Book Review: “Training the Mind”
Read the review by By Max Smith, on behalf of the DGZ Center Book Club as he shares his perspectives on Bodhichitta after reading “Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness” by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
The book for our club in May was based on traditional Dharma teaching, and focuses on cultivating Bodhicitta, or the mind of enlightenment, through the practice of tonglen and by contemplating the book’s “lojong” slogans.
Our abbot, Hoden Sunim, has occasionally led us in guided tonglen meditations during our Sunday teachings; it is a meditation where one focuses on breathing in negativity on the in-breath and positivity on the out-breath. The goal of the practice is to diminish our self-centeredness, which the book calls “ego-fixation.”
It was somewhat of a challenge for us to relate the book to our own lives, at least at first. The slogans, which make some intuitive sense, are at the same time cryptic and require further explanation. For example, “Drive all blames into oneself” sounds like martyrdom . . . but it actually refers to being workable and flexible in situations and being willing to say, “O.K., maybe I had something to do with this and I will take some of the blame.” It allows for non-defensiveness and open communication.
Another slogan, “Change your Attitude but Remain Natural” refers to altering our self-cherishing attitude to be more concerned about the welfare of others, while at the same time not making a big deal of the whole thing. By the end of the discussion, many of us felt in some way connected to the words of this teaching.
A Response from Venerable Hoden Sunim:
Being able to use something to focus on, an idea, something that challenges our perspective, can be an effective way to use time after meditation in self-reflection. This is similar to the practice of using “koan” in our Zen order.
I have used phrases in the past in my own practice that helped to define a focus for that time period. Using the phrase “just here, just now” can help us stay present. Or, “my mind creates my world” helps to watch our own arising narrative on how we interact with the world around us. Like the two phrases Max mentioned, they provide a basis to see our behavior and our thoughts in a more connected way.
“Drive all blames into oneself” can be a way to remember we tend to blame the world around us for our suffering, while ultimately we have to take onus for creating our own suffering. Once we can understand that, we can expand the thought and see how we ourselves create suffering in the world. In time we can have the expanse to bring in all the suffering around us and export kindness and compassion.
This is good practice in general. Using phrases, or koan, can help to focus our practice and make progress in our lives. Challenging ourselves on a regular basis becomes the catalyst for growth.