Before explaining the analogy of lions and dogs, I want to give a little background that will help better understand it. What is the most challenging aspect of meditation? For me it is that I have a lot of thoughts! I get easily caught up and entangled in my thoughts and emotions. Again and again, a thought pops up. Then, on top of it, as if those thoughts were not already enough, I start to think about them and create even more! Then I even start thinking about those thoughts. It often becomes an almost endless chain of thinking. And whenever one train of thought fizzles out there is a seemingly unlimited supply of new thoughts waiting around the corner for their opportunity to pop up.
Now here is where the dog and lion come in. Thank you for being patient! When the teachings give advice on how to best deal with thoughts in meditation they sometimes compare this endless and relentless bombardment by our thoughts to being hit by stones. And they give the example of how dogs and lions respond when they get hit by stones to explain how to best work with thoughts in our meditation.
What do dogs do when they get hit by stones? They get startled, maybe yelp in pain for a moment, and then start chasing after the stone. They keep getting hit by stones and most of all they keep chasing all these stones.
What do lions do? When their majestic peace is disturbed by being hit by a stone, they slowly raise their head and look where the stone came from. Then they go after whoever threw the stone and take care of them. You might imagine that lions don’t get hit by a lot of stones. And if they do get hit by one, then they know how to deal with that situation very efficiently.
The approach of the lion in meditation is to look towards where the thoughts arise from. The teachings say that if you understand the nature of the mind out of which the thoughts arise, then you will become free of being caught up in and controlled by your thoughts once and for all.
The approach of the dog is to go after and chase each thought. Even if you manage to find a solution to all the problems that all these thoughts bring to you, there will be no end to it. You’ll have to keep dealing with all the individual problems that your thoughts keep bringing you.
So what will be your choice? Wanna be a lion or a dog? I would like to become a lion, but, to be honest, right now I am still chasing my thoughts a lot. But that’s what meditation is about: learning to deal with our thoughts and emotions.
I found the dog and lion example very helpful to become more aware of the many different ways I keep chasing my thoughts. Some of them are a very subtle and not so obvious. I invite you to reflect on how you deal with thoughts and emotions in your meditation. Then come visit our community forum and share your insights on the behavior of lions and dogs!
By the way, if you are interested in meditation you might really enjoy the “What Meditation Really Is” DVD collection of teachings by Sogyal Rinpoche. It also happens to be the basis of the introductory meditation courses that are offered in Rigpa centers all over the world and in the Rigpa online course program.
Image Courtesy of Conan