Entries in Language (1)


Lojong 45) Keep the 3 Inseparable.

7. Guidelines (37-57)

45) Keep the 3 Inseparable.

(Integrate Practice in Mind, Speech, & Body.)

At the simplest level this Lojong is about being thorough in practice.  The best results occur when you are consistent in what you think, what you say, and what you do.  This surface level of recommendation is common sense, and few would object to it.

A deeper analysis requires us to look at what constitutes the Mind and the origin of thoughts. Like many others, I hold the belief that “I am not my thoughts”.  This position is described in several philosophies, including most of the Buddhist Dharmas.  One of the most succinct formulations of this concept can be found in Eckhart Tolle’s, The Power of Now (2004).

A well-developed meditation practice helps me see that thoughts arise, but can be released, to return to a state of “pure being” or “pure consciousness”.  These are terms I first encountered in Transcendental Meditation, and they aptly describe the state in which the “incessant internal jabbering” stops.  (I attribute this term to Fritz Perls from Gestalt Therapy Verbatim (1977).  Some have called a state of racing and confusing thought, “Monkey Mind”.)

This understanding of the nature of thought is also developed in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which is based on Relational Frame Theory (RFT).  This well researched area of Behavior Analysis, argues that our capacity for language is based on the human ability to place abstract things into conceptual categories, and then to respond based on the relationship between the categories rather than simply respond to the concrete properties of a stimulus.  Animals other than humans only have the capacity to respond to concrete properties, and most often this means biological mechanisms or the previous reinforcement history.  Humans are able to respond to “abstract properties and relationships among these” which for simplicity sake, we call language.

Our thoughts are language; and unfortunately, many thoughts connect abstract stimulus classes that do not warrant the connections we attribute to them.  For example, one of these erroneous connections is “I am my thoughts”.  When I think something, I tend to give it special credence, merit, or believability.  Other examples, "I am anxious", "Why else would he say that ....", "This always happens",  "I have PTSD",  etc.

The key to Right Thought is to have a clear understanding of the true nature of reality.  The Lojong sayings, the Suttras, books on the Dharma, scientific psychology, and all the other Teachings are helpful in developing Right Thought.  Don’t be discouraged if developing Right Thought takes a long time of meditation and study. 

I have heard a version of the story of the Buddha’s enlightenment in which he related his insight to the group of seekers he had previously studied with.  In this version of the story, some heard the Four Noble Truths, but did not understand; and some who heard where immediately enlightened.  I think this is possible, for those who have devoted time to proper study, experience, and contemplation (which could include, Books, Workshops, Retreats, Meditation, 12 Step Meetings, Seminary, University, Back Wards, Community Service, etc. Of course, some experiences are more conducive to Right Understanding than others.)

Begin with Right Thought, which is very complicated.  It is not merely thinking righteous thoughts, but involves being able to see reality clearly.

The next step is to make your speech consistent with Right Thought.  Right Speech is not merely being polite or not saying “bad words”.  It supports both Right Thought and Right Action in a continuous feedback system.  We are better able to sustain Right Thought to the extent we do not fall into thinking patterns prompted by speech that sets the occasion for distortions like Cognitive Fusion.

This is not to say common language shortcuts of speech are the problem.  (In fact, I am using these throughout this essay.)  My point is that we should be careful when using these shortcuts because these can confuse our understanding of reality.  It is merely easier to say, “I am anxious” than to say, “I am experiencing these particular physiological sensations …, in this particular context …, and I am thinking these particular unsettling thoughts….”  I would argue, however, that understanding the reality of the latter statement assists me in not becoming confused about who I am.  While the use of the former statement, sets the occasion for my confusion and prompts distorted thinking.

When I understand who I am and the reality of my experiences, I have more options to engage in behaviors that are consistent with my Values.  For example, I may experience anxious sensations and thoughts, yet still choose to engage in a Valued behavior. (Lojong #41 Observe 2 precepts even at the risk of life.) What are your highest Values?  I hope one of them is Compassion.

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