- Karl Thunemann
Wandering off the Lojong Path: A Triple Jump
Updated: Sep 27, 2021
I have lost my meditative path. It seems like weeks. Some days I wouldn’t meditate at all. I hardly ever decided not to meditate. I would wander from one activity to the next, and by evening I would feel disconnected, even desperate. Other days I would sit down to meditate, but my mind raced off thinking about the topic at hand. Now, when you behave like this you are supposed to remind yourself—thinking—and go back to your discipline. The racehorse within me (certainly not a Thoroughbred)—would have none of this. It had turned back, headed to the stable for a munch. I usually do not meditate at bedtime. Some part of me rejects it. So whole days would pass by without a murmur of meditation.
And because I wasn’t meditating, I felt challenged, trying to produce satisfactory topics for this blog. Well, I could name the topics, but when I started writing them I soon began feeling that I was slipping away from the mark. And when I DID meditate, I began to find myself messing in other people’s business. For instance I wanted to write about a younger relative with whom I think I share a vitrilolic strand of negative family karma. But something was awry; I couldn’t proceed: Surely, lojong neither calls on me to become a missionary nor meddle in other people’s affairs. So I put the topic aside. Maybe I could another way to address this this particular aspect of karma.
Okay, I thought, although the commitment to avoid repeating missteps seems a long reach. I feel as if I have never taken a misstep that I will not repeat. But could I have reached a point of change? Traleg Rinpoche acknowledges the possibility of backsliding and the diligence it demands
In the midst of this skein of bad luck and worse choices I decided to emulate one of my paragons, Pema Chödrön. Pema describes shuffling the deck of cards bearing the 59 lojong slogans and choosing one to focus her thoughts for that day. The card I chose was almost laughable: No. 42: Whichever of the two occurs, be patient.
This was so confusing I spent a few days pondering the vagueness of this slogan. Surely it must refer to the proceeding slogan. But what exactly accounted for the two? Naturally enough, I sought my antecedent. This is it: No. 41: At the beginning and the end, two things to be done. Now here was the antecedent! One of my authorities, Traleg Kyabgon, quotes another sage:
During the day, maintain[bodhichitta] with continuous mindfulness. At the end, when you go to sleep in the evening, examine your thoughts and actions of the day. If there were infringements of bodhichitta, enumerate the instances and acknowledge them, and make a commitment that they will not occur in the future.
Okay, I thought, although the commitment to avoid repeating missteps seems a long reach. I feel as if I have never taken a misstep that I will not repeat. But could I have reached a point of change? Traleg Rinpoche acknowledges the possibility of backsliding and the diligence it demands:
Even if you are prosperous like the gods, Pray do not be conceited. Even if you become as destitute as a hungry ghost, Pray, do not be disheartened. This comes in his commentary on slogan 42. Putting the two together, I see an option that could serve me—a bedtime ritual. I should not go to bed to examine a new entry for my blog, but to review the day! I resolve to do this and immediately encounter a new challenge. It comes from peeking ahead:
No. 43: Observe these two, even at the risk of your life.
This comes as a shock, which might be quite greater if I hadn’t recently been reading Making Friends with Death, by Judith L. Lief. She painstakingly points out that death is embodied in minor changes—losses, transitions, disappointments—that occur every day. Only by attending them can we equip ourselves to greet capital D Death. Still, Slogan No. 42 carries a serious admonition. I think of it as embodied by the statement about Capital D: Any of us could die at any moment. So we cannot afford to dismiss those careful rituals prescribed for rising and retiring. I feel challenged to wrap my arms around the power of this idea. It seems like a mundane daily ritual but leaving it unattended is like courting death. Even at the risk of your own life, keep the practice of austerities and endure suffering for others’ sake. *
Still I’m troubled. I am meditating more frequently, but not every day and often not well. I doubt there is any benefit in sitting in constant judgment on one’s performance as a meditator. All the teachers seem to say this. Do the work, and when there’s a lapse, go back to it with a gentle nudge. May I nudge with compassion.
*From Dharmarakshita’s The Poison-Destroying Peacock Mind Training, quoted by Rinpoche Traleg.