According to Atisha (the Buddhist teacher who originated these Lojong/Mind Training Slogans) and the Kagyu masters, absolute bodhicitta, or enlightened heart and mind, is the realization of emptiness indivisible from compassion—an experience that we can glimpse through meditation practice.
*For more on absolute bodhicitta, see the “Buddhadharma in Everyday Life article entitled Regard all Dharmas As Dreams.
Arising from that glimpse, relative bodhicitta is the selfless aspiration to put others first that arises in our post-meditation experience. Thus the idea of this slogan,
“In all activities, train with slogans”
…is to catch the first me-centered thought and flip it, to think instead of others’ benefit. Obviously this is a great deal easier to do when everything is going well in one’s life, and one feels expansive and generous toward the world.
This slogan reminds us to tame and train the mind not to turn inward, and dwell on oneself—which is much more of a challenge and takes much more practice when our life is full of obstacles. Recently, the entire local Halifax Shambhala Centre staff (where I work) was given notice that we would be laid off for three months. When I heard this I felt stunned, as if experiencing an internal power outage. And then little me-thoughts and questions like, “How do I pay the rent?” began to spark.
But what was calming was that, before the staff meeting in which the layoff was to be discussed, five of us sat quietly together in an upstairs office, welcoming the occasional comment or feeling which included a unanimous desire to keep the Shambhala Centre somehow staffed and operational. There was no blame. There was a great deal of silence, the expressive power of which manifested as felt compassion. There were even a few moments of bright humour and questions asked: “How do we go forward?” and, “How do we continue?” asked in an atmosphere of sadness instead of resentment or depression. And, there were questions asked which had more insight than any answer could provide. Being together, present and vulnerable, in this open space accommodated everyone.
We were five people hanging out with “I don’t know.”
I cannot say that when I went home I was able to sustain this relative calm; facing the myriad of unknowns. I didn’t sleep that night, trying to think of how to make ends meet, the me-thoughts getting the better of me. And the next day at work alone downstairs I felt tired and emotional. But that is exactly when and where the slogan practice can be most helpful. As with meditation, it is helpful to “touch and go.” One cannot just deny a situation. And trying too swiftly to “fix” a predicament may only serve to make it seem an even bigger, insurmountable deal.
So to apply slogan practice in all activities is to register the situation and let go again and again.
At work there were several individuals who came downstairs just to express kindness beyond the call of duty. Because of their ability to acknowledge my vulnerability and to extend kindness, I began to relax. In acknowledging the situation, rather than trying to tough it out, I was able to let go. It is interesting that, rather than making suffering more solid, touching the pain dissolved my emotionality. Sharing the burden, I no longer felt isolated where I work downstairs. It was an open secret, allowing the gift of compassion to be generously given. Genuine compassion is a powerful gift, which has the power to relieve and even to cheer.
There is still sadness and the feeling of loss at the Centre, but also there is a communal feeling of openness and relaxation, and in Shambhala terms—even group lungta or upliftedness.
Slogan practice in daily life is so evident in its power to reverse our habitual patterns and reactions to difficult events and to extend our heart to others. The Halifax Shambhala Centre is a team willing to volunteer and do what it can to continue to serve. That genuine willing heart is perhaps the most valuable offering we can make.