Mind full of Zen

When you examine the lives of the most influential people who have ever walked among us, you discover one thread that winds through them all. They have been aligned first with their spiritual nature and only then with their physical selves.
— Albert Einstein

Lojong: Mind training


I was very fortunate to -on two occasions- be able to join a 5-day silent Insight yoga retreat in the beautiful Mandali centre in Italy led by Ty and Sarah Powers (see above).

They shared their knowledge of social psychology, Yin and Buddhism; and the Zen art of Lojong, (mind-training).

The practice of Lojong immediately resonated with me; Lojong (Tib. བློ་སྦྱོང་) is a mind training practice in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition based on a set of aphorisms brought to Tibet by an Indian Buddhist teacher named Atisha. The practice involves refining and purifying one's motivations and attitudes. The 59 proverbs, grouped as 7 points, that form the root text of the mind training practice are designed as a set of antidotes to undesired mental habits that cause suffering.

Good medicine - part 1

Good medicine - part 1

Pema Chödrön, an American Tibetan Buddhist who has written many articles and books (including “Be grateful to everyone”, mentioned below) and has created audiobooks and videos, writes on Zen and Lojong.

Click here for an article on Lojong , and click here for an article on Pema herself.


In this wonderful book Norman Fischer offers his commentary on the Lojong slogans. He applies Zen wisdom to them, showing how well they fit in that related tradition, but he also sets the slogans in the context of resonant practices throughout the spiritual traditions. He shows Lojong to be a wonderful method for everyone, including those who aren't otherwise interested in Buddhism, who don't have the time or inclination to meditate, or who'd just like to morph into the kind of person who's focused rather than scattered, generous rather than stingy, and kind rather than thoughtless.

Why would we have to know everything all the time? Why do we have to be so knowledgeable, so smart, so in control? We don’t! There’s no need to figure everything out. We can just be alive. We can breathe in and breathe out and let go and just trust our life, trust our body. Our body and our life know what to do. The problem is to let them do it, to relax and let them guide us.
— Norman Fischer
Tonglen dissolves the armor of self-protection we’ve tried so hard to create around ourselves.
— Pema Chödrön

The 59 slogans

Point One: The preliminaries, which are the basis for dharma practice

1. First, train in the preliminaries; The Four Reminders or alternatively called The Four Thoughts

1. Maintain an awareness of the preciousness of human life.
2. Be aware of the reality that life ends; death comes for everyone; Impermanence.
3. Recall that whatever you do, whether virtuous or not, has a result; Karma.
4. 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.

In other words, to Train in the preliminaries is to stop moaning and feeling sorry for yourself and to recognize instead that regardless of what has happened or why, this is your life and you are the only one equipped to deal with it.
— Norman Fischer

Point Two: The main practice, which is training in bodhicitta.

Train in Empathy and Compassion: Absolute Compassion
2. See everything as a dream.
3. Examine the nature of awareness.
4. Don't get stuck on peace.
5. Rest in the openness of mind.
6. In postmeditation, be a child of illusion.

 Train in Empathy and Compassion: Relative Compassion
7. Practice sending and receiving alternately on the breath - TONGLEN
8. Begin sending and receiving practice with yourself.
9. Turn things around  - the three objects (friends), three poisons (craving, aversion and indifference), three virtues (remedies) -
10. Always train with the slogans.

Point Three: Transformation of Bad Circumstances into the Path

11. Turn all mishaps into the path.
12. Drive all blames into one.
13. Be grateful to everyone.
14. See confusion as Buddha and practice emptiness.
15. Do good, avoid evil, appreciate your lunacy, pray for help.
16. Whatever you meet is the path.

Point Four: Make Practice Your Whole Life

17. Cultivate a serious attitude (Practice the five strengths: strong determination, familiarisation, positive seed, reproach and aspiration).
18. Practice for death as well as for life.

Point Five: Assess and Extend

19. There's only one point.
20. Trust your own eyes.
21. Maintain joy (and don't lose your sense of humor).
22. Practice when you're distracted.

Point Six: The Discipline of Relationship

23. Come back to basics.
24. Don't be a phony.
25. Don't talk about faults.
26. Don't figure others out.
27. Work with your biggest problems first.
28. Abandon hope.
29. Don't poison yourself.
30. Don't be so predictable.
31. Don't malign others.
32. Don't wait in ambush.
33. Don't make everything so painful.
34. Don't unload on everyone.
35. Don't go so fast.
36. Don't be tricky.
37. Don't make gods into demons.
38. Don't rejoice at others' pain.

Point Seven: Living with Ease in a Crazy World

39. Keep a single intention.
40. Correct all wrongs with one intention.
41. Begin at the beginning, end at the end.
42. Be patient either way.
43. Observe, even if it costs you everything.
44. Train in three difficulties.
45. Take on the three causes.
46. Don't lose track.
47. Keep the three inseparable.
48. Train wholeheartedly, openly, and constantly.
49. Stay close to your resentment.
50. Don't be swayed by circumstances.
51. This time get it right!
52. Don't misinterpret.
53. Don't vacillate (dither).
54. Be wholehearted.
55. Examine and analyze.
56. Don't wallow.
57. Don't be jealous.
58. Don't be frivolous.
59. Don't expect applause.

The third slogan under point three (“Transform Bad Circumstances into the Path”) is: Be grateful to everyone. Very simple but very profound.

Tonglen is slogan #7, about which Pema Chödrön says the following: “Tonglen reverses the usual logic of avoiding suffering and seeking pleasure. In the process, we are liberated from a very ancient prison of selfishness. We begin to feel love for both ourselves and others; and we also begin to take care of ourselves and others. Tonglen introduces us to the unlimited spaciousness, beyond conceptualization, that Buddhists call shunyata. By doing the practice, we begin to connect with the open dimension of our being.”

I have this as audio-book, as it is great to hear Pema explain the workings of Lojong.

I have this as audio-book, as it is great to hear Pema explain the workings of Lojong.

The best way to bring meditation off the cushion and into everyday life, according to Tibetan Buddhists, is to practice lojong (or mind training). The practice consists of working with a series of fifty-nine mind-training slogans (phrases such as “A joyous state of mind is a constant support” and “Don’t talk about others’ shortcomings”), taking one slogan at a time and living with it in all life’s situations.

Pema Chödrön presents her definitive teachings on lojong. She offers an overview of the practice and goes on to provide inspiring commentary on each of the slogans while paying special attention to how to apply them on the spot in our daily lives. In particular, Pema emphasizes the importance of practicing with the slogans during life’s difficulties because, she says, “no matter what is happening in the moment, it is a vehicle for awakening compassion.”