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This is a post from the blog’s creator about his relationship with Buddhist practice. The title could also be “the joys of practicing Buddhism”
I just want to start out by saying that I am no one special, I ain’t got extraordinary qualities and often times, my mind is caught up in confusion and afflictive emotions. However, I try to maintain a dedicated practice within the Drikung Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism (since 2006). I have attended and received numerous teachings and blessings from qualified Lamas, professors and teachers in several authentic lineages. So these are simply my little thoughts on the subject. Any errors in writing are the fault of my obscured, afflicted mind.
Recently I wrote a post entitled, “Buddhist Vows: What have I gotten myself into.” Due to the ambiguous connotation implied in this title, I wanted to write a post pointing out the many positive results one receives from sincerely practicing the Dharma.
I want to start out by saying Buddhism is a joy to practice, provided the practitioner meets several criteria. The Buddha said that salvation comes from within (unlike Theistic religions where aspirants seek total assistance from an outside Deity), and having said this, the Buddha gave teachings on how to become free from suffering and confusion – it is up to the individual practitioner how far along the path they travel.
Buddhist practice does take effort – continual, daily, sincere effort. Not too much effort mind you, one goal is to realize an alert, relaxed state, mindful and calm. We neither want to be strict ascetics, sitting under a tree starving, nor do we want to be utter hedonists, lazily plodding through life seeking every pleasure we can get our paws on. We want to tread the middle way.
Rather, in order to practice Buddhism, we must be willing to reflect on our behavior, our words and eventually, our thoughts. And then we should change that which leads to suffering or dissatisfaction – whether harming ourselves or others, we need to abandon this conduct. So yes, there is a little bit of “work” involved in practicing Dharma. But I have heard that we will notice results if we practice as little as half an hour per day. That’s not asking too much right? With the tangible results of additional clarity, kindness and gradual lasting happiness, who would rather waste all of their time, sitting in front of the TV for hours?
On the other hand, we should be aware that practicing the Dharma sincerely will “stir the pot” as it were. If we are willing to put in some effort over a long period of time, then we should consider learning Buddhist meditation. Be aware though that meditation causes mental detritus (our “stuff”) to rise to the surface in order to be released. Yes, meditation and sincere practice can lead to healing the mind and the body, but it can be a little uncomfortable along the way. Once we have a little experience under our belts however, this slight discomfort becomes the norm and then gradually it falls away completely (or it is joyfully embraced as a part of the process).
If we are seeking a “magic silver bullet,” that is if we want to magically transform overnight, then we should take our aspirations elsewhere (Buddhism will only disappoint in this case). Authentic change is like water dripping on a rock – the rock will be molded and refined by the water, but it could take years. Eventually however, that rock will become as smooth as a baby’s bottom. Unfortunately, many people in the West are seeking quick solutions and they get discouraged when meditation gets uncomfortable or if it doesn’t work within a few months. That is why it is good to examine multiple teachers and then choose an authentic spiritual teacher who we feel a strong connection with.
For beginners, I would recommend seeking out Zen Buddhist centers, Insight Meditation groups, Theravada teachers or Tibetan Buddhist teachings on the gradual stages of the path (Lamrim teachings). This way we can get a sense of our capacities. We need to be aware that it can take months to get used to the new routine of added introspective time. Be gentle and rewards will come. Sometimes our dispositions require that we be firm, but do be gentle.
Keep in mind that the harder we push along the spiritual path, the closer we must work with our teachers and with a group of dedicated practitioners – the Sangha or Buddhist group who helps us to stay on the path. The harder we push along the path, the trickier the footing becomes – thorns appear out of nowhere and sometimes the trail follows along the edge of a steep, dangerous precipice. If this happens too soon, then you are going too fast. There is a saying that I love from Hugh Milne, a bodywork instructor and Buddhist practitioner: “we can never go too deep, only too fast.” So slow down and we must be willing to accept our teacher’s advice and solutions if we become stuck or confused.
If we are one of the rare individuals who can maintain solid ethics, persistent effort, pure faith (simultaneously on a daily basis) and we have investigated the above mentioned Buddhist groups, then we might choose to work with a Tibetan Lama or someone who can see beyond our superficial processes and reactions. This person can recommend potent, transformative practices that are individually tailored for our unique dispositions. And by doing these practices, our process of purifying negative emotions, cleansing mental obscurations and moving toward clarity, kindness and integrity are accelerated.
If one finds someone like this, spend as much time as possible attending their teachings. Then, when feeling clear and confident about what the specific practices are, go home and do them. Eventually, no matter what soil you may have planted previous seeds in, if you rely on an authentic spiritual master, your inner garden will bloom with brilliant radiance.
No matter what though, start where you are. Do not bite off more than you can chew. Spiritual heroes are people who are gentle and kind, along with being persistent and disciplined. And remember, wisdom is the antidote to ignorance (the cause of suffering) and vast compassion is the antidote to self-grasping and stinginess. Develop these qualities and you will not go astray.
Thank you for reading.