Lojong Practice Journal: The Main Points
The 59 slogans through a social justice lens
For a few weeks now my wife and I have been selecting one Lojong slogan to contemplate, study and practice for the week. We make our selection from a stack of cards we keep on our shrine, a purchase she made when we were both in Boulder, Colorado for a nine-day retreat. Each Sunday we move the top one to the bottom of the pile, thus choosing the next one.
We set the intention to be mindful of that slogan for the rest of the week — to develop an understanding of it and apply it as often as is relevant. Some are easier than others, as some are ones we are familiar with from years of listening to and reading Dharma. But some, like the one this week, require research and clarification.
This time, practice the main points.
We did a quick search online and discovered a wonderful ongoing commentary on Lojong by Judy Leif. Here we were able to determine that there are three main points and they are:
It is more important to benefit others than it is to benefit yourself.
Practice and study are both important, but practice is more important than study.
Cultivating bodhicitta is the most important practice you can do.
Or, as my wife recorded them:
Benefiting others > self
Practice > study
Bodhicitta > everything
To understand these, there’s a bit of groundwork to lay out. The first, is the importance of selflessness, which is a tricky one. As someone who used to — in my mother’s words — ‘rescue strays’, I learned some hard lessons about it not being my job to fix anyone, nor that I am responsible for other people’s happiness.
But point number one isn’t about sacrificing our own wellbeing for the sake of another, nor being accountable for how other people feel. When we genuinely work to benefit others, with discerning wisdom, our actions may not on the surface seem to be very beneficial. For example, we might know someone who smokes, and having a cigarette might make them feel good right now, but we are aware it’s not actually going to be of benefit long-term. Perhaps they have even had a diagnosis recently that means, if they don’t quit smoking, they can expect to die within a few months. So we can benefit them by encouraging them to stop, but also, possibly, by actually taking their cigarettes away from them. They may become resentful, even bitter towards us, but if we are acting from a place of wanting to be of genuine benefit — not from a place of thinking we are better than they are, or out of a selfish need to ‘save’ them so we feel good about ourselves — we can assess the situation and act wisely.
From the point of view of human suffering being collective, what we do to support one individual can and will help and improve life for many people, ourselves included — so working to benefit others is of benefit to ourselves. For example, we can recycle and compost and make an effort to reduce waste because we appreciate that the planet is a shared eco-system and what we do on an individual scale contributes to what is happening with climate change on a global scale. My motivation is not to feel good about myself or make my neighbours look bad, but to address how much I am contributing to pollution and waste. I might not care about recycling, or about reducing how much I’m driving, or about putting on a sweater instead of jacking up the heat in my house if my focus is on just my comfort and what’s convenient for me.
When we work to benefit others we move out of a realm of instant gratification and individual wants. We begin to see how short-term personal comfort can be detrimental to our survival, because we don’t exist independent from the people, animals and environment around us.
Point number two, that practice is more important than study, is pretty straight forward. It is one thing to have an intellectual understanding of something, but quite another to live it.
While I sometime struggle with turning study into practice, it’s never been something I’ve not understood how to do. I think of it like I think of any skill I’m learning or developing. I wouldn’t have said to my art teacher: “It’s great that you’ve taught me to paint, but how am I supposed to paint when I’m not in the classroom?”
When we learn to meditate we are being given a formal practice we can use to form the habit of staying present. It’s a technique we learn, but it’s up to us to apply it in our life.
It’s up to us to remember to come back to the breath, not just when we’re sitting on a cushion, but when we’re in a meeting, or we’re frustrated with something our teenager just did, or when someone cuts us off in traffic. It’s up to us to choose to be present when we’re waiting in a queue at the bank or for our name to be called at the doctor’s office, instead of distracting ourselves with our phones. It’s up to us to test our speech, to figure out what is actually skillful and what isn’t, to be willing to get it wrong so we can start to understand what right speech looks like. It’s up to us to genuinely reflect on our work, our relationships, and our conduct and be honest about the things we do to cause harm so we can address them.
In short, we can study all we want, but, as my mum likes to say: To know and not to do is not to know.
I remind myself of this by considering my actions and speech and how they might be perceived. I ask myself, often, if I’m living the dharma, or just talking about it.
“Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people.”
The final point, that bodhichitta is greater than everything, is a point of life-long study for me. Bodhicitta is a sanskrit word that has a multitude of definitions in English translations. I appreciate that there are so many because it helps address what might have been lost in translation, and means I can’t pin down a single word in English that encompasses it. As a result I find have a much better understanding of the fullness of bodhicitta.
I have come to understand bodhicitta as a heartfelt longing to alleviate the suffering in the world, to bear witness to the human condition, to cultivate genuine compassion, discerning wisdom and an awakened mind. Bodhicitta is the tender heart of sadness, the quality of seeing how suffering is caused and wanting to show up for it and address it without fear, anger or repression.
Bodhicitta is a city full of people showing up to help complete strangers clear sewage out of their basements after a flood. Bodhicitta is a mother choosing to forgive the man who raped and killed her child because she recognises that holding onto hatred and anger changes nothing. Bodhicitta is a police officer refraining from responding violently to a domestic abuse call, and instead listening and holding space for the emotion involved to tap into the fear underneath the rage, and ultimately provide comfort. Bodhicitta is inviting the person threatening you with a gun and demanding your money to join you for a drink and some food, asking about their day and diffusing the situation because you recognise their humanity.
These are all actual examples I have seen in the news or heard on podcasts. These are genuine flashes of it experienced by individuals and groups, spoken about in recognition of just how powerful it is when we are able to see a situation fully, outside of our own personal thoughts and feelings. Bodhicitta is an awakened mind that sees interconnectedness and a tender heart that is big enough for life. It’s a longing to be free of our petty wants, so we can reside in the awareness of our connectivity and be of the greatest benefit.
Obviously these points are not something to do for only a week, but by reflecting on them all this week, I hope that they will sink in a little further, that they will become a default more often than not. In fact, I have already come up with a way to combine them into a single point that I can use as a mantra: Benefit others with the practice of bodhicitta.
Originally published on Medium
This is part of a series of posts I am doing to support my practice.
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