A Zen’s-Eye View: Slogan 36: Don’t act with a twist

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This slogan has to do with being honest about our ulterior motives. It is based on an appreciation for how tricky the human mind can be, how it can use spiritual training to realize self-centred motivation. This slogan tells us not to act morally because we want to avoid hell or go to heaven. It tells us to be honest, kind and generous simply because to do so brings benefit to others. It tells us not say one thing and mean another, and to avoid acting out of seeming benevolence while only caring about ourselves.

Acting with a twist is a way of using others to advance our own interests. Everything revolves around me, myself and I, and that attitude colours everything we do. Acting with a twist distorts what we say and transforms all our actions into servants of our egos and self-important schemes.

With a tricky approach, when we hear about Lojong mind training and the need to develop loving-kindness, wisdom and compassion, we take on this practice as a tool for our own development. We keep track of our acts of kindness and moments of awareness to convince ourselves that we are progressing spiritually. Instead of genuinely opening our hearts to others, we go through the motions. Then we look around to make sure that others have noticed our benevolence and are properly admiring us. In reality, under the guise of helping, we are just using people. Our acts of kindness and generosity are nothing but props for our self-development projects.

When we do not act with a twist, our words and actions are not sticky. They are straightforward, with no hidden schemes attached. When we practice meditation or work with the slogans in daily life, we are genuinely concerned about how we can increase the happiness of others instead of obsessing about the benefits we will realize for ourselves. Moment by moment, as each new situation arises we work to insure that our words and actions are beneficial. We do this as best we can and then let it go.

Spiritual practice is not a trading activity. We are not trading benevolent action for spiritual rewards. Many people who start a meditation practice do so with hopes of getting something for themselves. But as their practice deepens they realize that Zen training is about honing a precise method of helping others to realize the roots of happiness and to avoid the roots of suffering.

Suggested practice: A good practice today, and any other day, is to notice how often what you do is based on, “What’s in it for me?” Rather than try to hide that, you can bring it into the open. Ironically, to move from selfishness to concern for others, you could start by being honestly selfish. When such selfishness is hidden, that underground force colors everything you do, and you can’t help but act with a twist. But each time you expose it, you are diminishing its power.

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.