Posted in lojong

What is Lojong?

Lojong is a set of techniques for training the mind. These techniques are designed to open our hearts and awaken our minds. There are fifty nine slogans and they offer us a lot of help in transcending our egotism and putting down the baggage we are carrying.

The fifty nine slogans have been used by Tibetan Buddhists for centuries in order to help Buddhist practitioners focus on what’s important in our efforts to train and tame our minds. Sometimes on the Buddhist path we can tend to forget why we’re doing this and what’s important.

The important thing about these teachings is that they help us to meet ordinary situations in life with a Bodhisattva state of mind. Lojong really involves making our views more expansive,  cultivating a compassion that includes everyone.

These teachings have been handed down for 8 centuries. Lojong is considered a Mahayana teaching. Vajrayana Buddhism has been so influential on the Buddhism of Tibet that Mahayana teachings sometimes get overlooked. As a practitioner of Mahayana Buddhism, I love delving into teachings like these.

Lojong practice helps me to transform all of the aspects of my life into the path of Enlightenment. It reminds me that there is no separation between the sacred life and ordinary life, between the spiritual and the worldly. It helps me to be less pulled around by my egotism. When we practice lojong even really difficult circumstances can become more workable.

Lojong practice is one of my teachers.

The Lojong slogans are said to come from the great Indian Buddhist teacher Atisha, who received extensive training in bodhicitta and mind training. A Tibetan student of Atisha’s founded the Kadam lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Now Lojong practice is found in all of the major branches of Tibetan Buddhism.

Lojong is a list of 59 slogans that summarize the view and application of Mahayana Buddhism. They provide a way to train our minds through both meditation practice and daily life. The foundation,  as with most Buddhist teachings, is on developing mindfulness and awareness.

With this practice we become more aware of how self-centered our worldview is. We practice to reverse that and have a broader vision, a vision of gentleness and fearless compassion. This way we begin to think of ourselves as part of the world, rather than making enemies of everything all the time. We want to prevent our actions and motivations from being quite so motivated by projections and expectations.

Our practice in ordinary life is based on learning these slogans and being able to remember them when we need them. If we study them diligently, we will find them coming into our minds when we need them.

Lojong teachings can inspire us to live with more gentleness and compassion. They inspire us to transcend the self.

Lojong practice can serve as our basic training on the path of the Bodhisattva.

The Lojong slogans are divided into seven categories. I’ve written about each one as a series here:

Train in the Preliminaries

Training in Bodhicitta

Bad Circumstances are the Path

Make Practice Your Life

Evaluation

Disciplines

Guidelines

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Posted in buddhism, Mahayana

Great Compassion

When we come to see things as they really are, we naturally start to be more compassionate. We begin to develop what’s referred to as Great Compassion. The Bodhisattva Path is sometimes referred to as “Emptiness with a heart of compassion.” Our way of seeing the world, when we begin to understand the true nature of things, becomes rooted in compassion. Once we see things as empty, we stop making enemies out of everything all the time. This makes us feel free, like we can finally be real. We can come to experience a natural state of peacefulness and stability.

 

Posted in bodhisattva

The Bodhisattva

The Bodhisattva is willing to be authentic, willing to get hurt and be sensitive and have a fully exposed heart. A Bodhisattva cooperates with the world instead of making enemies with everything all the time. Bodhisattvas are sometimes called spiritual warriors, described as daring and fearless. On the Bodhisattva path you have to let go of the lies that you tell yourself all the time. You have to put all of your egocentric bullshit aside and face things as they really are. That’s why it’s fearless. When we put that aside we are free to be more genuine and authentic. This path isn’t so much about manifesting Enlightenment as it is about expanding our openness, gentleness, and compassion. But, I suppose when you get down to it that, in itself, is Enlightenment.

Posted in Uncategorized

Shootings

The tragedy in Orlando was still fresh in our minds.

And then Alton Sterling was shot by two police officers in Louisiana.

And then later I walked by the news on a TV at work and there was a story about a black man being shot by police. I thought it was another story about Alton Sterling, but it wasn’t.

My friend asked me, “What happened with this shooting?”

And I said, “I don’t know…I can’t keep track of all the shootings anymore..”

Philando Castle was killed by police in Minnesota when he was pulled over for a broken tail light. Because he was reaching for his wallet, after telling the officer that he had a concealed carry license and that he did have a concealed weapon in the car. He told the officer he was reaching for his wallet and the officer shot him. In the car. By the way, there was a child in the backseat. That shouldn’t matter, of course. But it does. An innocent man was shot and that’s what is really important. But thinking about that child makes me really sad too.

Police make me nervous anyway. If I was black my anxiety would probably make me stay home all the time.

I am so sad.

And our society is so fucking divided that people say things like, “If they treated the officers with more respect they wouldn’t have been shot.”

That is victim blaming. It’s no different from telling a rape victim she shouldn’t have worn a short skirt. Victim blaming makes me really uncomfortable. People are dead.

People say things like, “This person had a criminal record, they weren’t really innocent.” That’s crazy too. Who cares if they had a criminal record? Does that mean that they should be shot in the street?

When people make excuses for brutality like this I just wonder if they love and trust the government a lot more than I do. I don’t understand.

I get it, being a police officer is hard. Really really hard. But I believe we can expect more from them. Maybe police need more training. Maybe they need better pay so that precincts can be a little more discerning in who they allow to work these jobs. I don’t know. But I do know that we shouldn’t just accept this as normal and blame the victims whenever possible.

And I’m not sure if these officers had hate in their hearts when they committed these acts (but let’s investigate and find out). But I am sure they shouldn’t be police anymore. Because at best these actions were negligent. If your job is to protect people and you accidentally kill someone, that’s it.

And then some police officers were shot at a protest. (as of this writing I couldn’t find their names or I would post them here. I am mourning them too) As though violence can solve anything, as though this will do anything other than make people angry and ruin the lives of those officer’s families.

I don’t believe our society is so divided that we can only feel sympathy for either the officers that were slain or the two men. All of them are victims of a cycle of violence and division that I hope we can stop.

I think our culture teaches us that violence is the way to solve problems and I don’t agree with that.

Violence makes problems. And we should all cultivate peace and love in our hearts instead of violence and hate.

Not that people shouldn’t defend themselves when they’re under attack. People think that because I’m a pacifist that’s what I think, but if you’re against the wall, you do whatever you have to do. None of these killings were in self-defense.

What can we do?

As Buddhists, some of us take vows to try to save everyone. What can we even do in situations like this?

Today I just don’t know.

Love each other. Build bridges instead of walls. Be kind. Be connected. Stop trying to divide and separate. We do far too much of that.

The media and politicians have a role in this division, but that’s because that’s what people expect from them. So let’s expect something different.

Just be nice.

You can spread kindness and positivity in your life.

It starts with you.

Posted in lists

The Four Immeasurables

The Four Brahmaviharas, or Divine Abodes, are often translated as ‘the immeasurables’ or ‘the ‘immeasurable minds’.

When these four qualities are cultivated they are said be a powerful antidote to negative mind states.

These teachings are found in several different Buddhist texts, including the Metta Sutra.

A very similar list is found in the non-Buddhist spiritual text “The Yoga Sutras” by Patanjali, which was written a few centuries after the rise of Buddhism.

The Brahmaviharas represent a method for engaging life in a positive and enlightened way, a way that helps us avoid suffering and encourages peace and happiness. They represent a way to overcome our ego.

They are:

Metta (lovingkindness): this is benevolence and kindness. It signifies wanting others to be happy and succeed. It’s often easy to wish for success for our friends and relatives, not to mention ourselves. But, in this case we’re trying to extend this to all beings.

Karuna (compassion): this is wanting others to be free from suffering. It’s easy to say we don’t want others to suffer, but it must be mentioned that this includes people we don’t like as well.

Mudita (empathetic joy): this is celebrating and being happy when others are successful. Congratulating people and telling them we’re happy for them is normal. It’s something we’re taught to do, I think.

Upekkha (equanimity): this is learning to weather the storm of life, learning how to accept loss and gain, success and failure. This might be the most difficult one. It’s certainly hard to keep an even mind when things aren’t going well. It can be so easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged.

In the Metta Sutra they’re listed this way:

May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes;
May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes;
May all sentient beings not be separated from sorrowless bliss;
May all sentient beings abide in equanimity, free of bias, attachment and anger.

In the Visuddhimagga (path of purification) written in the 5th century by Buddhaghosa, he explains the Brahmaviharas as things you take on for yourselves and then cultivate for others around and then spread out your view to encompass all beings.

you can listen to a guided meditation based on the four immeasurables here:

 


 

 

You can support independent Buddhist writing by joining a community of fellow learners/practitioners at  Patreon

 

*another version of this article appeared on Patheos

Posted in Uncategorized

Conditional Compassion

 

I’ve noticed that some people seem to think that compassion should be conditional.

They think that if someone got themselves in trouble, we shouldn’t feel compassion for them. Or, even worse, we shouldn’t be kind.

I disagree with that position.

I think compassion is the highest virtue and I strive to feel it toward everyone, regardless of circumstances.

I’ll share some examples.

I’ve heard people say that we shouldn’t feel sorry for drug users who are in jail. They knew they were breaking the law. It didn’t come out of nowhere and we shouldn’t feel bad for them.

Putting aside the discussion of legalization (which I support) for a moment, should we feel compassion for them?

I think we should. They made a mistake (buying from an undercover officer or being in the wrong place at the wrong time) but who doesn’t make mistakes?

Another example is someone who’s in a bad relationship. When someone repeatedly leaves and goes back into the same bad situation, do we stop feeling compassion for them? Do we stop because they make the same mistake over and over and they definitely know better?

No. We never stop.

I don’t stop cultivating compassion. I don’t want to stop to think about whether or not someone is worthy of my compassion. My compassion is too important for that. It needs to be constant and ever present in my life. Compassion is something we can cultivate unconditionally.

Be compassionate. Spread love. Be kind and sprinkle kindness everywhere.

Not that it’s easy, of course. Let’s be honest. Sometimes it’s hard to be compassionate. Sometimes it’s really really hard.

But we can try our best. Because cultivating compassion is best, not only for us but for the world too.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bodhisattvaroad/2016/03/compassion-that-is-boundless/

 

 

Posted in bodhisattva

Great Compassion is a Prerequisite

Great compassion is the fundamental prerequisite for successful Ch’an meditation. Compassion is the best possible motivation. It inspires us like nothing else can. Because we have great compassion, we are striving to become enlightened for the sake of all beings. This is what it means to try to live the way of the Bodhisattva. Because we have great compassion, we cultivate non-selfishness. This helps reign in the ego and regulate our attachment to external things. Our compassion helps us cultivate humility.

Posted in ask a zen teacher, tattooed buddha

Is Compassion Important In Zen?

compassionbuddha

At first glance, it might seem like compassion isn’t important in Zen. There’s a whole lot of emphasis on insight and concentration practices.

It’s true that in the Zen tradition there is a lot of focus on the mystical experience, cultivating insight to try to attain Enlightenment. Texts like the Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra do spend a whole lot more time talking about non-duality than they do about compassion. But I’d argue this is a slight misunderstanding.

The truth is that compassion is fundamental to every branch of Buddhism.

The story of the Buddha tells us that he sat under a tree and attained Enlightenment. At first he thought he couldn’t possibly teach it, because Awakening requires an intuitive understanding and he knew that any explanation would be difficult to express.

But he decided to try anyway. He was motivated by compassion.

In that story we have the two most important aspects of Buddhism, in my opinion. They are great insight and great compassion.

Attaining Enlightenment, striving to Awaken and helping others to do the same IS compassion. If I can become more mindful and aware, I am making the world a better place. When I save myself from the effects of my delusion, I am saving others from the effects of my delusion too.

Additionally, I should mention the vows.

One might have difficulty finding a lot of compassion in sutras and teachings of Zen masters.

But the vows we take in the Zen tradition are clearly motivated by compassion.

Here are the four great vows.

These are often recited in Zen retreats and some practitioners recite them daily:

Sentient beings are numerous. I vow to save them.
Defilements are endless. I vow to eliminate them. 
Buddha’s teachings are unlimited. I vow to learn them. 
The ways of enlightenment are supreme. I vow to achieve them.

We can see right there that the first one is all about helping others. I don’t think it’s an accident that that is the first of the four vows.

Additionally, we have the Bodhisattva Vows, which are all about making sure we are as harmonious as possible in our interactions with others.

And we talk about cultivating the Six Perfections as fundamental to the Buddhist path. These are:
Generosity, Virtue, Patience, Diligence, Concentration, and Wisdom.

Those first three are pretty clearly motivated by compassion, by a desire to engage the world in a way that is positive and helpful, rather than harmful.

At its core Zen is about transcending duality. It’s about tearing down the false barriers that separate us from others. If we engage duality compassion naturally results.

So, in this way, compassion is always fundamental to the path.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Compassion for Yourself and Others

In a Buddhist context, compassion isn’t limited to a feeling toward others. Compassion toward oneself is important as well. Sometimes it’s more important. Now, you might think that of course we are compassionate toward ourselves. We may not act in our best interest all the time, but we certainly have a wish to avoid pain and to experience pleasure as much as possible and it can be very easy to feel sorry for ourselves when we are suffering. But, can it be said that we are always acting out of compassion for ourselves? We can definitely judge ourselves to harshly sometimes. While it may seem like we already have compassion toward ourselves, we often don’t act in our own self interest. We sometimes do things that we know are bad for us. That’s because we aren’t giving ourselves the right amount of compassion. We should do what’s best for ourselves as much as possible. Also, giving into anger and lashing out is a way of not giving ourselves compassion.

The best thing to do when something happens that causes us pain is to react with compassion. By that I mean compassion for yourself. If I feel compassion for myself, I won’t want to cause myself greater suffering by amplifying an already bad situation. I will want to try to resolve the situation, or at least try to get through it as painlessly as possible. That’s certainly not easy, but if we can just get into that mindset it is helpful. When something happens to upset us, we can take some deep breaths and say to ourselves, “Treat yourself with compassion.”

Posted in Uncategorized

The Poison of Anger

You will not be punished for your anger. You will be punished by your anger.”
-the Buddha

Anger happens to all of us. Even the greatest among experience anger sometimes. Regardless of how much we have cultivated love and compassion, we are still human.

In Buddhism, anger is one of the three poisons, along with greed and ignorance. The three poisons are the primary cause of our suffering. Striving to overcome our anger is essential to Buddhist practice. In Buddhism we don’t really think of anger as ‘righteous’ or ‘justifiable’. It’s important to remember that our anger hurts us as much as it hurts whoever the target of our anger is, if not more. Anger is nothing more than an impediment to our inner peace. We might think, “this person deserves to be faced with my anger.” But that shouldn’t be our line of thinking. Instead, we should be thinking, “Is our anger helpful?”

So, we can strive to overcome our anger, but of course we will get angry sometimes, everyone does and we shouldn’t feel bad for it. 

But how do we deal with our anger?

First, admit you’re angry. Admit that your anger is clouding your judgment and impacting your ability to deal with whatever situation is occurring. Anger can only get in the way and escalate situations. It never helps. Buddhism teaches mindfulness. Being mindful of our own emotions is part of mindfulness. We don’t suppress negative emotions or deny them. Instead we acknowledge it and try to recognize that it isn’t helpful and let it go.

It’s also important to understand that our anger is created by ourselves. Anger doesn’t happen to us, our minds create it. We tend to think that someone else causes us to get angry, but it’s our own mind that makes us angry. We do have some control over how we respond to situations.

As Buddhists, our practice is to cultivate kindness and compassion for all beings that is free from attachment. “All beings” includes individuals who make us angry.

For this reason, when we experience anger, we should take care not to act on it to hurt others and ourselves. We also must take care not to cling to our anger. If we hold onto our anger over time, it is only more damaging to us. 

So, how do we let our anger go?

One thing we can do it cultivate patience. We can sit still with our anger and try to release it. Our meditation practice helps us strengthen our patience for this purpose. 

It’s hard not to act on our anger sometimes. 

It takes strength to acknowledge that anger is not helpful and it takes discipline to let it go.

 

The Buddha said, “Holding onto anger is like picking up a hot coal to throw at someone.” Even if you succeed at hurting the other person, you are hurting yourself as well. Is it worth it?