“On one level all our minds are connected,” said Venerable Zasep Tulku Rinpoche in his introductory remarks at a weekend retreat dedicated to Lojong Seven-point mind training. “We are the creators of our suffering. Everything depends on mind.”
This very special Lojong retreat took students deep into their own minds. Venerable Acharya Zasep Tulku Rinpoche, spiritual director of Gaden for the West, led seven separate meditations, each more thought-provoking than the previous. The meditation culminated in a very moving Tonglen healing giving and taking practice.
Lojong literally can translate as “mind training”— lo, mind; jong, training. Lojong is both thought provoking and thought-suspending, as the various meditations took participants from analytical meditation, through to Shunyata emptiness contemplation.
Rinpoche began with the traditional “point one” in Lojong—a teaching on the importance of preliminary practices such as prostrations, taking refuge, Vajrasattva practice, mindfulness meditation, and Guru Yoga. He joked, “Doing 100,000 full-body-to-floor prostrations sounds difficult, but it’s very good yoga. You will be very healthy after you finish!” And, of course, it is a remedy for pride and ego.
Each of the seven retreat meditations helped lead to an understanding of the seven important points of Lojong.
Venerable Zasep Tulku Rinpoche
Rinpoche is the spiritual head of Gaden for the West, and many associated Buddhist Centres in Canada, the United States and Australia, including : Gaden Choling and Gaden Tashi Choling Retreat Centre. He is the author of Tara in the Palm of Your Hand, a precious teaching on the 21 Taras.
Rinpoche is a highly realized and internationally respected teacher of the Gelugpa Buddhism, one of the great Tibetan-born teachers, and the 13th incarnation of Lama Konchog Tenzin of Zuru Monastery. He founded Gaden Relief over twenty-five years ago, to help bring aid and donations to people in need in Mongolia, Tibet and India. Each year, he travels tirelessly around the world, teaching at many dharma centres—and, also bringing healing and aid to people in need.
Lojong Mind Training
Rinpoche clarified that one of the many purposes of Lojong mind training is to “help us to heal and remove obstacles in our lives. It teaches us to turn these obstacles and challenges into objects of practice.” He taught that anyone, of any faith system can succeed with Lojong—there is no prerequisite of practicing Buddhism, and clarified this when discussing the preliminary practices. For example, he said, “Taking refuge practice can be refuge in any faith object,” not necessarily the traditional Buddha, Dharma, Sangha refuge—if one is practicing Lojong as a non-Buddhist.
Seven Points of Lojong
The teaching was organized around the seven points of Lojong (see below for the 59 slogans, organized under the seven points, which are the dos and don’ts of Lojong according to the root text):
Point 1: The preliminaries, which are the basis for dharma practice
Point 2: The main practice, which is the training in bodhicitta
Point 3: Transformation of bad circumstances into the way of Enlightenment
Point 4: Showing the utilization of practice in one’s whole life
Point 5: Evaluation of mind training
Point 6: Disciplines of mind training
Point 7: Guidelines of mind training.
Rinpoche led students through seven meditations to help anchor the mind in the concepts.
For example, in discussing the third point—”Transformation of bad circumstances into the way of Enlightenment”—he explained that each obstacle is to be seen as an opportunity, rather than a problem. He also taught extensively on the importance of staying in the present moment. Problems are past or future. The present moment is not about problems. The problems you believe you had are those experienced in your history—which is now irrelevant to the present. The problems you worry about are part of a hypothetical future—which is not real and not in the present.
To illustrate, he explained with the concept of love. Love in the past is just a memory. It no longer is love. Love in the future is a desire or dream. It is not real. “Love in the present moment is the only true love.”
What is Mind?
Important analytical meditation topics included “What is mind?” and “Where is your mind?”—where Rinpoche challenged students to try to answer both nearly impossible questions. If that wasn’t enough for mental overload, the next session asked us to watch our own minds, mindfully.
Rinpoche’s meditation sessions included “watching the breath”, mindfulness meditation, an intense and challenging analytical session, shunyata emptiness contemplation, and tonglen—giving and taking. Rinpoche assured students it was safe and beneficial to visualize taking in another’s suffering and giving up some of your own virtues in exchange. It is safe, he explained, to visualize taking in the suffering of a cancer patient, and giving them your own strength in return. In fact, it was a form of self-healing as well.
Tathagatagarbha and Buddha Mind
Rinpoche stressed the concept that mind has no beginning and no end. It never began, and it will never end. He explained the concepts of mind stream, karma and reincarnation and Buddha Mind.
Rinpoche described the different kinds of mind we might experience: indifferent mind, sinking (lazy) mind, virtuous mind, non virtuous mind, and Buddha Nature. “All beings have Buddha Nature, Tathagatagarbha.” Insects, animals, humans, all have Buddha Nature. Tathagatagarbha, as explained the Sutra of the same name, means that every being can attain Buddhahood—a fundamental understanding in most schools of Mahayana. A key to understanding Buddha Nature is that it requires no cultivation—but rather uncovering or re-discovery.
“An unknown treasure exists under the home of a poor person that must be uncovered through removing obstructive dirt, yielding the treasure that always was there. Just as the treasure already exists and thus requires no further fashioning, so the matrix-of-one-gone-thus [i.e. the tathāgatagarbha], endowed with ultimate buddha qualities, already dwells within each sentient being and needs only to be freed from defilements” —Mountain Doctrine: Tibet’s Fundamental Treatise on Other-Emptiness and the Buddha Matrix, Jeffrey Hopkins, Snow Lion Publications.
Other sutras that teach Tathagatagarbha include Srimaladevi Simhanada Sutra, Mahaparinirvana Sutra, Angulimaliya Sutra, Lankavatara Sutra and Avatamsaka Sutra.
Lojong Root Text
The original Lojong practice is organized around seven points with 59 slogans, which are expanded on in various commentaries by great Buddhist teachers. The slogans are organized around the seven points explained in Rinpoche’s teaching.
Translations vary, but the basic slogans are:
Point One: The preliminaries, which are the basis for dharma practice
Slogan 1. First, train in the preliminaries
- Maintain an awareness of the preciousness of human life.
- Be aware of the reality that life ends; death comes for everyone; Impermanence.
- Recall that whatever you do, whether virtuous or not, has a result; Karma.
- Contemplate that as long as you are too focused on self-importance and too caught up in thinking about how you are good or bad, you will experience suffering. Obsessing about getting what you want and avoiding what you don’t want does not result in happiness; Ego.
Point Two: The main practice, which is training in bodhicitta.
Sub Point: Absolute Bodhicitta
Slogan 2. Regard all dharmas as dreams; although experiences may seem solid, they are passing memories.
Slogan 3. Examine the nature of unborn awareness.
Slogan 4. Self-liberate even the antidote.
Slogan 5. Rest in the nature of alaya, the essence, the present moment.
Slogan 6. In postmeditation, be a child of illusion.
Sub-Point Relative Bodhicitta
Slogan 7. Sending and taking should be practiced alternately. These two should ride the breath (aka. practice Tonglen).
Slogan 8. Three objects, three poisons, three roots of virtue — The 3 objects are friends, enemies and neutrals. The 3 poisons are craving, aversion and indifference. The 3 roots of virtue are the remedies.
Slogan 9. In all activities, train with slogans.
Slogan 10. Begin the sequence of sending and taking with yourself.
Point Three: Transformation of Bad Circumstances into the Way of Enlightenment
Slogan 11. When the world is filled with evil, transform all mishaps into the path of bodhi.
Slogan 12. Drive all blames into one.
Slogan 13. Be grateful to everyone.
Slogan 14. Seeing confusion as the four kayas is unsurpassable shunyata protection.
The kayas are Dharmakaya, sambhogakaya, nirmanakaya, svabhavikakaya. Thoughts have no birthplace, thoughts are unceasing, thoughts are not solid, and these three characteristics are interconnected. Shunyata can be described as “complete openness.”
Slogan 15. Four practices are the best of methods.
The four practices are: accumulating merit, laying down evil deeds, offering to the dons, and offering to the dharmapalas.
Slogan 16. Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join with meditation.
Point Four: Showing the Utilization of Practice in One’s Whole Life
Slogan 17. Practice the five strengths, the condensed heart instructions.
The 5 strengths are: strong determination, familiarization, the positive seed, reproach, and aspiration.
Slogan 18. The mahayana instruction for ejection of consciousness at death is the five strengths: how you conduct yourself is important. When you are dying practice the 5 strengths.
Point Five: Evaluation of Mind Training
Slogan 19. All dharma agrees at one point — All Buddhist teachings are about lessening the ego, lessening one’s self-absorption.
Slogan 20. Of the two witnesses, hold the principal one — You know yourself better than anyone else knows you
Slogan 21. Always maintain only a joyful mind.
Slogan 22. If you can practice even when distracted, you are well trained.
Point Six: Disciplines of Mind Training
Slogan 23. Always abide by the three basic principles — Dedication to your practice, refraining from outrageous conduct, developing patience.
Slogan 24. Change your attitude, but remain natural.– Reduce ego clinging, but be yourself.
Slogan 25. Don’t talk about injured limbs — Don’t take pleasure contemplating others defects.
Slogan 26. Don’t ponder others — Don’t take pleasure contemplating others weaknesses.
Slogan 27. Work with the greatest defilements first — Work with your greatest obstacles first.
Slogan 28. Abandon any hope of fruition — Don’t get caught up in how you will be in the future, stay in the present moment.
Slogan 29. Abandon poisonous food.
Slogan 30. Don’t be so predictable — Don’t hold grudges.
Slogan 31. Don’t malign others.
Slogan 32. Don’t wait in ambush — Don’t wait for others weaknesses to show to attack them.
Slogan 33. Don’t bring things to a painful point — Don’t humiliate others.
Slogan 34. Don’t transfer the ox’s load to the cow — Take responsibility for yourself.
Slogan 35. Don’t try to be the fastest — Don’t compete with others.
Slogan 36. Don’t act with a twist — Do good deeds without scheming about benefiting yourself.
Slogan 37. Don’t turn gods into demons — Don’t use these slogans or your spirituality to increase your self-absorption
Slogan 38. Don’t seek others’ pain as the limbs of your own happiness.
Point Seven: Guidelines of Mind Training
Slogan 39. All activities should be done with one intention.
Slogan 40. Correct all wrongs with one intention.
Slogan 41. Two activities: one at the beginning, one at the end.
Slogan 42. Whichever of the two occurs, be patient.
Slogan 43. Observe these two, even at the risk of your life.
Slogan 44. Train in the three difficulties.
Slogan 45. Take on the three principal causes: the teacher, the dharma, the sangha.
Slogan 46. Pay heed that the three never wane: gratitude towards one’s teacher, appreciation of the dharma (teachings) and correct conduct.
Slogan 47. Keep the three inseparable: body, speech, and mind.
Slogan 48. Train without bias in all areas. It is crucial always to do this pervasively and wholeheartedly.
Slogan 49. Always meditate on whatever provokes resentment.
Slogan 50. Don’t be swayed by external circumstances.
Slogan 51. This time, practice the main points: others before self, dharma, and awakening compassion.
Slogan 52. Don’t misinterpret.
The six things that may be misinterpreted are patience, yearning, excitement, compassion, priorities and joy.
Slogan 53. Don’t vacillate (in your practice of LoJong).
Slogan 54. Train wholeheartedly.
Slogan 55. Liberate yourself by examining and analyzing: Know your own mind with honesty and fearlessness.
Slogan 56. Don’t wallow in self-pity.
Slogan 57. Don’t be jealous.
Slogan 58. Don’t be frivolous.
Slogan 59. Don’t expect applause.