Our initial inspiration to study with a teacher or to undertake serious spiritual training has a tendency to fizzle away over time. It is one thing to enjoy a burst of enthusiasm because you’ve discovered that meditation and Zen training brings great benefit, but the real challenge is to keep going after the initial excitement wears off. That is exactly the point at which you begin to practice for real. If you stick with practice just when you think you have had enough, spiritual transformation begins.
This slogan is about three central aspects of meditation and Zen training: devotion, appreciation and discipline. The first aspect, devotion, has to do with your appreciation for the community, or sangha, where you learned the practice in the first place. Devotion is not based on hero worship or a fixation on a particular teacher. It is a true opening of the heart that expresses itself as gratitude for, and service to, the community that has taught you how to practice. It is important not to take this gift for granted, not to take this gift and run.
The second aspect is appreciation for meditation and practice, themselves. It is important to cultivate deep gratitude that you have been given effective methods to work with your mind and emotions, and to cultivate wisdom and kindness. It is good to know that loving-kindness is not something that you either have or you don’t have, but that it is a way of life that you can cultivate step-by-step through a consistent and on-going practice in a spiritual community.
The third aspect that it is important to maintain is spiritual discipline. Zen training gives you a way to work with yourself and to benefit others both during formal practice in the zendo and in the midst of everyday life. By conducting yourself with grace and dignity, you can carry the temple in your heart when you return to daily life and inspire the people around you. It takes many years of spiritual training to develop complete confidence in your own potential and to understand the enormous benefits of practice. Only then can you realize how fortunate you are to have entered a spiritual path with a discipline that works.
The point of this slogan is that it is important to pay close attention to the ups and downs of your inspiration, so that when devotion, appreciation and discipline begin to fade, you can bring yourself back. If you want to live out your life based on your spiritual training, it doesn’t work to dabble and then to quit. This slogan advises you to notice when your motivation wanes and stick with it anyway.
Today’s practice: Reflect on the balance of the three qualities of devotion, appreciation and discipline in your practice. Notice the waxing and waning of inspiration on the path, and how easy it is to let your initial inspiration just fade away. When that happens, deeply consider what would bring you back.
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.