"Always maintain a joyful mind."
-- The 21st Lojong Slogan
It was what it was. In fact, "what it was" was often quite grand.
That being said, last week was different here in the Pioneer Valley. Although Spring had occasionally whispered in our ear for weeks, last week she stepped up to the microphone and proclaimed in no uncertain terms, "I'M HERE!"
And everybody knew it.
On the sun washed sidewalks of Greenfield, good cheer was ubiquitous. Steps were lively. Strangers greeted one another with nods and smiles. Joyful Mind was in the air, palpable -- and shared.
Although I am well aware that the strains of George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun" could quickly morph into "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" in the grand soundtrack of Mother Nature's movie here in Western Massachusetts, it doesn't matter. It's a done deal. She can and will turn on a dime to chill us and herself out. In this era of climate change, She could even blow another Nor'easter in our face. Yet, I'd just blow her a kiss. We're home free.
Spring has arrived!
Five Years of Lojong
Five years ago this spring, I was prompted by one of the irregular regulars in Monday Morning Mindfulness to jump into a study of the Lojong Trainings of Tibetan Buddhism. Although I had been struck by the heart centered teachings of Pema Chodron and had adopted Tonglen Practice for a number of years, I hadn't really picked up on her tradition's "slogan practice."
The Lojong Slogans are a series of aphorisms that are memorized, studied, and used in training the mind to expand beyond it's usual conditioned patterns. Operating as mental reminders to frame our experience in particular ways -- both on and off the meditation cushion -- these 59 slogans, are arranged as 7 main points.
Being at heart a Spiritual Practice Geek, I've now studied the commentaries of Chogyam Trungpa, Pema Chodron, Traleg Kyabgon, B. Alan Wallace, and Zen Teacher Norman Fischer. Currently, I use a random number generator on my phone to select a daily slogan, referring to a on-line commentary by Acharya Judy Lief, then sometimes re-reading another commentary or two.
I've found Lojong to be quite helpful in examining my own conditioning and cultivating an open heart and a clear head. The Practice continues to deepen.
Some of the Lojong slogans seem quite familiar: Don't be jealous, don't malign others, etc. We probably have heard them from our parents, Sunday school teachers, from our kind and upstanding friends. Others, like "regard all dharmas as a dream" or "rest in the nature of alaya," call for an understanding of the terminology and teachings of Mahayana Buddhism or of some of the unique notions of Tibetan Buddhism. I've found, though, that reading the commentaries by contemporary teachers helps bring them into focus. (A bibliography is linked below.)
Then, there are some like slogan 21: Always Maintain A Joyful Mind!
I think a common first reaction to that slogan is "Always maintain a joyful mind? WTF? Are you kidding me?"
Always Maintain A Joyful Mind???
The world is in turmoil. With warfare and global warming seemingly stewing us in our own juices these are stressful times. At this point, our political economy seems to be on the way backwards towards some sort of 19th century plutocracy where a few folks cruise and most of us other folks tread water -- or sink. People are suffering and dying at this very moment. Hell, at some point, the truth is I'm going to die!
Always Maintain A Joyful Mind? Give me a break!
This is the 21st slogan. If you really have been fairly serious about the studying the Lojong Slogans and consistent with your regular meditation practice, it is very possible by the time you get to this slogan it will not only make perfect sense -- it will seem increasingly possible.
In the first place, by then you will have understood that these slogans really aren't hard and fast "commandments". The slogans aren't "should's" that call for putting a phony smile on our mugs or beating ourselves up if we can't. They are Practices. They often provide both a means of identifying and assessing your current state of mind, and a direction of growth to consider and work with.
If you've been Sitting for awhile (awhile being defined as somewhere between a few weeks and several decades), by the time you're working with slogan 21 you will probably have experienced for yourself that there is a palpably spacious and malleable quality of mind that is more or less readily accessible. You probably have had some experience with the fact that, like Mother Nature's spring weather, you can sometimes "turn on a dime", to change the channel and find a sense of ease and good cheer -- even when Life is presenting you with a significant challenge -- like a long, harsh winter.
Then, at a certain point we may have come to know that we actually ARE kind and compassionate human beings! We come to trust our fundamental goodness. We see clearly that it's our True Nature. That realization sometimes emerges in the excitement and wonder of the first day of spring-- or sometimes in the melancholy beauty of an autumn sunset. Our inextricable connection to the One Love becomes self-evident.
We see for ourselves that a Joyful Mind exists in and of itself, beyond the specifics of our current situation.
At that point our "WTF!? may change its tune. Perhaps emerging with a grin or tears, a touch of incredulity and wonder, "WTF!? now may ring with a deep, deep gratitude for how very cool life can be!
It just did for me!
"How Lojong Awakens Your Heart" by Pema Chodron in Lion's Roar
An annotated bibliography of the Lojong Trainings at A Layman Looks at Lojong.