Analysis of the Word Lojong
The term “mind training” is the usual translation of the Tibetan term lojong. When we examine the meaning of lojong more carefully, we discover that the first syllable lo means “attitude.” This implies that what we are dealing with is not just the mind in general, but really the attitude with which we look at things, how we deal with the world. The second syllable jong is a very interesting word actually. On the one hand it means “to train,” but on the other hand it also means “to cleanse.” This implies that in order to train ourselves, to make progress, we need to cleanse ourselves of all hindrances such as negative attitudes, disturbing emotions, and so on. It’s by cleansing and getting rid of these negativities, that we actually train ourselves. This is the complete meaning of the word lojong.
What we want to train and develop are yonten, translated as “good qualities.” Yonten literally means the “straightening out of some deviation.” It’s a correction of going off in the wrong direction so that we can head in the right direction. It’s very much in keeping with the Buddhist idea that we need to get rid of suffering and the causes of suffering. Basically, to develop good qualities, we need to get rid of our negative qualities.
These etymological explanations of the terms lojong and yonten, which I received from Serkong Rinpoche, allow for the two basic approaches to this material we find in Tibetan Buddhism. On the one hand, the Gelug tradition explains that, in addition to cleansing our negativities, we need to build up positive good qualities from their potentials. Our Buddha-nature consists of the potentials of all the good qualities.
On the other hand, the Nyingma tradition explains that all the good qualities are already present in full as part of our Buddha-nature, and do not just exist as potentials. These good qualities aren’t functional yet, because they are overlaid with negative qualities, or “fleeting stains,” as they are called. Basically, we need to get rid of these stains, as is explained in dzogchen, in order to reveal all the qualities that are actually already there.
Of course, one can debate whether or not every type of training that’s done in the Nyingma tradition is just a cleansing, as they actually also meditate on love, compassion and bodhichitta, which contribute to building up positive qualities. But in any case, these two ways of formulating how we proceed on the path come from these two ways of understanding what it means to have good qualities and what it means to cleanse and train our attitudes.
The Lineage of the Lojong Attitude Training Tradition
The tradition of mind or attitude training (or mind or attitude cleansing) comes from Buddha’s teachings, but it was also greatly emphasized by the eighth-century Indian master Shantideva in his text Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior, Bodhicharyavatara in Sanskrit. In the chapter on safeguarding with alertness, he says:
(V. 97) Out of all the boundless bodhisattva behaviors that have been spoken of, I shall definitely put them to practice (at least) to the extent of the conduct for cleansing my mind.
This verse clearly mentions the term lojong, “cleansing my mind.” Most of what follows in Shantideva’s text can be understood as the forerunner of the entire lojong tradition, as we’ll see as we go through the eight-verse text.
We often speak of two main lineages of Buddha’s teachings. The first was the “lineage of the profound teachings,” which were the transmitted Buddha’s teachings on voidness. These passed down through Manjushri to Nagarjuna and eventually to Shantideva. The second was the “lineage of the vast teachings,” the transmitted teachings on bodhichitta, which were passed down through Maitreya to Asanga and eventually also to Shantideva.
However, in addition to these two, there was also a third lineage of Buddha’s teachings. This was the lineage of lojong teachings, attitude cleansing. These three make up the sutra lineages. In addition, of course, there are also the various tantra lineages, including the mahasiddha lineage.
By the tenth century, the time of Atisha, the lineage of the lojong teachings was no longer available in India. Atisha had perhaps heard of these teachings from his Indian teacher Dharmarakshita, the author of Wheel of Sharp Weapons, a text that deals with many of the lojong themes. Atisha then traveled to Sumatra, where he studied the lojong teachings with the great master Serlingpa. Later, after he returned to India, Atisha brought these lojong teachings to Tibet. In keeping with this tradition, Atisha himself wrote A Bodhisattva’s Garland of Gems. Atisha then passed these teachings on to his main Tibetan disciple Dromtonpa, and Dromtonpa passed it to Geshe Potowa. It is from these great masters that the Kadampa tradition derived in Tibet.
Geshe Potowa had two disciples called the sun-like and moon-like disciples. The older of the two was Langri Tangpa, who wrote this Eight Verses of Mind Training, or Eight-Verse Lojong. The younger disciple was Geshe Sharawa, with whom Geshe Chekawa, the author of Seven Point Mind Training, studied after he had read the line from Langri Tangpa’s text, “May I accept the loss on myself and give the victory to others.” Langri Tangpa, however, had already passed away by the time Geshe Chekawa came across the text.
These Kadampa masters were called “Geshes,” although not in the sense of somebody who gains the title after passing the full study program in sutra. This latter meaning of “Geshe” was instituted much later, in the seventeenth century, by the Fifth Dalai Lama. The word “Geshe” is actually the Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit word kalyana-mitra, meaning a spiritual friend, a friend that leads us to positive or constructive behavior and engages in constructive behavior with us.
It’s noteworthy that Geshe Chekawa studied this lojong tradition for six years with Geshe Sharawa. Geshe Chekawa was no beginner; he was obviously a very advanced type of practitioner. It clearly indicates how much effort is necessary to really train our attitudes, to get rid of our selfishness, self-cherishing, and so on. It’s a long-term endeavor that requires practice over and over and over again.
Geshe Chekawa passed the lojong lineage to Lhadingpa, who then passed it to Togme Zangpo, the author of 37 Bodhisattva Practices, which is also very much in line with the lojong teachings. Togme Zangpo also wrote extensive commentaries to Geshe Chekawa’s Seven Point Mind Training and Shantideva’s Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior. The lojong lineage then continues on from there.
With this history as a background, let’s begin our discussion of Langri Tangpa’s text, Eight Verses of Mind Training.
The Text and Commentary
(1) May I always cherish all limited beings by considering how far superior they are to wish-granting gems for actualizing the supreme aim.
A wish-granting gem can grant us all sorts of worldly things – money, property, fame, and so on; but, it can’t grant us enlightenment, the supreme aim. The point here is that limited beings, or sentient beings, are the only ones who can lead us to enlightenment.
“Sentient beings” are those whose minds and bodies are limited in their capacity to benefit all others. Then, how can they give us enlightenment? It’s by practicing with them. In other words, on the basis of a bodhichitta aim to benefit them, developing generosity and the other far-reaching attitudes. These include ethical discipline in interacting with them, patience with the difficulties in dealing with them, perseverance by never giving up working for their sake, concentration to stay focused while working with them, and discriminating awareness of how they exist. It’s all from working with others that we’re actually able to achieve any spiritual attainments.
Therefore, it’s very important to cherish all limited beings – cherish them more than any worldly things. In this first verse, Langri Tangpa already introduces the word “cherish,” a word that we’re going to see often in the expressions “self-cherishing” and “cherishing others.”
This understanding of the importance of other beings actually gives us quite a lot to think about, and of course each of these verses can be a very profound topic for meditation. It’s quite important to check our attitudes in terms of what we actually value. What do we think is the most precious thing? Do we think in terms of money, possessions, position? Or, do we think in terms of people, and not just people, but all beings including mosquitoes and all other limited beings – all beings with limited minds? What importance do others have in our lives? What role do they play? What’s our attitude when we actually meet somebody we know or somebody new?
Look at the example of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. As he travels around the world and meets different people – the police who are stationed at his events or any of the people in the crowd – whenever he looks at somebody, it’s exactly as if he’s seen a treasure. He lights up and is just so totally delighted to meet another living being.
This is the type of attitude that we are trying to develop when we meet someone, to cleanse our minds of such negative attitudes as, “Ugh! I can’t be bothered,” or “Leave me alone,” or “Who wants to get involved with you?” Often when we see more and more people, we just get turned off. We need to overcome this tendency and develop the attitude of seeing how precious other beings really are. It’s by dealing with them and trying to be of help that we’ll be able to achieve enlightenment.
However, it’s not that we only learn good qualities from others, as if they were teaching us mathematics. The person who teaches us mathematics has to know mathematics; whereas, here the person who teaches us patience doesn’t have to know patience at all. It’s the other way around; we develop patience by interacting with them, because they’re usually acting in a very difficult manner. It’s by practicing patience with the other person, directed at the other person, that we develop the good quality of patience.
Of course, somebody else who’s very patient or who has great perseverance and so on can inspire us; but, that’s not specifically what we’re talking about in this context. We couldn’t develop qualities like patience very easily by ourselves. Even if we read about patience in a book, we are learning about it from somebody else, the person who wrote the book. Even if we’re a pratyekabuddha, and just work with our instincts, where do those instincts come from? They come from previous lives, when we previously worked with other people.
We might wonder about the tantric vow of not being loving toward malevolent people – doesn’t that contradict this advice to cherish all others? However, it doesn’t contradict it because the vow doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t love such persons. Love, after all, is the wish for others to be happy and to have the causes for happiness. The vow refers to not befriending and spending all of our time with negative people. It’s also about not getting intimately involved with foolish people, which Shantideva advises as well. This doesn’t mean, though, that we don’t achieve enlightenment through developing patience with them. Instead, we can develop patience with such beings at a distance, especially when we’re weak and can be negatively influenced by them or can easily lose our temper and get angry with them.
Further, when we talk about voidness, it’s not going to get us terribly far to meditate on the voidness of just a pillar or a vase, examples often used in texts to explain voidness. What would be better to focus our voidness meditation on? As Shantideva says, aim it at other people’s bodies, those that we might be attracted to and at the disturbing emotions like the longing desire that we might have toward such persons. We don’t have longing desire for a pillar! Again, in this regard, limited beings are more precious.
In addition, how do we develop bodhichitta, the wish to benefit all beings and to reach enlightenment so we can benefit them best? Obviously, reaching enlightenment depends on other beings, developing this attitude toward them. First, we want to benefit all beings. Then, we want to reach enlightenment in order to be able to do that to the fullest. We thus need to get the order straight. It’s because we want to benefit all beings that we get the energy, the motivation, the strength, and in many ways the inspiration, to be able to actually work through all the difficulties and reach enlightenment.
This is why Shantideva says in his chapter on patience:
(VI.112) Thus, the Sage has spoken of the field of limited beings as well as the field of the Triumphant, (for) having made them happy, many have gone, thereby, to the far-shore of excellence.
(VI.113) When the acquisition of a Buddha’s Dharma (attainments) is equally due to (both) limited beings and the Triumphant, what kind of order is it that the respect shown to limited beings is not like that to the Triumphant?
In other words, how do we achieve enlightenment? It’s due to the inspiration from limited beings, not just from the Buddhas. It’s also not just from the kindness of Buddhas, but also from the kindness of limited beings that we can actually practice. Shantideva says the respect that we show to both should be equal.
(V.80) When my eyes behold limited beings, I shall think, “Depending on them, I shall attain Buddhahood,” and look with a sincere and loving manner.
This shows how these eight verses really highlight some of the main essential points of Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior.
It can be helpful to meditate for a few minutes on our attitudes toward other beings. How do we actually regard them? Can we regard them with this type of bodhichitta attitude? After all, this is attitude training. Shantideva said, “Depending on this being I shall attain Buddhahood.” Can we regard others like this and feel inspiration from that? It’s obviously very difficult.
An inspiring example comes from Atisha. As he traveled to Tibet, whenever he saw an animal or any being, he became famous for always sincerely addressing them as “my mother.”
For our meditation, let’s adopt the method of practice we do in the sensitivity training I developed. We look around the room at each person with the attitude, “Depending on you, I can achieve enlightenment. Because of that, you are more valuable to me than a million euros.” This is what the verse is asking us to do – and it is not at all easy, especially to feel this way with sincerity. But we try. If we can view others like this, it’s an incredible changing of attitudes. As I said, His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a very good example. Whenever he meets somebody, he is utterly filled with bliss and joy, as if he just came across a treasure.
Obviously, in the beginning we can’t develop this kind of attitude toward everybody we meet. But, if we can develop it at least with some people, that’s a start. It really has to do with our attitude toward others and how we regard them. So please try this meditation by looking at each other.
We can start incorporating this bodhichitta attitude with the people that we know and meet in our everyday lives. With each of them, we might need to work with cleansing ourselves of a different negative attitude and developing a different good quality – patience with this one, love with that one, not getting angry at this one, trying to inspire that one, and so on. Practicing like this with each person is actually the way to achieve enlightenment. It’s by responding to their needs and how they are that we develop ourselves further. Over time, we develop these good qualities and get rid of shortcomings such as thinking, “I don’t care about you.” Then, we can extend it to the people that we see on the U-Bahn (the subway) or to just anybody we see. By practicing in this way, we really start to value other people, especially people we are really able to help.
Maybe if you’re not so much into luxury or money, you might pass the test of a million euros, with some people at least. But what about wanting appreciation, getting a pat on the back, or seeking this kind of “gain” for yourself?
Langri Tangpa mentions this point in later verses: are we doing it for thanks? What about people that we help and then they hurt us in return? It’s important to remember we’re just beginners and it’s basically about trying our best to cherish others, to recognize how valuable and important others are. As I said, Geshe Chekawa practiced for six years before he even started to write something about it, so we can’t expect that we are going to develop equanimity toward everybody instantly. If, however, we can develop it with some people, it’s a start.
Do we make it as specific as possible?
I’ve always found that if we work with specific beings, we get more inspiration. To practice in general terms, thinking of all the hell creatures or the hungry ghosts, for most people is too amorphous. It’s just too general and too vague.
Can we also think, from contact with a person, that we would like to develop single-minded concentration, and based on that, we attain enlightenment?
When we are with someone, we can think, “I’m not focused and my mind wanders; however, by practicing with this person, trying to actually listen to them and help them, I can develop concentration, and see the value of the practice and the value of the person.” Then, we will be inspired to listen and improve our concentration. We realize that another person is a human being and has feelings and so on, just like us. They also want to be taken seriously and paid attention to, just as we do. This kind of attitude further inspires us to develop concentration, rather than just sitting in our room, looking at the wall or with our eyes closed in meditation.
What about the thought, “How precious… ?”
This is what the text is saying, “more precious than a wish-granting gem.” That means, when we meet a person, it’s the perfect opportunity to be able to practice and gain inspiration: “May I be able to help this one; may I be able to help the drunken person in the street,” even if we don’t know how to do it now.
If we see the drunken person in the street and we think, “I can develop patience with this person, how precious,” isn’t that an egotistical motivation in that we’re doing it for ourselves?
If we want to develop patience with this person so that we’ll get ten more points in our “collection of merit” or for everyone to consider us a good person, then sure that’s an egotistical motivation. We sincerely want to be able to help this person just for their sake. We want to be able to help not just this person; we want to be able to help all beings. In order to help all beings, we need to develop compassion and patience, and the willingness to get involved with messy situations. “Like a swan plunging into a lotus pond,” as Shantideva says, we are willing to jump into messy situations. This person is precious because we think, “There is someone who’s suffering so much, and I wish that I could really help such a person.” By truly wanting to develop compassion and bodhichitta, we discover that we first have to develop ourselves in order to really help others.
From these kinds of thoughts, I would imagine that some kinds of actions would result.
Yes, certainly actions result from that. We try to actually help others as much as we can, at whatever level we’re at. What action comes from this? Do we become a super social worker in the streets of Berlin, working with all the people with drug and alcohol problems, and so on? Not necessarily. We’re not at a stage where we can multiply our body into ten million forms and help everybody simultaneously. Still, we do what we can, and so with the drunken person, at the very least don’t have a negative attitude toward him or her.
We can see that in the U-Bahns, what the subway, metro or underground is called here in Berlin. In many cities, if there’s a drunk or somebody like that, people call the police, walk away or give the person very hostile looks. On the other hand, here I’ve seen people on the U-Bahn actually talking with the drunk person even if the person might be speaking in a completely crazy manner, and they do this without being uptight at all. They don’t move to the other side of the car, which, from my cultural background, people would do. That doesn’t mean, however, that we take the drunken person home and all of that.
Maybe the first thing to start with is to regard the person differently and to think, “Well, this person is precious and he’s not a complete worthless loser.” Even if it’s not one hundred percent serious, it moves us away from this aversion.
Yes, we can see others in terms of their innate Buddha-nature. There are many ways of working with this. We don’t start with being a good street-people worker; we begin with changing our attitudes. All of this is attitude cleansing, changing our attitudes. How we can help depends entirely on where our talents lie, of course.
When we consider somebody to be more precious than a wish-granting gem, it’s difficult at the beginning to have this feeling with everyone we see. We would start first with the people that we are actually able to help, for instance at our work. We might take care of sick people, or we work in a store making things available to others, or we design beautiful things for them, or we help find some cure for a sickness or help people find books that they need. Whatever it is that we’re already doing, we can develop an attitude of appreciation that other people are giving us the opportunity to be of some help to them. In this way we come to value and eventually “cherish” them as something precious.
Why are they so valuable? What makes them so special? It’s because by helping each person, we’re going to be able to help more and more beings. Depending on what we’re able to do with one person, the help that we give will expand our ability and our experience, so that we can help more and more people. This is the emphasis; it certainly is not that we’ll reach the goal of enlightenment and feel so “blissful.” It’s not like that.
If we are in a position in our lives to actually help some people in whatever way we can, according to our abilities and talents and so on, then this is fantastic. Really cherish that. “It’s fantastic to have an opportunity to actually be of help to anyone.” Even if we’re helping in a very mundane way, it builds up tremendous positive force.