Sunday, January 5, 2014

Train in the Preliminaries: On Training and Determination

I've started this new blog as an outlet for my thoughts as I move through and try to learn/work with the 59 instructions/slogans of lojong. I'm not sure how often I'll post - one per week, maybe? Or a new post when I feel I've understood one slogan and am ready to move onto the next? I may even abandon this blog in the stream of a busy year. Only time will tell, as the saying goes. Since the point of the blog is a selfish one, I have a feeling the publication schedule (or lack thereof) will be similarly motivated.

Because of the selfishness, I'm not going to explain lojong to you from an academic perspective. There are better places for that, and people better equipped/credentialed. My understanding of this part of Tibetan Buddhism has come to me from my engagement with the teachings of Pema Chödrön, and lojong seem to me to be a way to use the noise in my head and my life to deepen my practice of Buddhism - a practice that is still relatively new to me, but established enough that I consider it part of my life philosophy.

So, now that I've gotten the whys and wherefores out of the way, onto the first instruction/slogan:
"First, train in the preliminaries."
According to the commentary I'm using to help my understanding (which translates this first slogan as "First, do the groundwork"):
"Groundwork is the development of the abilities and motivations needed to practice mind training: stable attention, mindfulness in daily behavior, appreciation that your life is yours and yours alone, determination to step out of pattern-based experience, and a genuine desire to help others do so, too." (Source.)
Part of me wants to complain: "It's my desire for that mindfulness and appreciation that brought me to lojong and Buddhism in the first place! And now you're telling me I've got to have that stuff first before I can move on to more Buddhist-y Buddhism stuff? What is this, some kind of Catch-22 style life philosophy?"

Once I get past that initial reaction, I realize that that the core of this slogan and how it should influence my practice is in two things I've included above:
  1. The word "train." It's kind of trite, but it's "my practice of Buddhism" not "my perfection of Buddhism." I don't have to get it right the first, second, fifteenth, or one thousandth time, but I do have to work towards getting it right. Some days I am going to be mindful, going to find time to meditate, going to appreciate my life. Some days I'm going to be out of my head with stress from deadlines and cranky undergraduates, so busy I can barely breathe, and lost in the details. It's all okay, so long as I get back to training.
  2. The phrase "determination to step out of pattern-based experience." As I said above, I have a desire for mindfulness and appreciation, and that means I have this determination in spades. This part of the preliminaries... I've got it covered.
So that's what I'll be thinking about for this week, about laying the foundations for further developments. Thinking about it as often as I can remember to, I should say.

Until the next time, namaste and all that.

p.s. Thanks to John Pappas for pointing me towards the lojong commentaries I'm using.

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