"Mindfulness and Meditation allow us to open our hearts, relax our bodies, and clear our minds enough to experience the vast, mysterious, sacred reality of life directly. With Practice we come to know for ourselves that eternity is available in each moment.

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call:
Musings on Life and Practice
by a Longtime Student of Meditation

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Starting Where You Are: First, Train in the Preliminaries

"If we are willing to stand fully in our own shoes and never give up on ourselves, 
then we will be able to put ourselves in the shoes of others and never give up on them. 
True compassion does not come from wanting to help out those less fortunate 
than ourselves but from realizing our kinship with all beings."
-- Pema Chodron, 

Last week, the folks in the Wednesday Mindfulness Circle, soundly outvoted me and we decided to focus on the Lojong Teachings of Tibetan Buddhism for the foreseeable future.  Two of the MMM regulars, Michelle and Stephanie, who've been quite patient with my meanderings for just over a year now, led the charge and I committed to assembling an annotated bibliography and posting the text of one slogan the week before each twice monthly meeting.  At that rate it will take a little over two years to cover the 59 slogans used in Lojong Training.  After working with them for awhile now myself, it seems like a worthwhile thing to do.

In my own inimitable style this propelled me to support the new effort with a new blog, A Layman Looks at Lojong.     http://alaymanlooksatlojong.blogspot.com/   If you're interested in the bibliography or the Full Disclaimer there you can surf there now if you'd like.  The post below is just a copy of that one!

A Disclaimer:  The Lojong Teachings emerge out of Tibetan Buddhism and have been passed down from guru to student for about a thousand years.  Except for a couple of weekend gatherings at Deer Park with Geshe Sopa and an evening's talk by the Dalai Lama in a huge auditorium in Madison, Wisconsin years ago, I have never been in the Presence of a Teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition let alone formally studied with one.  Furthermore, I am not now, nor have ever been, an authorized teacher -- except by the State of Illinois as a high school social studies teacher back in the 1970's.  That certification expired long ago.   (Read the Full Disclaimer at A Layman Looks at Lojong

Starting Where You Are: First, Train in the Preliminaries

 I had practiced meditation, attending handful's of intensive retreats in various traditions for over 35 years by the time Betsy handed me a copy of Pema Chodron's Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living nearly ten years ago.  Longtime Director of Gampo Abbey, a student of Chogyam Trungpa, Pema Chodron had me hooked with the very first sentence of the Preface:


Although I had certainly experienced a number of "heart openings" over the years, both on and off the zafu, I poured through Start Where You Are to discover a new approach to the Practice, a new way to examine the nature of heart and mind, and --more importantly -- a systematic method to approach the deep conditioning that separates us from one another and our own True Nature.

As well as offering forth guidance on two forms of sitting meditation, Shamatha-Vipashyana and Tonglen, the 59 slogans of the Lojong Teachings offer a means to approach our lives in a way that cultivates kindness, clarity and compassion.  Organized as 7 main points, I think that anyone who explores them and takes them to heart is in for a very interesting,  perhaps sometimes heartrending, but profoundly heartwarming, adventure toward the One Love we share.

Slogan 1: First, Train in the Preliminaries.

Slogan 1: First, Train in the Preliminaries.

Interestingly, in Start Where You Are, Pema doesn't refer to the traditional "Four Reminders" that are considered to be the "preliminaries" in the Tibetan tradition.  Instead she refers to the basic Shamatha-Vipashyana and Lojong meditation practice as the fundamental foundation of the Lojong, pointing out that the quality of consciousness involved as both the means and ends of Practice. (Fair enough, although I have a dear friend who doesn't Sit that has still found great value in Pema's Lojong teachings.)
In other works* though, Pema does offer forth her understanding of the Four Reminders.   

Here's Pema Chodron's version of the Four Reminders:

"In your daily life, try to:
     1) Maintain an awareness of the preciousness of human life.
     2) Be aware of the reality that life ends; death comes for everyone.
     3) Recall that whatever you do, whether virtuous or not, has a result; what goes around comes around.
     4) Contemplate that as long as you are too focused on self-importance and too caught up in thinking about how you are good or bad, you will suffer. Obsessing about getting what you want and avoiding what you don't want does not result in happiness. "

In Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings of the Practice of Lojong, Zen Teacher Norman Fischer entitles his chapter on the first slogan, "Resolve to Begin".  If we actually do take these four reminders to heart,  a commitment to the work to be done becomes pretty obvious.

Along with the Bodhisattva Vow, I think this is Mahayana Buddhism in a nutshell.  With these Reminders, we are called to step up to the plate and squarely face the reality that the absolute Preciousness of this Human Life Dances across the Abyss of our Inevitable Demise.  We are also called to consider that Karma is actually the way it works, and to see for ourselves that undo self-importance, and continually obsessing on trying to control things to our advantage hasn't really made us happy.   

Then what?

With Lojong Practice, we are called to carefully and gently examine the nature of our own experience, to awaken our hearts to the immensity of our shared human condition --from the inside out.  As we slowly learn to let go of the incessant storylines that run through our heads in ego's fear- laden attempt to create a solid, secure reality where none exists, as we learn to stay Present to our actual experience more and more, the world shifts.  Slowly releasing the armor around our hearts, as time goes on we learn to 'lighten up"and not take ourselves too seriously.  Touching our True and Tender Heart, we may even find ourselves more able to actually "Love our neighbor as ourselves", perhaps even "Love our enemies" -- our own "demons" included.

If more of us would try this out, I think we might even survive as a species.

I can't think of anything better to do.  How about you? 

*As promised I've begun an annotated bibliography at A Layman Looks at Lojong


Lucky to have a mala said...

I can't stress enough receiving these teachings from an authentic Master of this tradition who has realized the essence of these teachings. They will be able to answer any questions , not from an intellectual understanding , but from their realization.

They are profound teachings and of course starting with a book can help. Books are also great after one has received a transmission of the teaching. But it's easier to not get lost if you have a guide.

Good Luck on your journey!

reginald surict said...

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