"Always maintain a joyful mind."
-- The 21st Lojong Slogan
Yet, thanks to Practice, I actually didn't mind the lingering winter weather this year here in Western Massachusetts. The reoccurring bouts of snow and wintry mixes were just fine with me. Some were even quite beautiful.
They sure didn't deter the neighborhood cardinals either. They've been singing Spring's praises weeks for weeks.
Yet, that being said, today was different. Although Spring had whispered in our ear on and off for weeks, today she stepped up to the microphone and proclaimed in no uncertain terms, "I'M HERE!"
And everybody knew it.
Here, 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! It was 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, it doesn't matter. Even if She turns on a dime to blow another Nor'easter in our face, I'll just blow her a kiss. The sun will rise the next day, there will be diamonds glittering in the melting snow, and the Cardinals will keep singing. We're home free. It's a done deal.
Spring has arrived!
Six years ago this spring, I was asked by one of the irregular regulars of 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 her Tonglen Practice for a number of years, I hadn't really picked up on her tradition's "slogan practice."
In fact, with decades of devotion to the Zen path, I had been a decidedly uppity and rejected the idea that studying and using a series of slogans could be useful. I huffed to myself, the Real Deal is beyond mere"words and letters" -- and kept moving.
Yet, this time something resonated. I paused and took a breath or two.
After all, I had been asked to teach meditation by the director of Community Yoga and Wellness Center a couple of years before. I said I'd have to teach it for free (some of the other teachers there weren't too happy with that), and I'd barter for the space as the Coordinator of the Caretaking Crew. (a fancy title for being the head, and often only, janitor. LOL). She agreed.
So I did.
Then a year later, a MMM CircleMate asked me to offer a Mindfulness Circle at the Recovery Learning Community.
So, I did.
Now, a Mindfulness CircleMate was asking me to apply myself to studying, practicing, and sharing the Lojong Trainings. Interestingly, I had picked Norman Fischer's Trainings in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong off of my son's bookshelf in his guest bedroom two weeks before that, and I had loved it! I couldn't resist that type of synchronicity. So, I was asked take on and share a Lojong Practice.
So I did.
A Layman Looks at Lojong
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. (Lojong means Mind Training in Tibetan.) These 59 slogans operate as mental reminders to frame our experience in particular ways -- both on and off the meditation cushion. The stated goal is to cultivate wisdom and compassion.
Being a Spiritual Practice Geek at heart, I've now studied the commentaries of Chogyam Trungpa, Pema Chodron, Traleg Kyabgon, B. Alan Wallace, as well as that of Zen Teacher Norman Fischer. It's been part of my daily practice for six years.
And, of course, the way I go about it looks a bit different than it was approached in medieval Tibet. Currently, I use a random number generator on my phone to select a daily slogan, then click another icon to read the commentary by Acharya Judy Lief that Tricycle has made available online . Often I will re-read another commentary or two over a cup of coffee before setting the meditation timers on my iPhone and taking my seat in front of my hOMe altar for an hour.
It's been an amazing ride.
At times, the synchronicity of slogan and life-situation seem mind-boggling. At other times, I'm left with scratching my head about why I'm staying with this particular practice. Yet, in all honesty, I've found Lojong to be extremely 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.
Then, there are some like slogan 21 (which I cast this morning):
"Always Maintain A Joyful Mind!"
I think a common first reaction to that slogan is "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 really "commandments". Like the Zen Precepts, these slogans aren't hard and fast should's. It's not about gain and loss, success and failure. Like Stephen Levine once said to me, "we've should on ourselves long enough." The slogans 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.
Slogan 21 isn't about putting a phony smile on our mugs or beating ourselves up if we can't. What then?
If Not Always,
More and More...
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, bright, and malleable quality of mind that is more or less accessible to each of us. As some of our more stressful conditioning has loosened, it is not uncommon to experience what some of the Zennie's refer to as "the dharma gate of ease and joy" -- at least for a moment or two. At times, it can be a profound experience. Yet it may emerge as a much more ordinary experience, a sense of the simple joy that exists as our heart connects with the energy of life in the present moment.
As Practice deepens, you also probably have had some experience with the fact that, like Mother Nature's spring weather, your emotional reality and energy level can sometimes "turn on a dime." Sometimes it's just as simple as noticing that your thinking up stormclouds, taking a breath and noticing the sun is shining and the birds are singing!
Increasingly, you will find that you have some agency. Sometimes, you can actually change the channel. You can consciously relax your body and mind more readily to find a sense of ease and good cheer -- even when Life is presenting you with a significant challenge -- like a long, harsh winter.
In fact, as the Practice unfolds and our Mindfulness provides more equanimity, most of us come to see that opening to and clearly facing the darker realities of our shared human condition also seems to bring a greater light and lightness to our lives. If you've stayed with it, you've been able to increasingly face and embrace the fears, the restlessness, the profound sadness, the numerous "inadequacies" of our lives with a greater and greater sense of ease. You see for yourself the essential impermanence inherent in life. You come to know for yourself, that "this, too, shall pass."
Then, as the Practice deepens, at a certain point we touch our True Nature. We see 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 with tears, perhaps emerging with 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
A year into these trainings, I began another blog. Life moved on and I quickly let go of it because I was already spending too much time in front of a computer screen, but I did create an annotated bibliography of the Lojong Trainings if you're interested and don't want to surf Google. Here's the link: A Layman Looks at Lojong.