Lojong Practice Journal: Always abide by the three basic principles
The 59 slogans through a social justice lens
In studying the Lojong Slogans, I often research other commentaries, especially with a slogan like ‘Always abide by the three basic principles’, where the principles are not explicitly stated. So I went looking for what was meant by the three basic principles and I found a distinct lack of consensus. This is not surprising, given that these slogans were developed over a period of several hundred years in the 12th century and have been translated many times since then, into different languages by teachers from different cultures and Buddhist sects.
I did find, however, that the various translations could be divided into two different lists of three principles:
List A / List B
Maintain the moral precepts of your spiritual path / Honour your commitments
Practice compassion / Refrain from outrageous action
Extend your practice equally to everyone / Practice patience
One might wonder which set, A or B, are the three basic principles the original slogan is referencing. From my preliminary research, list A seems to be from the original slogans as they were taught by the Bengali master, Atisha, whilst list B seems to have come from Tibet and lineages influenced by Geshe Chekawa. But I don’t think it matters which came first. Both teachers are great sources of wisdom, and since one of the primary tenants of Buddhism is non-attachment, and therefore not getting fundamentalist about the dharma, I am going to unpack each of them. They are equally beneficial and their value lies in how they speak to us or how we are able to apply them to our path in life, regardless of which set came first.
1. Maintain the moral precepts of your spiritual path / Honour your commitments
To maintain our moral precepts on a spiritual path could be presented as saying the same thing as honouring our commitments, but there is a distinction created by pluralizing the word ‘commitment’. The moral precepts of our spiritual path are just one of many commitments. It could be said to be the most important one, as morality may need to be the focus of the ground we walk on if that is something we are struggling with, but that isn’t always the case.
Stating that we should honour our commitments expands the discipline to be inclusive of all the vows we take as practitioners, and all the intentions we set. There is no morality in my commitment to work with my mind, or at least not in the sense that we might think of morality, but it is still a commitment I honour. It’s also a good reminder to think about all the commitments we make, spiritual and otherwise, and what it means to respect and uphold them.
2. Practice compassion / Refrain from outrageous action
Again, these two are related but not the same. Refraining from outrageous action is a way of practicing compassion, but compassion is much bigger than just not acting outrageously. I found it particularly interesting that this statement of refraining from being outrageous comes directly from the translation by the Nalanda committee done in conjunction with Chögyam Trungpa, a teacher infamous for his outrageous conduct. Either way though, which works best for us really depends on our path, and it’s not a matter of either/or so much as both/and. We could work with both, equally or with a focus on whichever one helps us to stretch the most.
3. Extend your practice equally to everyone / Practice patience
In the case of these two, I much prefer the one from version A, if only because this is explicitly saying what it means to practice patience. Extending our practice to include everyone is about expanding our hearts and minds so we can show love and care for even those we would consider an enemy. This takes immense patience, but it also requires compassion and equanimity.
It’s important to consider what we mean when we say a word like patience. As a practice, patience is our ability to keep showing up, to bear witness, and to try again. It’s not about tolerating or stoically putting up with harmful behaviour. We should also refrain from seeing it dualistically, as applicable to things outside of us. Again, this is something I appreciate about the principle in version A — ‘equally to everyone’ is inclusive of ourselves as well as others.
Regardless of which set of principles you work with, or if you choose to work with both, all six have a lot to offer and are equally valid for informing our practice.
This blog was originally published on Medium.
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