Lojong Cards and Booklet

Lojong Cards and Booklet
This self-published deck and booklet are the intellectual property of Beverly King. Please do not copy or reproduce any photos or blog posts without permission.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Don't be swayed by external circumstances.

Eastern box turtle - photo from Wikipedia.org

          Eastern box turtles mate between May and October, but finding a partner is rather haphazard. Mating occurs only if a male and female happen to come across one another, usually a chance encounter as they search for food. But the reproduction system of females has an unusual alternative for species support. These turtles can store viable sperm for up to four years. The right environmental conditions, such as food quantity and quality, cause hormone production that will trigger the formation of eggs. When conditions are good, the female box turtle can choose to use the stored sperm to fertilize her eggs. Some studies say that she can even choose which male's semen is used. Slogan fifty suggests that we don't rely on circumstances when it comes to our spiritual practice. Life itself presents us with the opportunities and tools we need train with, whether we experience loss or gain, are busy or bored, with fun-loving or difficult people. Choosing only specific times, people or situations to use for practice means we might miss a chance to develop a skill we sorely need.

Work with your mind instead of trying to change everything on the outside.
~ Pema Chodron

For more information on the fiftieth slogan, go here.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Always meditate on whatever provokes resentment.

Bison photo from yellowstonepark.com

          Bison are just one form of 150 different ruminant species, including cows, goats, deer, giraffes, moose, and elk. A ruminant has a four-compartment stomach; this digestive system allows the animal to obtain nutrients from plants by fermenting what is eaten. These mammals are often observed 'chewing their cud' - partly digested food that is returned to the mouth for further chewing. Resentment is a similar form of rumination, except we get nothing beneficial from it. It might actually be considered closer to acid reflux, because we relive a perceived injustice over and over again along with the same burning emotion. The forty-ninth slogan asks us consider not the resentment itself, but what provokes it. We are caught only in a memory, not an event that is currently happening. Have we been provoked because of an opinion or expectation that we cling to? Has our security been threatened, do we fear a loss of some kind? Even if the injustice is valid, resentment keeps our vision narrow and shuts us off from joy. We remain in the emotional role of a victim instead of becoming a rational proponent of change. 'Chewing the cud' of resentment may make us feel like we're doing something constructive, but it actually keeps us stuck in a never-ending cycle.

The bitterness that arises from a long-held wrong, gone over and over, encases the heart, making it difficult for love to get through. ~ Sharon Salzberg

For more information on the forty-ninth slogan, go here.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Train without bias in all areas.

Monarch caterpillar photo by Twan Leenders

          Though monarch butterflies may sip nectar from a variety of flowers, they nearly always lay their eggs on milkweeds. Their preference is intended to give the caterpillars that will feed on them a tool for survival. The milkweed's sap contains a chemical that will become a part of the caterpillar's body when it consumes the leaves, causing the larvae to taste terrible. Predators like birds have learned to recognize the caterpillar's black and yellow stripes and steer clear of them when looking for food. The taste is even transferred to the butterfly after the caterpillar goes through its metamorphosis. When we practice lojong, it is tempting to have our own preferences too. We may convince ourselves that certain situations or people don't apply to the slogans. If we are having a bad day, we may rationalize taking a break from practice for a while. Yet slogan forty-eight encourages us to train wholeheartedly and without bias, no matter what conditions arise. The fodder for training that we are sure will be so bitter may be what provides the most benefit.

The lojong spirit comes from integrating equanimity and loving-kindness, so that we ground our compassion in impartiality. ~ Traleg Kyabgon

For more information on the forty-eighth slogan, go here.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Make the three gates inseparable.

Okra flower and pod photo by Bob Richmond

          Imagine a gardener going to the farming supply store and buying seeds indiscriminately; he doesn’t even bother to look at the packs to see what vegetables he’s chosen. After planting the seeds and watering them for many weeks, the plants begin to produce flowers and then vegetables. But the gardener becomes upset and frustrated when he sees what has grown: “I didn’t want okra, peppers and peas! I wanted tomatoes, cucumbers and squash!” His friends question him as to why he didn’t look at the seed packets before planting the seeds. Mind training allows us to be aware of the seeds of emotions and thoughts before we plant them. The mind’s yield of words and actions are based on the seeds we’ve sown and watered there. The three gates are the virtues of the mind, speech and body, and we would be wise to be aware of what we allow to pass through them. What passes through those gates will likely wind up growing in our yard, whether we want it to or not.

Every act, word, and thought in our daily life has the power to bring forth a fruit. 
~ Thich Nhat Hanh

For more information on the forty-seventh slogan, go here.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Don’t allow three things to diminish.

Photo by Sindre Kinnerød (worldwildlife.org)

          Ursus maritimus (‘sea bear’) evolved from terrestrial brown bears (Ursus arctos). Though the fur of the polar bear appears white, it is actually transparent; their black skin allows them to soak up as much of the sun’s rays as possible. These bears are dependent on sea ice for hunting, mating and denning. While their evolution allowed them to thrive as a part of the Arctic ecosystem, rising temperatures from climate change has now created a life of struggle. As more of the pack ice diminishes, it has become increasingly difficult for polar bears to travel, feed and raise young. Whether they survive or become extinct is intricately tied to whether the ice endures. Slogan forty-six cautions that the durability of our practice relies on respect for our mentor, enthusiasm for the teachings and a firm commitment to awaken our mind and heart. If we are interested in more than just a fling with mind training, we will make sure these things don’t diminish. Unlike the polar bear, we do have a choice.

Go forward with curiosity, wondering where this experiment will lead. This kind of open-ended inquisitiveness captures the spirit of enthusiasm, or heroic perseverance. ~ Pema Chodron

For more information on the forty-sixth slogan go here.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Take on the three principal causes.

Beaver photo by Joanne Kennedy

          Beavers rely on three resources to build their dams: a slow-moving stream with a mud bottom, hardwood trees, and stones. Trees with small trunks are cut and placed in the water with the butt downstream. The butts of these logs are weighed down with heavy rocks; the weight of the stones and the stream’s current force the ends down into the mud bed. Branches form the superstructure around the logs, layered to construct walls from 2 to 3 feet thick. Openings between the branches are stuffed with mud and vegetation to further seal the structure. Access to the lodge is through an underwater tunnel, which helps protect the beaver from predators. The ‘three causes’ in this slogan are the primary resources needed for a sturdy foundation; these three things are what will support us as we travel our spiritual path. The first is a compassionate mentor who can teach effectively, and whose knowledge and experience make him or her qualified. The second is our devotion to the teachings themselves – we enthusiastically apply ourselves to the principles and practices. The third is the support we find to continue our training – the encouragement of friends and an economic resource. Just as the beaver is constantly repairing its dam, so we must not become complacent in maintaining the strong base that will help us move forward.

To practice this slogan is simply to recall all of this when your get grumpy or dissatisfied: remember your community and teachers, remember the importance of mind training, remember that you have what you need to do it. ~ Norman Fischer

For more information on the forty-fifth slogan, go here.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Train in the three difficulties.

Photo by Mark Lentz

            Striped skunks are generally passive animals, yet they are well-known for their defensive behavior. If these skunks feel threatened, they will raise their tail and stomp their front legs as a warning. Intruders or predators who fail to back off get sprayed with a repulsive-smelling musk that can travel up to 6 meters. The oily spray is difficult to remove and can cause nausea. If sprayed in the eyes, it may cause intense pain and temporary blindness. Most animals only need one such encounter to learn to keep their distance. Fortunately, a skunk’s black and white coloring makes them easy to recognize. Likewise, the three difficulties encourage us to recognize, back off and refuse to engage our kleshas – strong emotions that arise in us and lead to suffering. We don’t need to fight them; we just pull back and don’t react as we normally do. Instead of getting hooked by thoughts which add fuel to our desire, we relax and let the emotional energy move through us. As the emotion dissipates, we experience a sense of freedom rather than misery. Once these intense states begin to lose their seductive appeal, we will make it a practice to avoid them.

Practice paying attention to the tiny little shifts of thought that, like a match to a fuse, cause a big explosion of confusion. ~ Judy Lief

For more information on the forty-fourth slogan, go here.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Observe these two, no matter what.

Dormice photo by Miroslav Hlavko

          Ethologists use naturalistic observation to study animals. Focusing on behavior patterns, they are interested in the responses that are triggered by the conditions in the animal’s environment. These scientists compile an ethogram, or activity catalog, of a species throughout its life cycle. For each behavior pattern noted, ethologists ask, “How does this impact the animal’s chance of survival and ability to reproduce?” Though staying alive and procreation may be the primary focus of wild animals, the two vows of slogan forty-three asks us to redirect our concerns to encompass more than just self-preservation. The vow of refuge shapes the choices we make through following the example and teachings of Buddha while drawing on the support of our spiritual community. The vow of the bodhisattva shapes our relationships through our commitment to be of beneficial service to others. These two promises give us a reason to stay grounded in reality rather than trying to escape it, which is what waking up is all about.

All vows are included in this one commitment: to be committed to paying attention to our lives, to be honest about what is going on and unflinchingly realistic about how we are behaving and thinking. ~ Norman Fischer

For more information on slogan forty-three, go here.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Whichever of the two occurs, be patient.

          “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes,” was Mark Twain’s tongue-in-cheek way to describe the climate of the northeastern states. The weather is so changeable, Barry Keim and Gregory Zielinski wrote a book in an attempt to examine and explain it. The authors state, “Not only is the weather quite variable from season to season, but it includes extremes of both hot and cold temperatures, droughts, heavy rainfall, hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards and more.” A look at the map of the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zones illustrates the variations, identifying five different hardiness zones in New England. The forty-second slogan also urges us to be patient, because change will come. There’s no need to get obsessed if things are going great or go berserk if things are going terrible. Instead of using these fluctuating circumstances as an excuse not to practice, our commitment to lojong can help us not get swept away. The slogans can teach us how to creatively deal with life in beneficial ways, no matter how conditions may change.

Whichever of the two occurs, keep your mind spacious, maintaining a sense of equanimity no matter what the circumstances. ~ B. Alan Wallace

For more information on the forty-second slogan, go here.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Two activities: one at the beginning, one at the end.

File:Little Gasparilla sunrise.jpg
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

          When the sun sits low on the horizon, sunlight has to travel through more of the Earth’s atmosphere. Along the way, rays of light encounter small particles and gas molecules that change their direction. The shorter wavelengths of blue and violet are scattered in a new direction more often than the longer wavelengths of orange and red. This is the reason sunrises and sunsets are generally red, orange and yellow; clouds act as projection screens for the colors. The skyline’s changing colors at dawn and dusk are a good reminder to practice this slogan. It encourages us to start our morning with intention and end our day with reflection. We begin the day with a cheerful attitude with an aim to keep our heart and mind open no matter what comes. In the evening, we look back on how well we carried out our intention. We don’t use what we find as a reason to gloat or feel guilty, but as information to better guide our thoughts and actions the next day. Such a simple commitment allows us to rededicate ourselves to the cause of compassion on a daily basis.

You can look at each day as a practice period, with a beginning and an end. So every morning you take a fresh start, and every evening you have a chance to appraise how you have done. 
~ Judy Lief

For more information on the forty-first slogan, go here.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Correct all wrongs with one intention.

          Bonsai is the Japanese art form of growing miniature trees in pots. Wiring is one technique bonsai artists use to train and reposition the trunk and branches. Copper or aluminum wire can be wrapped around a branch to create a certain shape, change the position of foliage, or suggest movement and age. The wire provides stability until the branches are set into its new form. Just as the wire provides support for the miniature trees, so too can an altruistic resolve help reinforce our practice. When life delivers a series of discouragements or difficulties, we can get off track in our spiritual path. Our meditation period may be shoved to the side as self-interest consumes our attention and time. Yet this slogan suggests we can use our challenges to find our way back: we use our adversity to remember the suffering of other people. When we rededicate ourselves to the service of others, we extract ourselves from the mire of self-pity and lose our sense of isolation. Our altruistic focus becomes the wire that reshapes our self-seeking behavior into benevolence that supports us as well.

If egocentrism is a constant source of torment, it is quite otherwise for altruism and compassion. ~ Matthieu Ricard

For more information on the fortieth slogan, go here.

Monday, October 10, 2016

All activities should be done with one intention.

Photo by Tom Hubbard

          Whether it's a trickling stream or a rushing river, water in nature rarely flows in a straight line. It meanders as it seeks the path of least resistance, preferring to turn and tumble in a new direction when it encounters obstacles. Over long periods of time, it can erode most terrain and may begin to change direction. Yet the one thing that all natural streams and rivers consistently do is flow downhill due to gravity. Even if the force of water is so great as to push it uphill briefly (such as in a flood), water will ultimately be influenced by gravity. What compels us in the same way gravity does water? Usually it is the ego, prompting us to think, speak and act according to its desires. Yet this slogan encourages us to be concerned for everyone, not just ourselves. Patience, kindness and understanding can guide us as we move through our day.

The one intention is to have a sense of gentleness toward others and a willingness to be helpful to others - always. ~ Chogyam Trungpa

For more information on the thirty-ninth slogan, go here.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Don’t seek others’ pain as the limbs of your own happiness.

Turkey Vulture - Photo by Arthur Morris

          Turkey vultures are often spotted making wobbly circles in the sky, as they take advantage of rising thermals. These large birds lack a vocal organ and thus produce only grunts and hissing sounds. What they lack in vocalization however, they make up for in olfaction. Turkey vultures are scavengers, feeding almost exclusively on carrion. They forage by smell and are able to use their unusual ability even above a tree canopy. The scent of ethyl mercaptan, a gas produced by animals in the first stage of decay, alerts them to a possible food source. Humans also have a way of sniffing out what is foul and unfortunate – not to be helpful but for the sake of indulgence. Those who have caused us suffering (real or perceived) are the people in whom we’re most interested. Our self-righteous, indignant side would like them to drown in misery, preferably slowly and painfully. But the happiness we seek in their unhappiness won’t bring genuine joy. This fake form of happiness is based in deluded thinking and fueled by our attachment to a memory of hurt. Such a desire only results in dissatisfaction and frustration. Authentic happiness, on the other hand, is self-generating and comes from an open, awakened heart.

Has your heart been kind? ~ Atisha

For more information on the thirty-eighth slogan, go here.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Don't make gods into demons.

Asian lady beetle with aphids – Photo by Jef Meul

          During the 1970s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Forestry Commission released large numbers of Harmonia axyridis to reduce the need for pesticides in forests, farmlands and gardens. Capable of eating 5000 aphids in its lifetime, the Asian ladybug has proven itself to be a beneficial form of pest control. This non-native species can vary in color from red or orange to a dull cream and can be found with or without spots. The white ‘cheeks’ of this beetle are marked with a black W (or M). Unfortunately houses resemble the caves these insects used as shelter in Asia during the winter months, so they tend to invade homes when it turns cold. The beetles will also nip (without breaking the skin) and can release a yellow, smelly substance from their joints as a defensive measure. Once praised for their amazing control of aphids, mites and scale insects, Asian lady beetles are now condemned for exhibiting their natural behavior. Likewise, the thirty-seventh slogan implores us not to let the ego convince us that what is helpful has become too much of a hassle to tolerate. Often we succumb to the idea that spiritual practice should remove all of our challenges and keep us from any pain. But mind training is not about building up the ego and separating ourselves from what is unpleasant. Instead of using all our energy trying to make something go away, we can consider how we can work with it.

No matter what is going on, there are always small moments in which we can find some joy or relief if we are open to them. ~ Norman Fischer

For more information on the thirty-seventh slogan, go here.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Don't act with a twist.

Thorn bugs – Photo by Sandra Hangey

          Umbonia crassicornis, a brightly-colored, tropical insect, can be recognized by its thorn-like shape. Clustered on branches of ornamentals or fruit trees, their spiky shells can easily be mistaken for part of the plant. Thorn bugs may initially appear as an innocuous oddity with a unique method of camouflage. Yet these insects don’t just gather on the stems – they suck the sap from them. They make cuts in the plant tissue and deposit their eggs, creating more little mouths that will cause further damage to the tree or shrub. In the same way, our endeavors may look impressive on the outside while our true intent is camouflaged. Looking beneath what is superficial may reveal an attempt to manipulate a situation to our advantage. Consumed with the result we want, the outcome can become more important than what we’re doing or who is involved. But self-serving behavior merely develops self-centered muscles, leaving altruistic ones to atrophy. Like the plant attacked by pests, we may find such 'twists' of behavior only stunt rather than advance our spiritual growth.

Acting with a twist is a form of spiritual materialism. It is always having the ulterior motive of working for your own benefit. ~ Chogyam Trungpa

For more information on the thirty-sixth slogan, go here.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Don’t try to be the fastest.

Photo by Jonathan Monro

The bowerbird (a species endemic to Australia and New Guinea) has a fascinating ritual when mating season arrives. As part of their courtship, the males build a bower; some structures resemble a maypole built around a small sapling while others are made of vertical sticks with a ‘walk-through.’ These constructions alone would not be enough to get noticed by the females, so the males show off their exterior decorating skills. Found items are arranged in their ‘courtyard’- natural things like shells, feathers and flowers or human-made things such as bottle caps, straws, toys and clothes pins. Each bird will spend hours arranging their collection, sometimes putting items in groups of things that are alike or at times sticking to a certain color choice. They often use optical illusion to hold the female’s attention by arranging objects from smallest to largest. Anything moved out of its place will be put back in its original place. The intention of all this effort is to outshine the other males in hopes of attracting a female. Humans have the same habit of trying to eclipse others, attempting to outperform or outsmart everyone else. But we lose sight of our purpose when this habit is used in our spiritual practice. There’s no need to squander our energy trying to be the best; our practice is not meant to be a race but an effort that will last a lifetime.

We only obsess over winning because of the elation we experience when we have gained superiority over others and see someone else losing. This is only an illusory victory, fabricated by the samsaric mind, and we’ll experience many obstacles if we continue to see things this way. ~ Traleg Kyabgon

For more information on the thirty-fifth slogan, go here.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Don’t transfer the ox’s load to the cow.

Ragweed and goldenrod photos by Alicia Lamborn

          During the latter part of summer, the bright yellow blooms of goldenrod can be found amid unplowed fields and along roadside ditches. This time of year is also hay fever season, and many sufferers point to the showy blossoms as the cause of their suffering. But it's more plausible their allergies are produced by ragweed, a plant with nondescript flowers that bloom around the same period. Ragweed produces copious amounts of pollen that is spread by the wind. On the other hand, goldenrod's pollen is heavy and sticky; it requires the help of bees, butterflies and other insects for pollination to occur. What is in the air that produces those stuffy noses and itchy eyes is likely caused by ragweed. When things go wrong and our actions are to blame, it's easy to develop a ragweed mentality. We willingly point out our attractive qualities (Look at my lacy leaves!) and shift the focus away from our faults. The cause of any problem is placed on the shoulders of others, and we abdicate all responsibility for any part of what's happened. But like the hay fever sufferer who pulls up all the goldenrod growing nearby, we find that such tactics do nothing to solve the problem. In fact, we relinquish our power that could have been beneficial in working things out. This slogan encourages us to be accountable for the consequences caused by our own words and actions rather attempting to incriminate others.

One has to think about one's problems personally, honestly, and genuinely.
~ Trungpa Rinpoche

For more information on the thirty-fourth slogan, go here. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Don’t bring things to a painful point.

Poison Ivy - photo by B. King

          "Leaves of three, let them be" is an adage to help identify and avoid Toxicodendron radicans and its cousins. Contact with the plant's oil found in the leaves, stem and root can cause a blistering rash whose itch is maddening. While scratching may seem to bring relief, it can actually make matters worse. A good scratch temporarily distracts the brain with minor pain, which then stimulates the production of serotonin to help control it. But the serotonin has a secondary effect - it intensifies the itching. "Don't bring things to a painful point" encourages us to avoid making the same sort of error. When we find a person's sore spot, we may be tempted to test it, reinforcing the problem and causing it to become more severe. For instance, a coworker's weak spot might be political discussions. Our discovery leads us to ask him if he happened to catch a certain politician's speech the night before, knowing it will set him off. Poking people this way might seem entertaining, but it is certainly not beneficial to the recipient. Helping to reduce their suffering would be the better medicine. 

Instead of pouncing on people’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities, we should be providing encouragement and support for their strengths. ~ Judy Lief

For more information on the thirty-third slogan, go here. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Don't wait in ambush.

Antlion larva – photo by Trevor Jinks

          Antlions are worldwide in distribution and well known for the predatory habits of their larvae. Many species dig funnel-shaped sandy pits and hide at the bottom to trap passing insects. The walls of the pit are steep, and any crawling bug that tries to scramble out is thwarted by the loose sand that provides no foothold. To further hamper its efforts at escape, the antlion tosses up grains of sand that cause little landslides. Once the insect slips to the bottom of the trap, it is seized by the lurking antlion. When thoughts of revenge fill the minds of humans, we dig the same kind of trap and wait patiently to strike. An opportunity comes when we catch the target at a disadvantage, and we relish the feeling of having power over them. We feel a surge of energy when we repay someone for the pain we think they've caused us. Yet the sand we throw to bring them down falls on us too. Though we may feel a brief sense of self-satisfaction, it is soon replaced by the worry of retaliation. Revenge, we discover, doesn't recreate the past into something more palatable. Instead it keeps us locked into a cycle of misery. Rather than giving such thoughts free rein, we can explore whether a heart with room for forgiveness also has infinite space for joy.

While we intended to undermine the other person, we’ve distorted the situation so much that we fail to recognize we have given them more power over us than ever.
~ Traleg Kyabgon

More information on the thirty-second slogan can be found here

Monday, August 15, 2016

Don't malign others.

Phragmites australis subsp. australis – photo by Paul Slichter

          In the wetlands of North America are two types of common reed; one is a native and the other a non-native. Both reeds are allelopathic, meaning they produce a chemical which inhibits the growth of other plants close by, thus allowing them easier access to the resources they need. But the non-native reed goes further, exuding an acid so toxic that it disintegrates the structural protein in the roots of neighboring plants. It efficiently kills its competition and aggressively invades new territory, greatly diminishing the biodiversity in the area. The ego can be just as militant when it feels threatened. Insecurity may trigger us to gossip or say unkind things about another person so that we appear more clever or superior. Once we think of someone as an adversary, our aspiration to be compassionate and kind is easily forgotten. This slogan is an admonition to be mindful of our words, not only for the benefit of others, but to protect the tender openness of our own heart too.

When the mind is virtuous, the tongue can be trusted. ~ B. Alan Wallace

For more information on the thirty-first slogan, go here.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Don't be so predictable.

Photo by James Ownby

Travel to any national park in the U.S., and you’ll likely see a sign that reads “Keep Wildlife Wild.” It gives visitors a stern warning not to intentionally feed the park animals or leave food unprotected. The rangers are very aware of how these human actions can radically alter the behavior of wildlife. Animals that learn people are an easy resource for food react consistently: they lose their instinctive fear, becoming bold and often aggressive. Property damage, injury and death (usually of the animal) are frequent results. The human animal can be just as predictable as food-conditioned wildlife. We react automatically with the consistency of hot and cold water taps on a faucet. Whether something brings us pleasure or threatens our pleasure determines which tap gets turned on. But the thirtieth slogan reminds us that we don’t have to give in to our impulses or be led by our assumptions. Instead we can be fully present as each moment unfolds without allowing preferences or prejudice to muddy our perception. Perhaps we humans need our own sign: “Don’t Feed the Habits.”

Desire is no friend, but seems like one, which is why you do not fear it.
~ Aryadeva

For more information on the thirtieth slogan, go here.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Abandon poisonous food.

Vitis riparia photo by Allen Norcross; Menispermum canadense photo by John Hilty

Euell Gibbons launched the modern-day movement of ‘living off the land’ with his book, Stalking the Wild Asparagus. A variety of people, from survivalists and foodies to herbalists and nature lovers, have since embraced the trend of gathering wild foods and medicinal plants. However foraging does have one major drawback: many edible plants have a poisonous look-alike. Frost grape, for example, closely resembles and often intermingles with moonseed, a vine with poisonous drupes. One way to know for sure which vine is which is to cut open the fruits and look at the seeds. The grape safe for humans has several ovate seeds, while the moonseed has only a flat, crescent-shaped seed (for which it is named). In the same way, our words and actions may initially appear to be benevolent and noble, but we need to check within for any hidden agendas. If our behavior is motivated by a desire for the attention and admiration of others, this slogan cautions that such 'poison' will only nourish our ego. Our craving for recognition is like trying to fill a bucket with a hole in the bottom. That feeling of being unique and special is insubstantial; it will always leave us anxiously yearning for more.

It’s important to note that there’s a huge difference between personal gratification and ego gratification, for the latter compromises our virtuous qualities by infusing them with conflicting emotions. ~ Traleg Kyabgon

For more information on the twenty-ninth slogan, go here.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Abandon any hope of fruition.

Sunprint photo by Emily Longbrake

  Sunny days when nature’s growth is at its height make me think of a creative craft I enjoyed with my daughter – Sunprints. Based on the cyanotype process, it uses sun-sensitive paper that undergoes a chemical change when exposed to ultra-violet light. Lovely prints can be made by laying fern fronds, flowers, feathers or other objects on the paper and then placing it outdoors in the sunlight. After several minutes a reaction takes place; the print is then soaked in water to stop the chemical process. The result is a precise pattern of the objects on a beautiful, blue background. Unlike Sunprints, life rarely produces such an exact blueprint of what we anticipate. We lay out our plans, apply energy behind them, then fully expect to see what we desire to unfold. But what happens when we attach our joy and peace of mind to an outcome that never materializes? This slogan teaches us to abandon such clinging, otherwise we will only perpetuate our cycle of suffering.

Everything we need is present inside us, not somewhere ahead of us.
~ Ringu Tulku

For more information on the twenty-eighth slogan, go here.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Work with the greatest defilements first.

Photo by Liz West

There is a quote often used by writers and conference speakers in the business world: "Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day."* Their analogy is not meant to be taken literally but as an encouragement to work on one’s most challenging task first, because it will likely reap the most benefits and have the biggest impact. Lojong training uses the same logic by advising to start where we feel most stuck in our spiritual practice. To find our 'frog,' Pema Chodron suggests looking for a feeling of righteous indignation; upon finding it, we can "let go of the story line, let go of the conversation, and own our feeling completely." We do this with an attitude of unconditional friendliness and acceptance rather than judgment. By attending to our strongest habitual pattern with a willingness to change it, we often eliminate a lot of smaller ones. As Chogyam Trungpa colorfully expressed it, "You do not just want to work with chicken shit, you want to work with the chicken itself."
*Though this quote is usually attributed to Mark Twain, it is more likely a rendering of the words of Nicolas Chamfort.

Our greatest obstacles are also our greatest wisdom. ~ Pema Chodron

For more information on the twenty-seventh slogan, go here.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Don't ponder others.

Bluebird - Photo by Cloe Poisson

          During the spring and summer months, it's not uncommon to see the side-view mirrors of cars adorned with garbage bags or cut-off shirt sleeves. This warm weather look is due to the nesting of songbirds. The males stake out their territory by flashing their bright feathers and singing from high among the trees. But occasionally an interloper will appear who refuses to respect boundaries, even when met with a direct attack. The problem is one of perception; the intruder is really the male's own reflection, not another bird. The twenty-sixth slogan advises us not to ponder others for the same reason. What we think we understand about another's motives is likely a reflection of our own mind. The assumptions we make about the intentions of another person is based on our analysis of their actions. Logic and reasoning will never give us an actual view inside their mind or heart; it's probable that what we imagine to be true is wrong. We'd be better off paying attention to the feathering of our own 'nest' instead of trying to figure out someone else.

We judge ourselves by our intentions; we judge others by the effects of their actions on us. ~ Jack Himmelstein

For more information on the twenty-sixth slogan, go here.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Don’t talk about injured limbs.

Photo by Marlon du Toit

          Animal behavior expert Aubrey Manning relayed an occurrence witnessed by the warden of a wildlife park in South Africa. His story is a tender and touching example of animal empathy and altruism:
One particular evening, he was watching a group of elephants drinking at a waterhole when one unusual-looking elephant pushed to the front. It had almost no trunk at all, clearly having lost most of it in a fight or accident, or possibly through infection. Such a disfigured elephant should have died very quickly, but instead the game warden watched in genuine amazement as several elephants - one after the other - used their own healthy trunks to suck up water and then squirted that water into the mouth of the elephant who couldn't drink for herself.
Unlike the elephants, most humans tend to be less helpful when someone's shortcomings or failings are exposed. We gossip, making cutting or condescending remarks, hoping to bolster our self-esteem or erase a pain for which we hold the other accountable. Yet we get no lasting satisfaction from our belittling statements, and we create more suffering for ourselves. As B. Alan Wallace explains, "The more passion one has about the faults of others, the more agitated the mind becomes." Lojong training can help us explore such tendencies, showing us the illusions our habitual patterns often hide behind.

Taking responsibility for your own actions is another way of talking about awakening bodhichitta, because part of taking responsibility is the quality of being able to see things very clearly. ~ Pema Chodron

For more information on the twenty-fifth slogan, go here.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Change your attitude, but remain natural.

Plains Zebras - Photo by Medford Taylor

          Zoologists suggest a zebra's stripes work to camouflage it in two ways. Alone, the wavy stripes help it blend in with tall, wavy grass. Since its main predator (the lion) is colorblind, this type of pattern camouflage works well. Because zebras usually move in herds, their stripes work as a group camouflage too. A lion doesn't see an individual zebra, but a large, striped, moving mass. This type of camouflage makes it more difficult for a predator to target and attack a weaker member of the herd. Slogan twenty-four suggests that while we internally shift our priorities, externally we should adopt the zebra's habit of blending in. Yet as we gain knowledge and skill in our practice, it is tempting to want to impress others. We may think offering our insights could be beneficial to someone. But instead of simply saying, "Perhaps you could try...," we subtly list all the reasons they should take our advice. We tell them about the teachers we've studied under, retreats and seminars we've attended and books we've read. We follow up with personal stories about how our new knowledge has radically changed our life. By the time we dole out a helpful suggestion, we've made sure the other person being 'helped' knows how wise we are. But lojong training advises that we've missed the mark if we perform instead of transform; the intention is not to gain fame but to become less self-centered. Learning the skill of 'camouflage' can help keep our ego in check rather than encouraging it to become our public relations agent.

Instead of cherishing yourself, you cherish others - and then you just relax.
~ Chogyam Trungpa

For more information on the twenty-fourth slogan, go here.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Always abide by the three basic principles.

Porpoises - Photo by William Keener

          Over 60 years ago, marine explorer Jacques Cousteau noticed a group of porpoises following his research vessel as his team headed toward the Atlantic Ocean through the Strait of Gibraltar. Curious to see if these mammals knew the straightest route to the ocean, he changed the boat's course by a few degrees. The porpoises followed briefly but then adjusted their course. Cousteau, a former naval officer, reasoned that these marine mammals had a type of sonar similar to a submarine. Subsequent research would prove these animals did use reflected sound for navigation. Like echolocation, the three basic principles allow us to monitor our position and direction of movement. Instead of dogmatic rules to follow, these guides can keep our lojong training from drifting off course. 
  • Am I working to develop mindfulness, wisdom and compassion?
  • Am I unpretentious in my practice, or do I think of myself as "spiritually advanced?"
  • Am I patient and without bias in dealing with others and myself?
Any time we discover unawareness, arrogance or annoyance, we can simply change our course.

On the spiritual path, over and over again it is a good idea to keep coming back to a few basic principles. By doing so, you can bound your actions with discipline. You can keep your practice on track. ~ Judy Lief

For more information on the twenty-third slogan, go here.

Monday, June 13, 2016

If you can practice even when distracted, you are well trained.

Great horned owl - Photo from Savannah Bird Cam

          High among the trees on Skidaway Island are two bird cams that record the birth of new generations of great horned owls each year. The live feed allows bird lovers to watch the parents as they raise their owlets, keeping them warm, fed and safe. On the nest, the mother appears relaxed but watchful as she scans the marshy landscape and skyline continuously. Though she stays busy taking care of her little ones, her alertness never wavers. In the same manner, the twenty-second slogan encourages us to stay watchful as well. Moving through our day can be like walking down the sidewalk of a crowded, busy city. There is much to attend to and do, yet we should be on the lookout for familiar faces. Do we recognize the faces of clinging and aversion? Are we aware when we've lost our openness and kindness? Noticing our distraction is not meant to be disheartening. Rather it is simply a cue to wake us from our inattention. 

You may well be distracted. But there’s nothing wrong with that. As soon as you know your state of distraction, you are practicing, you have remembered your practice. 
~ Norman Fischer

For more information on the twenty-second slogan, go here.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Always maintain only a joyful mind.

Anna's hummingbird on a nest the size of a ping-pong ball

          The self has a tendency to shrink our world down to the size of a hummingbird nest. It insists that things be pleasant and go our way; whatever is contrary is seen as unfair and intolerable. Yet even when we are in pain, this slogan reminds us we can find joy by opening fully to our experience. We aren't required to accept our suffering with a forced grin and a stiff upper lip. Instead, meditation can assist us in discovering our innate joy. We learn to focus the attention on what is happening without narrating a mental story around it. As Zen teacher Darlene Cohen explained, "it is only in the present that you can cultivate the mental stability that is required to practice non-preference for the conditions of your life." She describes the process of "widening our weave," meaning we acknowledge and feel our pain rather than run from it. As an alternative to closing down, we make more space - space that allows our suffering to move through us. Training our attention also helps us be aware of the more subtle sensations that are also going on at the same time. Though we may feel intense discomfort in our body, we may also notice a cool breeze that blows across our face and hear the sound of it in the tree tops.  Rather than narrowing our perception down to what is happening that we don't like, we can expand it to include what is joyful there too.

You need to cultivate skills that enable you to be present for all of your life, not just the moments you prefer. ~ Darlene Cohen

For more information on the twenty-first slogan, go here.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Of the two witnesses, hold the principal one.

          The temperatures are sizzling here, and the markets are busy selling a fruit perfect for this kind of heat - watermelon. Most people have difficulty in determining whether an uncut melon is ripe before buying it. And since watermelons don't ripen once picked, some tips for choosing a sweet, fully developed one can be helpful:
  • It should have a deep, hollow sound ("thunk") when slapped.
  • The field spot (where it lay on the ground) should be yellowish, not white.
  • It should be relatively heavy (watermelons are 90% water).
  • The luster of the rind should be matte rather than shiny.
Of course there's no sure-fire way to judge the inside of a watermelon by its outside, which is precisely this slogan's point about people. The only person continually with us since birth is ourselves. While other people may have helpful observations, we are the best authority of our spiritual progress. Only we can truly tell if we're working with reality or running from it. Our practice can be evaluated by asking ourselves a few candid questions. Is my practice helping me know myself better - my thoughts, emotions and habitual reactions? Do I recognize my methods for deflecting insecurity (that only escalate my suffering)? Am I kind to myself and others? This assessment is not meant to produce self-satisfaction or self-denigration. Rather it acknowledges that we can be a trustworthy judge in seeing where we're stuck and where we're making headway.

You have never been away from yourself for even a minute. You know yourself so well. Therefore, you are the best judge of yourself.  ~  Chogyam Trungpa

For more information on the twentieth slogan, go here.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Working with the Slogans II

Photo by Doug Hickok

          My doorway into the lojong slogans was the commentary written by Judy Lief; I am gratefully indebted to her for sharing her wisdom. Her down-to-earth explanations and insights inspired me to learn more and make these a part of my daily life. I recently read an article by Lief in Lion's Roar magazine in which she listed three ways to use each slogan for contemplation over a period of three days:
  • On the first day, use the slogan to reflect on how you relate to your spiritual practice.
  • On the second day bring the slogan to mind in reflecting on how you handle personal relationships.
  • On the third day, apply the slogan to your relationships with colleagues and your approach to your work.

Monday, May 23, 2016

All dharma agree at one point.

Spiny orb-weaver - photo by Steven Scott

          The purpose of the dharma is to liberate us from the enthrallment of our ego, thus allowing us to see the truth. Much like the stickiness of a spider's web, the ego is skilled at catching us unaware; it always prefers a comfortable dream world to reality. As Chogyam Trungpa warns, "The problem is that ego can convert anything to its own use, even spirituality. Ego is constantly attempting to acquire and apply the teachings of spirituality for its own benefit." Under the influence of ego, we may gain knowledge and perform techniques as proof of our worth and goodness. We might become constantly alert for any experience we can point to as a special sign of being right or being on the true path. Or we may use our spiritual practice as a way to avoid dealing with any kind of pain or discomfort. But as this slogan implies and Trungpa points out, for our practice to be meaningful "it must entail us giving up our hope of getting something in return."  

It is important to see that the main point of any spiritual practice is to step out of the bureaucracy of the ego. ~ Chogyam Trungpa

For more information on the nineteenth slogan, go here.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Five Strengths are instructions for dying.

Photo by Zen Sutherland

The truth is that we are all singing and dancing on the Titanic, but we behave as if it’s a cruise to Bermuda. ~ Larry Rosenberg

          Everything in this world, no matter how strong or sturdy, is subject to the reality of impermanence. If the dharma has become an integral part of our life, it will be a trustworthy guide as we experience the greatest change of all. Familiarization reminds us that death is not some form of punishment but a natural part of life. We can relax and move with rather than against its flow. The cultivated seed of goodness allows us to freely let go of remorse or resentment. We then experience tenderness toward others and ourselves without clinging. Reproach points out that fear of uncertainty is produced by an ego that doesn’t really exist. The openness of strong determination brings clarity rather than confusion. Instead of being anxious, we have the option of being curious about this new adventure. And aspiration helps us remember and connect to other people who are facing death; we can use tonglen to send out the comfort we wish for ourselves.

Seeing there’s no time to stay long, I put aside the words and practiced the meaning.
~ Godrakpa Sonam Gyaltsen

For more information on the eighteenth slogan, go here.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Train in the Five Strengths.

Southern Live Oak - photo by Louis Dallara 

          Among the majestic trees of the South, Quercus virginiana is one of the belles of the ball. With sweeping arms that dip to the ground, the live oak's width is about twice that of its height. The tree's deep tap root anchors it when young; as the canopy expands, a lateral root system develops that can radiate up to 90 feet from the trunk. Its low center of gravity and impressive root structure have enabled many live oaks to withstand the force of hurricane winds that claimed the lives of other trees. In the same way, the Five Strengths support us in sustaining the vitality of our practice. Strong determination - the tap root - helps us keep our heart and mind open and connected, regardless of what life presents us. We come to realize, as J.N. Hollingworth stated, that "something is more important than fear." Familiarization allows us to apply what we've learned to whatever each day brings. The seed of goodness is a reminder that everyone already contains a reservoir of tenderness and openness. We just need to water the seed so it will grow. Reproach asks that we first cultivate self-compassion and a sense of humor. Then we can gently smile when we catch red-handed the person responsible for our suffering (our own self). Aspiration gives us encouragement when we feel that we have failed. We can recognize our current limits while aspiring to develop beyond them. These essential instructions are aids in maintaining our course through any weather.

You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather. ~ Pema Chodron

For more information on the seventeenth slogan, go here.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join with meditation.

Cooper's hawk - photo from Wikimedia Commons

          My backyard is full of bird feeders designed to entice a variety of birds. As I relaxed and watched the avian activity from my porch one afternoon, a gray hawk swooped down and grabbed a smaller bird. It happened so suddenly, I was completely taken by surprise. It took a few seconds for me to even register what had happened. No matter whether they are astonishing or horrifying, these unexpected moments have a way of stopping the mind. This brief gap when all concepts seem to dissolve offers us a chance to rest in alaya - the natural, spaciousness of the mind. But once our conditioning kicks back in ("Where's my bird book? I should have had my camera!"), we can move from an absolute bodhicitta experience to a relative bodhicitta one. In the case of something wonderful, I can send out the wish for others to experience this joy; if unpleasant, I can embrace the suffering of others and breathe out comfort and peace. No matter how the unexpected shows up, it is a chance to widen the heart. 

We are one blink away from being fully awake.  ~ Pema Chodron

For more information on the sixteen slogan, go here.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Four practices are the best methods.

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The Wave - Photo by Greg Bulla

          Located in Arizona is a sandstone rock formation known as "The Wave." Years of erosion - first by water then by wind - have shaped its undulating form and thin ridges. Our existence is likewise shaped by conditions. In our elusive search for security, we have a tendency to develop established patterns that become automatic. Yet lojong provides a way to train our minds, allowing us a choice in how we respond. The Four Practices of this slogan can help us resist and transform our habitual reactions. "Accumulating merit" cultivates generosity without an agenda. "Acknowledging neurotic actions" guides us in changing our course so that we create less suffering for ourselves and others. "Offering to the dons" opens our hearts and minds to viewing challenges as opportunities to awaken. "Offering to the dharma protectors" is a way to show appreciation for the teachings of Buddha through applied dharma in daily life. We can let circumstances mold us, or we can use them as spiritual nudges and agents of change.

We have an infinite number of ways that we distort our experiences through habits of the mind. ~ Sharon Salzberg

For more information on the fifteenth slogan, go here.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The ultimate protection is emptiness; know what arises as confusion to be the four kayas.

Photo by Rolf Hicker

          The mind has two facets: its natural essence that flows freely, and its confused state that arises when the essence is obstructed by mental formations (thoughts, emotions, sensations).  The kayas describe the fluid nature of the essence of mind, how our perceptions appear and then dissolve. Comparing them to the water cycle may help with understanding them.  The dharmakaya can be thought of as the atmosphere, the nirmanakaya as water, the sambhogakaya as a cloud (the combination of atmosphere and water), and the svabhavivakaya as the whole cycle itself. The nirmanakaya is the physical aspect of the mind; it is our perception of what our senses show us. The dharmakaya is the transcendental aspect from which everything arises. This kaya is boundless, spacious, and formless  “empty” – lacking any independent existence or lasting substance. The union of these two kayas is the cognitive aspect of the mind, the sambhogakaya. The energy and vibrancy in our sense perceptions, when combined with infinite openness, produce clarity and equanimity. Our thoughts, emotions and sensations are experienced, yet they are recognized as being unstable and impermanent. Obstructions to this natural flow occur not because feelings and concepts arise, but because we become attached to them. Yet we can wake up to our ego’s grasping habit – wanting this but not that. Unhooked from its seduction, we ease our suffering by realizing these mind states are not as solid or unchanging as first thought. Deprived of a concrete self, these things are able to wash right through us.

How joyful this freedom from confusion arising as luminosity! ~ Ngotrup Gyaltsen

For more information on the fourteenth slogan, go here.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Be grateful to everyone.

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Mimosa pudica - photo by H. Zell

          Every spring a sprawling plant appears under a particular oak in my neighborhood. Its blooms resemble gumball-size, florescent-pink explosions. But the most interesting feature of this plant is its reactive movement which characterizes its common name - sensitive plant. If the plant is disturbed by a touch, temperature change or breeze, the leaflets fold inward exposing its prickly stems. The reaction is thought to discourage insects and herbivores who might munch on the leaves. Yet the defense is energetically costly for the plant as it interferes with the process of photosynthesis. Most people have similar reactions when provoked by people or situations. We close up and show our thorny sides; our habitual patterns come out in full force. But this slogan is a reminder to be thankful to whomever or whatever makes us aware of our blind spots. Our irritations show us where to focus in order to deepen our practice, where we need to be calmer, more patient and flexible. What provokes us becomes training equipment to help us widen our minds and hearts.

Each time someone provokes us, we have a chance to do something different, to tend to our own reactions. Either we can strengthen old habits or we can take a moment to pause.
  ~ Carrie Dinow

For more information on the thirteenth slogan, go here.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Drive all blames into one.

Delta - photo by Arthur Belala, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

          Farmers here have begun fertilizing their fields in preparation for the growing season. Plants in nature extract nutrients from the soil, and what gets used by them is returned when the plant dies. However with cultivated crops, what gets extracted isn't given back and requires the addition of fertilizers. Unfortunately what benefits the farmers has adversely impacted our coastal waters. The water runoff from the fields includes nitrates, which wash down the major rivers into the sea. Algae and other microorganisms feed on the nitrogen, bloom and die. Their decomposition creates a low-oxygen area known as a "dead zone," where no animal can survive. Four hundred of these hypoxic zones have been identified around the world, with one of the largest being in the Gulf of Mexico. Should we blame the farmers for these lifeless waters? Or perhaps the agricultural corporations and the consumers should be held accountable? One could even argue that the environmentalists who pushed for the production of biofuels are partly at fault. The twelfth lojong slogan suggests boiling all the blame down to one thing - the self-centeredness of the ego. When we search for a scapegoat, we instantly armor ourselves from the pain of what has gone wrong. Yet if we allow ourselves to feel those tender spots and drop the drama, we have a chance to focus on the real issue instead of getting caught up in who's to blame.

True spirituality is not a removal or escape from life. It is an opening, a seeing of the world with a deeper vision that is less self-centered, a vision that sees through dualistic views to the underlying interconnectedness of all life. ~ Jack Kornfield

For more information on the twelfth slogan, go here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Working with the Slogans

As I was corresponding with someone this morning about lojong, I realized I have never shared how I practice with the slogans on a daily basis. I have a card stand that I use for a different card each week. When I write in my journal each day, I try and connect what is going on in my life to the wisdom of the slogan. It never ceases to amaze me how spot on the slogans often are!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Transform all mishaps into the path of bodhi (awakening).

Emergence - photo by Jimmy Hoffman

          The traditional phrasing of this slogan begins with "When the world is filled with evil," followed by "transform all mishaps into the path of bodhi." Intolerance and hate seem to be surging upward again in the world; even on a community level, injustices abound. When we see or hear of inequity or mistreatment, most of us are instinctively filled with righteous indignation. We feel energized to stop or change the situation, yet our emotional reactions might be more hurtful than helpful. Our perceptions are influenced by personal assumptions, limited knowledge, and self-interest. Instead of seeing the situation and possible solutions with clarity and openness, we are restricted to the tight confines delegated by the ego. Meditation can help us be aware of the narrowness of our presumptions and opinions. We can look with curiosity at our feelings and see what lies beneath them. We can emerge from the constriction of our personal viewpoint and rest in the spaciousness of the luminous mind, drawing wisdom and compassion from it. 

Effective action starts with self-knowing, self-understanding of where we're caught. You don't want to start helping people out of your up-tightness, out of your strong sense of you're going to get revenge, because it escalates the aggression. And even though you might have short-term successes, basically someone has been so provoked by your aggression that the retaliation comes back. ~ Pema Chodron

For more information about the eleventh slogan, go here.