We have covered all the slogans in the Evaluation of Mind Training but there is one more thing we should cover before we move on. It is not an actual slogan but it is the glue that hold all the slogans in this section together. Throughout our exploration of this slogan we looked at practicing around releasing the ego, trusting our inner wisdom, keeping a sense of humor and practicing with distraction. All four of these slogan come into play our of one thing – our relationships.
Norman Fisher gave two great quotes around this in his introduction to this section. First he refers to this section as “the discipline of relationship”. He says “we usually don’t think of relationship as a discipline. But it is a discipline after all. For it is through relationship that we most fruitfully expand our horizons and train our minds to be compassionate and resilient.” This is an important thing to keep in the forefront of our practice. We need the people in our lives; family, good friends, mentors, even the people we rarely pay attention to and the ones who get on our last nerves. We cannot train in kindness without them all. Kindness is not just about being nice to the people we like. It’s about connecting with Metta in all experiences and all experience is relational.
Moreover, we cannot accurately evaluate our practice except through our relationships with others. According to Norman “dealing with others isn’t just dealing with others. We think of it that way, but that’s a mistake. Dealing with others is dealing with ourselves dealing with others. There are no others apart from us, and there is no us apart from them. Our problems with others are our problems with ourselves and vice versa. Recognizing this is the first principle.” We need relationship to practice with these slogans. What do you think the implications would be if we could see relationship as practice? Do you think liberation of the mind would be possible if you never had contact with another person?
This week’s slogan is about distraction – If you can practice even when distracted, you are well trained. This is probably one of the most important principle of our entire practice. It presents the idea, or I should say, the reality of distraction as a natural part of practice. In addition, including it as the fourth and final slogan in the Evaluation of Mind Training section is perfect. How we see and work with distraction says a lot about our practice and whether it is pointed towards liberation or just more suffering.
There are two aspects of distraction and this slogan supports both. First, distraction carries with it a truth that you have moved away from awareness. It means you have become lost in thought; some distant situation, memory, emotional neurosis or the like. Often we think this slide away from practice is a negative thing; that we have done something wrong. This slogan reminds us that distraction is a natural and normal part of practice. The point is not to avoid being distracted but rather to bring distraction on to the path just like everything else about being human.
The second aspect of distraction that this slogan supports is that distraction can actually a gift. Norman Fisher makes an excellent point in this regard. He says we use distraction to help us return to the practice the way we use the ground to help us up when we fall to the ground. Think of it. When we fall to the ground, we don’t get upset with the ground. On the contrary, we push off the ground to get back up. What if we used distraction this same way? What would our practice look like if distraction is what reminded us to return? We would need to hold distraction the same way we hold walking, breathing, eating, sleeping and waking up. These are all things the mind does for us. We simply remember and re-remember over and over again.
What do you think?
This week we are going to be exploring the fourth slogan in the Evaluating Your Training section. The traditional wording is Always Maintain Only A Joyous Mind. This slogan seems to point to the idea that we need to keep up our encouragement to practice and nothing does that like a sense of joy. We are not trying to practice out of a sense of guilt, should, have-tos or must. We practice out of a sense of joy.
We do this by maintaining a sense of humor and cheerfulness. If you are holding some kind of judgment about how good or advanced your practice is, you are just stuck in more “selfing” and ego. From the mind’s perspective, you will never measure up given that the standard bearer is Buddha. The mind, however, is a motor and has no basis for its comparison. To follow it’s pronouncements and criticism is like taking financial advice from a 3 year old; maybe share, maybe not, who knows why, but the brown coin taste better so keep that.
I think our ability to keep a cheerful spirit around practice has to do with two things. First, you really need to see the irrationality and haphazardness of the conditioned mind. As long as we think there is “someone” doing something we can continuously blame that “someone” for something. If you really understood the nature of consequential intersection of random conditions and their effect on your life, you would truly live in laughter all day. Second, you need to feel the release of suffering without you doing a thing to change your circumstances. As long as we believe that certain conditions bring about happiness, ease and joy, we will continue to strive for them. When you start to experience happiness, peace, joy, etc as a states of mind, you will never worry about how much money, stuff, praise, pleasure or the like you have in your life. You will never be without joy.
Do you think this is possible? Lets explore this a bit on Thursday.
This week we will look at the 2nd slogan in the evaluating your practice section. The traditional version is Of The Two Witnesses, Hold The Principle One. Here the two witnesses are other peoples views, thoughts, opinions and your own. The principle witness is your own insight and that is where you put your trust. This slogan points to that common saying: to thine own self be true. It is based in the fundamental understanding that no matter where your life takes you, “you” have always been there, and will continue to be there.
You know the truth about who you are; and it is not the opinions, criticism/praise and judgment of other people. The more aware and comfortable you are with your own truth, the stronger your inner core. You will not be as swayed by the whims and judgments of others. You are your own best judge. Believe it or not, you aren’t even as critical of yourself as you think. Often we criticize ourselves because of what we think others would think of us. But if we just listen to the small still voice within, we might learn to hear our own sense of what is true for us. We might learn to take in a more accurate assessment of how we are doing. The more we listen, the louder and stronger the voice becomes until it might become the guide that shows us the way to liberation.
There is, however, a caution to this slogan which I think Norman Fisher brings out nicely. Norman calls this slogan Trust Your Own Eyes and points out its seemingly contradictory appearance from last weeks slogan of releasing the ego. He points out that many of these slogans come in pairs with a balancing between the two energies or understanding. Here we are balancing between our ego driven thoughts, opinions and expectations against the open, understanding, acceptance of our heart. Often we are raised to let the ego rule. This slogan gives us permission to let our heart have an equal say. And when it is all said and done, trust the voice of the heart first.
This week we will be beginning the fifth point of the Tibetan Lojong Mind Training: Cultivating Lovingkindness. The section is called Evaluation of Mind Training. There are four slogans in this section. Norman Fisher, in his book Training in Compassion, gives an excellent explanation of the overall direction of this section so I am just going to quote it here:
“If our fourth point was Make practice your whole life, don’t think of it as something extra, this fifth point is the necessary next step. Remember, we are talking about a process of training. That is, envisioning your life as a process of opening and growing rather than simply enduring what happens to you, willy-nilly. If you are going to adopt a practice or training point of view for you life, you will need a way of assessing, of seeing how you are doing as the process unfolds. You will need feedback.”
The first evaluation tool is the slogan All Dharma Agrees At One Point or as Norman says There’s Only One Point. That one point is letting go of the ego. It is the realization of the phrase “this is not me, this is not mine, this is not myself”. We can understand that something is happening but whatever it is; it is not me. We can understand that I have some thing but whatever I have; it is not mine. We can understand that there is a being present and while I am responsible for the conduct (deeds, actions, thoughts and speech) of this being, it is not myself. Everything about this path is ultimately pointing to letting go of our ego.
Learning to investigate our mind-states, our possessiveness, our sense of becoming, or wishing not to become is the greatest tool we have for assessing how we are doing on the path and releasing the ego. Have you ever considered what makes you think you are experiencing an emotion or do you simply assume for are the emotion? Have you ever considered checking-in with how possessive you are with “your stuff”? What would it mean if you lived like the things you possessed were “borrowed”? Finally, what if you knew (not simply hoped) that all your so called “character flaws” were not you at all but rather habits that you could up-root and release if you were willing to pay attention to the conditions that cause them to arise? Would you do it?
We’ll explore this slogan a little more on Thursday. See you then…
This week we will look at the second and only other slogan in section 4 – practicing in one’s whole life. This slogan teaches us to apply the Five Strengths (Determination, Familiarization, Seed of Virtue, Reproach and Aspiration) at the moment of death. As hard as it is to remember to be mindful on a good day, it may seem near impossible to expect someone to remember the Five Strengths at the moment of their death. This would certainly be true if we continue to avoid the idea of death.
This practice, however, is rooted in the fundamental truths of suffering and impermanence. What aspect of being human brings us more suffering than the reality of our own impermanence. In truth, the more intimate we become with death the less suffering we will experience around the idea of it’s truth. My trust in this wisdom does not come from having been close to actual death. It comes from my actual experience of intimacy with suffering emotionally, physically and mentally. I have less fear of anxiety now because I have been truly up close and personal with it such that it has lost it’s sting.
This week we will explore how to get up close and personal with our own demise. According to Trungpa Rinpoche, death is an important part of practice. It’s going to happen sooner or later. We willingly practice with all aspects of suffering in life. Although we cannot prepare for the actual moment, we can prepare for its reality by practicing with the Five Strengths in both life and realization of death. What do you think it would mean to your life if you spent time contemplating on the realness and inevitability of your death rather than obsessing over ways to prolong your life? How do we balance this with practicing for the cultivation of loving-kindness and wellbeing? It’s that just another way of prolonging life? See you tomorrow:)
This week is the last practice around the five strengths – the strength of aspiration. This strength is connected to the practice. According to Trungpa Rinpoche, a practitioner should (1) end his or her meditation with the aspiration to single-handedly free all beings from suffering, (2) hold the relative reality (that human life is bound by suffering) and ultimate reality (enlightenment of myself and all beings is possible in this lifetime) at all times, even in dreams and (3) apply far-reaching kindness, generosity and love in spite of whatever chaos and/or obstacles arise. Basically, this strength is our deepest aspirations in practice but you’ll have to look between the lines to see where the strength comes from.
First, having an aspiration to single-handedly free all beings from suffering may seem ridiculous and not even possible on the first pass. But if you contemplate the possibility, you can see that this aspect is really pointing to the aspiration of genuine Metta. In Metta practice we send the aspiration of liberation to our self, those we admire, friends/family, neutral beings and difficult beings. In other words…everyone. Also, when we send Metta we are not doing some half-hearted ritual. True Metta is connected to our heart and sent as true reality. We are in affect, single-handled seeking to free all beings from suffering.
Second, often we want to practice in a way that the relative reality of samsara will end and everything will be in the peace and ease of ultimate reality. This, however, is contrary to the nature of liberation. Liberation of the mind – enlightenment – would only be present without preference. This means we can’t prefer one state over another. We need to learn to hold the truth that to be human means to be in samsara and simultaneously see the freedom that lies within it. It takes practice to see this and that is the strength of this second aspect.
Finally, having connected to Metta and acceptance of the true nature of human existence – we simply bring the practice in all things. When we have some insight, we look deeper. If we get a sense of freedom around an area of our life, we start in on another area. We do this by bring kindness, generosity and love into everything. And when we can’t – we investigate what is preventing us. Most of us rarely live with the kind of kindness, generosity and love that beings such as the Buddha, Pema Chodron, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Harriet Tubman, St. Teresa and Thich Nhat Hanh, Archbishop Desmond Tutu live with. We simply assume that they are special. What if we actually aspired to live with this level of kindness, generosity and love. Do we really believe our lives would be worse off? Have you ever considered what stops you from living such a life? I’m willing to bet than none of these beings knew what their lives would turn into and that they struggled and continue to struggle with the same chaos and obstacles we struggle with.