A Zen’s-Eye View: Three basic pinciples needed

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We are now at the midpoint of the 59 mind-training slogans that 10th century Buddhist teacher Atisha saved from the Muslim invasions of Indonesia and carried to the Tibetan monks, who adopted them into their teaching methods. This set of teachings is called the Lojong Slogans, and up to this midpoint, they have been instructing us on how to loosen the grip of self-cherishing and devote our lives to working for the happiness of others.  This slogan offers a vital reminder that regardless of the depth of our spiritual realization, it is wise to keep coming back to three basic principles.

Slogan 23 is the first of 15 slogans that help us keep our practice alive through the application of precepts that release enlightened behavior. Atisha suggests that at the base of all disciplined practice are three basic principles: honoring your commitments, refraining from outrageous actions, and developing patience. These three principles are like training wheels; they keep us from falling until we stabilize our practice.

Honouring your commitments: For the general population who commit to working with these slogans for the sole purpose of mind-training, “commitment” means that they do not back down from the training but stick with it even when it is boring or uncomfortable. For Buddhists, “commitment” means that we keep the two basic vows that form the core of our Buddhist practice: the vow we took to walk the Buddhist path and the vow we took to devote our lives to working for the happiness of others. In the first, we vowed to work with ourselves to practice sitting meditation and mindfulness; in the second, we vowed to work with others to develop wisdom and compassion. When one takes such vows, they inspire, but because it is easy to drift away and forget, we refresh those basic commitments every day in our morning practice.

Refraining from outrageous actions: The advice here is to be steady and modest. Over time, consistent mind training strengthens the mind just as consistent exercise strengthens the body. In both cases, it is not necessary to show off this strength with dramatic feats of power. In other words, this principle instructs us to refrain from drawing attention to ourselves, to refrain from giving into the seduction of being seen as spiritually advanced or special in any way. Atisha is telling us to practice humility and to refrain from using our newfound strength for personal fame and gain.

Patience: Mind training is not something you race through and then move on to something else. It is a lifelong occupation. Here, Atisha is recommending patience with our own successes and stumblings on the path and with the successes and stumblings of others. In this way, we get to know ourselves and others without the barrier of praise and blame. Without praise and blame, our community relations become straightforward, steady and realistic.

Practice suggestion: What does it mean to make a commitment? What helps you to maintain the commitments you have made, and what throws you off track?

This column is a long series of short essays exploring the meaning of 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.