Spring book nights: Training in Compassion: Exploring the Lojong tradition

Over October there will be four book nights on Zoom, 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. Wednesdays

Dates: 7, 14, 21, and 28 October 2020

Format: The  format for each night will be roughly the same: time to catch-up with each other, a short talk from whoever is leading the night, small group discussion and then a wrap-up all together again.  You are welcome to come to all or just some of the nights. 

7 Oct: Led by Sensei. Covers Point 1: Train in the preliminaries. (Norman Fischer Chapter 1)

14 Oct: Led by Hanya. Covers Point 2: Train in Bodhicitta (
Norman Fischer Chapters 2&3)
Questions for discussion in small groups in second session:
1. Absolute and relative bodhicitta.
How does bodhicitta arise in your life? (i.e. what feelings, actions arise or not arise?)
2. Maxim: Be a child of illusion.
When recently have you felt childlike / unhooked from conventional reality?
3. Quote: “It is impossible to be truely compassionate, to receive another pain, if you are unable to receive your own.”
The last time you sat with your pain, what did it ask of you?    

21 Oct: Led by Robin. Exploring Points 3, 4 & 5

These are covered by Chapters 4, 5 & 6 in “Training in Compassion”

                    Chapter 4: Transform bad circumstances into the path

                    Chapter 5: Make practice your whole life 

                    Chapter 6: Assess and extend

Questions for week 3:

Question 1. Take a look at slogan 17 “Cultivate a serious attitude (practice the five strengths)”. Norman Fischer covers this on pages 68-76. Is there a part of your life where you are already cultivating the five strengths? (at least in part- not looking for perfection here!) It might be parenting, or playing music, or meditation, or gardening, or playing sport, or teaching yoga…… Hold that part of your life in mind when thinking about the next two questions.

Here is a summary of the five strengths (my wording)

Strength of motivation

A deep and strong commitment to work for the wellbeing of others

Strength of familiarity

Building up competence and skill through patient training and persistent effort

Strength of virtuous seeds

Both remembering our innate Buddha Nature, and the repeated act of giving time and attention to the positive parts of our hearts/minds/lives that we want to flourish in the future

Strength of remorse

Recognising shortcomings and resolving to do better in the future

Strength of aspiration

Knowing and honouring our wish for enlightenment, for compassion, generosity, ease, courage

Question 2: Thinking about that part of your life, how do you “turn all mishaps into the path”? (Slogan 11).

Question 3: Still thinking about that part of your life where you feel some ease and confidence, how do you “drive all blames into one”? (Slogan 12).  Or as Norman Fischer puts it, how do you “eat the blame”? Does it make you stronger? 

If you want to, you may wish to choose one of the slogans in these chapters and work with it for the week. 

28 Oct: Led by Hanya and Sensei 

Covers Points 6: The Discipline of Relationship, and 7: Living with Ease in a Crazy World. (Norman Fischer Chapters 7 & 8)

Question 1: In Chapter 7, which phrase did you find particularly helpful, and why?

Question 2. In Chapter 8, which phrase did you find particularly helpful, and why?

Question 3. Many of the phrases in these two chapters (7 & 8) begin "Don't ..." Were there any that you reacted strongly against / struggled with?

Zoom link: Check the weekly email update for the Zoom link or email Robin (info@aucklandzen.org.nz).

Other useful information:

  • For a introduction to the Lojong tradition (and Shantideva's link to Lojong), see this Reader's Guide
  • Norman Fischer's book "Training in Compassion: Zen teachings on the practice of Lojong" is widely available. There are three copies of this available at the Auckland Public Library and one copy in the AZC library. The book is available to buy in paperback, kindle and audiobook formats.
  • Pema Chodron's book on Lojong is called "Start where you are". First published in 1994, it remains a classic well worth reading too. 

Autumn Book nights: Shantideva's The Way of the Bodhisattva 

During 2020 we explored Shantideva's classic text on the Bodhisattva path on Wednesday evenings. The book nights were held on Zoom, hosted by Hanya, Sensei and senior students, and were a chance to explore this text among Dharma friends. 

Although this book night series has finished, this is a wonderful text that you may wish to explore on your own at anytime. Check out this useful Reader's Guide if The Way of the Bodhisattva is new to you. There are many translations, but two that are available as eBooks from the Auckland Public Library are 

  • The Way of the Bodhisattva by the Padmakara Translation Group 
  • No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva by Pema Chodron (this has text from the the Padmakara Translation Group and a warm-hearted and accessible commentary by Pema Chodron. It is also available as an audio book from the library).
Here are some of the other translations that we are using in the book group:

Ideas for reading:

The text isn't always immediately accessible (but it is worth the effort!). Here are some ideas that might help, adapted from Pema Chodron's study guidelines in No Time to Lose.

  • Read out loud. Traditionally The Way of the Bodhisattva is read aloud, and it is an excellent way of hearing the poetry in the text.
  • Choose a stanza. After you have read a chapter, go back and select a stanza that really stands out for you. Write it down on a card and put it somewhere you can see it. You may want to memorise it and repeat it while out walking or just let it be with you through your week.
  • Record your responses. It can be helpful to keep a notebook and record your responses to each chapter you read, along with any other notes you want to make from the commentaries you might be reading too. Your might want to record your chosen stanza too and record what it means to you.
  • Keep a sense of enquiry. Approach with curiosity and a lightness of touch. You don't have to believe everything (or anything!) in the text.

Links to other resources:

First Book night: Overview and Chapter 1.
Second Book Night: Chapters 2 & 3 and the 7-Fold Puja.
Third book night: Chapter 6 and working with anger

Fourth book night: Chapter 10 and dedication of merit