Friday, January 18, 2008

Lojong Poems - Introduction

It's been a long since I have undertaken a poetry project -- to write a series of poems dealing with a specific idea or series of of concepts. I can't promise that I'll be successful in this project, but I feel compelled to give it a shot.

I want to create a series of poems based on the Lojong slogans:

Lojong (often translated into English as Mind Training) is a practice in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition based on a set of proverbs formulated in Tibet in the 12th century by Chekawa. Practitioners undertake to connect with the world in an unconditionally positive way, and also to take full responsibility for their experience of it. The practice involves redefining, reconceptualizing and reprogramming one's intent and way of thinking - hence 'Mind Training'.

Unlike many practices it does not require that one signs on to a particular system of beliefs, nor is it something one can only do on one's meditation cushion. In fact, the best practice is often done out in the world, with exactly those people and situations that upset and irritate one the most.

The twin foundations of the practice are Absolute Bodhicitta, which could be very roughly be translated as 'Open-Mindedness', and Relative Bodhicitta, which could be translated, again very roughly, as 'Compassion'.

The fifty-nine or so proverbs that form the root text of the Lojong practice are designed as a skillful set of antidotes to the bad mental habits, paranoia, and fixed ideas that cause us all so much suffering. They contain both Absolute Bodhicitta suggestions to expand and loosen up one's view of the world, such as Find the consciousness you had before you were born and Treat everything you perceive as a dream, and Relative Bodhicitta suggestions for relating to the world in a more constructive way, such as Be grateful to everyone or When everything goes wrong, treat disaster as a way to wake up.

This project was inspired by Pema Chodron's fantastic book, Start Where You Are. In that book, she goes through each of the slogans and explains their meaning in the context of Buddhist teachings. I will not attempt complete fidelity to the traditional teachings. Rather, I want to attempt a poetic exploration of the slogans and any associations that might come up.

In all fairness, some credit for this project goes to an ex-girlfriend. In the years that I knew her, she was always my greatest muse, and even now, simply in reconnecting with her briefly, I feel that old inspiration resurfacing. Strange how that works.

But this is also an attempt to deal with some of the feelings that have come up in that reconnection. Lojong offers many wise teachings on how to deal with the obstacles that come up in our daily lives. This is one of the things I want to explore in this experiment.

As always, comments on the poems are appreciated, either from a poetic point of view or from a Buddhist perspective.

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