Lojong Practice Journal: Don’t make gods into demons
The 59 slogans through a social justice lens
While Buddhism is a non-theistic religion — in that the figurehead is not a god, but an ordinary human being like you or me — it is not without gods and demons. There are many stories in which various gods and demons encounter great practitioners, achieving different levels of enlightenment as a result — Buddhism is indiscriminate when it comes to ‘sentient beings’.
But this slogan isn’t about gods or demons in the Christian context. It is, like many Buddhist teachings, a metaphor for how to practice.
As we study and apply the dharma in our lives, we will encounter difficulties. Sometimes we will struggle, which is entirely normal. We might even feel like we’re not getting anywhere or that the teachings just aren’t working, especially if we are looking for a quick fix to our neurosis.
Human beings are notoriously short-sighted. Our longing to be free from suffering can override logic. Rather than considering how many years (or lifetimes) we’ve spent training in our neurotic tendencies and concluding that perhaps it will take just as long to un-train ourselves, we can become convinced that the dharma is where the problem lies. Because a particular practice or teaching isn’t ‘fixing’ us to our liking on the timeline we wanted, we think the teaching has failed.
Such an approach can lead us to abandon the very medicine we need to ‘get woke’ — to be kinder, more compassionate beings and to cause less harm. We view something as valuable as the dharma as a ‘demon’ — not evil but something that tricked us into thinking it would work — rather than the ‘god’ it is.
The flaw, however, is not in the dharma (or whatever doctrine or spiritual path that spoke to you) but in our lack of patience. As long as we’re looking for something outside ourselves to save us or do the work for us, we’re not going to get anywhere very fast. When we practice with this slogan, we are practising taking personal responsibility for our state of mind, for doing the work that needs to be done and not expecting that something external is or should be responsible. This slogan invites us to make a commitment to do the work that we need to do, breaking the habit of blaming things outside of ourselves for our state of mind.
To counter-act this habitual pattern we must cultivate patience and take a much longer view. Because the dharma has been around for twenty-five hundred years, we can trust that it’s valuable. We can also trust that change is possible, if not always fast. As we practice, we can give ourselves a break and celebrate baby steps, rather than looking for breakthrough experiences. A baby step is easier to sustain than a giant leap, especially when we are walking on unfamiliar ground.
In my practice, I can see how I have disregarded parts of the dharma because they challenged me to do work I wasn’t interested in, or thought was asking too much. It’s important to go at our own pace, but a willingness to stretch ourselves is essentially why we are on this path. We must strike a balance, developing faith in the teachings, but also in ourselves. We should no more demonise ourselves than the dharma. After all, each and every one of us has Buddha-mind.
Originally published on Medium.
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