A Secular Reinterpretation of a Tibetan Classic Teaching

Secular Buddhist Association Piece

‘Don’t Expect a Standing Ovation – and fifty-eight other pieces of helpful advice’

This is the title of my recently published book.  Many people will immediately spot that it is a reworking in contemporary and secular terms of the ancient Tibetan teaching ‘Seven Points of Mind Training’, which was originally presented in the form of fifty-nine ‘slogans’ (mottos or maxims, one might call them) of which ‘Don’t Expect a Standing Ovation’ is number fifty-nine. They don’t form either a linear sequence or a logical, systematic exposition: rather, each slogan is implicitly linked to each of the others, sometimes mysteriously and often ironically.

When I first came across the slogans I was struck not only by how ‘modern’ and amusing some of them were (a couple of my favourites are: ‘don’t act with a twist’ and ‘don’t aim to be the fastest’), but also by the manner of their presentation, by some very well-known commentators (Chogyam Trungpa and Pema Chodron). They used a ‘randomising’ system’, so that we can each receive our own different ‘personal’ slogan to guide our meditation first for one day and then the next. As a life long teacher, I was immediately struck by this as an excitingly ‘learner-centred’ way of presenting the Dharma, and also as a neat way of keeping our meditation practice ‘refreshed’. The only problem was that the published presentations of the teaching all seemed to assume that readers were engaged in some way with a specific (usually Tibetan) Buddhist tradition or Buddhist educational institution.

Whereas my commitment to the Buddhist teachings arises from my sense of their transformative potential for contemporary society as a whole; and I felt that these ‘Mind Training’ teachings could have an important and helpful message for a much wider audience. So I set about rewriting the slogans in a style and a form that I thought would appeal to any reader, of whatever faith or none. My aim was to avoid the distraction of exotic references and vocabulary, to do justice to the subtlety and complexity of Buddhist principles, while making available some coherent and well-grounded help in sorting out life’s manifold problems: maintaining one’s morale and a sense of agency in a culture that urges its delusional values upon us at every turn. In other words, Buddhism is presented not as a religion but as a challenging synthesis of philosophy, psychology and ethics, always both illuminating and practical. I hope members of the Secular Buddhist Association will find the book of interest and helpful, for themselves and also perhaps for friends not yet persuaded of Buddhism’s relevance.