Thursday, July 21, 2005

The nature and benefit of practice

What is the point to Buddhist (or any spiritual/religious) practice? Here are just a few thoughts that you can take as you will:

A single moment of mindfulness has an effect. A single selfless choice has an effect. So does a single moment of thoughtlessness or selfishness.

In the sense of thinking that sitting a on cushion is going to solve anything--or at least not a total solution. I try to be mindful or aware all the time. I try to practice morality and compassion and wisdom all the time. But it can be challenging at times. I see the sitting, the prostrating, etc. as a recharge, a clarification. There are no extra obstructions or distractions, so I can "reset" my outlook and reflect on what I've experienced. I also try to look at my life as a result of the karma I have accrued. I don't believe in any mystical energy field that controls my destiny, but instead, as has been oft suggested, it is the result of previous conditions I have created. So it is up to me to deal with the challenges that enter my life. In some cases I have to deal with really trivial things, and it gets kind of tedious. In some cases I deal with major trauma or tragedy or major success or victory. I don't make an attempt to judge them as being "more" or "less" worth my time. I also think that as you become more committed to a path of wisdom, morality, and compassion, you open yourself to confronting these things more directly, placing yourself in situations where you confront greater challenges, and they can at times appear quite intimidating.

Here is another way to think about it. When we are fully deluded and have no knowledge of the Dharma, we have little ability to successfully appreciate and handle the karmic obstructions we face, and instead, often with good intentions, we continue to increase suffering and deluson in the world. But being aware that there are causes and conditions which perpetuate delusion, and in turn suffering, we have a chance to A ) stop adding to our karmic debt and B ) purify that which we have already accumulated. It's like standing at home plate and the pitcher throws three strikes. You don't pay any attention. You're out. You're up again. Strike, strike, strike. You're out. Now let's say you wake up and swing. Maybe you strike out again. But at least now you are in the game. Don't worry so much about your hitting percentage. Just keep practicing with the ball-machine when you get the chance (meditation, prostrations, reading sutras), and don't forget to swing when challenges come up in the actual game (real life).

I believe that it is possible for everyone, no matter their schedule, to practice Buddhism all day every day. The trouble arises when we think that zafus, statues, alters, incense, benches, candles, bells, or mandalas are Buddhism. Yet they are not without value in supporting practice. As far as sutras and teachers, they are also a valuable resource for guiding our efforts, but they cannot replace our own efforts. So long as there is a sentient mind, there is a need for the Dharma, there is a chance to see-hear-practice the Dharma, and therefore there is reason for optimism.


  1. I must know a lot of good buddhists on message boards. They practice that moment of mindlessness all the time.

  2. I am talking about mindfulness, not mindlessness, for those who can appreciate the difference.


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