This has been quite a long series on the essence of Buddhist practice. I began this series with the intention of bring my understanding of what practice is about into a simple point. As I reflected on the teachings I discovered that even though the essence of practice is simple, it is a very deep and rich topic with many different aspects to include and reflect upon. This topic ended up quite a bit longer than I initially envisioned. That’s life, isn’t it? Today I decided to make a final post; to try to bring it all together and also add a few more points on how to bring the practice into life. Reflecting on this topic has been tremendously helpful for my own understanding and practice. It helped me bring my understanding of what practice is about into a nutshell.
I am sure I got more out of these reflections than anyone who will read them. Why? Because it is really the process of reflecting that clarifies one’s understanding. If you are interested in this topic I would suggest you study it yourself. Read or listen to teachings, make notes from them, reflect on them and draw out the key points for yourself. Sogyal Rinpoche always says that we need to cream our understanding into simple essential points. Practice then means taking to heart and to experience these points personally and directly in one single taste.
Yesterday, as a conclusion to my reflections, I decided to asked myself: “What are the essential point of practice? How can I bring them into my practice?” Here are the points that came to my mind:
After taking a moment to settle onto my seat and bringing my awareness to my body and to the present moment, I always begin my practice with reminding myself of what spiritual practice is about and why I am practicing. My goal is to bring a deeper understanding of myself and the world into my life. One point that often stands out for me is that what we are is much bigger than our physical body and limited sense of identity.
Then I try to expand my motivation to go beyond self-centeredness. I begin by reflecting how coming back to our true nature, what we truly are is the key to happiness, peace, contentment, fulfillment. That this is the heart of the message of all spiritual teachings. And that it is the best solution to all our problems and the way to become free of suffering. The great Zen master Suzuki Roshi once said that for human beings there is really no other practice than this.
Since we all want happiness, whether we realize that or not, we really have no choice but to strive for awakening to our true nature! Based on these thoughts I then try to ennoble my spiritual journey by generating the motivation to practice not just for myself but to develop the strength, capacity and wisdom to help everyone reach this state of awakening and freedom of suffering. This is the ultimate goal and purpose of our life. Of course, I also remind myself that I will only be able to help after I have sorted out my own problems. And that this needs to be my first focus.
The actual practice is embodying our true nature. This is not something we need to create. We already have it perfectly within us. And we also the wisdom to recognize it is already perfectly within us. Ultimately practice is to live in our true being and be in this natural state of mind. It is simple to infuse our being with a deeper awareness and consciousness that includes our present life – our body, our mind and the world around us – and our transcendent nature. It includes both our present life with all its beauty and problems and our deeper nature. We embrace our ordinary sense of self with the open, limitless, timeless, ungraspable, self-knowing wakefulness. We bring a direct experience of what we are into our being. Direct experience means beyond words, with an inconceivable sense of wonder of the mystery of life and death.
But right now we are often not able to do this for more than short moments. That’s why we need to train in using skillful methods that help us reconnect with the experience of our deeper transcendent nature. The purpose of practice is to purify our mind and heart and remove whatever obscures our nature and our inherent capacity to recognize it. There are many methods and ways to work with this. Meditation is the most direct approach. The essence of meditation is to rest in natural state of mind. The key point is not grasping at our perceptions and simply let our thoughts and emotions come and go. This is the best and most direct way to purify our mind.
When we are connected with our natural being a sense of love and compassion arises naturally and effortlessly. It doesn’t always have to be an emotional feeling. On a fundamental level it is a basic sense of caring for and connectedness with any living being. Love is simply the wish for others to be happy and compassion is the wish for them to be free of suffering.
There are six wonderful ways we can practice embodying our true nature in our life. They are called the six paramitas.
Generosity is about giving from our heart when we are moved and inspired to give, without expectation, just out of the motivation to help and for the joy of the act.
Discipline is to live with a deep awareness of what is wholesome and virtuous. It is about carefully paying attention to whatever arises in our mind during the day and to avoid anything that could harm others.
Patience is not letting ourselves be perturbed by anything. We endure hardship without malice towards those who cause it. We make a conscious choice to stay with our true nature wisdom, love and compassion. We decide not to give in to anger and self-centered wanting realizing that it would take us away from our true being.
Enthusiastic diligence is to find joy in actions that are positive or wholesome and engage them with enthusiasm.
Meditation is to practice abiding in our true being. Its practice is simply not being distracted from it. To bring ourselves back whenever we get lost in thoughts and emotions and loose the awareness of what we truly are.
The goal of these five is to develop perfect wisdom. This is the sixth and last paramita. It is said the fist five are like rivers that flow into the ocean of the sixth, into wisdom. The underlying intention of all we do needs to be striving to develop wisdom. Wisdom is the ability see things how they are, both in how they are their essence and nature is as well as fully understanding all the relative aspects of phenomena.
It is said for these six action to be true paramitas, or transcendent actions, they need to be performed with a true understanding of the nature of reality. We need to understadn that the person who is acting, the actions themselves and the people and objects they are directed to are devoid of separate individual existence. All these phenomena – ourselves, others and the world around us – are just facets of the universe. They arise and are perfectly contained within the pure and primordial awareness that is its nature.
If we practice the paramitas this way it is said that they will lead us towards awakening our inherent wisdom and capacities to the fullest, which is all that is meant by enlightenment.
At the end of my practice sessions, and also at the end of the day before I go to sleep, I take a moment dedicate the merit of my practice towards the enlightenment of all beings. An image that sometimes comes to my mind is of getting paid at the end of a hard day’s work and then giving what you earned to others who are in need. Dedication could also be compared with putting the money towards the communal good of the universe, because one’s own need deserve to be taken care of equally as those of others.
I also remind myself to not hold onto my merit as “something” or “mine” and to remember that I didn’t create anything graspable; that ultimately there is no giver giving and no one who is given to.
For my next post I want to reflect about what an authentic spiritual teacher is. We need teachers and it is very important to find teachers that we can have confidence in as being authentic and trustworthy.