This slogan is not only about jealousy, but also about irritability in general. If meditation practice or mind training increases irritability and touchiness, then something is off. It is time to talk to a teacher about your practice so she or he can make some suggestions. Zen practice makes one less susceptible to jealousy and irritability, not more.
At times, everyone gets thin-skinned and bristles at the slightest provocation. Or we may have developed the habit of isolating and hiding under a thick layer of armor. But instead of bouncing between those two extremes, we can develop softness and toughness hand-in-hand, so that the heightened sensitivity and increased mindfulness that develop through diligent Zen practice do not provide more reasons to be either jealous and upset, or closed off and hunkered down.
Working with slogan 57 is not a recommendation to stop noticing that some people have more than we do — more money, more power, more ability, more friends, more realization, more intelligence, more creativity and more teachings. The list of things we can envy is endless. The idea of this slogan is to keep the clarity of that observation, without letting it tailspin us into fits of jealousy and envy.
Jealousy can be a real cop-out. It offers a good excuse not to accept the conditions of our life as we find them in the present moment. While painful, jealousy is entertaining: We can brood about how much easier it would all be if we had the life that other people have. But, in the end, jealousy can deflate the deep inner confidence that develops through practice. If we revel in comparing our lives to all those lucky ones who have more than we do, a truly abundant situation can seem to be poverty-stricken and hopeless. Jealousy feeds self-absorption and makes us feel a big ball of resentment and petty-mindedness.
There is a beautiful simplicity and stubbornness to Zen practice. Although it takes place in a kind of jungle of lurking resentments and swirling emotional upheavals and distractions, in practice we can see that jungle for what it is, accept it, and even go so far as to appreciate it. What’s great is that we do not have to wait for a better alternative, but we can go right ahead with a practice that enacts and lives out an enlightened mind. You can relate matter-of-factly to an emotion like jealousy, and stop seeing it as a mistake, threat or embarrassment. It may come and go, but it no longer captures you.
Today’s practice: Think of someone you know who you are jealous or envious of, and take a look at all the characteristics that spark that feeling. Now think of qualities or circumstance you have that might make someone else envious. There is no end to jealousy once it takes hold. Notice how it feels to be captured by jealousy and how it feels when you are able to drop it before it grows.
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.