This is the first part in a series on the mind training teachings called lojong.
“Train in the Preliminaries.” The lojong teachings begin with this simple line.
I read about meditation practice for a long time before I actually tried it. I think a lot of people do that. And then I was a practicing Buddhist for years before I went to a temple and met other Buddhists. Beginning is hard. And, actually, going to a Buddhist temple alone when you don’t know anyone there or what to expect can be really intimidating. I know plenty of temples are out there trying to find a way to make it easier for people, but I haven’t really heard of one that’s had great success. The people that end up going are the ones who are determined to go, for the most part.
The first few times were really awkward when I met other Buddhists. Small talk isn’t my thing, so making new friends or getting through that “getting to know you” stuff is really challenging to me, as I think it is to a lot of people.
The Buddhist teacher, Michael Stone said, “We teach best what we need to learn.” When I heard that in his podcast, I was really moved. We teach best what we need to learn.
Beginnings are challenging for me; I don’t know what to do in a new situation and I often take a long time to figure out how I fit in a new group. Sometimes I never figure it out. I get stuck in my head instead of just letting things unfold. But, Michael Stone was right, I think. We teach best what we need to learn.
Training in the Preliminaries can be understood in several different ways.
For starters, preliminaries represent everything that’s happened to our lives to lead us here. All the events of your life have led up to what you’re doing right now. In a sense, we can say the path is meeting us wherever we are. When we train in the preliminaries we’re accepting everything we’ve gone through that brought us here, and we look for lessons instead of blame. I was brought here by losing my parents and also going through two divorces. But I was also brought here by good things, like two wonderful children.
Your journey may have similar good and bad things attached. Training in the Preliminaries involves looking honestly at our lives and making a firm decision to walk a new path. Reflecting shows us why we need this, and why this may help us.
Another way to understand training in the preliminaries is by starting a meditation practice, either on your own or with others. The path requires solid grounding in a regular meditation practice. It’s said that at the beginning of our journey we have to cultivate and reflect on an awareness of four key points.
Precious human life
You’re lucky to be here, so don’t waste it. We live in an amazing time, although it may not always seem that way. We have cars and toilets, birth control and electricity. Most of human history didn’t have these wonders. We have the internet. We live in a time when all human knowledge is within our grasp—including Buddhist teachings. We can study anything we want at any time, so we shouldn’t waste this opportunity.
Reality of Death
Our time is short. Sometimes you have to tell young people about impermanence, but you never have to tell old people. They already know. The gray in my beard reminds me. So, again, don’t waste this opportunity, it’s not going to last forever. But we can choose—right now—how we want to engage the world.
Entrapment of Karma
This is not magic. People think of magic sometimes when they hear the word karma, I think. It just means that everything we do has far reaching consequences. Cutting off someone in traffic can ruin their entire day, can make them lash out at others. It’s a ripple effect. A butterfly flaps it’s wings on one side of the world and a tsunami appears on the other. Because our actions can have far reaching consequences, we should be as intentional as we can.
Inevitability of Suffering
All being suffer and we are all in this together. You’d think that would make us be nicer to each other, but it doesn’t always. We get stuck in our heads and we don’t realize that the people around us are, for the most part, going through the same problems we are.
Keeping these four things in mind helps us take the spiritual path seriously. We have to take it seriously or we’re really not going to get anywhere.
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