Book Reviews - Winter 1993

Gyalwa Gendun Druppa, the First Dalai Lama, Translated by Glenn H. Mullin

Snow Lion Publications: Ithaca, New York, 1993. 174 pp. $12.95 (paper).

Rebecca Radner

“TRAINING the Mind in the Great Way," the seven-point lojong teaching of techniques for spiritual development, is an oral transmission from the First Dalai Lama, Gyalwa Gendun Druppa (1391-1474). The teaching derives from the Indonesian master Serlingpa, four hundred years earlier, through his disciple the venerable Indian teacher Atisha, to Tibet, and thence to the First Dalai Lama, who was brought up with it.

As H.H. the Fourteenth Dalai Lama says in his introduction,

the essential message of the lojong teaching is that if we want to see a better world, we should begin by improving our own mind. . . [it is said] that there are two ways to make the world a comfortable place in which to walk. One way is to cover the world with leather; the other is to put on some shoes.

Saying that he has used lojong as the basis of his practice since childhood, he continues,

we need to train the mind in the bodhisattva ways, in practices that induce the qualities of kindness, love, compassion, tolerance, inner strength, wisdom. . .

This version is beautifully translated by Glenn H. Mullin, who gives the freshness of a contemporary work to a transmission more than five hundred years old.

The teaching falls into two main sections: preliminaries and actual practice. As Mullin's introduction points out, the two major obstacles to lojong are ego-grasping and self-cherishing; the way to eliminate these obstacles is to cultivate the two kinds of enlightenment mind: "the conventional bodhimind of love and compassion, and the ultimate bodhimind of the wisdom of emptiness."

The heart of lojong is similar to tonglen, a practice increasingly popular in the West in recent years, in which one breathes in the pain of others and breathes out love and compassion.

This sense of empathy, that at the moment is limited to our small circle of loved ones, must be extended until it encompasses all living beings without any partiality.

We perceive all beings as equal because each has been our mother in a past life.

This important part of the teachings has often been modified for Americans, to whom contemplation of the mother is not automatically a spur to higher feelings. Another way of looking at it comes from this verse, quoted in the text:

The ocean, king of mountains and the mighty continents
Are not heavy burdens to bear when compared
To the burden of not repaying the world's kindness.

One of the most interesting arguments for exchanging self-cherishing for awareness of others is given here:

You may think, "There is no need for me to be concerned with the well-being of others, for any suffering that they may experience does not increase my happiness. . ."

But as we are in a constant state of change, the self who initiates an action in its own behalf will not be the same as the self who will experience its result. Therefore, it is implied, such a closed system of mind is pointless, even on a selfish level.

Similarly, we can come to see enemies as those who are moved by our own negative karma to hurt us, thereby generating more negative karma; we therefore feel compassion for them. Such a method "enables the practitioner to take any sufferings and hardships that arise as friends."

This text is far from being a dry description of theoretical states.

During guru yoga, one is advised to call on the guru

many times from the very depth of your heart, until your eyes swim with tears, the hair on your body begins to tremble, and you are barely able to sit still.

Our practice should be inspired, unlike

the way a handful of roasted barley flour thrown into a pot of beer merely floats on the top. Our respect for others should arise from the innermost depths of our being.

This work helps us understand the ways to reach those depths and most skillfully use them for the help of all beings.

Rebecca Radner is a poet, reviewer, and teacher who lives in San Francisco.

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