The Message of Goodness

When you are able to turn the mind inward, and be in the essential nature of mind, then there’s such a sense of groundedness; a sense of peace, relaxation, ease, freedom, contentment and happiness, born from within. You come into touch with yourself, your mind and heart open, and it’s almost like the love within you, which might have been blocked, is brought out and comes to love you. We need to taste and experience this more and more.

This is the second part of a two part teaching. You can see the first part here.

We’ve Got It All Completely Wrong

Everyone wants to be happy. But why do our constant struggles to make ourselves happy so often lead to frustration, or even depression? In seeking happiness for ourselves alone we become self-centred, caught up in a claustrophobic state of mind, where we not only end up not being happy but there’s no end to problems, we shirk our responsibilities and blame others. Cherishing ourselves is supposed to make us happy, but it actually makes things worse. On the other hand, by thinking of others, cherishing others and working for the benefit of others, our own welfare is taken care of as a matter of course.

Cherishing others doesn’t mean that we should care for others at the exclusion of ourselves. We also need to love ourselves. This is very important. The Buddha said, ‘Whoever loves himself will never harm another.’ It is when we don’t love ourselves that we harm others. By moving beyond self-cherishing we can begin to truly love ourselves, in an enlightened way, and bring benefit to the world.

Why Bodhisattvas Don’t Defend Themselves

All of us, no matter who we are, have compassion to at least some extent. For example, whenever we think of someone hit by tragedy or suffering, we are naturally moved by a feeling of compassion. All of us seem to have a natural capacity for love as well.

Through training the mind, or lojong in Tibetan, we take these qualities of compassion and love and infuse them with a limitless motivation, vision and determination that we can and will free all beings from suffering and guide them toward enlightenment. This is called great compassion. From the depth of our hearts, our only wish is for beings to be free from suffering and to have happiness—the ultimate happiness of enlightenment.

This compassion, when developed to its deepest extent, and linked with wisdom, is embodied in what is called bodhichitta. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama says:

“Bodhichitta is considered in Mahayana Buddhism to be the spirit, the source and the root of the entire spiritual path. It is the very highest form of altruism and the highest form of courage, the source of all spiritual qualities and the essence of all the teachings of the Buddha.”

Someone who has genuinely given rise to bodhichitta is called a bodhisattva. The word for bodhisattva in Tibetan—changchup sempa—carries the meaning of someone who is courageous and brave, like a warrior. Bodhisattvas are warriors because they live and act solely for the sake of others, free from worry or concern for themselves. Since their main objective or task is working for the benefit of others, they are neither attached to the pleasures and comforts of the world, nor afraid of its suffering and difficulties.

Ordinarily we try to keep good things such as happiness, success and prosperity for ourselves, while we prefer to give to others all the things we don’t want such as suffering, misfortune and difficulties.

But the bodhisattva attitude is the complete opposite of how we normally operate. With compassion, bodhisattvas are willing to take on the suffering of others, and with love, they wholeheartedly give away their own well-being and happiness. They have tremendous vision, capacity of mind and courage. Whatever happens to them, whether they are attacked, mistreated or criticized, they never lose heart and never respond to others with anger or aggression, only love and compassion.

As Gyalse Thogme Zangpo wrote in The Thirty Seven Practices of Bodhisattvas:

“Even if others should declare before the world
All manner of unpleasant things about me,
To speak only of their qualities in return,
With a mind that’s filled with love—this is the practice of all the bodhisattvas.”

This attitude of fearless concern for others is captured in this verse from the famous text the Eight Verses of Training the Mind, by Geshe Langri Tangpa:

“Whenever someone out of envy
Does me wrong by attacking or belittling me,
I will take defeat upon myself,
And give the victory to others.”

In fact, these two lines, “I will take the defeat upon myself, and give the victory to others”, are the heart of the teachings of training the mind in compassion, and the basis for tonglen, the practice of giving happiness and receiving suffering. To have this attitude is the way of a bodhisattva, a true practitioner of compassion.

The Heart of the Practice of Lojong

Training the mind in compassion, or lojong, refers to a profound transformation from a state of mind in which we think only of ourselves, to a more enlightened perspective, in which we think principally of others.

Why is it important to change our attitude in this way? As long as we are only concerned with ourselves and our short-term interests thinking: “How can I get ahead?  How can I get what I want?” our scope is very narrow, and we often find ourselves imprisoned in a tight, claustrophobic state of mind, in which even the slightest discomfort becomes unbearable and the smallest problems multiply into endless irritations and difficulties. When we focus on ourselves alone and neglect others, nothing is accomplished that is of benefit to anyone else, and we don’t achieve our own happiness either.

But when we think of the welfare of others, what happens? Not only are we able to offer them help, but in the process our own happiness is taken care of as a matter of course. This is because, when we have love and compassion in our mind, we automatically become more spacious and we feel more joy, contentment and well-being. Thinking of others is a tremendous source of happiness.

In short: whenever we harm others, it harms us; whenever we help others, it helps us. This is why His Holiness the Dalai Lama often says that if you wish to truly look after your own self-interest, then, at least be “wisely selfish”, rather than foolishly selfish. Take a good look and you will realize that if you truly wish to take care of yourself, it means giving up harming others, and trying to help them instead.

While at the moment we are mainly concerned with cherishing ourselves, through training our mind with the skilful means of compassion, we can slowly transfer and extend this cherishing of ourselves to others. This begins, firstly, by seeing how we and others are the same. Just as we want happiness and don’t want to suffer, others feel exactly the same. Thinking in this way we come to realize that just as we cherish ourselves, we should also cherish others.

Then, gradually, through training the mind in compassion, we can extend our compassion further to the point where we are willing to exchange ourselves with others. Our compassion becomes so great that we wish to take on the pain and suffering of others and give to them all our happiness and well-being. Finally, we can reach a point where we even consider others as more important than ourselves.

This is what the practice of lojong is really all about.

Though there are a lot of teachings on lojong, the most important point is to actually practise it, to bring these teachings into our being and actually transform our mind and heart so that we have more love, compassion and genuine concern for others.

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.