Lojong 8) 3 Objects, 3 Poisons, 3 Roots of Virtue

2. Formal Practice (2 - 10)

8) There are three opportunities presented by the objects of attachment, objects of hostility, and objects of ignorance.  Each of these three can set the occasion for virtuous action.

The Lojong sayings are often stated in a "catchy phrase" that facilitates remembering the meaning.  (My memory for words separate from meaning is very poor, so I generally do better just understanding the meaning behind a saying.)  We are often reminded in the sayings, that adversity presents an opportunity to wake up. 

This saying points out three things that can be significant barriers to enlightenment, can also be used as an opportunity to become aware.  Attachments are the major source of suffering.  The Four Noble truths recognize the primacy of attachments as a cause of suffering.  As soon as we become aware of attachment, we are given an opportunity to release from it so we turn to a path that leads to less suffering (in the shorthand of this saying, this is labeled as a virtue.)

Hostility is also a very significant barrier to peace of mind and enlightenment because it is the opposit of compassion.  Insight leads to compassion.  A frequent misunderstanding of the core teaching of detachment occurs when the listener does not see the connection to compassion.  Detachment without compassion is just another way to be selfish (overly attached to self).

Ignorance is the antithesis of awareness and insight.  Most of us reading this would object to the general label of being ignorant, because of the great effort we put into study and meditation.  Yet there are moments when each of us will be blind to our motivations, unaware of our unkindness, not see the effects of our actions, and miss the connections between our actions and the results of our actions (karma).  As soon as we wake up, there is an opportunity for increased awareness and insight in which ignorance can be transformed into actions on the path of relief of suffering for ourselves and others (bodhichitta).

Objects of attachment, hostility, and ignorance (which result in corresponding poisons to the path of enlightenment) can set the occassion for transformation into right actions.

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Lojong 7) Alternately practice sending & taking.

2. Formal Practice (2-10)

7) Alternately practice sending & taking. (Meditation:  Breathe in, All Suffering / Breathe out, Everything Good)

I am blessed to have the opportunity to do clinical supervision with a number of highly skilled mental health practitioners.  An issue that sometimes arises is "Burn Out".  It is our natural tendency when we encounter great suffering in others, that we attempt to protect ourselves from becoming induced into the same emotional state as the suffering person.  This is especially true for those of us who have empathy for others.  And of course, this is a special problem for therapists who practice intentionally elevated levels of empathy as part of psychotherapy.  This constant state of induced negative emotional arousal is a major source of therapist burn out.  It may also be a source of burn out for those of us who have family problems or any intense emotional connection to a person who chooses to suffer emotionally.  (Oops, I let my prejudice show by the using the word "choose"; I believe pain is unavoidable, suffering is optional - see many other posts here.)

When I coach therapists who are struggling with burn out, I often suggest they let go of attempts to defend themselves against the suffering of their patients.  The reason is because for a therapist attempting to practice intentional heighted empathy, defending against being induced into sympathetic negative emotion is like one step forward, two steps back - it will not get anywhere.  The alternative is the practice of Tonglen or Loving Kindness Meditation.  Lojong 7 is based on this technique.  ("Technique" under states the necessary commitment - better is "life practice".)

When I let go of the attempt to defend against negative emotions that I encounter; and instead intentionally take these in so I can send out love & kindness, I create an energy loop that allows the negative energy to pass through without sticking to me.  And more importantly, I become a vehicle through which the negative energy is transformed into a positive energy that benefits the other person, who is the source of the negative energy.

I often hear from therapists and others who encounter intense negative emotional energy, that this whole idea is way too scary to even consider.  They often say things like, "I'm just too scared to let down my barrier to all that negativity; I feel it could destroy me if I don't constantly defend against it".  Here is the paradox, by attempting to defend against the negativity you are locked in a death struggle with it.  An analogy is Jiu Jitsu, let the energy pass on by.  However, in Tonglen we do not merely send the energy past us, it is possible to use the momentum of the negative energy to amplify the amount of positive energy we can send back to another.

This "technique" works especially well in therapy due to the large amount of negative emotional content that is processed.  However, it can work just as well with negative emotion and other suffering in any situation in which it is encountered.  Please give yourself the world the benefits of this practice.

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Lojong 6) Between sessions maintain awareness of the dependent nature of reality

2. Formal Practice (2-10)

6) Between sessions maintain awareness of the dependent nature of reality.

How does one develop awareness of the dependent nature of reality?  In one way this is a purely intellectual activity.  One can become aware of this truth and many others, through rational analysis using Buddhist philosophy.  For example, the use of these Lojong sayings is based on rational analysis.  Another of my favorite sayings is number 2 - Think all phenomena are like dreams (or My reality depends on momentary perception). 

However, this saying reminds us that meditation is an integral part of the path.  Entering meditation and returning to the mundane, helps us recognize the dependent nature of reality in each moment.  If we meditate each day, there are many opportunities to see the dependent nature of reality at times when we are not distracted by the hussle and bussle of everyday life. 

The next step in this specific practice is to remember this truth in moments when we are caught up in what we think is an intense reality (like when we are self-righteous, angry, despondent, etc.)  It is very useful to remember that my reality depends on my momentary perception (in these particular moments.)  This is because this recognition can save us from a great deal of suffering at our own hands when we lose sight of this fundamental truth.  Remembering the insight of this saying at those moments is particularly difficult, so in the beginning we may remember shortly afterwards.  Perhaps as we meditate on the recollection of the thoughts and feelings that arose.  Hopefully with time we reach this state of recognition sooner and sooner, so that we can continuously keep the dependent nature of reality as a constant point of view.

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Lojong 5) Settle in pure awareness (samadhi - enlightenment / sabbodhi - awareness of things as they are)

2. Formal Practice (2-10)

5) Settle in pure awareness (samadhi - enlightenment / sabbodhi - awareness of things as they are)

On the surface this seems to be to be a high aspiration.  However, this saying clarifies that this is not an achievement to be strived for, but rather it comes from releasing.  This is the key to the meaning of this one.  It is not about striving, but about letting go.  As I let go of the chatter of my everyday thoughts, I begin to settle into pure awareness of the present moment.  When I achieve awareness of the present, I begin to see things as they really are.  This means seeing things without the filters of my judgments such as "ought to be", "is good or bad", etc.  Direct experiences of my emotions are most often in the present moment; it is those pesky thoughts that are the trouble! 

As a Behavior Analyst have been accused of being "mindless" in the past.  I hope I'm not being misunderstood again.  This is why the Buddhist have appropriated the less pejorative "mindful".  I believe a "mind" capable of direct experience and goal directed thought is "an establishing condition" for release from suffering.  And back to the point of this saying:  simply settling into pure awareness.

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I remembered why hearing the Buddhadharma alone is not enough...

no matter how fortunate a person's environment may be.

I have been thinking about the question I posed (to myself!) in a recent post. My question was, "why aren't more people enlightened?" From my observations of the state of the world, it appears not many are; even though we have millions of people in the West, who live in what would have to be considered a "high birth". These people live a life in which all of their material needs are met in abundance. In addition, there are tons of great resources out there to provide excellent insight into the dharma. If you are reading this you have probably seen lots of these. For example, go to Daily Buddhism, you can see the information is always spot on. Yet from the questions asked on that site, it is clear many people are still struggling.

It is plainly not about how fortunate one's circumstances appear to be. Is my situation more favorable because I have ten thousand times more than what I need? I think not; it is probably true that having many times more stuff than I actually need is a barrier to enlightenment.  (Wow, how did I forget this!)  I still argue that we have abundant affordances to make enlightenment available to many more people in the West than seem to be benefiting from these resources. These are the same things I mentioned in a previous post, such as access to education, the Internet, teachers, etc.

The answer to "why aren't more people enlightened" is that it takes a lot of meditation to create the circumstances that allow the dharma to fall on fertile ground. 

Since I recognized the fundamental truth of the Four Noble Truths and other aspects of the Dharma, my life is mostly without suffering.  Before I had moments of release from suffering, now I have moments of suffering interspersed with mostly time with peace of mind.  Even for these moments of suffering, I typically wake up after only a few minutes to realize what I need to do to return to peace of mind.

My life was a natural experiment in the benefits of meditation.  (I think there may be others who have a similar situation.)  I first started meditating in 1972 using the Transcendental Meditation (TM) method.  I have meditated regularly since that time, my practice has changed over time especially in the past 8 years as I developed more understanding of philosophical Buddhism.  I did OK during the time I was "just" meditating, but not following the Buddhist dharma.  I married, had great kids, got my PhD in psychology, worked as a therapist in many different settings, and I think helped many people.

Prior to about 2000, I had read Buddhist literature and spoken to Buddhist practitioners, but too often  I encountered faulty information such as silly ideas about reincarnation, karma, deities, etc.  But sometime around 2000, I found Stephen Batchelor's book Buddhism Without Beliefs (1997, ISBN 1-57322-656-4)  It was then that I realized, there was a philosophical Buddhism that was true.  At that time, I had been meditating for 28 years.  You might say that insight fell on fertile ground.

I have only been studying the Buddhist Dharma with an open mind since 2000, so it seems to me that I got a rather immediate benefit from the first moment I "heard the Buddhadharma", but now that I think about my situation, I had been preparing my mind for 28 years prior to my first hearing with things like, a well developed meditation practice, continuous study of psychology, and compassion work "in the field".  The past 8 years have been a time of rapid release from suffering.  This has especially been true for me in the past 3 or so years during which I have had even more release from suffering and even a few moments of clarity ;)

If you are looking for peace of mind, you are doing the right thing to seek out the Buddhadarma, the community of Buddhist followers, and right minded teachers; and you will need to develop your meditation practice to cultivate fertile ground in which your peace can grow.

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