When in doubt – remember the preliminaries: the four reminders. They will open your heart and awaken the urge to live to your fullest potential right now. Might sound counter-intuitive but this will make you more happy.
You are lucky to be born human, you do not have much time, all you do has an effect, indulging in ego won’t make you happy.
1st Lojong slogan: First train in preliminaries
In a previous blog post I wrote about the Lojong practice of mind training. It was a contemplation on the slogan – “always remain joyful”. At that time it was a cloudy day that prompted me to remember the joy no matter what the circumstances. And this is why I like undertaking the Lojong practice – the slogans are memorable. Once learned and understood, they can emerge as wise helpers when dealing with the daily mess. They are like medicine – they heal instantly – bringing my mind back to the moment and better understanding.
On a Monday March morning I sat perplex as first snowdrop flowers were again under a once returning sheet of snow. It was and was not spring time. This is a period when I already know what is going to happen next, but it does not happen yet. Spring mirage can lead to frustration and result in catching a cold. Spring comes with a notion of new beginnings and at some point all the hectic activities that I plan in my mind crash the system.
And this outer activity reminded of B. Alan Wallace phrase that “It is possible to be lethargic in a very dynamic way: lethargic in relation to dharma but dynamic regarding samsara.”  And spring is this really dynamic moment in nature, when the green light is on for everything. But we can pause the urge to go and conquer the world. We can transfer the power within to remember the foundations of a grounded life. And then go on and blossom.
The Lojong teachings begin with this slogan – “First, train in the preliminaries”. It is understood as comprehending the four thoughts: the fact that human life is precious, it is impermanent, everything has a result or karma and that ego in intertwined with suffering. That is a good starting point.
Maintain an awareness of the preciousness of human life.
It is easy to take for granted the fact that we are born as humans. It is easy to think that it is not anything especially worthy to have the capabilities of mind that we do have. We are not taught to be grateful for this. And there is nothing that challenge us to not have this attitude.
Evolution is a matter of fact. This is where we are now. Humans have evolved so slowly that with our day to day perception is impossible to trace back a form of being or thinking or behaving less human. And there is no fairy tale magic that could bewitch us to become frogs or birds or weeping birch trees. However, only fairy tales and legends allow us to possibly think, how would it be, if we were not the way we are. Though, there is immense feeling of joy and gratitude if we stop taking it for granted. It is like refreshing the attitude to ourselves. Boom! I am a human.
My mind is capable of so much, intellect can be so sophisticated and powerful. I can do this. I am this. Human life is precious. Do not forget it and do something about it. “By harnessing this intelligence to spiritual development, it can lead to complete freedom from confusion – the fully awakened state, which is separated from all obstacles and pain and is endowed with infinite virtuous qualities. Initially, it is most important to realize that all people have this ability, or potential, and power of mind within them.”
Be aware of the reality that life ends.
Once we realise the preciousness of human life, we further increase the power of right action in the very same moment when we become aware that life is limited. Today is my dad’s birthday, but he is not here to celebrate, he died too soon. We are all going to die and there is no certainty – when and how. The unforeseen future inspires us for our very best performance now.
Since young age I had that Christian parable of ten virgins with oil lamps in my mind. In Matthew 25:1-13 Jesus warns to be spiritually prepared. “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.”
They fall asleep and the bridegroom unexpectedly comes, and the foolish ones are left in dark, by the time they get their oil, it is too late. Everything starts and ceases, and it is uncertain when. And the only way how not to be foolish here is to remind myself of the impermanence of both me and mine, as well as all the rest. I hear so often people say – let it go. But it is difficult if we believe we can have something forever.
So, yes, before I make my spring plans, summer plans and stack up ideas till eternity, it is good to remember impermanence and re-evaluate them. It is easier to see priorities when I contemplate, I might be not there for all those fancy plans next week and the month after it. It is more clear which seeds I want to sow now. The literal seeds of cress or rucola, as well as the metaphorical seeds of virtue.
3. Recall that whatever you do, whether virtuous or not, has a result.
In everyday conversations we use the term karma in a very obscure way. As it was a whole action – I do this good job and something good will happen to me, like, a sudden promotion or so. It was very eye opening to read the theories of consciousness, how actually the good and bad kamma is collected and what are the conditions for them to ripen. The way of seeing subtle thoughts or intentions as well as minor obstacles and bigger blocks that stop us from getting where we want is part of the complex web of karma. That every thought can be divided into smaller parts and that there are relationships that make things work out this or that way.
I realised that every second counts. It is like tiny poppy seeds would pop out of us and sow every second. Some of them would hide in the pockets for a while. Some of them would miss the opportunity to germinate. Actually, poppy seed is the tiniest I can imagine. But more precise for describing the seeds of kamma is to compare them to certain types of tropical rain forest orchids. “One seed weighs about 1/35,000,000 (one 35 millionth) of an ounce. These seeds are dispersed into the air like tiny dust particles, ultimately landing in the upper canopy of the rain forest.”
Seeing it this way, we create some level of determination for doing better from now on. It might sound silly now, but this is a determination level I once had when I was a kid. I smashed my fancy waterproofed match box that was made out of an old Tic-tac plastic container. I thought that I should not set something on fire or pretend-smoke hollow grass stems any more since I invited Jesus in my life and promised to abstain from evil thoughts and deeds.
But now I am not concerned with so called my life. Because “there are only successive instants of occurrences due to interdependent conditions. The occurrences are a process of dependent arising. When these occurrences link together or form a chain, it is called dependent origination.”  Therefore, I am thinking about how to align with the process of dependent origination so that we run out of the orchid seeds.
Having this knowledge of how to align – differs us than other animals. “Even the tiniest insect living in the grass wishes to be happy. But it does not know how to gather the causes of happiness, namely positive actions, nor how to avoid the cause of suffering, which is evil behaviour. At the moment, we are all caught in the state of delusion, and so we should acknowledge all the negative actions we have perpetrated throughout our many lives until the present time. And from now on, we should turn away from all such actions big or small, just as we would avoid getting thorns in our eyes. We should constantly be checking what we do: any negative action should be confessed immediately, and all positive actions dedicated to others. To the best of our ability, we should abandon wrongdoing and try to accumulate goodness.” 
All sentient beings suffer.
Have you ever felt stuck, unhappy, lost, grieving, numb, misunderstood etc.? I have and everyone else has, it is part of the deal. “Contemplate that as long as you are too focused on self-importance and too caught up in thinking about how you are good or bad, you will experience suffering. Obsessing about getting what you want and avoiding what you don’t want does not result in happiness,” wrote Pema Chodron in her commentary to the Lojong slogans.  But it does not have to be like that forever.
In Buddhism there is no such a thing like Self or Ego. The closer you look at it, the more you can see that viewpoint making sense. As soon as you blink and the idea of no-self is gone, you end up running the samsaric treadmill again. Moreover, when you see someone doing something for him or herself, you know, they’re working hard on that same treadmill. We all share the suffering as long as we believe in a self.
And we get at least two things out of this: first, we can be more empathetic to the struggles of others as we know how terrible suffering feels. Second, being humans, we have a way out of this. We can investigate our mind and free ourselves from the trap.
Contemplate the four thoughts daily.
“Although this common ground we share with every sentient being in the universe is utterly simple, the ways that individuals strive to fulfill this eternal longing vary with infinite diversity. And, for so many people, these methods are pathetically ineffective. We don’t need to be great sages to see that many people fail tragically at finding happiness and freeing their minds from unnecessary grief. It takes no deep insight to see that the source of both our well-being and our maladies lies within our own hearts and minds. To change our experience of life we must inevitably change our hearts and minds, or rather our heart/minds.” 
And there is no need for waiting or postponing doing something good about our lives, even if all we are is just a combination of causalities. We are in this precious position of being aware of that and being able to do something about it. So, first, train in the preliminaries – that is a good motivation for a happier life.
Do you find this explanation inspiring or the other way around? Let me know in the comment section, what are your take-away! OR do you feel that I have misunderstood some part of the teaching? Your comments are utterly welcome as we are all in the same boat!
- Allan B. Wallace, The Seven-Point Mind Training: A Tibetan Method For Cultivating Mind And Heart
- Brian Beresford [ed.], Advice from a Spiritual Friend
- Bhikku Buddhadasa, Paticcasamuppada: Practical Dependent Origination
- Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Enlightened Courage: An Explanation of the Seven-Point Mind Training
- Pema Chodron, Always Maintain a Joyful Mind: And Other Lojong Teachings on Awakening Compassion and Fearlessness
- Allan B. Wallace, The Seven-Point Mind Training: A Tibetan Method For Cultivating Mind And Heart