Lojong Practice Journal: Double-Feature!
The 59 slogans through a social justice lens
It’s been quite some time since I published a Lojong commentary. This is because, beginning last year, I shifted from writing about them in any order to writing about them in the order they are presented. I made this decision partly because it was easier to track where I was in the commentaries, but also because I thought it would help me move through them quicker.
At first this approach helped, until I reached slogan seventeen: ‘Practice the five strengths, the condensed heart instructions’. Yet another slogan referencing another list of practice tools. I set about writing it as I always do — by researching other commentaries and finding out just what the ‘five strengths’ were. As ever, I found many translations and several interpretations of what it all means. I also quickly discovered that this slogan goes hand-in-hand with the next, ‘The Mahayana instruction for ejection of consciousness at death is the five strengths: how you conduct yourself is important’.
I understood enough from studying the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, that both slogans are pointing at the practices we do in our day-to-day lives so that, upon death, our minds will be stable enough to enter a Buddha-realm. And just writing that sentence makes me cringe a little, as it carries an air of pretension and even more to unpack.
Ultimately, this left me so stuck on both slogans. Everything I wrote devolved into a heady-practice or an academic assessment, rather than something grounded and applicable to our modern-day lives. These slogans don’t seem to carry the same timeless quality of so many others—or at least slogan 18 certainly doesn’t. In the time of the Buddha, the practices were for monastics. The intention was to end the cycle of birth, life and death. These slogans are basically the essential instructions so we won’t be reborn in one of the six realms after we die, but instead enter nirvana.
There are practitioners today, monastics and householders, for whom this might be their aim. For a time it was what I endeavoured to do. I held the conviction (the first of the five strengths) that any of us could leave samsara through the practices of Dharma. I put so much effort (the second of the five strengths) into this belief, that I even had, thanks to mindfulness (the third strength), a profound awakened experience. This spurred me on, increasing my discipline for practice (the fourth strength) and the entire cycle fed and fuelled my aspiration (the fifth and final strength) to realise the ultimate potential I have for awakening.
But then I went to Yarne and spent 49 days immersed in studying the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, considering what it meant to strive to be a Buddha.
While non-attachment is not the same as detachment, there is such an element of letting go required in Buddhist practice that has many great historical practitioners appear almost cold in their relationships with others. The Buddha himself, in his intense longing to be of benefit to all being by getting at the root of suffering, left his wife and infant son. Even upon his return to their lives, he continued to stay at a distance from them, or so we are told.
During that 49-day retreat, I sat with what it would mean for me to become a Buddha, and if I was willing — truly and utterly willing — to relinquish every attachment. Before I met my wife I was very close to making this decision. At the time, becoming a nun appealed to me. I had reached the point where practice felt more significant than anything else and I thought the only way to make it centre to my life was to become a renunciate.
Practice is still the most important thing in my life. It is centre to everything I do. It took living like a monastic for 49 days for me to realise that I could walk this path and still have relationships — that in fact, relationships were core to my awakening. It is through relating to others I have had the most growth, the greatest realisations and the most profound, lasting breakthroughs. It is also through relating to others I’ve seen how ordinary it is to open our hearts and respond to the world from a place of compassion and love.
Whether any of us are striving for Buddhahood (Not that one should ‘strive’ for such a thing, exactly) doesn’t change the fact that how we practice today, in the moment, will determine how we receive the next moment, and the next, right up until our last. I do not know, upon death, where my conciousness will go, if anywhere.
Like anyone else, I have no idea what awaits when this body dies. I do know that I will die one day, and how I conduct myself in this life, knowing it is finite, matters. I know that I am more awake than I was even six months ago. That my continued belief that I can be a better person, more aware and less prone to cause harm, keeps me on this path. I know that I notice a lot more than I did before, I’m more spacious than I was, and my capacity to love all beings only increases with time. And that definitely gives me strength.
This blog was originally published on Medium.
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