A Zen’s-Eye View: Lojong slogan 44: Train in the three difficulties

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Zen training is a way to uncover and develop confidence in our own inherent goodness and in that of everyone we encounter. Zen meditation is a method for cultivating loving-kindness. You might think that this is easy, that all you have to do is sit around generating good and loving thoughts. But before we can shine with the light of loving-kindness, we have to enter the dark and have a good look at ourselves. We have to discover how we prevent loving-kindness from expressing itself in all circumstances.

This slogan is about facing character problems. It is pleasant to bask in moments of inspiration, calmness or generosity. To do so inspires hope and good feelings in us. But it is much harder to stay with our obstacles, blockages and neuroses long enough to figure out how to deal with them. It is embarrassing and disheartening to meet them, so we bounce away from them and pretend they don’t exist. We blindly hope that they will just go away.

According to the Lojong teachings, there are three difficulties we encounter with our character problems. The first difficulty is that they arise too quickly for us to catch. It is hard to slow our minds down so we can recognize that first instance when a neurotic thought or emotion arises. There are, of course endless varieties of character problems, but a common list of these upsetting emotions includes lust, aggression, ignorance, jealousy and pride. Usually, by the time we recognize that we have been captured by self-centred emotionalism, it is too late; we are already overwhelmed by it. So the first training is to try to be a little quicker to recognize our harmful tendencies. We need to see them as soon as they arise.

The second difficulty is that once harmful tendencies have moved in on us, it is hard to know what to do about them. They are deeply ingrained and very difficult to overcome. In Zen, we train to undermine them at their root, which is a fixation on the personal self. We train to let go of selfish motivations moment by moment.

The third difficulty is that ingrained harmful habits keep coming back. Sometimes it seems like it is impossible to make any deep and thorough changes in our character. In Zen meditation, we learn to recognize these habits sooner and to release them before they penetrate our analysis of a situation and affect the words and actions we use to meet each moment. We learn to let go of a self-definition that buys into our conditioned harmful tendencies, to let go of attachment to them, and to stop inviting them back.

Suggested practice: For the next two weeks, instead of battling big deal emotional hang-ups, practice paying attention to the tiny little shifts of awareness that recognize when harmful habits push themselves into your thoughts, words and actions. Then let them float by like small white clouds in an empty blue sky.

This column is a long series of short essays exploring the Lojong Slogans. It is inspired by the work of Judy Lief.

Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Creston’s ZenWords Zen Centre. For more information, she can be reached at 250-428-3390.