Gratitude Confession #9: For the Dharma Teachings
"I am grateful for living in a time and a place that I can hear the dharma."
This statement shows up over and over again in the gratitude section of my TIA Journal.
The word dharma is another way of referring to the great teachings that have been passed down to us by elders, sages, and mystics throughout the ages. These “teachings” are a pathway for our own awakening to the truths of who we really are and what is really possible for us. They offer spiritual technologies that crack us open and prepare us for transformation. I am convinced our passage on this earth can be softened, lightened, and marked by joy and benefit if we immerse ourselves in these great teachings.
For the past three months, I have immersed myself in the lojong teachings that came out of the Mahayana school of Buddhism. These teachings emphasize compassionate communication and compassionate relationship with others. Lojong means “mind training,” and the teachings consist of fifty-nine pithy slogans that guide us toward awareness, aliveness, and compassionate behavior. I cannot even express how helpful these slogans have been to me in the last three months of political turmoil.
To be honest, I join so many people in our country who are saddened, frustrated, and seemingly helpless to push against the egregiously bad behavior of leaders who should be guiding the way to a better life and a better world. I am often in despair over the social and political state of our country.
What am I to do? How can things change? And what change is actually needed?
I know so many of you share my despair. And there are, of course, many things that each of us can do. Action is required, but history has shown that effective action emerges from a contemplative mind and a compassionate heart, in addition to a keen intellect and a clear moral ethic.
My spiritual tradition tells me that I start in my own heart. And so, a few months ago, I turned to lojong—mind training— which comes from an old Tibetan text called The Root Text of the Seven Points of Training the Mind. Rather than read this challenging ancient text, I highly recommend the beautiful contemporary presentation of the teachings by Pema Chödrön in Start Where You Are. Chödrön is an American Buddhist nun and an amazingly skilled teacher, making these teachings delightfully accessible.
Each day I read a chapter of this book and her lovely explanation of one slogan. Many of these short slogans will be very familiar to you:
- Change your attitude, but remain natural. - Don’t be swayed by external circumstances. - Don’t malign others. - Don’t seek other’s pain as the limbs to your own happiness. - Always maintain a joyful mind.
Other slogans are more esoteric:
- Don’t act with a twist. - Drive all blames into one. - In post-meditation, be a child of illusion. - Liberate yourself by examining and analyzing.
Every day for these past three months, the slogans have instructed me, calmed me, challenged me, and inspired me. Chödrön shows how the lojong teachings direct us to use our difficulties and problems to awaken our hearts, and in turn to create conditions for awakening in others.
I try to avoid the news and the latest offending behavior of our president. But lojong teaches us to look every disappointment in the face, to square off with it, to feel the pain of it, the discomfort of it. (When the world is filled with evil, transform all mishaps into the path of Bodhi.) Don’t turn away!
Ghandi implores us to be the change we wish to see in the world.
The dharma teachings help me in my attempts to create change within myself, however small that may be. They teach me to seek wisdom, contemplation, compassion, to accept things exactly as they are, and then to stand firm on the side of the good, the true, and the beautiful.
I can’t do this life by myself. I need training. I need guidance. I need a daily practice that leads me to right action.
Lojong is a radical contemplative practice, not for everyone. But for some, it helps. It builds clarity and confidence to move forward. It softens the heart and strengthens the mind. It fosters equanimity and engenders gratitude. I believe these qualities give me greater access to my highest offering to the world.
I want to believe that these are beneficial qualities for all citizens. I believe that maintaining a daily practice that strengthens one’s ability to act wisely and to be of benefit is a significant way to “be the change.”
I wonder if you would like to join me in this practice? I don’t even know what I actually mean when I ask this question. Maybe it would just mean that some of my fellow seekers are also reading Pema Chödrön’s Start Where You Are. Maybe it would mean that you take up your own practice of heart-opening, of waking up. Maybe it means we would read this book together, or we would meet to undertake a deep practice instead of engaging in angry debate. I don’t know what I mean.
I’m just trying to do something. Some small thing, today.
And today, that small thing was this: I wrote, “I am grateful for living in a time and a place where I can hear the dharma.”
The wisdom from our ancient traditions has not been lost, or even drowned out. The dharma is within us all, just waiting to be ignited. Take up a practice and it will emerge. Join me.
May we all hear the unique dharma that will lead us to our highest, offering the best we have to the precious children of this world.