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.
Preparation is not something that we just do once and then forget about it. It is easy to enter into meditation and other practices, and just continue along. But along the way, we lose track why we decided to do any of this in the first place. By starting with the preliminaries, and going back to that starting point repeatedly, we can reconnect ourselves over and over again our initial inspiration. Trungpa Rinpoche used the analogy of combing our hair: each time, we go back to the root.
We need to keep reminding ourselves of the human condition, both sweet and sour—and not just the human condition in the abstract, but our own human condition specifically.
On the sour side: No matter how privileged we may be, there are many things we cannot control. We experience frustration and disappointment, and we find ourselves trapped by the decisions we have made and the circumstances we are in. We experience sickness, aging, and the certainty of dying.
On the sweet side: Something makes us ask, “Is that it? Is that all?” Something inspires us to really look into our experience and recognize that we have something to work with. We see how amazing it is that we have this precious fleeting life and the opportunity to awaken its potential, and we recognize our good fortune in encountering the dharma. At the same time, we see how many opportunities we pass by and how easy it is to simply sleepwalk our way through life.
We also need to remind ourselves of what made us think that it was even possible for us to change—not just according to our wishful thinking, but in reality. That shift could come about through an encounter with a teacher. We might simply have a sudden glimpse that it is up to us and that things could be otherwise.
Each time you practice, begin by reconnecting that practice with what inspired you to enter the path in the very beginning. As you go about your day, notice whether you are using the business of your life as a reminder of your inspiration to awaken or as an excuse to continue sleeping .