In the last two post I have been reflecting on what essential elements my practice needs to have in order to be authentic and to bring lasting benefit and transformation. The three elements that are considered to be indispensable are called the “Three Noble Principles”: to begin with the right motivation, understand and apply the main point of practice in the middle and seal with dedicating the merit at the end. It is said that to accomplish complete enlightenment more than this is not necessary, but less than this is incomplete!
Motivation is about reminding ourselves why we practice: Spiritual practice is about the mind and heart, about wisdom and compassion. Wisdom is about getting to know and understanding our mind. Ultimately it is about reconnecting with our own inner wisdom, our innate ability to understand ourselves and the world. And when we are able to connect with our pure true being, then love and compassion will shine out effortlessly, which will naturally move us to live a life of non-harming and helping others.
How can we do that? By developing our mind and heart! If we keep making our mind and heart bigger, we will slowly find and increase our inner wisdom and love.
However understanding this intellectually is not enough, we need to experience this in our practice and to learn to embody and live it. The word spiritual refers to something that is relating to the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things. Mind and heart are not something we can see or touch with our hands. They are not something we can fully understand intellectually. Words, ideas and concepts fail to fully describe them. But fortunately our mind and heart have the capacity to experience and understand their deeper nature directly.
When I establish my motivation I try to come back to an experiential and personal understanding of my deeper nature. It may be just a glimpse, but it is like a spark that can ignite my practice. Then comes the main part “Good in the Middle”: the practice itself, which is about nurturing, deepening and embodying this glimpse my transcendent nature as much as possible.
There are many different practices: meditation, contemplation, compassion, prayer. Whatever practice we might be doing, what is most important is to understand the crucial point of practice which is to experience our true being. Ultimately it is to come back and stay in the glimpse of our deeper nature, that we reminded ourselves of and tried to experience when we established our motivation.
Sogyal Rinoche wrote in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying that “Good in the Middle is the frame of mind with which we enter into the heart of the practice, one inspired by the realization of the nature of mind, from which arises an attitude of non-grasping, free of any conceptual reference whatsoever, and an awareness that all things are inherently “empty,” illusory, and dream-like.”
The goal of our practice is a way of being where we fully understand the nature of existence and a result or quality of this realization is freedom of grasping. It is said that all Buddhist teachings agree that the goal of practice to become free of clinging. However, right now we haven’t recognized our true nature and therefore it is difficult to be completely free of holding onto things.
Fortunately, the attitude of non-grasping is not just something that arises as a result of realization but also something we can practice now. My teachers say that even if we can’t fully actualize this right now, we can still train in this attitude of non-grasping by trying to be free from clinging as much as possible. Whenever we notice we get entangled we let go and come back to the bare awareness of the present. So it goes both ways. When we understand the nature of reality it gives rise to freedom of grasping. When we train in not grasping, we come closer to seeing reality as it is.
Practice is about discovering our innate wisdom and learning to live and act motivated by the love and compassion that naturally arise from this space of wisdom. That’s why in life the main point is not to harm, and to help others as much as possible.
Buddha encapsulate the essence of his teaching very beautifully:
“Commit not a single unwholesome action,
Cultivate a wealth of virtue,
To tame this mind of ours,
This is the teaching of all the buddhas.”
Two down, one to go! In my next post I will write about Good at the End: Dedication.