Lojong is the practice of contemplating brief statements as a useful and simple way to open our minds to how we deny our own true nature. Lojong derives from Buddhist practice, but its benefits are open to everyone. Indeed, the fact that lojong slogans (as they are called) are intended to shine through the fog between ourselves and truth cuts across all barriers of custom, faith, and practice to give us access to the most basic sense of who we really are.
What Is Lojong?
Lojong, which translates from the Tibetan as "mind-training", is one of the three pillars (along with meditation and tonglen) of the Shambhala school of Vajrayana Tibetan Buddhism. Lojong slogans are pithy, succinct statements which bear deeper and more rewarding truths the further they are examined and give us clear and gentle suggestions as to how we can live our lives. In this way, they are very similar to Zen koan practice, but unlike koans, lojong slogans are neither logically inexplicable nor mysterious. Rather, they point us to ways in which we hold ourselves aloof from our deepest truth. The distance between who we believe ourselves to be and who we really are when the veils of fear and ego fall away is the source of the suffering which constitutes the first of the Four Noble Truths taught by the Buddha.
A Brief History
It is unknown precisely when Chekawa Yeshe Dorje wrote the ancient text, The Root Text of the Seven Points of Training the Mind, from which these slogans are taken. His writings were discovered and popularized in the 19th Century by the Tibetan teacher Jamgon Kongtrul in his book The Great Path of Awakening. In 1981 (with some revisions in 1986 and others made by a translation committee in 1993), Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche translated these slogans into English and began teaching them to Westerners. Among them was his primary disciple, Pema Chodron, who went on to make them even more accessible to a Western audience in her book Start Where You Are, published in 1994.
One Slogan Considered
Lojong slogans may appear at first glance to be either hopelessly esoteric or entirely simpleminded. The intent, however, is to ponder and consider the ramifications of a particular slogan in order to find its deeper truth. At the end of this entry, all of the lojong slogans are listed. Some are immediately clear ("Be grateful to everyone"; "Don't wallow in self-pity"); some entirely opaque to modern, Western eyes without further illumination ("Seeing confusion as the four kayas is unsurpassable shunyata protection"); but those which bear the sweetest fruit fall somewhere inbetween, where ongoing contemplation can teach us more each time we take them up.
For example, consider this slogan: "Always meditate on whatever provokes resentment." Your first reaction may well be, "Now, why would I want to do that? Won't that cause me harm? Isn't it accepted wisdom to either drop resentment or find a way to deal with and get rid of it?" But this slogan asks us to consider deeper truths, such as these:
We believe we can rid ourselves of resentment by an act of will, but how successful has this ever been for us? This also gives us the opportunity to consider the difference between repression of resentment and restraint of reaction. Above all, we must do no harm, and therefore we must look before we leap to anger or expressions of anger. Which is not to say, "Don't be angry"; there are no proscriptions here, only warnings and guideposts. So we must consider this: what is the benefit and what is the harm in any chosen reaction to resentment? The common belief is that expression of anger will do us good and repression will do us harm, but what evidence do you have in your own life that this is so? It is also worth considering that anger is fear. Of what are you afraid?
What is the true source of our resentment? Sure, if someone says you're ugly, it seems as if your resentment is focused entirely on that person, but is there not an element of fear in your resentment? (Am I ugly? Am I unlovable?) Isn't there a sense of validation in the resentment? After all, if this same person said you were a kumquat, you'd just think he was nuts; your resentment seems to imply that there is at least some truth to the assertion.
Pema Chödrön writes of this slogan:
Instead of the resentment being an obstacle, it's a reminder. Feeling irritated, restless, afraid, and hopeless is a reminder to listen more carefully. It's a reminder to stop talking; watch and listen.... When we feel resentment, the words that we speak, the actions that we perform, and the thoughts that we have aren't going to produce the results we're hoping for. Beyond that, we're so aggressive that we're not exactly adding any peace and harmony to the world. Resentment becomes a reminder not to feel bad about ourselves but to open further to the pain and to the awkwardness.
What is our part in the creation of the resentment? The answer may be "none", but more often than not, we help create the conditions which lead to the events which engender resentment. If nothing else, our actions reinforce the ego, which is the entity responding to the resentment. That the ego responds to resentment may seem tautological, but this is so only if we believe the ego to be an inevitable construct rather than the creation of our suffering: it may well be the ego that suffers, but it is most certainly the suffering that egos, so to speak.
Start Where You Are, pp. 115-116
And so on....
This is an imperfect and incomplete explication (as any would be, by definition), but is an indication of how fruitful it can be to consider even the simplest of lojong slogans in depth. As promised, what follows is an alphabetical listing of all 59 slogans. May you find your self within them.
Some of the slogans are esoteric, and some are intended only to remind you of what you have already learned, so if you haven't yet learned them, they aren't very helpful! Even the most obvious of them take on entirely new meanings with a good teacher. Pema Chödrön's book, Start Where You Are is the only text which makes these slogans entirely accessible to Westerners. She has also published The Compassion Box, which combines this text with flash cards (a slogan on one side and further illumination on the back) and a CD of tonglen instruction.
Abandon any hope of fruition.
Abandon poisonous food.
All activities should be done with one intention.
All dharma agrees at one point.
Always abide by the three basic principles.
Always maintain a joyful mind.
Always meditate on whatever provokes resentment.
Be grateful to everyone.
Begin the sequence of sending and taking with yourself.
Change your attitude, but remain natural.
Correct all wrongs with one intention.
Don't act with a twist.
Don't be frivolous.
Don't be jealous.
Don't be so predictable.
Don't be swayed by external circumstances.
Don't bring things to a painful point.
Don't expect applause.
Don't make gods into demons.
Don't malign others.
Don't ponder others.
Don't seek others' pain as the limbs of your own happiness.
Don't talk about injured limbs.
Don't transfer the ox's load to the cow.
Don't wait in ambush.
Don't wallow in self-pity.
Drive all blames into one.
Examine the nature of unborn awareness.
First, train in the preliminaries.
Four practices are the best of methods.
If you can practice even when distracted, you are well trained.
In postmeditation, be a child of illusion.
Keep the three inseparable.
The mahayana instruction for the ejection of consciousness at death is the five strengths: how you conduct yourself is important.
Liberate yourself by examining and analyzing.
Observe these two, even at the risk of your life.
Of the two witnesses, hold the principal one.
Pay heed that the three never wane.
Practice the five strengths.
The condensed heart instructions.
Regard all dharmas as dreams.
Rest in the nature of alaya, the essence.
Seeing confusion as the four kayas is unsurpassable shunyata protection.
Self-liberate even the antidote.
Sending and taking should be practiced alternately. These two should ride the breath.
Take on the three principal causes.
This time, practice the main points.
Three objects, three poisons, and three seeds of virtue.
Train in the three difficulties.
Train without bias in all areas. It is crucial always to do this pervasively and wholeheartedly.
Two activities: one at the beginning, one at the end.
Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join with meditation.
When the world is filled with evil, transform all mishaps into the path of bodhi.
Whichever of the two occurs, be patient.
Work with the greatest defilements first.
Chodron, Pema. Start Where You Are: A guide to compassionate living. Boston and London: Shambhala, 1994.
—The Compassion Box. Boston and London: Shambhala, 2003.
Kontrül, Jamgön. The Great Path of Awakening. Translated by Ken McLeod. Boston and London: Shambhala, 1987.
Trungpa, Chögyam. Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness. Edited by Judith L. Lief. Boston and London: Shambhala, 1993