Basic Introduction into Lojong – Part 3: Transforming bad circumstances into our path of enlightenment

Based on Chapter 12 “Lojong” of my book Buddhism for Overthinkers. Trier: Buddha TS Publishing, 2018. [formerly known as : Rationalism versus Spiritualism and Atheism versus Polytheism in Buddhism. Berlin: epubli, 2015.]

After we dedicated ourselves to bodhicitta, the next slogans want to help us with the transformation of bad circumstances into our path of enlightenment [《當野馬遇見馴師》——修心與慈觀 討論提綱. Yeachin, 2009., retrieved on 23 July 2015]. Thus, the eleventh slogan says: “When the world is filled with evil, Transform all mishaps into the path of bodhi” [ibid.], which simply means that when we face difficulties, we should try to solve them in a way according to the teaching. We ought to stay calm (ksanti-paramita, “patience”) and search for a solution with the help of loving-kindness. As this section deals with ksanti-paramita, we should ask ourselves: What is the hindrance of patience? The major hindrance is aggression! [ibid.] So it is no wonder that the twelfth slogan says: “Drive all blames into one” [ibid.]. When a mistake occurs, we always tend to search for someone who conducted the fault and everyone is the victim of the pointing-finger and the one who points the finger on others himself. Therefore, “this slogan is the experience of being a compassionate person (Sanskrit: karuna) and person conducting loving-kindness (Sanskrit: maitri), but this slogan contains the way of the essence of a bodhisattva, meeting absolute and relative bodhicitta genuine, thus as we live together with others – please adopt this example in your daily life” [ibid.; English translation mine]. I hope that I translated this sentence correctly into English, as this is a very complex matter and I’m also just a human-being, probably some mistakes can occur when going so deep into the materia. However, we learnt two important things: one thing is karuna which is compassion, the other thing is maitri, which is the Sanskrit word for the Pali word ‘metta’. So this sentence says that we shall practice karuna and metta in our daily life when we act in our environment instead of pointing with our fingers and searching the mistakes of others. When we practice karuna and metta, we practice the way of becoming a buddha, so we chose the enlightened way and thus we use our energy of bodhicitta. We have to know that according to Kelsang Gyatso there are five steps in training bodhicitta: Training in affectionate love, training in appreciative love, training in wishing love, training in universal compassion, and training in actual bodhichitta [Geshe Kelsang Gyatso: Moderner Buddhismus – Der Weg des Mitgefühls und der Weisheit, Band 1: Sutra. Oberkrämer: Tharpa Verlag, 2011, p. 72]. So when we turn towards compassion, of course our goal is developing a universal compassion. And by valuing all living beings as ourselves, we will of course develop this very universal all-encompassing compassion, leading us to enlightenment [Kelsang Gyatso, 2011: 77]. Our wish to reach enlightenment, however, goes back to the activation of bodhicitta. So bodhicitta and compassion are intertwined. Bodhicitta is the understanding of the need to attain buddhahood and the will to achieve it. This strong will and intuition drives us to do it, just as an energy fuels us. Thus, bodhicitta is a motivation. And universal compassion is the very goal of enlightenment!

The thirteenth slogan says: “Be grateful to everyone” [ibid.]. This slogan is clear, I guess. It’s the result of metta practice and practical karuna. Karuna, together with prajna, is one of two qualities on the bodhisattva path. For Mahayana practitioners, mahakaruna (‘great compassion’) is the highest quality. While Theravadins advise one to become an arhat, Mahayana practitioners regard that as selfish, since one only acts from one’s own motivation, while the path of the bodhisattva also includes helping others on their way to buddhahood. As a Tibetan proverb says: one shall give profit and success to others, while accepting one’s own loss and defeat [ibid.].  Next, the fourteenth slogan says: “Seeing confusion as the four kayas, Is unsurpassable shunyata protection” [ibid.]. The ‘four kayas’ are actually an extension of the trikaya (‘the three kayas’). What are the three kayas? Dharmakaya is the embodiment of truth, in which we realize the Buddhist teaching (‘dharma’) as the fundamental body to find truth or reality due to following the teaching. The dharmakaya thus is the reality itself. In old tradition the Sarvastivadins regarded the physical body of Buddha (rupakaya) as being impure, and thus one shall venerate the Buddha through the ‘body of teaching’ (dharmakaya) [Guang Xing: The Concept of the Buddha – Its Evolution from Early Buddhism to the Trikaya Theory. London/New York: Routledge, 2004, p. 49]. In Mahasamghika tradition, Buddha is omniscient and omnipotent and thus a divine being, and therefore through manifested forms, he liberates all sentient-beings through skillful means [compare Guang Xin, 2004: 53]. In most Mahayana traditions, dharmakaya is a reference to the sum of all Buddhist teachings, and in Tibetan Buddhism it is often called the ‘the body of reality itself’ [Reginald Ray: Secret of the Vajra World – The Tantric Buddhism of Tibet. Boston: Shambhala, 2001, p. 13] which is “without specific, delimited form, wherein the Buddha is identified with the spiritually charged nature of everything that is” [ibid.]. In contrast sambhogakaya is the body of enjoyment in which a buddha can appear to teach through visionary experience [ibid.]. It is also believed that celestial buddhas as well as advanced bodhisattvas can appear. Sambhogakaya is out of form and thus is empty and limitless. In this space through visualization one can work on producing good thoughts and realize that past and future are not part of the reality, but the present situation counts. Finally, there is nirmanakaya the physical body of Buddha [ibid.]. Anyways, Ray explained it in exactly the opposite steps, he first mentioned nirmanakaya as the pure body and then went higher and higher up to dharmakaya, the teaching itself. So while he used an inductive approach, I explained it in a deductive approach, explaining the highest explication first and finally telling how it emanates in this world. The concept of trikaya is very metaphysical and complex since there were many philosophical accounts on it to find an explanation or interpretation of the theory. The trikaya principle itself are the three bodies of Buddha trying to explain the nature of reality and the nature of buddhahood. However, the slogan talks about four kayas and not about three kayas. The fourth body is called “svabhavikakaya”, the essential body. As Judith L. Lief points out: “Basically, the point here is that if we really look closely at the way our mind works, even in the midst of confusion, we always find the same process: one of continual awakening. This process is described in terms of what are called the four kayas or ‘bodies.’ Through careful attention and meditative practice we begin to see how every perception begins with uncertainty and openness (dharmakaya); then starts to come into focus (nirmanakaya); then develops energy and begins to come together (sambhogakaya), and finally clicks, synthesized as immediate present-moment experience (svabhavikakaya). It is as though confusion is awakening in disguise” [Judith L. Lief: Working With the Slogans of Atisha – A practical guide to leading a compassionate life. Judith L. Lief, 2021, p. 20]. Thus, though it sounded obscure in the beginning, it now fully makes sense. Now we have to connect this to emptiness. Lama Zopa Rinpoche writes in his book on emptiness: “A small mirror can reflect an entire city or the thousands of objects in a supermarket. If that mirror doesn’t have dirt or any other material obscuring it we can see everything very clearly in it. It is similar with our consciousness, which becomes omniscient when all our obscurations have been eradicated by our generating the remedy of the path. This omniscient state is known as ‘full enlightenment,’ ‘buddhahood’ or ‘the non-abiding sorrowless state.’ And the ultimate nature of that omniscient mind is emptiness, or shunyata.” [Zopa Rinpoche: How Things Exist – Teachings on Emptiness. Boston: Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive, no date, p. 26.] According to Zopa Rinpoche, dharmakaya is the omniscient mind of a Buddha [Zopa, Rinpoche, n.d.: 76], and the omniscient mind was previously in his book on page 26 described as emptiness. Thus, what we perceive with our senses to be reality is in fact just confusion, while the body of the dharma is emptiness.

The fifteenth slogan says: “Four practices are the best of methods” [Yeachin, n.d.]. Which are the four practices that are mentioned? The first one is accumulating merit (积聚资粮)through the three engagements (三种激励), the second is “Laying Down Evil Deeds” (净除恶业), the third one is offering to block Mara, the demon of death (供养魔障)[ibid.]. Mara does not only embody death, but also distraction from the teaching. The illusion that Mara tried to spread before drowning in a puddle, according to religious belief, was cut by Buddha’s enlightenment, like someone cuts a diamond. Every world religion probably has an image of evil, and so in Buddhism it is Mara. The fourth practice is the “Offering to the Dharmapalas” (供养护法)[ibid.]. The dharmapalas are the defenders of the dharma, and thus they are the ones to protect and support one. So the four practices are the three merits, avoiding one’s own wrong-doings and changing evil characteristics into good ones, praying against evil and praying for good (which also means one shall avoid doing evil and encourage doing good). The slogan therefore deals with good and evil and supports us to lay down our bad sides and encouraging to do good things. The sixteenth slogan says: “Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join with meditation” [ibid.], which remembers us to deal with bad things not only in meditation, but also in post-meditation. An important practice is ‘shamatha-vipashyana’, which consists of calming our mind (‘shamatha’) and clear-seeing investigation (‘vipashyana’ in Sanskrit, and ‘vipassana’ in Pali). Vipassana includes investigation of ideas from experience and drawing conclusions from experience, which leads to analyzing experiences and finding the causes of sufferance.

Timo Schmitz, 12 January 2023


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