Train Your Mind: Seeing Confusion as the four kayas

Atisha's 59 Lojong Slogans with commentary by Acharya Judy Lief

Judy Lief

The Mind-Training Slogans, Slogan #14

Acharya Judy            LiefEach Friday, Acharya Judy Lief, teacher in the Shambhala tradition of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, comments on one of Atisha's 59 mind-training (Tib. lojong) slogans, which serve as the basis for a complete practice.

Atisha (980-1052 CE) was an Indian adept who brought to Tibet a systematized approach to bodhicitta (the desire to awaken for the sake of all sentient beings) and loving-kindness, through working with these slogans. Judy edited Chogyam Trungpa's Training the Mind (Shambhala, 1993), which contains Trungpa Rinpoche's commentaries on the lojong ("mind-training") teachings.

Each entry includes a practice.

Read all the lojong slogans here.

14. Seeing confusion as the four kayas
Is unsurpassable shunyata protection.

Judy Lief logong slogansWith this slogan, once again we are joining what we usually consider as undesirable with practice. In this case it is confusion.  At first glimpse, this slogan seems rather obscure and even esoteric.  What kind of confusion?  What are the four kayas?  What is shunyata, anyway, and what form of protection can it provide? Protection from what?

In everyday experience, it is often hard to pin down what exactly is happening and why.  Whenever we begin to figure things out, there is always some kind of slippage. Things begin to make sense, but just almost and not quite. We keep trying to chip away at our confusion, to straighten it out, to get rid of it, imagining ourselves somehow coming out on the other side, into a nonconfused state where everything is workable. But according to this slogan, rather than getting rid of our confusion, what we really need to do is to examine it and in doing so transform our view of it. We need to look below the surface to how we perceive reality altogether.

Basically, the point here is that if we really look closely at the way our mind works, even in the midst of confusion, we alway find the same process: one of continual awakening. This process is described in terms of what are called the four kayas or “bodies.”  Through careful attention and meditative practice we begin to see how every perception begins with uncertainty and openness (dharmakaya); then starts to come into focus (nirmanakaya); then develops energy and begins to come together (sambhogakaya), and finally clicks, synthesized as immediate present-moment experience (svabhavikakaya).  It is as though confusion is awakening in disguise.

This pattern of continual awakening (seeing confusion as the four kayas) is paired with one of continual letting go (supreme shunyata protection). So in this slogan, not only do we transform how we view confusion, but we also see that although it may seem solid and intractable, fundamentally it is empty (shunyata). Combining all this, when we see everything as empty and awake, we have no ground to defend and nothing to protect—which is the most excellent protection of all.

Today’s practice
In your sitting practice, pay attention to the arising and dissolving of perceptions. Notice how your sense of self seems to arise simultaneously with each perception, ready to respond to any threat; notice the subtle undertone of fear.  What are you actually protecting?

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John Haspel's picture

I found these teachings (Atisha's mind training techniques as interpreted by Chogyum Trungpa) to be quite confusing the longer I engaged with them. (Many years ago) It was precisely this practice that had me begin to question that which seemed to bring confusion and remain mindful of that which developed release from confusion.

As a westerner, I found that trying to develop an understanding of the Buddha's teachings through foreign cultural influences to be nearly impossible. It may be unclear to some readers that Atisha's (Or Mr. Trungpa's) teachings in mind training are not a practice that the Buddha taught. This may be why some later schools teach that awakening will take "countless eons."

The Buddha taught that any human could awaken in the present lifetime if they would engage the Dhamma whole-heartedly and free of distraction. It was not until I put my mindfulness on the original teachings of the Buddha, free from cultural or patriarchal influences, was I able to understand the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

Confusion may almost be awakening in disguise for some, as Ms. Lief states. For me when something is presented as the Dhamma, or at least what one Buddhist teacher is presenting as the Dhamma, and develops confusion rather than release, I return to the framework of the Eightfold Path.

The Buddha's teaching of putting aside all views arising from ignorance by incorporating mind-training within the framework of the Eightfold Path became clear and accessible and effective in delivering the Buddha's stated purpose of his Dhamma: To recognize stress and suffering and to put aside all causes of stress and suffering.

I have great respect for Judy Lief and I have read much of her material. Lojong is a much honored and useful practice for many. Atisha preserved Tibetan Buddhism at a time (11th century) that was critical for Tibetan Buddhism and has led many in the Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings as developed in Tibet.

Many westerners may find the original teachings of the Buddha to be more effective and less confusing in recognizing and putting aside all causes of stress and suffering. Peace.

John Haspel

wendyyee's picture

this<> seems like<> a yoga breathing pattern using Hindu idea of meditating into prism of light