23. Always Abide by the Three Basic Principles
“1. Maintain the moral precepts of your spiritual path; 2. Practice compassion; 3. Extend your practice equally to everyone.”
This is the first verse in Point Six. It might seem that the first five Points covered everything in 22 verses. But we still have Points Six and Seven, comprised of 37 additional verses under the headings of “Commitments” and “Precepts”. The Lojong Online site calls them “Disciplines” and “Guidelines”. GGD calls Point Seven “Advice”. Alex Berzin calls Point Six “Close-Bonding Practices” and Point Seven “Points to Train In”. Here’s how he introduces them:
AB wrote:The sixth point consists of 18 practices that will bond us closely to this attitude training and the seventh contains 22 points for cleansing and training our attitudes. These are long lists, but they’re also wonderful guidelines for how to be less selfish and more concerned for others.
[NOTE: He counts each of the three principles in this verse separately to get 18 instead of 16 verses, and the 59 Slogans version excludes one verse from Point Seven making 21 instead of Berzin’s 22.]
Basically these last two Points are sets of flash cards to carry around with us and apply throughout each day, handy aphorisms to drive home and augment all the lessons of mind transformation.
Regarding this verse, #23, I’ve had some difficulty sorting out the variations in naming the three principles and finding threads through the different commentaries. So I made a chart comparing the translations of the three principles (see below), then I address each principle one at a time. But first I want to set the stage using Dilgo Khyentse’s comments as a sort of “executive summary”. I feel he offers a simple expression encompassing all the interpretations.
DK wrote:1. Consistency in the Mind Training. … Never forgetting the Mind Training, we should nevertheless respect and practice all the commitments that we have promised, drawing them all together into a single way of life.
2. Not Being Affected. In our daily lives, our words should correspond with the actual way we practice Dharma. Moreover, we should avoid doing things in front of others in order to give the impression that we are renunciates and which therefore redound to our advantage.
3. No Double Standards. … Do not be partial! Love and compassion should be universal toward all beings.
The overall thrust of this principle is to keep all our Dharma commitments. Judy Lief says,
JL wrote: In general, this means that when you make a commitment to train your mind, you do not back down but you stick with it. More formally, it means that you keep the two basic vows of mind training: the refuge vow and the bodhisattva vow. In the first, you vow to work with yourself and to develop mindfulness and awareness. In the second, you vow to work with others and to develop wisdom and compassion.
Gyalwa Gendun Druppa emphasizes the danger of thinking one practice, such as lojong, supersedes the other practices. He warns not to think like this:
GGD wrote:[Do not think,] “I can meditate upon the lojong teachings and that is all I need to do. There is no need for me to engage in the other trainings.”
Alex Berzin uses an example of drinking alcohol.
AB wrote: A controversial example could be that of avoiding alcohol, which is one of the pratimoksha vows of a layperson. We could say, “I’m a bodhisattva, and I’m trying to help others. It’s a social custom in my country to drink, so if I don’t drink with my friends they’re not going to be open or receptive to me. … Of course there can be circumstances in which this might be an appropriate way of thinking, but we need to be careful not to use it as an excuse to drink alcohol, simply because we like drinking it.
Chogyam Trungpa says it’s quite straightforward:
CT wrote: The first [general principle] is keeping the promises you made when you took the refuge and Bodhisattva vows, keeping them completely.
So that leads me to believe that if one takes the vow to refrain from alcohol they are obligated to keep it. After all, certainly at the level of pratimoksha, we can choose not to take a vow we don't think we can keep yet. The vows are not imposed rules but voluntary aids to achieving the mind training we seek. The general principle here is not to flip flop on important matters like vows. When I was in the army they had an expression in the mess hall: "Take all you want but eat all you take."
Geshes Rabten and Dhargyey emphasize the importance of even seemingly minor commitments.
R&D wrote: There are many major and minor obligations concerning thought transformation, and if we consider the infraction of one to be insignificant we are contradicting our precepts.
Pema Chodron has what, at first, sounded to me like an out-lying interpretation in this context; finding identity as a “refugee” in the refuge vows. I think what she means is that we sincerely commit ourselves to the alien land of fundamentally changing our minds.
PC wrote:The refuge vow is basically about making a commitment to become a refugee, which in essence means that rather than always wanting security, you begin to develop an attitude of wanting to step into uncharted territory.
Jamgon Kongtrul puts it this way:
JK wrote:[don’t] break the promises you have made in mind training, that is, [don’t] be tarnished by any fault or failing in any vow you have taken.
Alan Wallace reiterates,
AW wrote: The author here emphasizes that, even if the Mind Training becomes the central core of our practice, it does not substitute for other commitments that we have taken upon ourselves, or allow us to ignore them.
This one is about humility versus affectations. Judy Lief says,
JL wrote: The advice here is to be steady and modest. It is not necessary to be all that dramatic, and you do not need to draw attention to yourself.
Alex Berzin applies it to matters of propriety.
AB wrote:It’s like going to a high lama’s teaching dressed in a tiny mini-skirt, with everything showing. That would be outrageous, and beyond the level of propriety.
Chogyam Trungpa warns against being overzealous and disingenuous in our practice of lojong.
CT wrote: When you begin to practice lojong, you realize that you shouldn't have any consideration for yourself; therefore, you try to act in a self-sacrificing manner. But often your attempt to manifest selflessness becomes exhibitionism.
Pema Chodron hammers that home:
PC wrote: If you have this idea of yourself as a hero or helper or doctor and everyone else as the victim, the patient, the deprived, the underdog, you are continuing to create the notion of separateness.
I found Jamgon Kongtrul’s comment a little difficult:
JK wrote:Refrain from scandalous acts such as destroying shrines, disturbing trees and other plants, polluting streams or rivers, associating with lepers and beggars, and other ways you might behave in the hope that others will think that you have no ego-clinging. Instead, make your way of life and practice utterly pure and faultless.
Difficult, perhaps, because I may have focused on the examples while overlooking the qualifier about faking selflessness. Geshes Rabten and Dhargyey helped me understand with a fuller explanation of the traditional examples for this principle.
R&D wrote: The text actually says that we should not become a 'supernatural force' (tho-cho); this is explained in the following manner. Often near trees and water there live Spirits which, if disturbed, can be harmful. People who are aware of this, therefore, exercise care not to interfere with them, and avoid cutting down trees and digging the ground at such places. We might consider that such precautions are only for superstitious people and that strong practitioners like ourselves need not observe them. As a result, we might cut down trees that should not be cut, agitate and pollute water that should remain tranquil, enter an area of plague, or even eat food that is contaminated. This would be a grave mistake. All such arrogant deeds committed with the conceited thought that the strength of our practice renders us invulnerable to the consequences of such actions are contradictory to the practice. We should never be like a person who not out of compassion but out of arrogance visits someone with a contagious disease, thinking, "I'm immune to this because of the force of my mental development." Actions like this are a contradiction to the training.
Alan Wallace puts it in these terms:
AW wrote: As we develop greater courage in this practice and become skilled at transforming unfavorable circumstances, we may as a result become overconfident, ostentatiously seeking out dangerous situations. … Avoid this false sense of invulnerability.
The third principle reminds us that lojong, and Dharma generally, must be applied universally with complete equanimity. Alex Berzin brings up a good point about this:
AB wrote: Tibetans generally think it’s easier to practice with friends and relatives than with strangers, and so we should equally practice with the two sets of people. Many people in the West, however, find it the other way round. We often find it much more difficult to practice with relatives, because they annoy us far more than a stranger or our friends would. In terms of not being partial, of course we need to apply it in both ways.
Judy Lief and others use the term “Patience” for this principle. I believe they mean it in the sense of universal forbearance and compassion in the face of people we see as problematic, the way Shantideva uses the term in his chapter six. She adds a comment about being steadfast in our practice of lojong. In this case she uses “patient” in the sense of persistence and perseverance.
JL wrote: Mind training is not something you zoom through and then move on to something else. It is a lifelong occupation. You need to be patient and without bias as you go about it, both with yourself and with others.
Chogyam Trungpa says this one warns against the “cult of yourself”.
CT wrote: Usually, there is extreme confusion about patience. That is to say, you can be patient with your friends but not with your enemies; you can be patient with people whom you are trying to cultivate or your particular proteges, but you cannot be patient with people who are outside of your protege-ism. That kind of extreme is actually a form of personality cult, the cult of yourself, which is not such a good idea.
Pema Chodron returns to the idea of recognizing the “gap”, taking a step back.
PC wrote: Patience and non-aggresssion are basically encouragement to wait. Sometimes I think of tonglen that way. You learn to pause, learn to wait, learn to listen, and learn to look, allowing yourself and others some space -- just slowing down the camera instead of speeding it up.
I was a race walker in my youth, and I had a coach who taught me to “work the downhills, too”. Jamgon Kongtrul advises something similar.
JK wrote:Maybe you can be patient in all sorts of difficult situations but let your practice of dharma lapse when you are happy and comfortable. The commitment is to avoid any bias or one-sidedness in mind training, so always practice that.
I’ll conclude by quoting Judy Lief in full. Like Dilgo Khyentse, I think her comments capture the true sense of all three general principles in a succinct and easily digestible way.
JL wrote: Honoring your commitments. In general, this means that when you make a commitment to train your mind, you do not back down but you stick with it. More formally, it means that you keep the two basic vows of mind training: the refuge vow and the bodhisattva vow. In the first, you vow to work with yourself and to develop mindfulness and awareness. In the second, you vow to work with others and to develop wisdom and compassion. When you first take such vows, they are highly inspiring and a bit intimidating, but it is easy to drift away and forget what you have vowed to do. So it is important to refresh those commitments daily.
Refraining from outrageous actions. The advice here is to be steady and modest. It is not necessary to be all that dramatic, and you do not need to draw attention to yourself. You should recognize the desire to be seen as special, to be noticed as “advanced” or “spiritual” as a stumbling block, and not give in to its seduction.
Developing patience. Mind training is not something you zoom through and then move on to something else. It is a lifelong occupation. You need to be patient and without bias as you go about it, both with yourself and with others. You should know yourself and not think more or less of yourself, but be straightforward, steady and realistic.
We who are like children shrink from pain but love its causes. - Shantideva