Notes from Compassion Practice

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Lojong Slogan 4: Don’t Get Stuck on Peace

Our first three lojong slogans were Train in the Preliminaries, See Everything as a Dream, and Examine the Nature of Awareness. They’re each very encouraging. They feel soothing, and in these days of strife and upset, it’s been nice to be held by these realizations that our practice can make a difference, that everything is undefinable and constantly changing, and that the “me” that you may have thought was there to keep your rigidly adhering to your stories and ideas is no different from anything else--it is boundless, interconnected, and impermanent, and when we let it go, life feels peaceful. It feels dreamy and blissful like everything is just going to be okay, and that I can just kick back, chill out, and let events take their course.

And that’s where our next slogan comes in: Don’t get stuck on peace. As Norman Fischer puts it, the instruction here is to, “more or less, forget the last two slogans (21).”

As Fischer notes on page 21 of Training In Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong, “When you practice with see everything as a dream and examine the nature of awareness, life gets rather dreamy and abstract…” Speaking for myself, this has certainly been the case. And combined with our first koan, Mu, more than once during a busy school day I’ve had one of these past phrases wash over me, bringing a feeling of serenity. It’s been nice! You may have had similar experiences. Have you noticed how strange it feels to see time passing, or how strange and profound awareness is (whatever it may be)? As Fischer continues:

“And it begins to dawn on you that your usual sense of self is some kind of mental habit that might not have an actual basis. You notice how clunky and crude many of your self-thoughts actually are. If all of this is not disturbing to you…, you might be thinking, “This is great! Everything is empty; everything is a dream, just like the slogan says. There isn’t any person in there really, there is just awareness itself, so I’m free of all my worries and I can enjoy life a lot more.

What the slogan Don’t get stuck on peace is saying is that when you start thinking like that, you are caught all over again. You are mistaken. You have merely exchanged one set of confused concepts for another. This train of thought will not be sustainable. It will cause you trouble. The point of Don’t get stuck on peace is: don’t get excited about the empty, dream-like nature of everything, because now you’ve conceptualized it and made it into something, an idea, and soon that idea is going to trip you up. And forget about how great it is to be nobody, because that’s just another excuse. It is too easy to make these slogans into belief systems. The important thing is to hold them lightly and don’t think you have understood them. They are just devices. Take them with a grain of salt. They may not really be true at all." (Fischer, 21)

Our intentions may be good, but if we slip into an attitude of, “I feel good and let’s just see how things go”, and we abandon energetic care--what Appamada means--we place our relationships, people, and things we care about at risk. As Shohaku Okumura puts it in Living By Vow, “Ordinary people are those who live being pulled by their karma; bodhisattvas are those who live led by their vows.”

So, this month, I invite you to take up this slogan. I’ve printed some little signs for you to post in various spots if you like. I plan on sticking a few up around the house and one on my desk at work.

As I was preparing this introduction to tonight’s practice, I found myself in a quandary, and during practice discussion with Peg on Friday, I asked her, how does one lead a guided meditation on such a “gotcha” slogan? She thought for a moment--maybe a few seconds--and then offered the following poetic, stirring piece of writing that comes to us from the Tibetans, 12 centuries past--The Shambhala Warrior Prophecy, as retold by Joanna Macy. 

"There comes a time when all life on Earth is in danger. Barbarian powers have arisen. Although they waste their wealth in preparations to annihilate each other, they have much in common: weapons of unfathomable devastation and technologies that lay waste the world. It is now, when the future of all beings hangs by the frailest of threads, that the kingdom of Shambhala emerges. "You cannot go there, for it is not a place. It exists in the hearts and minds of the Shambhala warriors. But you cannot recognize a Shambhala warrior by sight, for there is no uniform or insignia, there are no banners. And there are no barricades from which to threaten the enemy, for the Shambhala warriors have no land of their own. Always they move on the terrain of the barbarians themselves. "Now comes the time when great courage is required of the Shambhala warriors, moral and physical courage. For they must go into the very heart of the barbarian power and dismantle the weapons. To remove these weapons, in every sense of the word, they must go into the corridors of power where the decisions are made. "The Shambhala warriors know they can do this because the weapons are manomaya, mind-made. This is very important to remember, Joanna. These weapons are made by the human mind. So they can be unmade by the human mind! The Shambhala warriors know that the dangers that threaten life on Earth do not come from evil deities or extraterrestrial powers. They arise from our own choices and relationships. So, now, the Shambhala warriors must go into training. "How do they train?" I asked. "They train in the use of two weapons.The weapons are compassion and insight. Both are necessary. We need this first one," he said, lifting his right hand, "because it provides us the fuel, it moves us out to act on behalf of other beings. But by itself, it can burn us out. So we need the second as well, which is an insight into the dependent co-arising of all things. It lets us see that the battle is not between good people and bad people, for the line between good and evil runs through every human heart. We realize that we are interconnected, as in a web, and that each act with pure motivation affects the entire web, bringing consequences we cannot measure or even see.

"But insight alone," he said, "can seem too cool to keep us going. So we need as well the heat of compassion, our openness to the world's pain. Both weapons or tools are necessary to the Shambhala warrior."

Don’t get stuck on peace.