The next four slogans suggest criteria that we can rely on to evaluate the effectiveness of our Zen training. How do we know if we are going off the rails in our spiritual practice? How do we know the extent to which we are making the teachings real in daily life?
There are many Buddhist sects in British Columbia. In the BC Interior, for example, we have a Theravadan monastery north of Kamloops, a Vipassana centre near Merritt, a Tibetan centre in Nelson and here, in Creston, we have a Zen centre. Some teachers have many followers, others only a few. There are different titles and robes. Sometimes one style of Buddhism becomes trendy for a while and then fades out of fashion. Each form of Buddhism carries cultural influences. But all Buddhist teachings make the same essential point: To measure our progress of Buddhist training, we must examine our daily lives.
Looking inwards, it sometimes seems that we are making progress, but at other times it seems that the whole endeavor has been a waste of time. It all depends on our mood. Sometimes we imagine that years have gone by and we seem to be no different than when we began — or even worse. At other times, we notice that we have become a bit calmer or a bit more aware, or even a bit kinder. We are discouraged one day and inspired the next. So how do we measure spiritual progress? What should we be looking for?
According to this slogan, in looking outward, it is important not to be misled by cultural conditioning, the trappings of popularity or the appearance of spiritual power. In looking inward it is important not to be caught up with shifting moods or superficial changes. Instead, we must always remember the essential point of all Buddhist teachings, which is to give up ego clinging. Unlike Christian and Islamic teachings, Buddhism emphasizes that there is no fixed self that we need to protect from suffering after death, and there is no set of beliefs that we have to adhere to if we are to ensure a blissful afterlife in heaven.
All Buddhist teachings make the same essential point: The way to be free of suffering is to dismantle the delusive ideas that imprison us in self-cherishing. The essential teaching here is that the idea of a fixed self that continues after death encourages ego-clinging, encourages us to find motivation in the idea of saving ourselves from suffering. In Buddhism, we train to cease from polluting our lives and the lives of others with belief-based egos. When we think in this way, whatever happens in our lives becomes a way to measure spiritual progress because it is in our daily exchanges that we can observe the extent to which we have shed self-concern.
Practice suggestion: For the next two weeks, try to pay attention to how your solid sense of separateness is provoked. Notice the thoughts and sensations that arise with reactions such as defensiveness, territoriality and concern about how to satisfy self-cherishing. Notice the happiness that arises when something has drawn you out, beyond self-absorption.
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.