19 June 2024

Eight Verses for Training the Mind

As a rather lapsed Buddhist practitioner, I value greatly the medieval Tibetan Geshe Langri Tangpa's Eight Verses for Training the Mind,* which I consider to be a statement of unalloyed wisdom and compassion. Moreover, it isn't really religious; it makes no assertions or implications of requirement for belief in any supernatural phenomena or supreme beings. It is simply a statement of philosophy, or, rather, moral verity and aspiration for relief from suffering for all, from a particular point of view.

Nonetheless, I would understand and agree with a public school finding that its teachers must not put up a copy of it in the classroom, with the implication of official endorsement, because doing so would run counter to our American tradition (and law) as a republic founded on principles including the freedom of (and from) religion in public life.

I find it troubling that, after nearly 250 years of settled law and tradition, the Legislature and governor of the State of Louisiana seem to think it's not only all right but legally permissible to post and lend official endorsement to the Ten Commandments, an explicitly monotheistic religious text. This text is not only not sacred to all, but it contains several morally dubious declarations. When I was in school, the separation of church and state was explained as a vital principle of American life, and was adhered to scrupulously. What happened? 

In my personal opinion, young people would benefit from being exposed to Langri Tangpa's verses more than to Moses' authoritarian and patriarchal text. But as both are of necessity deemed to be religious texts, neither (nor any other such) can be permitted to be officially endorsed in public education. This is not difficult to understand or unclear. Those who insist on promulgating their religion under the imprimatur of governmental authority obviously do not really believe in or support the democratic principles that are supposed to undergird our Constitution and legal framework. And that, friends, is not only wrong, it is sad.

*Eight Verses for Training the Mind, by Geshe Langri Tangpa (1023–1123)

1.  By thinking of all sentient beings
As more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel
For accomplishing the highest aim,
I will always hold them dear.

2.  Whenever I'm in the company of others,
I will regard myself as the lowest among all,
And from the depths of my heart
Cherish others as supreme.

3.  In my every action, I will watch my mind,
And the moment destructive emotions arise,
I will confront them strongly and avert them,
Since they will hurt both me and others.

4.  Whenever I see ill-natured beings,
Or those overwhelmed by heavy misdeeds or suffering,
I will cherish them as something rare,
As though I'd found a priceless treasure.

5.  Whenever someone out of envy
Does me wrong by attacking or belittling me,
I will take defeat upon myself,
And give the victory to others.

6.  Even when someone I have helped,
Or in whom I have placed great hopes
Mistreats me very unjustly,
I will view that person as a true spiritual teacher.

7.  In brief, directly or indirectly,
I will offer help and happiness to all my mothers,
And secretly take upon myself
All their hurt and suffering.

8.  I will learn to keep all these practices
Untainted by thoughts of the eight worldly concerns.
May I recognize all things as like illusions,
And, without attachment, gain freedom from bondage.

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