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CONTEMPORARY ZEN PRACTICE AND INQUIRY

Spring Practice Period: Week Two

Last week we began with the first point, “Train in the Preliminaries.” Now we begin seriously working with the mind training key points and their Lojong slogans. Mind training point two is “Train in Empathy and Compassion.” It has two parts, “Absolute Compassion,” and “Relative Compassion.”

03/25/18 12:35:pm

Dear Sangha-

As we enter the second week of the spring Practice Period at Appamada, I encourage you to continue to deepen your practice and wholehearted exploration of your path of awakening for yourself and for others. This week we take up Point Two of the Seven Points of Mind Training, based on Norman Fischer’s book Training in Compassion. I’ve been inspired, too, by Dzigar Kongtrul’s book on the same subject, The Intelligent Heart: A Guide to the Compassionate Life, in case you would like another source from a contemporary Tibetan teacher. 

Last week we began with the first point, “Train in the Preliminaries.” Now we begin seriously working with the mind training key points and their Lojong slogans. Mind training point two is “Train in Empathy and Compassion.” It has two parts, “Absolute Compassion,” and “Relative Compassion.” Norman Fischer writes: “The technical term for this training in Mahayana Buddhism is the development of bodhicitta, which means, literally, the impulse or desire for spiritual awakening. This doesn’t sound much like compassion or sympathy. Yet implicit in the Mahayana Buddhist understanding of spiritual awakening is the thought that spiritual awakening means awakening to a heartfelt concern for others, since any selfish effort, even with a goal of wisdom or enlightenment for oneself, would never lead to real awakening; it would always lead to more narrowness. Spiritual awakening is exactly dropping the sense of one’s narrow separateness; it is essentially and profoundly altruistic. So cultivating bodhicitta means cultivating true and heartfelt concern for others in a way that is not clingy or arrogant, but is based on the accurate wisdom that none of us is alone, we all need each other and are closely related to each other. 

Dzigar Kongtrul explains relative and absolute bodhicitta this way: Relative bodhicitta, which arises out of love and compassion, is the aspiration to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. Absolute bodhicitta is the direct insight into the empty nature of all phenomena. Though I have yet to come across a better term in English, the word emptiness has its drawbacks. It can frighten or disturb people and lead them to confuse Buddhism with nihilism. So it’s important to state at the outset that emptiness doesn’t refer to a void or a black hole. It is not the same as nonexistence. To say that a person or thing is “empty” simply means that it doesn’t exist in the intrinsic way we think it does. When we say phenomena are empty, we mean that we can’t grasp them or pin them down. It doesn’t mean that they don’t function or appear to our senses. 
He adds, The absolute bodhicitta slogans give a step-by-step method for understanding emptiness at increasingly subtle levels. 

Here are the absolute bodhicitta slogans, from Dzigar Kongtrul (you may want to compare these to the same slogans in Fischer):
    2.    Consider all phenomena as a dream.
    3.    Examine the nature of unborn awareness.
    4.    The antidote itself is liberated.
    5.    Rest in the nature of the alaya (the enlightened nature that all beings with a mind possess).
    6.    In post-meditation, be a child of illusion.

Here are the relative bodhicitta slogans:
    7.    Practice giving and taking alternately. Mount both upon the breath.
    8.    Three objects, three poisons, and three roots of virtue.
    9.    In all conduct train with maxims.
    10.    Begin the sequence of taking with oneself.

Curious about what these slogans can possibly mean, and how you can use them in your practice and everyday life? That would be a great thing to inquire about, with your practice period buddy, with the teachers, and through engaging with the book. But this is the central point of the entire seven point mind training in compassion, so please take some time to reflect on it. Next week we will take up the third Mind Training Point, 
“Transform Bad Circumstances into the Path,” or as Kongtrul puts it: “Transforming Adversity into the Path of Enlightenment.” 

Stay tuned!
 

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