This is a post as much for me as it is for readers. How many of us have a secret, or not so secret, yearning or desire. We want something and we want it NOW! But we don’t have it and it seems like life is conspiring to prevent us from obtaining our secret love – whether it is a romantic relationship, or a new Mercedes, or the house with the white picket fence. This is a post about obtaining what you desire (especially if it falls in the reasonable, appropriate and realistic realms). I should announce a slight disclaimer here, that I need to practice the advice offered below as much, if not more than anyone as my mind is very lazy and afflicted and I have much to purify.
From my own experience, I have had weeks, months and sometimes even years (believe it or not) where I feel kind of stagnant and that every direction I push seems to resist my efforts. Well?… There might be a way through or around these obstacles, which is what this post is about, on the other hand, this case might be a time to rest and lay low, waiting with patient confidence. If it feels like there should be movement, or that you have been down and out for a long time, then one way forward is to build up your “spiritual bank account” or to accumulate spiritual currency.
What do I mean by spiritual currency? In Buddhism, one of the words we use is “merit.” By practicing sincere altruistic thoughts, words and deeds, we build up positive merit. Some people might use the word “karma” but I find there are some who associate karma with its negative connotations, so let us stick with merit for now. The idea is to build up as much merit as possible, which if practiced with an authentic heart, comes back to us multiplied. So how do we increase our stores of merit?
We build up merit through the practice of sincere kindness and altruism. Many people help others to get something in return – we have all seen this, but I am talking about letting go of all thoughts of politics or self-gain. True service, expecting nothing in return, is how to build up merit the fastest, or so I have heard. In Buddhism, everything we do is for the benefit of all beings – this potent motivation underlies all aspects of our lives. Does this mean that we are perfect? Of course not – we all make mistakes. And, one person’s skillful means can be interpreted in a variety of ways. So it takes time to make this motivation truly come out in our everyday behavior – it can take many years and depending on how deeply entrenched our habits are, even longer.
Let me present an example: sometimes we don’t even know what we want, on a deep level, because we have never been introduced to it before. I am going to use my own experience here. Starting in the summer of 2006, I had just come home from my first potent Tibetan Buddhist retreat, where multiple Tibetan lamas taught for two weeks. Many aspects of it were cathartic for me, and I chose to stay in retreat rather than deal with a family issue that arose. Also, I decided to start my preliminary practices, the Ngondro almost immediately. It just felt right, despite my not knowing much, if anything, about it. Fact was, I did not even know what the four thoughts that turn the mind were when I started doing prostrations. But I was doing as many prostrations as I could handle with an authentic heart – I was putting my lamas advice into practice for the benefit of all beings (as opposed to doing it for personal gain or another such agenda).
To continue this example, I did almost 25,000 prostrations in six months, I was flying and it came through in papers I was writing for school and in my new-found capacity to take on new clients in my private practice. But these perks were just peripheral benefits to sincere practice. I did not even know what was coming yet. If you, the reader, are very skeptical, you might balk at what I correlate, which is fine, but at least hear me out. Soon thereafter I had the opportunity to go to Tibet, and I started saving money for this special endeavor. I also asked for support, as it was to be an almost month long pilgrimage. Support came to me from the most unusual sources and from people I did not even know, so in other words, I was able to save enough money to go. By the time I actually got on the plane heading for India (there were political problems in Tibet by this point, so we opted for Ladakh), I might have done 35,000 prostrations total. I fully believe that it was this store of merit (and previous positive karma) which allowed me to go to India with such ease.
Like I mentioned above, I did not even know what I was missing. Traveling to India as a pilgrim (Ladakh which is also known as Little Tibet) was such a novel and fascinating experience that I was amazed on a daily basis – what had I been missing? You can search in the Dharma category on the right for Ladakh Pilgrimage for a detailed account of what I experienced. It was heavenly and it certainly increased my devotion and understanding of Tibetan Buddhism. And again, I believe that my doing many prostrations, with a sincere heart, that helped to overcome the obstacles to my going on this incredible voyage.
And I am not alone in this hypothesis – that is, if one wants to overcome obstacles, whether big or small, then one should practice with sincerity and devotion. There are multiple stories of Buddhist masters pushing through horrible diseases and suffering by practicing with intense devotion. And when I say practice, it can be any authentic spiritual path, or just a form of altruistic service – where we are not looking for fame, or anything than to help others. These obstacles I refer to could manifest both within or without.
There may very well be physiological reasons that prostrations “create so much merit,” in addition to “spiritual” reasons or causes. Maybe the cardiovascular exercise improves the mental outlook, or perhaps it is the stretching of the viscera and organs which helps to improve one’s attitude. Whatever the case may be, when I am feeling stuck or surrounded by stagnant energy, I try to do some prostrations.
Whatever the case may be, authentic service benefits the do-er at least as much as those who benefit. But that subtle esoteric fact must be kept out of the mind when deciding to serve. I would suggest talking to an authentic spiritual teacher – someone who is apart of a qualified and established lineage of healing wisdom – to see what they would recommend for your personal practice. Often times, due to our unique mental dispositions, there are practices which benefit one person much more than others.
Whatever you choose to do though, if you practice authentic service, you cannot go wrong. This is due to raising your capacity to practice generosity and kindness, plus it increases your stores of merit. The trick is to have a sincere heart all the while you do the service. And sure, the rough edges will show themselves for polishing occasionally, so don’t expect service to always be easy, but it is definitely worth it. Please be gentle – practice the service of slowing down and practicing kindness to yourself first, then it will be easier to practice with others. Thanks for reading!
Oh – another disclaimer. Someone left a comment saying this “could go both ways.” I’m not entirely sure what that means (please elaborate when you are leaving comments) 🙂 But one thing I want to mention is that, as we all know, life is not all about peaches and cream. They say that when people start practicing with a sincere and altruistic heart, that their karma starts to purify at a faster pace – more “stuff” comes up as we create the space to handle it. As more stuff comes up, our lives could potentially become very full and we might need to take months or years to process that which is arising. Yet another reason to be gentle. So do not start down a spiritual path expecting life to immediately improve for the better – sometimes blessings come in unusual forms. And be thankful for the opportunity to purify any negative karma which arises. At the very least, remember that every day we are given, is a gift.