Lojong, or mind training, is a core practice in all the lineages of the Tibetan tradition. They can perhaps best be characterized as a method for transforming our mind by turning away from self-centeredness and cultivating instead the mental habits that generate bodhicitta, the awakened mind that puts the benefit of others above all else. The teachings on it are more diverse than many people realize, so we thought we would lay out a map of its origins and development for our readers, with some recommendations along the way for books through which the practice can be explored.
The Origins of Lojong
The lojong texts present a system for putting compassion into practice according to the teachings that originate with the Buddha himself and echo throughout the centuries. In 2016 in Boulder, His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave a talk on the lojong text The Eight Verses (see below) and explained how Atisha and his teachers took this from Shantideva, in both his Way of the Bodhisattva classic (for example in the eighth chapter where he presents the lojong practice of exchanging self and others, known as tonglen in Tibetan) as well as in his Compendium of Training (a new translation of which is available from Oxford 2016). Shantideva in turn looked back to Nagarjuna, particularly in his Precious Garland and his Bodhicittavivarna, or Exposition on Enlightened Mind, which is discussed at length in In Praise of Dharmadhatu. And Nagarjuna himself used the sutras as his sources, in particular the Avatamsaka, known in English as The Flower Ornament Scripture.
The origin of lojong as a codified system is generally attributed to Atisha, the eleventh-century Bengali master who came to Tibet and founded the Kadampa tradition and whose influence on all the Tibetan lineages was profound. Some teachers identify the actual origin of lojong with Atisha's teachers-Maitriyogi, Dharmarakshita, and Serlingpa-while others attribute the teachings to Atisha's main student, Dromtonpa (1005-64).
In fact, Thubten Chodron's Good Karma: How to Create the Causes of Happiness and Avoid the Causes of Suffering, is based on a text called The Wheel of Sharp Weapons that is generally attributed to Dharmarakshita.
Whatever the case, it is reasonable to think of Atisha as the anchor of these teachings.