Introduction to Atisha Slogans

Atisha

I would like to invite you to join me in an ongoing reflection on the mind training slogans of Atisha.

Note: There are a number of excellent translations of the Atisha slogans available. I have consulted primarily Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness by Chögyam Trungpa with an excellent translation of the basic text by the Nālandā Translation Committee and The Great Path of Awakening by Jamgön Kongtrül, with an excellent translation by Ken McCleod.  However, since the purpose of this blog is to examine the slogans, to look at them this way and that, to chew on them and let them sink in, I have at times chosen to phrase the slogans in my own way. This is in no way meant to be a replacement for more traditional translations—it is simply a means of exploration. I hope you too will find ways of expressing these teachings in your own words. [Read more…]

Working with the Mind Training Slogans

A Year of Atisha Slogans

How to work with the slogans

What is the best way to work with the mind training slogans? The short answer is over and over again. At first the slogans may seem overly simple, even simple minded. But if you take the time to reflect slowly and carefully on each slogan, from many angles, they begin to sink in at a different level. You begin to uncover layers of depth and subtlety.  What is really great is that the mundane grittiness and the subtle understanding are not opposed but are joined. They operate simultaneously and in tandem. So the whole way we divide our world into our ordinary dealings with daily life and what we consider more important or profound is dislodged. [Read more…]

Blog 1: First Train in the Preliminaries

A Year of Atisha Slogans

POINT ONE: THE PRELIMINARIES, WHICH ARE A BASIS FOR DHARMA PRACTICE.

[This point includes just one slogan.]

1. First Train in the Preliminaries
This slogan raises the question of what is the best foundation for dharmic practice. How should we prepare ourselves to dive into the slogans?  This naturally leads to the further question of how we prepare ourselves to launch into anything. [Read more…]

Blog 2: Regard All Dharmas as Dreams

A Year of Atisha Slogans

POINT TWO: THE MAIN PRACTICE, WHICH IS TRAINING IN BODHICHITTA

[Point two includes five ultimate bodhichitta slogans and four relative bodhichitta slogans. It is connected with the paramita of generosity.]

2. Regard all dharmas as dreams.
If the point is not to sleepwalk through life, but to be awake to our life, why would we want to regard all dharmas, or all phenomena, as dreams? Is that not a contradiction? [Read more…]

Blog 3: Examine the Nature of Unborn Awareness

A Year of Atisha Slogans

3. Examine the nature of Unborn Awareness.
In the previous slogan, “Regard all dharmas as dreams,” we looked outward, at our perception of the world. With this slogan we look inward—we look at the looking itself.

What is awareness and how does it arise? What does it mean to perceive a world? The question of consciousness is one that has puzzled scientists and philosophers as well as meditators and mystics. It seems to be intimately connected with the physical brain, yet not identical to it—and when you are aware of something, it doesn’t seem to be the brain that is perceiving, but you! But who or what is that you? [Read more…]

Blog 4: Self-Liberate Even the Antidote

A Year of Atisha Slogans

4. Self-liberate even the antidote.
The problem this slogan addresses is the tendency to cling to the insight uncovered by the previous two slogans. That is, you may have recognized the dreamlike nature of the world and the ungraspable nature of awareness, but you still cling to that recognition itself, and the sense of having figured all this out. [Read more…]

Blog 5: Rest in the Nature of Alaya, the Essence

A Year of Atisha Slogans

5. Rest in the nature of alaya, the essence.

In this weary striving world, rest is hard to come by. A luxury. From time to time we simply flop from exhaustion, but in general we don’t have many chances to slow down or to stop the momentum as our life flies by. [Read more…]

Blog 6: In Postmeditation Be a Child of Illusion

A Year of Atisha Slogans

6. In postmeditation, be a child of illusion.
Practice can be divided into two: meditation and postmeditation. Meditation refers to time spent in formal practices such as mindfulness-awareness, and postmeditation refers to what we do the rest of the time. The notion of practice, of being a spiritual practitioner, includes both meditation and postmeditation, which means that practice applies both on and of the meditation cushion.” [Read more…]

Blog 6.5 Absolute and Relative Bodhichitta

Absolute and Relative Bodhichitta
The mind training slogans are all about loving kindness or bodhichitta. They are about how we can live more sanely and with more effective compassion for others. But they do not immediately launch into the practical application of mind training, or relative bodhichitta. Instead, they begin with what is seemingly impractical, with the recognition of the empty and insubstantial nature of our experience. They begin with absolute bodhichitta. That is the focus of slogans 2-6. But why start there? [Read more…]

Blog 7: Sending and Taking Should be Practiced Alternately. These Two Should ride the Breath.

A Year of Atisha Slogans

7. Sending and taking should be practiced alternately. These two should ride the breath.
According to this slogan, in relation to ourselves, it is a good idea to practice breathing out what we want and breathing in what we don’t want. How counterintuitive is that? And in relation to others, it is suggested that we practice breathing out to them our love and healing, and breathing in their pain and sickness. That aspect is a little easier to grasp, as the notion of praying for those we care about is more familiar to us, as people who grew up in a Judeo-Christian culture. [Read more…]