice. A solid background in Metta practice, the practice of sending loving-kindness and compassion out to all the world, is also very helpful, as tonglen can be very dark and overwhelming otherwise.

The practice involves taking into oneself with each inhalation all the bad in one’s surroundings (eventually the world) and sending out with each exhalation all the good one has, actually transforming the bad in the environment into good and giving it away.

This turns the natural tendency to seek pleasure and avoid pain on its head, and generally seems absurd to the conventional consciousness. After some years of meditation and observation of the practice, one will usually come to an understanding of its wisdom and transformational power.

Pema Chodron writes about tonglen in her wonderful book The Wisdom of No Escape.

I’m not suggesting that anyone try this, but if you do please read what Trungpa and Pema have to say about it. I’m introducing it here because this is a foundational notion in much of the lojong practice: the idea that one can take negative energies or situations and transform them, simply by one’s willingness to do so – not thru any kind of occult powers or anything. It’s a powerful idea.

Lojong #6 In post-meditation, be a child of illusion

This is meditation in action, the discipline of daily life. Trungpa says to continue the experience of meditation in your daily activities, remembering that all this stuff that seems to be going on is, at least as understood on the absolute level, just an illusion created by your mind-system.

Remember to keep everything soft, pliable, workable, with lots of space. Recognize the simplicity of the phenomenal play.

The phrase “child of illusion” has always been hard for me to understand. My best take on it: – it suggests that you – that notion of ‘self’ that is identified as ‘you’ – are created by (child of) the illusion of experience. To ‘be’ that, perhaps, means you recognize it clearly.

Yes, this one is a bit confusing, unclear perhaps. As I understand it, the “be” means just being aware of this truth. The “child of illusion” is the Self. The essential notion is that the Self is not a fixed, permanent entity, and keeping that in mind as you go about your daily life helps to lighten things up a bit. The self, in the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions, is understood to be simply the product of stringing together all these discrete experiences of ongoing life and reifying the experiencer as some entity, “me.” Of course, since all this stuff going on is essentially created by the mind, it is an illusion, so its creation, the Self is also unreal, in the absolute sense.

Judith Leif says, “In this slogan, the particular postmeditation practice is to “be a child of illusion.” It is to play within an environment that we recognize to be shifty and illusory. So rather than trying to make our world solid and predictable, and complaining when that is not the case, we could maintain the glimpses of the illusory nature of experience that arise in meditation practice, and touch in with that open illusory quality in the midst of our daily activities. That looser more open quality is the ground on which the compassionate actions of the bodhisattva can arise.” from — https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/train-your-mind-slogan-6/

Lojong #5 Rest in the nature of alaya, the essence

Ah, this one is so sweet! [long deep release of breath…]

Alaya means ‘abode’ (as in Himalaya, abode of snow), and refers here to the 8th consciousness, clear, non-discriminating mind, basic goodness.

Resting in this state is the Ultimate Bodhichitta practice, the practice leading to realization of awakened heart, understanding that phenomena are non-solid, self-luminous. The idea of ‘resting in’ means we are seeing this as a beginning point for deeper awakening, not as some end in itself.

Trungpa says, “You can just come home and relax. The idea is to return to home-sweet-home.” The home of our basic consciousness, pure awareness. This is the essential element in shamatha practice, and the Ultimate Bodhichitta practice, and is the beginning point for all that comes.

Lojong #4 Self-liberate even the antidote

Realization of emptiness/impermanence (shunyata) — the antidote — is helpful in not taking ourselves or anything else too seriously, but it may tempt one to slide into “the poison of shunyatta” attitude: ‘nothing is important, so why bother’. In Zen, this is known as ‘the stink of Zen.’

Trungpa says we must get beyond this naivetè, stay grounded in practice, and remember: “We are not particularly seeking enlightenment or the simple experience of tranquility – we are trying to get over our deception.”

Again, this is a key point, or barrier to get past. When you realize what your deception consists of, you’re on the path to real liberation, true enlightenment.

In considering all these things – which, by the way, you shouldn’t think about too much! – it’s helpful to remember that a main notion in Buddhism is ‘the middle way.’ As the Thai man said to me, “Buddha say, not too much, not too little, just enough!”

It’s also helpful to remember that non-dualism is an underlying notion in all of this. Beyond this and that, good and evil, wrong and right, deceived and not deceived, enlightened and not enlightened. Just this.