A Zen’s-Eye View: Lojong slogan 59: Don’t expect applause

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Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Creston’s ZenWords Zen Centre. For more information

Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Creston’s ZenWords Zen Centre. For more information

This is the final Lojong slogan in the series that you have been reading for the last two years, and it is the slogan I like the best. I always chuckle when I read it. It advises us that even if we have lived the spiritual life set out in these slogans, we are not to expect anyone to congratulate us! Instead it recommends that we look at how much we long for recognition. It can be embarrassing, but often, as soon as we do something good, it is as if we were little children at a playground. “Watch me, mama! Look at me! Look what I can do!” And when our good acts are unacknowledged or unrecognized, we get puffy and upset.

This slogan gives us a chance to examine our whole relationship to people- pleasing, approval, recognition and even fame. The slogan doesn’t suggest that recognition in itself is a bad thing, or that we should not encourage or recognize others. Indeed, it can be inspiring to see the kinds of creative works, intellectual insights, ingenious problem solving, and acts of heroism and kindness that people have accomplished. Their accomplishments can inspire us to do similar things. We live in a world dominated by bad news and a focus on the many problems we face. It is healthy to applaud people who do well. But when we expect our actions to be rewarded with praise, problems arise.

It is surprising how quickly our unmet expectations trigger emotions such as anger, jealousy, righteous indignation and self-pity. Instead of appreciating the goodness that comes our way, we fester about how we didn’t get the praise or recognition we rightfully deserve. If what we are doing is all about being seen and praised, when we are not seen, the wind goes out of our sails and we founder.

To gain approval we must buy into the dominant values of a materialistic society. If what gets approval is getting rich, we strive for wealth; if it is beauty, we strive for beauty; if it is power over others, that is what we seek. But desperation for outer rewards only increases our sense of inner poverty. In a quest for recognition, we ignore what is truly valuable; we give our power to others and are left empty.

Any Zen teacher will tell you not to have a gaining mind in your meditation practice, not to practice to acquire fame and/or gain, not to improve your material world, not to improve in your inner life. Zen practice is not a self-improvement program. Within diligent practice, we are already enlightened. We practice for no other reason than it is good to do so. We practice to realize the enlightened mind that we were endowed with at birth.

Today’s practice: Notice when you expect applause. Explore what lies behind that expectation. Notice the shift between doing something good and right, and looking around for recognition from someone who has noticed.

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.