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Posts Tagged ‘Training in Compassion Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong’

There are times every day when I feel that my mind is filled with cotton balls and the simplest name will not come to mind.  But then I take a few deep breaths and sit (meditate) for 5 or 10 minutes and the name will find its way up from the recesses of my brain and there it is!  I am compelled then to call the person who got me searching for this name and share my prize with him or her.

One day I was so happy to remember the name that I immediately picked up the phone, dialed my friend’s number, and shouted in the phone Al Pacino!  He said, “What?” And I repeated Al Pacino, the actor that came into my dream the other night, it was Al Pacino.  He just laughed and said, “Do you know it’s midnight?”  I apologized; we both laughed and commiserated about getting old before hanging up our phones.

Some people use external things that cloud the mind like alcohol or drugs.  Some came to a Sangha out of a desire to get help with unclouding their minds from these external things. Others came to get them unclouded from negative thoughts and feelings that were not allowing them to make good, compassionate, logical decisions about their lives. No matter what the reason sitting (meditation) and following the teachings of the Buddha will help.  But just like any bad habit–changing it does not happen overnight.

Norman Fischer in his new book Training in Compassion Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong  (2013),  talks about cultivating a serious attitude when we desire to change something in our lives. He asks us to practice the “five strengths.”  “The Five strengths are:

1.       Strong determination
2.       Familiarization
3.       Seed of virtue
4.       Reproach
5.    Aspiration (page 68”)[1]

Strength #1 is strong determination.  To make a change in your life, regardless of what it is—Ya Gottawanna!  Once you really “want to” then and only then should you begin.  I remember being on a no carb diet sometime back and found it almost impossible not to eat one of those delicious bagels that are shared each Saturday in our morning study group after Zazen.  They sure tasted a lot better than that old rice cake I was eating!  Challenges come in all ways, places, things, and degrees.

Fischer goes on to say:

Strong determination is exactly what it sounds like. It is a practice to teach us how to take ourselves seriously as dignified spiritual practitioners. To feel as if, whatever our shortcomings (and it is absolutely necessary that we are honest, even brutally honest, about our shortcomings at every point), we also have within us a powerful energy to accomplish the spiritual path (page 69).[2]

Having strong determination helps us clear our minds, keeps us from clouding up our minds, and helps us create a happier, healthier, more loving life.

The second great tip he gives us is what he calls a technique of Familiarization and it builds on the first one.

“With familiarization, with repetition and repeated drill, comes the establishment of a new habit that is not, like the old ones, unconscious but instead is a habit you have thought about and chosen to cultivate for reasons that come out of your best motivations.  Familiarization is brain washing, washing out an otherwise musty brain, freshening it up (page 70).[3]

I just love that idea; it is like using a mouth wash on your brain!

Lastly he says “Familiarization is repetition of teachings and intentional practices for the purpose of establishing new pathways, new habits.  As we’ve said, the brain is plastic, fluid it changes with our inner and outer activity (page 69).”[4]  There is an old theory of 21 that says you must do something 21 times in order to make it a habit.  I’ve never been able to do it only 21 times, for me it usually takes 121 times, but I am persistent so I keep going and going washing that brain out whenever and wherever I need to.

I work daily to make my inner work with Buddhism express in my outer world.  Each time I am successful at that I am one step closer to living the life of a Bodhisattva. And maybe, just maybe I only have 119 more days (or lives) to familiarize myself with the practice of The Grave Precept #5 till it becomes an unconscious way of life and there is one less cloud in my mind!

Things to focus on this week:

  • Step one: Begin by deciding how you will use strong determination and familiarization to help you uncloud your mind.
  • Step two: Set your intention to do so before the clouds appear each day.
  • Step three: Remember to be mindful of being determined in all you do and do not rain on others with your cloudy mind.
  • Step four: Finally, keep a journal on the precept and make note of how learning to embody truth in all its aspects thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life. Good luck with that!

[1] Fischer, N. (2013) Training in Compassion Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong . Shambhala: Boston, MA

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

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For those of you who have been following my blog on the 10 Paramitas I hope you will enjoy the next series of blog posts on the 16 Buddhist Precepts: Three Refuges, the Three Pure Precepts, and eventually the Ten Grave Precepts.  Each post will give you the opportunity to learn about the precept and then I hope you will take some time to focus, sit, and practice each one.  It may take you many months, but the adventure will be worthwhile.  It can help you get through the daily challenges and misfortunes of life with some ease and peace and it can help you help others to make this a better more compassionate place in which to live.

For those who have not studied Buddhism and may come from a different spiritual or religious background just knowing that someone is asking you to take refuge in the Buddha may be a little “off putting” as some might say.  But if we understand what students and followers of Buddhism think about the man Siddhartha Gautama you will see how you too can use this refuge in a positive life affirming way.

The Buddha is not someone like Jesus Christ who is worshiped and venerated as though he was the one and only son of God at the top of the hierarchy or in a trinity with God.  Siddhartha was a man who spent the early part of his life searching for the meaning of life and the causes of its inherent suffering. In the process he walked down many different paths looking for the answer.  Exactly like many of you are doing today.  Then one day he decided he was just going to sit in silence as long as it took and it worked.  Some say he sat under the Bodhi tree for 49 days where he finally attained enlightenment.  He was then given the name Buddha which means an “awakened one.”

How odd that all he got was the title “awakened one” yet how wonderful indeed!  Because guess what that means—I can be a Buddha and you can be a Buddha if we take our pursuit seriously.  From that time forward his followers began looking to have the same experience he did and they practiced sitting (Zazen) in the hopes of becoming enlightened. But they did more than just sit—they walked through life using the principles he taught and they soon discovered that when they did this they found their lives filled with peace, love, joy, and compassion and some even found enlightenment.

Norman Fisher in his book Training in Compassion Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong (2013) writes this in his introduction.

Compassion and resilience are not, as we might imagine, rarified human qualities available only to the saintly. Nor are they adventitious experiences that arise in us only in extraordinary circumstances.  In fact, these essential and universally prized human qualities can be solidly cultivated by anyone willing to take the time to do it.  They can become the way we are and live on a daily basis.  We can train our minds.  We are not stuck with our fearful, habitual, self-centered ways of seeing and feeling (page x).

Therefore, if you would like to see your life emptied of fear, negative habits, and self-centeredness I hope you will take some time to focus on becoming the Buddha.  You may not make it in this life, but there is no harm in trying—in fact, only good can come from it.  So let’s begin today!

Start by taking refuge in the Buddha, the “awakened one” and watch what happens.  It just could be the transformation you have been seeking.

Things to focus on this week:

  1.  I will begin each day with the intention of finding an opportunity to share compassion with at least one person: self, stranger, family member, or friend.
  2. When I feel a negative emotion I will ask myself, “What would the Buddha do?”
  3. Next, I will express compassion and caring for myself and for all others involved.

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