A commentary on the great Indian yogi Atisha’s famed mind-training slogans

When I first read the lojong, or mind training, teachings in The Great Path of Awakening by the nineteenth-century Tibetan teacher Jamgön Kongtrül the Great, I was struck by their unusual message that we can use our difficulties and problems to awaken our hearts. Rather than seeing the unwanted aspects of life as obstacles, Jamgön Kongtrül presented them as the raw material necessary for awakening genuine uncontrived compassion. It is unconditional compassion for ourselves that leads naturally to unconditional compassion for others. The lojong teachings are organized around seven points that contain fifty-nine pithy slogans that remind us how to awaken our hearts. Here are ten of those slogans.

First, train in the preliminaries.

The preliminaries are also known as the four reminders. In your daily life, try to:
1) Maintain an awareness of the preciousness of human life.
2) Be aware of the reality that life ends; death comes for everyone.
3) Recall that whatever you do, whether virtuous or not, has a result; what goes around comes around.
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 suffer. Obsessing about getting what you want and avoiding what you don’t want does not result in happiness.

Regard all dharmas as dreams.

Whatever you experience in your life—pain, pleasure, heat, cold, or anything else—is like something happening in a dream. Although you might think things are very solid, they are like passing memory. Nothing solid is really happening.

Drive all blames into one.

This is advice on how to work with your fellow beings. Everyone is looking for someone to blame and therefore aggression and neurosis keep expanding. Instead, pause and look at what’s happening with you. When you hold on so tightly to your view of what they did, you get hooked. Your own self-righteousness causes you to get all worked up and to suffer. So work on cooling that reactivity rather than escalating it. This approach reduces suffering—yours and everyone else’s.

Be grateful to everyone.

Others will always show you exactly where you are stuck. They say or do something and you automatically get hooked into a familiar way of reacting—shutting down, speeding up, or getting all worked up. When you react in the habitual way, with anger, greed, and so forth, it gives you a chance to see your patterns and work with them honestly and compassionately. Without others provoking you, you remain ignorant of your painful habits and cannot train in transforming them into the path of awakening.

Always maintain only a joyful mind.

Constantly apply cheerfulness, if for no other reason than because you are on this spiritual path. Have a sense of gratitude to everything, even difficult emotions, because of their potential to wake you up.

Abandon any hope of fruition.

The key instruction is to stay in the present. Don’t get caught up in hopes of what you’ll achieve and how good your situation will be some day in the future. What you do right now is what matters.

Don’t malign others.

You speak badly of others, thinking it will make you feel superior. This only sows seeds of meanness in your heart, causing others not to trust you and causing you to suffer.

Don’t act with a twist.

Acting with a twist means having an ulterior motive of benefiting yourself. It’s the sneaky approach.

All activities should be done with one intention.

Whatever you are doing, take the attitude of wanting it directly or indirectly to benefit others. Take the attitude of wanting it to increase your experience of kinship with your fellow beings.

Train in the three difficulties.

The three difficulties (or, the three difficult practices) are:
1) to recognize your neurosis as neurosis;
2) then not to do the habitual thing, but to do something different to interrupt the neurotic habit; and
3) to make this practice a way of life. 

From The Compassion Box by Pema Chödrön, available from Shambhala Publications.