52. Don’t misinterpret.
This slogan focuses on six qualities—patience, yearning, excitement, compassion, priorities, and joy—and how they can be misinterpreted. More generally, the point is to see how we can twist things so that our avoidance of the dharma is considered to be a virtue rather than a fault. We are continually tempted to misinterpret teachings designed to soften our ego-fixation in such a way that they instead add more fuel to our self-absorption and distractedness.
An undercurrent that runs through this slogan is the strong pull of samsara. Lojong practice goes against the grain and threatens our cozy samsaric cocoon, so we try to figure out ways to be dharma practitioners without having to give anything up. We long for transformation, but we really don’t want to change anything. So we twist the teachings to fit our personal agenda. We pay lip service, but our heart really lies elsewhere.
The first thee categories—patience, yearning, and excitement—are quite straightforward. Misinterpreted patience is being patient with the hassles of samsara, but not patient with dharma practice. Misinterpreted yearning is to have constant yearning for more money, more pleasure, and more security, but to have very little yearning to train the mind or cultivate loving-kindness. Misinterpreted excitement is to find mindless entertainment and the endless pursuit of wealth exciting, but not be excited about the study and practice of the dharma.
The fourth category, misinterpreted compassion, is more provocative. Misinterpreted compassion means to feel compassion for the hardships faced by people who are dedicated to the dharma, but not to feel compassion for evildoers. According to this slogan, true compassion is not based on picking and choosing, and it is not based on sorting people into who is worthy of our compassion and who is not.
The fifth category, twisted priorities, could also be called the challenge of scheduling. Somehow, we always manage to find time in our schedules for what entertains us or advances our self-interest, but find it difficult to find time to practice the dharma.
The sixth and last category, twisted joy, means to take more delight in seeing your enemy suffer or your competitor fail than when you see someone succeed in overcoming confusion through dharmic practice.
These six categories are examples of the many ways that we try to disguise as virtues the many ways we feed our neuroses and our fixation on the self.
Start with the misinterpretation of priorities. List out your main activities for a week, and calculate how much time you spend on each category, such as work, sleep, TV, study, practice, socializing etc. What does this tell you about your priorities? What would need to shift to free up a little time for dharma practice?