3:AM: And what is Lojong and what is of philosophical interest in it?
NB: Lojong literally means ‘mind training’ and it’s a collection of techniques to cultivate mental, emotional, and behavioral changes. Here’s a version of one such technique called Exchanging Self and Other: First you imagine yourself from the point of view of someone beneath you in some respect (could be wealth, professional respect, or even moral development) and let feelings of jealousy and envy towards yourself arise. You think to yourself, “Ugh! They are doing so well and I really suck!” You examine those feelings and observe what they’re like. Next you do the same with a rival who is equal to yourself in this respect. You imagine yourself from their point of view and observe your feelings of competitiveness and insecurity. Finally, you take up the point of view of someone above you and let yourself see your accomplishments, skills, and successes as small and trivial.
Of course, this is just one example and this particular practice won’t be what everyone needs. This one is supposed to be an antidote to a variety of negative mental habits. So it’s supposed to combat things like the tendency to see our own position and qualities as absolute and fixed. It’s aimed at breaking the habit of thinking of our own success and skills as fixed and intrinsic qualities of who we are. By getting used to the fluid and perspectival nature of these feelings, this technique can help rob pride, jealousy, and resentment of their power and make us more sympathetic to others.
I think the philosophical interest in Lojong is in ideas about how moral development works. A lot of philosophers in the West take after Aristotle and think of moral development on the model of developing a skill. It’s almost taken to be a truism that the way to develop a virtue is by doing the actions associated with the virtue. You get to be a generous person by doing generous actions, a just person by doing just actions, and so on. I think Lojong puts pressure on this; it is a collection of techniques for developing morally important traits like compassion, selflessness, and kindness that doesn’t involve doing any of those actions. I think it offers a well-developed picture of how we can also cultivate virtue via imaginative practices that should be more central in how philosophers think about moral development in general.