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Buddhadharma : Fall 2005
fall 2005| 40 |buddhadharma Lojong is a matter of reframing our perspective on the phenomena and events that arise before us. Rather than taking the usual tack of trying to transform our external circumstances, we shift our way of engaging with whatever reality presents itself. — A lan Wallace present moment. This friction generates heat to burn up our habituated patterns. Judith Lief: lojong can take us through a three- step process. First, we move from our ancient habit of putting our own interests above every- thing else to the provocative thought of putting others’ interests somewhere on our horizon. Then, we can move to putting others ahead of ourselves. Finally, we can transcend that alto- gether. it’s not simply replacing a this-that ori- entation with a that-this orientation; it’s going beyond this and that altogether. The real rub, the real friction, is egolessness: ego-of-self and ego-of-other are equally limited views of reality. ego-of-self is the sense of self-fixa- tion and fascination, clinging to a notion of who we are as something solid that can be separated out from other aspects of reality. ego-of-other, or ego-of-phenomena, is taking what we perceive, all of our experiences, our particular mood of the moment and every thought, and solidifying that into “other.” we estrange ourselves from the basic fabric of reality when we let our mind have a bias in either direction. lojong is designed to remove that estrangement. aLan waLLaCe: in general, we are driven by self- grasping, so our natural inclination is certainly not to take in the negativity of the world and give away everything good in our lives. Quite the contrary. lojong runs right in the face of the inclinations that have kept us in samsara for a long time. buddhadharMa: when people are first introduced to lojong, they often have a hard time with the notion that self-interest isn’t really the ground of life. aLan waLLaCe: it is said that the dharmakaya is the perfection of the Buddha’s self-interest, rangdön in Tibetan. The sambhogakaya and the nirmanakaya are the perfection of the Buddha’s other-interest, or shendön. it is not the case, then, that the buddhadharma entails absolutely turn- ing your back on any of your own aspirations, your own wish to be free of suffering, to achieve enlightenment and focus absolutely only on other people. That would be a weird distortion of the Buddhist teachings. rather, what we’re coun- teracting is the self-centeredness that prioritizes one’s well-being over that of everyone else, espe- cially where one’s interests seem to be in conflict with others. But our rangdön, our own aspira- tions, are part and parcel of the buddhadharma all the way to enlightenment. Mind training may also be rubbing against a very strong tendency in modern civilization, rooted in evolutionary biology and a lot of mod- ern psychology, of reifying the self, promoting the rugged individual notion of the separate, indepen- dent self. Buddhadharma does run right into the face of that. buddhadharMa: The mind training tradition seems only to have been carried on in Tibet. does that mean it is a Vajrayana practice? Ken MCLeod: Jamgön Kongtrül says that lojong stands firmly in the sutra tradition and has some links to the Vajrayana tradition. in my own work with students, i sometimes use it as a bridge into Vajrayana because it does have an element of transformation of experience. But philosophically it’s solidly rooted in the Mahayana tradition. buddhadharMa: Can it also be a practice that can work for a broad spectrum of practitioners? Judith Lief: one of the reasons that mind training is such a marvelous body of teachings is that it can work for people at all sorts of levels of under- standing and familiarity with buddhadharma. a danger can arise, though, if you don’t have some understanding of emptiness. The lojong sayings can be perverted into moral credos, and tonglen can become a kind of martyrdom, like your stereotypi- cal long-suffering mother figure: “oh, don’t worry about me, darling. i’ll take it on.” it is important to present the background carefully, so that people understand that the point is that the flow of energy is not being held anywhere by anyone. rather, one is working with an energetic reversal that goes beyond our usual sense of virtue, of who’s good and who’s bad. once we overcome that misapprehension, we find that the practice is very earthy, practical, and relevant. one can work with even one of the slo- gans in many different ways, and at many different levels of understanding, and find it helpful across the entire spectrum. buddhadharMa: do you need a teacher to guide your practice of lojong? aLan waLLaCe: as a Hindu yoga teacher once told me, “it’s better to have a good book than a bad teacher.” if one can find a qualified teacher of lojong, there’s no question that’s best, as it is for learning virtually any other skill. But if there are no teachers around, i would say it would be better michAeldAVidmurphy