I have thought about this a lot over the last few weeks, the idea of strengthening one’s spiritual practice. The desire, the resolve, to do the work obviously comes first, but actually practicing takes time, effort, and by doing the work, you not only strengthen the practice of that work, but the resolve to continue doing it.
I have made a commitment to change my life through the practice of Buddhism. Even the sky changes constantly, but making positive change (as opposed to neutral or negative / degenerative change) is not simple for everyone. While some people seem positive by nature, some of us, like myself, seem to have to dig out of a hole just to get up to a break-even point (before becoming positive, just getting past the negative). As the sky becoming clear or stormy requires the right conditions to exist – similarly, personal betterment requires certain causes and conditions, practice, which perhaps could be equated with effort.
So I maintain my practice by various means, many of which the non-religious onlooker might think silly. Some may recall I have printed and bound books that I use, one might call them “prayer books,” with various sutras and thoughts that I have selected to recite, memorize, and take to heart. I have tried to spend time twice each day in March, once as I wake up and once immediately before work, with these recitations, and I feel that the mindset this creates has been very beneficial.
Verse 241 of the Dhammapada reads:
Non-repetition is the bane of scriptures; neglect is the bane of a home; slovenliness is the bane of personal appearance, and heedlessness is the bane of a guard.
In every way this verse rings true to me, but as it pertains to my post today, non-repetition of scriptures, regardless of tradition, stands out. Positive change can be made simply by remembering a reference in a text that reminds us of a flaw we wish to correct, a virtue we wish to embody, an ideal we wish to live up to. In my experience, the more frequently I recite something, the more likely it is to come to mind, and be useful, throughout the day. In fact, one might say I’m more “on guard” of myself as a result.
That said, setting the bar in one place and never moving it sets the stage for complacency. Following the same basic routine throughout a lifetime can only get one a certain amount of benefit — only so close to enlightenment — and as such, one must be willing to continually strive further. This weekend offered an opportunity for me to do just that. A “Meditation for Beginners” class was being offered at the Gaden Khachoe Shing monastery, and I couldn’t pass it up. Sure, it was a very basic introduction to meditation, and I know from my own reading that there are many techniques that were not covered or were covered only briefly, but it was still an amazingly beneficial class, and quite frankly, exactly what I needed.
Meditation seems to be one of the key elements of Buddhist practice. Sure, one may be Buddhist without meditating, and one may meditate and follow another religious tradition entirely, but I have read and heard over and over that Buddhist monks are the foremost experts on the subject.
So I think the main point I want to get across today is that we all need to have some basic practices that we maintain, and maintenance generally equals work. Reciting prayers, scriptures, mantras, and even meditation can all play a part in this work, regardless of your religious tradition. Be willing to make changes to your ritual from time to time in order to enhance your practice, and be flexible. This is all an investment of time, and much like economic investments, you may receive greater returns from greater investments.
May your practice lead to compassion, generosity, and peace, and be of benefit to you and all sentient beings. Be well, friends.