By Daniel Scharpenburg
Almost two years ago I was given the title “Gegan” (teacher) and trained to teach lojong practice at the Rime Center.
I spent a lot of time preparing, studying and learning. It was all very exciting, and I appreciate all opportunities to contribute to the flourishing of the Dharma in the ways that I can.
Then I was asked not to teach it; they had suddenly decided to go another way. I don’t teach at the Rime Center now. I suppose there’s a lesson in there somewhere about impermanence and expectations. Maybe there’s a lesson about praise and blame too. I guess it’s just another chapter in the tangled mess that is my journey.
I’m not sure if I still have that title. I don’t know how all this works, really. Maybe “Gegan” is relegated to the past, alongside my previous “Novice Zen Monk” title and others. I think I’d rather just be Daniel, anyway. How often do special names and titles help and how often are they a distraction? I don’t know.
Prior to that, I had studied with two different Zen teachers—with questionable reputations—and a third, which turned out to be a situation where distance and expense were barriers I simply couldn’t overcome. In any case, the point is that my practice in the Zen tradition felt stuck when lojong came into my life. It’s changed things for me. In all honesty, most of Tibetan Buddhist teachings don’t mean much to me.
I’m not interested in leaving food out for spirits or doing just the right ritual so that my spirit escapes samsara at death. I don’t believe in that stuff, and I’m sort of surprised other people do. But lojong practice isn’t that kind of teaching; it’s at a whole other level. It’s the kind of teaching where we can see directly how to apply it in our daily life.
Lojong practice is about training the mind in compassion and wisdom, the essence of the Bodhisattva path. It’s quite a different method from what I learned in my Zen training, but to me, it’s right up there with Zen practices.
Compassion, connection, insight, wisdom: lojong is about cultivating all of these. These teachings have had an impact on me, and I was interested in sharing them, in spite of everything. I gave a long series of video teachings on lojong at The Open Heart Project last year, over a period of eight weeks, and it was incredibly well received. I’m already thinking about how I can share these teachings again.
In these times, when so much of the world seems devoted to driving us apart, we need things that are designed to bring us closer together. Maybe things are always this way; I just see the way things are going right now. We need to connect with each other; all of us.
What are these teachings?
They’re reminders, like proverbs—or bumper stickers—like, “A penny saved is a penny earned,” but much more meaningful and important. The purpose of lojong practice is just to reflect on these important little phrases enough that they come to mind when we need them.
So, when we’re mad at someone for testing our patience we think of the slogan, “Be grateful to everyone.” Or when we’re having trouble sticking with our practice we remember to “Train wholeheartedly.” Just all little things. But sometimes in life, it turns out that the little things are really big things.
I love lojong practice, and I think you will too. So, I’m going to present the teachings again here.
Editor: John Pendall