• Karl Thunemann

Lojong Delivers a Kick in the Pants—or Two

As I have wandered through and among the lojong slogans for the past few weeks, I have wondered how important sequence is for these aphorisms on leading a virtuous and spiritual life.

And you might ask: Why? Surely the mystics of ancient Tibet must have spent a good many decades pondering sequence, seeing as they spent three centuries determining what shape it should take!

Yes, no doubt that’s true, but every new student needs to work out his own acceptance of the sequence. In my case, it took me several weeks to understand that the “preliminaries” of slogan #1 ought to be called the “fundamentals,” because that is what they are. I’m fine with that now.

And then I leaped ahead to Slogan #59, not out of concerns for sequence but because it seemed to me that a graphic I had seen presenting all the slogans had misrepresented #59, characterizing it as “Don’t Expect Publicity.” This conjured up a vision I found hard to accept: The mystics gathered in an endless plenary session, while just outside the representatives of the Tibetan equivalent of K Street awaited the signal to go out and spread the word. Well, of course I had it wrong. The real message of Slogan #59, set in words I could understand, is not about publicity, but this: Don’t expect people to make a fuss over what you are doing.

I know this blog has only a few dozen subscribers, and they—even the ones I most adore! —don’t bother to read every post. So the little trick I play on myself is to imagine that my real audience—the one that has not been gathered yet—will be a posthumous audience.

It seemed appropriate that I came to this message right at the beginning, so I could put aside illusions concerning my importance. You can ascribe it to synchronicity and happenstance, but this was simply what I need to hear. (I almost typed needed to hear, as if changing a verb’s tense would alter my state of mind.) I haven’t been able to force this verb “need” into the past tense. I cannot help expecting people to pay attention—and not just because one of my confidantes keeps egging me on. It’s so important that you’re writing these posts, she says, as if they will be widely read.

Now in one respect I AM realistic. I know this blog has only a few dozen subscribers, and they—even the ones I most adore! —don’t bother to read every post. So the little trick I play on myself is to imagine that my real audience—the one that has not been gathered yet—will be a posthumous* audience. So that way I can live my modest life and put off a final reckoning … even if that reckoning turns out to be somewhat short of a lazy yawn.

So finally I made it to Slogan #2, which is all about distinguishing between dharma and dreams, while flattering neither. That itself was a kick in the pants. If you’re not safe losing yourself in your dreams, and dharma, for all its serious attention, is no better, where can you go?

When I turned to Slogan #3—Examine the nature of unborn awareness--I imagined it would be a refuge. But my intuitive notion was all too romantic. I supposed that unborn awareness would turn out to consist of discovering what I had always known, and the “examination” would be the full flush of it coming to consciousness. But that was a serious error. Awareness that is “unborn” defies definition. One can only examine it by emptying the mind and hoping for the occasional connection. But it seems as if it will never be like an old friend, someone you can spend a delightful evening with.

And then comes Slogan #4, which delivers the real kick in the pants: Self-liberate even the antidote. It seems as if the sloganeers are absolutely certain that most students will come away from #2 and #3 saying Aha, NOW I’ve got it. The “antidote” must be the incorrigible need to analyze everything. One of my confidantes likens this to the exhortation, If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. So if you found the antidote in #3, the kindest thing you can do for yourself is to liberate it. That’s kind of a sad idea, isn’t it? Unemployed antidotes are not likely to appreciate liberation!

I do intend to keep taking on these slogans and trying to apply them to myself. But I’m going to stop questioning the sequence. I think that part of the sequential intention is to keep students off balance by running us from pillar to post. For that, may I be game. I just hope I am not too often sent sprawling. After all, I am old and more than a bit frail.


*I have in mind clearly what I am trying to say, but I cannot think of the proper word. I draw a complete blank, though I have thought of this moment many times! So I go to my search engine, type in word describing the period following one's death, and up pops “posthumous.” Now it is securely in my mind. Did any of my supposed future readers feel a synchronistic jolt? Or will it come upon them later, like an unborn awareness? Did they wonder what it meant? Ah, there I go again: Expecting people to make a fuss over what I am doing—or did.