Every Friday, Acharya Judy Lief, a senior teacher in the Shambhala tradition of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, comments on one of Atisha’s 59 mind-training (Tib. lojong) slogans, which serve as the basis for a complete practice.
Atisha (980-1052 CE) was an Indian adept who brought to Tibet a systematized approach to bodhicitta (the desire to awaken for the sake of all sentient beings) and loving-kindness, through working with these slogans. Judy edited Chogyam Trungpa’s Training the Mind (Shambhala, 1993), which contains Trungpa Rinpoche’s commentaries on the lojong teachings.
Each entry includes a practice. See the previous slogans and commentaries here.
8. Three objects, three poisons, and three seeds of virtue.
Three Objects: Labeling our World One way of looking at this slogan is that it is about the power of labels. It is about the way we categorize our world and what happens as a result. At a crude level and very quickly we are always sizing people up. We put the people we deal with into mental bins such as “friend,” “enemy” or “not worth bothering with.” We do this both individually and collectively. There are times when this ability to categorize may be crucially important for our survival, which depends on knowing whom we can trust and whom we need to avoid. Simply recognizing that someone is a friend or enemy or neither in that way is not in itself particularly problematic. But what happens is that those labels take on a life of their own. They change from being simple observations of a current situation or interaction to become unchanging definitions of the way things are. They become the world according to us.
Three Poisons: Fixed Reactions to Our Own Labels When our labels become solid in that way, we can’t see past them, we can only react. And the way we do so, according to this slogan, is in three dysfunctional ways: by grasping, by hatred, and by avoidance or indifference. This trio is traditionally referred to as passion, aggression, and ignorance. As we scan our world, we pick out highlights and focus on those people who further or threaten our self-serving agendas, ignoring the rest. We are always struggling to draw in friends and push away enemies.
Three Virtuous Seeds: Taking Responsibility for Our Own Reactions We first need to see this pattern at work. Then, when a poison such as hatred arises, instead of blaming the “enemy” that triggered such a response, we can see that hatred and the other poisons are our own creation. We can take full responsibility for them. Without the excuse of an external object, the poison is left hanging, with no support. When the three poisons arise, we can take them in and hope that, in doing so, others may be freed of such harmful patterns. In that way, we can transform the three poisons into the three virtuous seeds.
Today’s Practice Pay attention to labeling and notice how tenacious such labels are. When you react, notice what you are reacting to and where you place the blame. Explore the connection between the poison and the object.
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