Training the Mind in Compassion (Lojong)

The Tibetan word lojong has many meanings, but most commonly it refers to training the mind in compassion.

As His Holiness the Dalai Lama says:

“The lojong tradition stands as the heart of the Buddha’s message of peace. It teaches us how to regard others with the dignity and care that they deserve, and also how to transcend the limitations of ego-grasping. […]

“The essential message of these teachings is that if we want to see a better world, we should begin by improving our own mind. We can spend our lives trying to ‘tame’ the world—a task that would never end—or we can take the more practical path of ‘taming’ our own minds.

“This is by far the most effective approach, and brings the most immediate, stable and lasting solution. It contributes to our own inner happiness, and also contributes to establishing an atmosphere of peace and harmony in the world around us.”

So what does lojong actually mean?

The first syllable ‘lo’ refers to the aspect of our mind that tends to think all kinds of things. If we don’t take care of our mind by working with it and mastering it, then these endless rising thoughts will quite often get us into trouble and lead us into suffering.

As the poet John Milton wrote in ‘Paradise Lost’:

“The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”

So, if you know how to work with your mind and understand it, then this mind can be the most wonderful thing. On the other hand, if you don’t know how to work with your mind, then this mind, with all its endless thinking, can become your worst enemy or nightmare. The purpose of lojong, therefore, is to work with and transform our mind. In fact, taming and transforming the mind is the essence of the entire teaching of Buddha.

As for ‘jong’ the second half of the word lojong, this refers to the use of very powerful methods or antidotes to transform the mind. Generally, our character is quite wild. Our mind stubbornly thinks whatever it wants, and so we need to use special methods to make it more workable. A traditional example for this is working with leather. When you first start to work with it, leather is quite tough; you need soak it and then massage it with oils and butter to make it softer, more pliable and tender.

In a similar way, while our character can be very tough and stubborn at the beginning, through training our minds in compassion, loving kindness andbodhichitta, we gradually overcome and soften our stubborn, destructive thoughts emotions. That is the meaning of lojong.