Working with Slogans
By Linda V. Lewis
Basically there is no mind training in the Buddhadharma without both meditation and the haunting hangover that follows—the mindfulness-awareness experience of post-meditation. So meditation in this tradition is not just about pacification of a confused mind, although this is a valid and valuable start. But here meditation is about actually about waking up.
As we practice meditation (with our eyes open), we begin to see how much our various mental attitudes create our world. Things appear in a moment to be solid and “real”, but when looked at again, may seem more fluid or even dreamlike.
This morning I was writing at my table cluttered with books and papers, the snow falling slowly, relentlessly outside. Now I am at the computer and that moment of being at the table writing is a mere memory. Neither time nor appearances are frozen—even in this endless winter.
Everything changes, including what we think of as “me”. When I was a child, I hated avocados. Now I love them. Scientists say that the molecules that comprise a human body are continually forming and dissolving so that we are entirely different every seven years. None of the molecules of seven years ago are still “me”.
Even now, which is not the same now as a moment ago, I pause to look again beneath the conceptual overlay of language, and see that this being “at the computer” is no more solidly real than anything else. When we turn this contemplative process of insight onto ourselves for even just a moment and look, free from external reference points, we get a glimpse of the lack of any solid “self” to be found. We are blinking at egolessness.
This is the great discovery the Buddhadharma has to offer. It is great both because it is a discovery of spaciousness and because it has the ability to liberate us from unnecessary suffering. Apparent reality is mind-made, but mind is not just empty. Although neither a self nor a mind can be found, the experience of looking and seeing that which cannot be found is so bright and clear.
But this experience of openness is difficult to maintain. Thus what are called “slogans” are a huge help in continuing this insight both on and off the meditation cushion. Otherwise we tend to fall back into habitual patterns of “me and mine” or even “me first” as if there were a solid, singular, unchanging “real me”. Slogan practice, which was first developed in India by Atisha in the 10th century, cuts through that habit of self-centeredness and perhaps is even more relevant in this self-cherishing culture of today.
Atisha’s first slogans or reminders have to do with meditative awakened-heart, awakened-mind. For example,
reminds us of this fundamental and profound inspiration of meditation that can lead us to see things in a fresh way, post-meditation. Here, lowercase-D “dharmas” refer to phenomena. Our daily experience of life, like dreams, may be vivid—but there is no substantial essence. In meditation we glimpse the dreamlike quality of both (external) phenomena and (internal) mind. This gives us a spacious feeling. There are no boundaries, no territory. There is nothing to cling to and nothing to lose in this open field. This insight is what prompts us to be generous and resourceful post-meditation. As Nagarjuna said, “Because of emptiness, everything is possible.”
In subsequent articles I shall write about the slogans that are reminders of this view in the midst of our post-meditation experience. ~L.V.L.