Lojong, or mind training, is a core practice in all the lineages of the Tibetan tradition. They can perhaps best be characterized as a method for transforming our mind by turning away from self-centeredness and cultivating instead the mental habits that generate bodhicitta, the awakened mind that puts the benefit of others above all else. The teachings on it are more diverse than many people realize, so we thought we would lay out a map of its origins and development for our readers, with some recommendations along the way for books through which the practice can be explored.
The lojong texts present a system for putting compassion into practice according to the teachings that originate with the Buddha himself and echo throughout the centuries. In 2016 in Boulder, His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave a talk on the lojong text The Eight Verses (see below) and explained how Atisha and his teachers took this from Shantideva, in both his Way of the Bodhisattva classic (for example in the eighth chapter where he presents the lojong practice of exchanging self and others, known as tonglen in Tibetan) as well as in his Compendium of Training (a new translation of which is available from Oxford later in 2016). Shantideva in turn looked back to Nagarjuna, particularly in his Precious Garland and his Bodhicittavivaraṇa, or Exposition on Enlightened Mind, which is discussed at length in In Praise of Dharmadhatu. And Nagarjuna himself used the sutras as his sources, in particular the Avatamsaka, known in English as The Flower Ornament Scripture.
The origin of lojong as a codified system is generally attributed to Atisha, the eleventh-century Bengali master who came to Tibet and founded the Kadampa tradition and whose influence on all the Tibetan lineages was profound. Some teachers identify the actual origin of lojong with Atisha’s teachers—Maitriyogi, Dharmarakshita, and Serlingpa—while others attribute the teachings to Atisha’s main student, Dromtonpa (1005–64).
In fact, Thubten Chodron’s Good Karma: How to Create the Causes of Happiness and Avoid the Causes of Suffering, is based on a text called The Wheel of Sharp Weapons that is generally attributed to Dharmarakshita.
Whatever the case, it is reasonable to think of Atisha as the anchor of these teachings.
From Atisha and the Kadampa masters who followed him, we have received a rich array of core lojong texts that form the basis for the commentaries and teachings we have today. Originally the lojong teachings—often just collections of short sayings—were considered secret and were not widely disseminated, but this changed with the works of two Kadampa masters in particular.
The first was Langri Thangpa (1054–1123), whose teacher, Geshe Potawa (1027–1105), was one of the three main disciples of Dromtonpa and whose succinct Eight Verses on Training the Mind continues to be widely taught—recently by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to over ten thousand people in New York’s Central Park. His Holiness has taught this text on numerous occasions and has published three works on it: a section in the book Lighting the Way, the audio recording Eight Verses for Training the Mind (an mp3 download of which is expected soon), and a section in Kindness, Clarity, and Insight. Another commentary is from the late Geshe Sonam Rinchen, also called Eight Verses for Training the Mind.
One of the earliest commentaries on Langri Thangpa’s Eight Verses was by Geshe Chekawa Yeshe Dorje (1102–76), who devoted twelve years to putting the teachings into practice. After seeing the effect of the teachings on a village of lepers who were cured by them—and experiencing the teachings’ remarkable effect on the mind of his unsavory brother—Chekawa decided to share them widely. He became the first to break the teachings down into the now-familiar seven points. Though this model became common, when people refer to The Seven Points of Mind Training, it is almost always Chekawa’s text to which they refer (even if they call it Atisha’s Seven Points of Mind Training). His text consists of fifty-nine aphorisms or slogans that encapsulate the essence of lojong.
There are many commentaries on Chekawa’s text. One of the more famous is by Ngulchu Thogme Zangpo, the early fourteenth-century Kadampa master who also authored the renowned Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva. In Enlightened Courage, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche teaches on Thogme Zangpo’s commentary on Chekawa’s text.
The great nineteenth-century master Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Taye also included a commentary on Chekawa’s text in his Treasury of Special Instructions. It is available in English as The Great Path of Awakening.
And there are many contemporary masters who teach on this text because it is so easy to put into practice and can have such a profound effect:
In The Practice of Lojong, Traleg Rinpoche calls the practices “a profound antidote to the victim mentality that has become so prevalent in our times.”
Ringu Tulku received his training in lojong from Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and wrote Mind Training, which is a succinct presentation of the slogans.
B. Alan Wallace wrote two books on the text: Seven-Point Mind Training and the longer Buddhism with an Attitude.
Chögyam Trungpa based his Training the Mind on both Chekawa’s text and Jamgon Kongtrul’s commentary. He said that this practice of training the mind—which follows taming the mind—is an antidote to the main obstacle for Mahayana practitioners: not having enough sympathy for others and for oneself.
Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche’s The Intelligent Heart: A Guide to the Compassionate Life is another excellent book on The Seven Points of Mind Training with an emphasis on tonglen.
While the core Kadampa lojong texts are taught throughout the Tibetan schools, some schools gave them their own unique expression. In the Sakya tradition, a core lojong teaching is Drakpa Gyaltsen’s Parting from the Four Attachments. The Nyingma and Kagyu traditions have lojong built into the Ngondro practices in the form of meditations and reflections on the “Four Thoughts” and on generating bodhicitta. Khandro Rinpoche’s This Precious Life provides a good example of this. Perhaps the most famous Ngondro commentary is Patrul Rinpoche’s Words of My Perfect Teacher, which constantly refers back to Atisha, Dromtonba, Chekawa, Drakpa Gyaltsen, and others. Khenpo Ngwang Pelzang’s Guide to the Words of My Perfect Teacher does the same.
However, there is a particular and very unique Nyingma presentation of lojong and that is Steps to the Great Perfection: The Mind-Training Tradition of the Dzogchen Masters. In this unique and masterful work, Jigme Lingpa presents mind training from the core teachings familiar in all the above works and then introduces the Dzogchen-specific instructions.
The evolution and influence of lojong is not limited to Tibetan Buddhism. Zen teacher Norman Fischer has introduced it to his Zen and interfaith audiences in Training in Compassion, seeing that Zen practitioners can benefit from its explicit teachings in compassion—and that the lojong practitioners can also benefit from the Zen perspective.
And, of course, Pema Chödrön has brought lojong teachings to a very broad audience with her book Start Where You Are, probably the most widely read book on lojong in English.
And if you love Start Where You Are, you will also love her latest, Pema Chödrön’s Compassion Cards: Teachings for Awakening the Heart in Everyday Life which is a great way to really ingrain the lojong slogans by interacting with them ,testing yourself. This deck includes Pema’s introduction to the practice, fifty-nine cards representing the full set of lojong teachings for daily inspiration and contemplation, a practical commentary from Pema on the reverse of each card, a card stand for easy display, and an audio download of Pema’s teachings on the related practice of tonglen.
We hope you enjoy learning about the lojong tradition from some of these wonderful teachers and that they help us all to open our hearts and minds, and become more generous, flexible, and tame. Has lojong helped you? Leave a comment below with your experience!