By practicing the famous mind training slogans, you can bring profound Buddhist wisdom into your day-to-day life. Lodro Rinzler highlights five slogans that are especially helpful at work.
The Buddhist master Atisha (982–1054) is credited with popularizing and systematizing the lojong, or mind training, teachings of Buddhism. Prior to Atisha, these teachings were held closely by the monastic tradition, but he saw how relevant they are to lay practitioners and made them broadly available.
The lojong teachings are part of the Mahayana Buddhist path, one aspect of which is taking others’ success and happiness as a basis for our own joy. There are fifty-nine mind training slogans and I find that five of these are particularly relevant to bringing mindfulness off the meditation cushion and into our place of work.
This slogan highlights the notion that at the core of who we are, we are worthy. We are capable. As a result of developing confidence in our own basic goodness, we have deep trust in ourselves. When tricky situations arise (and in my experience, they often do), there can be multiple points of view as to what has happened or what should happen.
This is what Atisha means when he points out that there are two witnesses—there is other people’s view of you and your actions and your own view of yourself. Of those two points of view, the principal one is your own insight.
Meditation practice is a practice in getting to know yourself very well. No one has spent more time with you than you. You are your own best adviser. Because you know yourself well, you ought to respect your own insight and listen to it. Trust your intuition, and lead from that perspective.
When we obsess over other people’s actions or affairs, we are not bettering anyone. The late Traleg Rinpoche commented on this slogan in his book The Practice of Lojong, saying, “When we think about others, we usually concentrate on their problems and defects.” That is clearly a waste of time, and any satisfaction we may gain from dwelling on other people’s faults is temporary and can leave a sour taste in our mouth.
This means that you should not take delight in other people’s misfortunes or waste your time fantasizing about what may or may not be happening with them. Obsessing over other people’s business perpetuates inner gossip, ruining your mindfulness. From the perspective of mindful speech, one could argue that the moment you begin pondering things about others out loud to coworkers, you are beginning to gossip about them. There is being inquisitive, asking why someone did a certain thing or how they are attempting to tackle a project, and then there is pondering their faults aloud.
As always, the difference comes down to what view you hold as you approach the other person. If you can keep a fresh state of mind, then you may be open to what they have to say. If you are coming at this individual with the idea that they are likely in the wrong, then you may already be pondering their affairs in a negative way.
Traleg Rinpoche goes on to say, “Wasting time speculating about other people’s affairs can be toxic and self-destructive.” It does not do you any good to ponder others; it can only create harm for yourself.
This slogan is one of my favorites. How often have you wanted to get in the last word or tried to alleviate your discomfort by forcing an issue beyond what another person felt able to discuss? When we engage in simple acts like this in an attempt to bring ourselves comfort, we are actually doing the opposite: we are bringing things to a painful point.
Another way we bring things to a painful point is by running away from topics that scare us. It could be your finances, the death of a loved one, or just your own insecurity in not knowing what you ought to be doing with your life. When you feel the tug of discomfort, you may want to shut down and not deal with these issues. You might lock yourself up in your room and watch multiple seasons of Game of Thrones, or go out drinking excessively, or spend hours obsessively checking out your favorite websites.
Unfortunately, when we hide from our problems, they tend to get bigger. When you come out of your room or that bar or that discount clothing site, the same issues you may have thought would have gone away are only more in your face. As a result, this avoidance tactic—or any disingenuous effort to shy away from discomfort—is likely to only cause more pain.
Instead of avoiding discomfort, you can lean into your life and tackle difficult topics straightforwardly and mindfully. This is not to say that you should never give space to difficult topics. Sometimes the most skillful thing to do is give a tricky situation a lot of space and let it resolve itself. However, if you find that you are avoiding something, you ought to practice meditation, bring yourself fully into the present, become familiar with your own sense of spaciousness, and act from that point of view. Doing so allows you to avoid bringing things to a painful point.
As someone who is trying to bridge the seemingly large gap between the spiritual life and work life, you should practice mindfulness whenever and wherever possible, not just when it feels good. Traleg Rinpoche made the point that if you train to be present and spacious only when things are good, you will feel that way only when things are good. When things are difficult, you will not be able to experience the qualities you are trying to cultivate.
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche has also commented on this slogan, saying, “Although your external circumstances may vary, your practice should not be dependent on that.” So please do not think of your meditation practice as something that happens for a few minutes here and there throughout your day, but as something that you can continuously engage in, especially when times get tough.
The reason we try to bring our meditation practice and our livelihood together is not to attain great fame but because it is a way to live our life with meaning. If you go about your work— or your meditation—hoping that someone will say how accomplished you are, you will end up disappointed.
Instead, relax your expectations. If you can do that, then when someone does praise you for your good work, you will likely feel delighted. Pema Chödrön has commented on this slogan, saying, “We can thank others, but we should give up all hope of getting thanked back. Simply keep the door open without expectations.” In other words, just because we shouldn’t expect applause does not mean we should not applaud others. Taking delight in others’ good work is a gift to ourselves, as well as an act of kindness to the object of our admiration.
Similarly, if you engage in your work or your practice with enthusiasm, mindfulness, and spaciousness, not only will you become more efficient, but you will enjoy it much more. That is its own reward.
The path of exploring the dharma is a lifelong one. The idea of determining who you want to be when you grow up is a constantly changing process, as I doubt any of us truly ever feels we have, officially, “grown up.”
We are forever growing, and, as a result, we must continuously return to these fundamental teachings on discovering our evolving intention, deepening trust in our basic goodness, becoming inquisitive about our life and livelihood, and engaging our speech and activity in a spacious and mindful manner. If we train in these basic tasks, we will see success in our work and live a life that is meaningful and in line with who we want to be.
From The Buddha Walks into the Office, by Lodro Rinzler, © 2014 by Lodro Rinzler. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications. Photos by ©istock.com / Hocus-Focus.