2010.02.07 - Lojong 4 [preliminaries]

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    Mitsu Ishii: So, shall we begin? The topic this week was "preliminary practice" as mentioned in the first line of the Lojong.
    Mitsu Ishii: Would anyone like to share thoughts about this?
    Eliza Madrigal: Dao, you have a report...
    Dao Yheng: so do you eliza :P
    Gaya Ethaniel: :)
    Mitsu Ishii: Also, those of you who would like to do a report, please contact Dao or Gaya who will be able to add you to the wiki.
    Eliza Madrigal: :) hehe
    pablito Steampunk is Offline
    Dao Yheng: I was going to ask if Cal about his thoughts since he suggested the topic
    Zen Arado: I wrote a little note
    Mitsu Ishii: http://ways-of-knowing.wik.is/
    Eliza Madrigal: We both mentioned the 'four reflections'
    Calvino Rabeni: I have a writeup, not yet posted
    Calvino Rabeni: I read the proverb broadly, as - "what do you need to know about practice and reality, in order to succeed at this endeavor"
    Calvino Rabeni: Lojong seems to assume a maturity
    Mitsu Ishii: please go on Calvino
    Calvino Rabeni: or at least a base in practices, e.g. that one knows how to "stay in primordial awareness"
    Dao Yheng: right -- the third step is "Find the consciousness you had before you were born."
    Calvino Rabeni: But on the other hand, it is a "big framework" for practice
    Calvino Rabeni: and needs to accommodate people at different levels of experiences
    Dao Yheng: yes, you and Eliza both mentioned ways that the "dream" instruction cuts both ways
    Eliza Madrigal: someone used the phrase 'trap door' this morning in another context, and I think it can be like that.... seems simple when you walk into it, but demands 'expansion' to apply?
    Calvino Rabeni: I would say, "preliminaries" are whatever you need depending on where you are with it
    Dao Yheng: what preliminaries have you found useful, Cal?
    Calvino Rabeni: Meditation and contemplation
    Calvino Rabeni: as practices.
    Calvino Rabeni: I'm aware some people would like a kind of doctrinal understanding also
    Dao Yheng: Hmm, that relates to some of the issues I've been turning over too
    Calvino Rabeni: as in , understanding principles
    Calvino Rabeni: but I personally focus on practice
    Mitsu Ishii: (Katharine is stuck in some subway nightmare apparently)
    Eliza Madrigal: Oh :(
    Gaya Ethaniel: I prefer reading about 'principles' well after substantial practices.
    Eliza Madrigal: :)
    Calvino Rabeni: Yes, and the lojong states to that idea
    Gaya Ethaniel gets conditioned easily ... ^^;;;
    Calvino Rabeni: Liberate yourself by observing first, then analyzing
    Calvino Rabeni: encouraging the grounding as a preliminary
    Zen Arado: isn't this slogan more about getting ourselves into the right frame of mind before we approach any practice?
    Eliza Madrigal: Maybe when you set out to practice something you run into the groundwork needed....
    Eliza Madrigal: Well, that surely seems one angle, Zen
    Eliza Madrigal: an important one
    Dao Yheng: there's a bit of chicken and egg problem with "getting ourselves into the right frame of mind" though
    Calvino Rabeni: One way is to "drop" ideas about the meaning, instead of building them up
    Dao Yheng: how do you know what you're thinking is the right frame is actually going to be helpful?
    Calvino Rabeni: Through experience Dao
    Zen Arado: Tibetan teachings emphasize Guru visualization
    Gaya Ethaniel: Well ... there always is a possibility that one would never stop the groundworks ... I don't necessarily think one needs to see the list as a 'step-by-step' guide.
    Calvino Rabeni: I don't think it can be reasoned in advance
    Mitsu Ishii: Traditionally, the notion of preliminary practice was the idea that it is difficult to practice contemplation until we have settled down a bit (they phrase this in terms of "purifying karma" but essentially it is settling down, getting into a receptive frame so to speak)
    Calvino Rabeni: Yes Gaya, that is true / important
    Zen Arado: yes
    Calvino Rabeni: a preliminarry is maybe different than a Base
    Mitsu Ishii: This is related especially to the Lamrim approach
    Zen Arado: not just rushing into it carelessly
    Calvino Rabeni: Basics are always there
    Gaya Ethaniel: Probably Mitsu, 'cleaning up' one's life has to come in at some point.
    Eliza Madrigal: Also, the preliminaries become more 'attractive' when one dives into practice....
    Zen Arado: perhaps I am thinking of meditation practice here
    Dao Yheng: I have this sense too, Eliza
    Zen Arado: how you settle yourself for that
    Calvino Rabeni: Preliminaries sugest a step one could leave behind, but Basics are important at any time in a practice
    Calvino Rabeni: Gaya yes - tha is important
    Eliza Madrigal: their usefulness and value becomes apparant and enjoyable as one goes... like a continual process rather than a sense of graduading from one thing to the next
    Gaya Ethaniel: I think so too Eliza, preliminaries actually involve doing some serious practice.
    Mitsu Ishii: Well, for example, one preliminary practice could be, doing 100,000 prostrations
    Calvino Rabeni: If your life is dominated by other concerns - survival or psychology or some such - it would be harder to have attention for a lojong practice
    Dao Yheng: There's a sense in which cleaning up one's life is the "end" accomplishment rather than the "beginning" preliminary
    Eliza Madrigal: like 'beginners mind' I guess? You don't 'move on' from it really....
    Eliza Madrigal nods to Dao
    Calvino Rabeni: Clearing and purifying is an ongoing task
    Mitsu Ishii: One tricky thing about the notion of preliminary practice is that it can set up the idea of a progression, which is something that in some schools/teachings is emphasized as a problematic view
    Gaya Ethaniel nods.
    Eliza Madrigal can't imagine that anyone would want to do 10,000 prostrations unless they'd tasted the value of deep practice
    Mitsu Ishii: Well, it's a traditional approach, do 100,000 prostrations (and a bunch of other things too)
    Gaya Ethaniel: Some clearing for me just happens along the way too. I think 'ongoing' is more apt in my experiences.
    Eliza Madrigal: yes I know.... just thinking for myself, that I never imagined I would happily engage in so many rituals and such
    Mitsu Ishii: In our sangha, however, we don't do formal preliminary practice, but just apply the idea of settling down, clearing things a bit, etc.
    Calvino Rabeni: For instance, though, someone who is an alcoholic might do better in a treatment program instead of taking lojong as a path -
    Calvino Rabeni: Or whose consciousness is dominated by problems
    Calvino Rabeni: So in a sense, one needs to be in pretty good shape already to have a contemplative practice be a good life practice
    Gaya Ethaniel: Just try out 108 prostrations Eliza ... :) The smallest amount one can do.
    Eliza Madrigal: :))
    Mitsu Ishii: Well, to me, the interesting thing about Lojong isn't so much to see it as a set of principles but the fact that it is a set of "rules of thumb" which are a handy guide when you get into trouble.
    Mitsu Ishii: also I like the fact that it seems to have a sense of humor
    Calvino Rabeni: In my opinion, all the numerology and specific ritual forms are extra baggage
    Zen Arado: Pema Chodron's Lojong teahing can be of benefit without serious commitment wouldn't you say though?
    Calvino Rabeni: And the lojong ideas are high level guidelnes
    Mitsu Ishii: or "humour" as those of you in some odd countries spell it
    Calvino Rabeni: that can't be proceduralized
    Gaya Ethaniel: Yes, everyone develops differently so better use it as a guide rather than rules.
    Eliza Madrigal: yes, I think there is a lot to hear in the slogans at any level, Zen, agree
    Mitsu Ishii: for example "don't feel sorry for yourself" or "don't expect any applause" are pretty funny
    Eliza Madrigal nods
    Dao Yheng: hi kat!
    Eliza Madrigal: Hi Katharine, glad you made it
    Gaya Ethaniel: Hello Katherine :)
    Katharine Kozlowski: sorry I'm so late!!
    Zen Arado: Hi Katherine
    Mitsu Ishii: When Dao and Katharine and I first stumbled upon the Lojong we were really amused by it. I found it quite refreshing to just read them as a sort of group.
    Calvino Rabeni: Maybe funny? If they violate a cultural expectation
    Gaya Ethaniel: Click one of the yellow ball itself not the chair Katherine.
    Calvino Rabeni: But there are traditions of "good done in secret"
    Mitsu Ishii: that should be one of the new Lojong aphorisms for the 21st century
    Mitsu Ishii: "Click one of the yellow ball itself not the chair"
    Gaya Ethaniel: I heard somewhere that if one expects 'applauds' one negates any good done through a virtuous action.
    Dao Yheng: :)
    Katharine Kozlowski: i thought the ball would be upset
    Katharine Kozlowski: if i sat on it
    Gaya Ethaniel: heh :)
    Dao Yheng: the preliminaries really are that way to me (yellow ball, not chair!)
    Katharine Kozlowski: i wonder if jenny holzer read the lojong
    Eliza Madrigal: :)))
    Gaya Ethaniel: lol
    Mitsu Ishii: yes, very jenny holzer
    Calvino Rabeni: I'm not much of a "sutra" reader, but I am impressed with the lojong
    Mitsu Ishii: To me there's a very interesting question at the heart of this "preliminary practice" one
    Dao Yheng: I think encoded in the weird rituals and practices are a way of seeing the world
    Katharine Kozlowski: so what are the preliminaries, anyway
    Dao Yheng: it seems odd or non-sensical at first
    Gaya Ethaniel: "Groundwork is the development of the abilities and motivations needed to practice mind training: stable attention, mindfulness in daily behavior, appreciation that your life is yours and yours alone, determination to step out of pattern-based experience, and a genuine desire to help others do so, too."
    Eliza Madrigal: Gaya... thinking...yes the idea being what is done 'in secret' has more merit... which I think means that 'we' ascribe more value really ... we 'feel' generous and therefore are able to be generous
    Mitsu Ishii: which gets back to this fundamental tension between practice as a process and practice as a gesture towards the always already present.
    Calvino Rabeni: I'm not sure that some big theory or principle can be read into them though - they seem like a miscellaneous set of pragmatic tips
    Mitsu Ishii: Yes, I agree, Calvino.
    Calvino Rabeni: Gaya's statement is a good one about practice
    Gaya Ethaniel: http://www.unfetteredmind.org/mindtraining/1.php
    Dao Yheng: That too calvino
    Katharine Kozlowski: i used to be very taken with the idea of making art in secret and then throwing it away
    Mitsu Ishii: For example, Suzuki roshi (Shunryu Suzuki) always used to like to say, do not practice with a "gaining idea"
    Eliza Madrigal: :) yes... or sand art... putting all the work into something just for the sake of that moment
    Gaya Ethaniel: More I think in terms of "we are all in a same boat." I don't see the need for applauds ... one would do what's good. It will be good for all those in the boat.
    Mitsu Ishii: which is actually one of the Lojong phrases "Abandon all hope of results"
    Katharine Kozlowski: also don't expect applause
    Mitsu Ishii: which sounds sort of bleak but is actually really hilarious while also totally useful.
    Mitsu Ishii: the notion of "results" and doing things to achieve a result presupposes an idea of time, of doing X to get Y
    Eliza Madrigal: yes and there is nothing real about your confusion... it is a 'nice' way of knocking one off their own horse....
    Mitsu Ishii: yet at the same time, it is actually helpful to settle down a bit as a basis for practice. So we all have to practice with this fundamental tension, try to resolve that koan
    Calvino Rabeni: Lojong emphasizes the integration of various opposites - naturally
    Calvino Rabeni: like surrender and responsibility
    Eliza Madrigal: hm, nods
    Mitsu Ishii: eventually, these seeming opposites come together and can be seen as the same
    Calvino Rabeni: but it seems to emphasize - don't depend on others, on the world, be responsible for your own practice
    Gaya Ethaniel: They only look like opposite if one takes a position, me & you ...
    Calvino Rabeni: Yes, they come together
    Calvino Rabeni: lojong speaks both sides
    Zen Arado: some of the slogans are very 'unworldly'
    Mitsu Ishii: My feeling is those aphorisms are more about not worrying about trying to change other people, i.e., complaining about others, etc.
    Gaya Ethaniel: Unworldly Zen?
    Mitsu Ishii: (the ones about not worrying about other people, etc.)
    Mitsu Ishii: please go on Zen
    Zen Arado: yes the opposite action to what most expect you to do
    Zen Arado: one about taking blame yourself I dimly remember
    Mitsu Ishii: yes, I think it can be quite liberating
    Zen Arado: I read these quite a while ago
    Mitsu Ishii: so instead of always worrying about winning, succeeding, the aphorism just says, go ahead and lose
    Zen Arado: yes
    Mitsu Ishii: which can really be quite a relief
    Katharine Kozlowski: When everything goes wrong, treat disaster as a way to wake up.
    Zen Arado: so counterintuitive in a way
    Eliza Madrigal: yes that's the feeling... relief
    Zen Arado: to normal ways of thinking
    Calvino Rabeni: The theme "invest in loss" runs throughout lojong
    Eliza Madrigal: give up hope of results
    Zen Arado: yes
    Calvino Rabeni: As does "intentional suffering"
    Calvino Rabeni: Or "conscious suffering"
    Dao Yheng: Yes, a way to value suffering, rather than turn away from it
    Calvino Rabeni: It is not a moral issue, it is an issue of seeing reality
    Zen Arado: absorbing rather than avoiding suffering
    Mitsu Ishii: "Solve all problems by accepting the bad energy and sending out the good."
    Calvino Rabeni: Lojong supports a moral perspective, but goes deeper than that
    Gaya Ethaniel: I think it helps with stopping reactive emotions, ie blaming others would certainly disconnect ... and involves anger.
    Zen Arado: making a space for it
    Katharine Kozlowski: but it's not saying we ought to suffer as much as possible, right? i feel like i tend to go off the deepend with this
    Zen Arado: no but we have more capacity to absorb it than we think ?
    Dao Yheng: Yeah, I think that is one of tricky points with lojong
    Calvino Rabeni: "bring your emotions to yourr practice" but don't let them distract
    Mitsu Ishii: Well, it's not really saying we should suffer, exactly. It is more referring to acceptance
    Zen Arado: the space enlarges
    Calvino Rabeni: No worries Katharine
    Eliza Madrigal: accept all your aversions, etc... nothing left out
    Eliza Madrigal: everything as the material for 'awakening'
    Katharine Kozlowski: but once there is acceptance suffering is already something else
    Calvino Rabeni: suffering is inevitable, no need to work to get more
    Zen Arado: I found this odea startling at first
    Calvino Rabeni: Although it might sometimes be useful to do so :)
    Mitsu Ishii: I'm sure Chekawa didn't have in mind people going around intentionally trying to make themselves suffer
    Zen Arado: so used to avoidance strategy
    Gaya Ethaniel: To accept, one needs to be present ... to be present, one cannot start constructing the world view of duality.
    Mitsu Ishii: but if you encounter a situation where you can take in some bad energy and give out good energy, then he'd say: go for it
    Calvino Rabeni: No it is not an avoidance strategy, or necessarily, a way to "escape" suffering
    Gaya Ethaniel: I think that's why there are a lot of aphorisms on us and other people, what to do.
    Zen Arado: I have heard of practitioners who actually seek suffering to enrich their practice
    Eliza Madrigal: it really seems to break down preferences... it isn't only the 'bad' things we accept, but accepting 'good' things in the same way, reduces the romanticism/duality of those too
    Calvino Rabeni: the tonglen is a basic transformation of awareness, not a moral gesture
    Zen Arado: nods
    Eliza Madrigal nods
    Gaya Ethaniel: I think such a method has its limit/downside Zen ...
    Mitsu Ishii: Yes, I mean the Lojong aren't really a complete system, I don't think they were meant as a system per se. They're just a handy set of rules of thumb so to speak.
    Zen Arado: yes perhaps we need to grow towards that....
    Gaya Ethaniel: It's very good in terms of increasing sensitivity, I grant but ... not sustainable in long term.
    Zen Arado: too much too soon could be bad....
    Mitsu Ishii: like a cheat sheet for contemplation
    Calvino Rabeni: Agree, Mitsu
    Eliza Madrigal: :) Like that!
    Dao Yheng: I have some similar concerns as Katherine though -- which is why it seems important to me that preliminaries and some establishment of the first three seems essential to me
    Dao Yheng: # First, train in the preliminaries.
    # Treat everything you perceive as a dream.
    # Find the consciousness you had before you were born.
    Mitsu Ishii: right the second and third ones are really advanced!
    Katharine Kozlowski: most of my experiences of waking up have seemed to be to some extent triggered by intense suffering
    Mitsu Ishii: and even the first in a way
    Calvino Rabeni: they are very advanced
    Mitsu Ishii: the funny thing is he put those at the front, and the most funny/pragmatic ones towards the end
    Zen Arado: suffering can be a shortcut to awakening?
    Calvino Rabeni: Yes
    Gaya Ethaniel: I'd say depends on an individual.
    Calvino Rabeni: only if aware
    Zen Arado: maybe in the context that we cause so much of our own suffering
    Eliza Madrigal: and if aware then its all 'unsatisfactory' in a sense... at least as something to stick with
    Gaya Ethaniel: Some people wake up from a profound sense of isolation.
    Calvino Rabeni: Right , the foundational stuff is at the beginning
    Mitsu Ishii: Yes I agree Gaya, it is very individual
    Gaya Ethaniel: It is all individual ...
    Calvino Rabeni: # Stay in the primeval consciousness, the basis of everything.
    # Between meditations, treat everything as an illusion.
    Calvino Rabeni: not a step by step thing
    Mitsu Ishii: But there is a general principle there
    Calvino Rabeni: many general principles, if you read between the lines
    Mitsu Ishii: There's a Zen koan which is something like "Imagine you have a hot iron ball in your throat and you can't spit it out and you can't swallow it down"
    Zen Arado: are we going to study one teaching per sesshion?
    Zen Arado: yes 'MU'
    Zen Arado: perhaps we need to have that dedication
    Eliza Madrigal: Ah, Zen... I think the plan is to become familiar with lojong for a few sessions and then move on...
    Zen Arado: ok
    Mitsu Ishii: Or a similar one about being trapped on a cliff, running from a tiger, with tigers below waiting to eat him, and he sees a strawberry growing out of the cliff: "How sweet it tastes!"
    Dao Yheng: Zen, do you have in mind a slogan for next week?
    Zen Arado: ha no I thought you wre doing one at a time
    Mitsu Ishii: When you're "stuck" in a situation that apparently has no escape, that's a moment when you might be able to see a radical alternative.
    Mitsu Ishii: so in that sense intense suffering could be a helpful situation, if it seems hopeless enough :)
    Katharine Kozlowski: there is this poem by rumi i really love, he says "there is a secret medicine given only to those who hurt so hard they can't hope" ... it's the not hoping that's really important, but the hurting can get you there
    Eliza Madrigal: hmmm :))
    Mitsu Ishii: it's the giving up of the ordinary notion that we need to find a way "out" with our ordinary thinking
    Calvino Rabeni: Lojong recommennds focus and intention in practice - in some way that quality might find its way into this seminar
    Mitsu Ishii: it's like being trapped in a box in Flatland, and realizing that we have other dimensions to our being
    Eliza Madrigal: and we wouldn't have even considered that if not for necessity
    Mitsu Ishii: Yes, our idea was to talk about Lojong for several sessions (this is already our third? or fourth? on Lojong) and then move on to a different subject area.
    Mitsu Ishii: right Eliza
    Gaya Ethaniel: I did read the reports ... sorry we didn't get to discuss them much Dao and Eliza. Thanks again.
    Zen Arado: I liked 11,12 13
    Gaya Ethaniel: I will hopefully find time to do a report for next week :)
    Mitsu Ishii: which ones are those Zen?
    Mitsu Ishii: we are all looking at different lists
    Zen Arado: on transforming mishaps into the path
    Zen Arado: drivew all blames into one
    Gaya Ethaniel: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lojong
    Gaya Ethaniel: We are looking at this list Zen.
    Calvino Rabeni: yes, it is on the "conscious suffering" theme
    Zen Arado: begrateful to everyone
    Mitsu Ishii: Okay, so shall we spend one more session on Lojong, and this time focused on the aphorisms Zen just mentioned?
    Zen Arado: or just point three
    Calvino Rabeni: Accepting blame is = accepting responsibility
    Dao Yheng: # When practicing unconditional acceptance, start with yourself.
    # When everything goes wrong, treat disaster as a way to wake up.
    # Take all the blame yourself.
    Dao Yheng: are those the ones?
    Katharine Kozlowski: i like those
    Zen Arado: they are revolutionary I think
    Mitsu Ishii: yes indeed
    Zen Arado: yes
    Dao Yheng: k, sounds good
    Eliza Madrigal: Dao, btw I relate to and love the word 'flip' to describe... really feel that's what practice does to us... flips everything upside down/inside out until we can't see distinctions....
    Dao Yheng: :) I used to like the pancake metaphor -- at first you pour on the batter and it looks like nothing's happening
    Dao Yheng: then you flip it over and it really looks like a pancake!
    Mitsu Ishii: Yes, I like the way you said that Eliza
    Calvino Rabeni: Another name for it is "reversal"
    Eliza Madrigal: :)
    Eliza Madrigal: leaves us in an excruciatingly open place, in a sense.
    Zen Arado: :)
    Zen Arado: groundlessness
    Eliza Madrigal: :)
    Gaya Ethaniel: :)
    Katharine Kozlowski: but also nothing has changed
    Dao Yheng: very true!
    Eliza Madrigal: hmmm, nods
    Zen Arado: yes there never was any ground
    Mitsu Ishii: yes that's another aspect of it: it was always like that
    Gaya Ethaniel: One sees better perhaps.
    Zen Arado: in the first place :)
    Eliza Madrigal: the consciousness before you were born
    Mitsu Ishii: but we thought it wasn't
    Gaya Ethaniel: I have to run to another meeting. Thanks everyone!
    Eliza Madrigal: Bye Gaya!
    Mitsu Ishii: goodbye everyone and thanks for coming
    Mitsu Ishii: bye Gaya
    Calvino Rabeni: Pardoxically, groundlessness is dependent on what consciousness can sustain in practice
    Dao Yheng: bye gaya!
    Zen Arado: thanks Gaya and everyone
    Mitsu Ishii: sorry for spacing on the announcement.
    Calvino Rabeni: Bye:
    Katharine Kozlowski: bye
    Eliza Madrigal: Thanks so much Everyone! Bye for now
    Dao Yheng: Zen and Calvino, I'm not sure how to add you to the wiki yet
    Zen Arado: bye Eliza
    Zen Arado: must run too
    Zen Arado: bye
    Eliza Madrigal waves warmly

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