This is the second guest article from our Kadampa Buddhist dad, who has five young kids and a very busy job. The first is Kadampa Parenting.
Making our daily practice a priority
In many ways, the biggest obstacle to our attainment of enlightenment is our inability to establish a consistent daily practice. This is especially true when we have a busy family and work life. But with a consistent daily practice, we will eventually attain enlightenment — it is just a matter of time. Without a consistent practice, we will never attain enlightenment, no matter how long we wait.
Establishing a consistent daily practice really comes down to one simple question:
Are we organizing our practice around our life or are we organizing our life around our daily practice?
Establishing a consistent daily practice is not rocket science, we simply need to “make it a priority and then make the time to do it.” In the next two postings by me, I will explore these two points. First, let’s look at why we should make our daily practice a priority. The bottom line is we do what is important to us. We work on what we consider in our hearts to be our priority. We are desire realm beings, which means we have no choice but to act towards the fulfillment of our desires. We cannot change this. What we can change, however, is what we desire. We need to make doing our daily practice the biggest desire in our heart. If we do this, then maintaining a consistent daily practice will be easy. So how do we make doing our practice a priority? There are several things we can consider:
The most important thing we need to do is correctly diagnose what is our problem. Without thinking too much, ask yourself the question:
What is my biggest problem?
Instinctively, we come up with a long list of external things that are our problems, such as our work, our partner, our finances, etc. Since we consider these external things to be our problem, we naturally work to change these external things as the method of solving our problems. If we check, the nature of human life is problem solving. All day, every day, our every action is aimed at solving our problems.
But here’s the rub: we have misdiagnosed the problem. Venerable Geshe Kelsang gives the example of our car breaking down. In such a situation, there are two problems — the car’s problem and our problem. We need a mechanic to solve the car’s problem, but our problem is our deluded mental reaction to the external event. We suffer when our car breaks down because our mind relates to this event in a negative way. If we examine it carefully, we will see that any external event only becomes a ‘problem’ because we don’t yet know how to relate to that event in a different, positive way. If we can learn to relate to this event in a positive, virtuous way, our car breaking down won’t be a ‘problem’ for us, rather it will be a ‘blessing.’ Thanks to our car breaking down, we can now work on our mind and on overcoming our delusions. Fantastic! We will, of course, still need to go to the mechanic to fix the car’s problem, but our problem will have been solved.
The same is true with all external events. We only have one problem: our uncontrolled, deluded mind. This is our inner problem. The car breaking down is not our problem, it is the car’s problem. Our only problem is our deluded mental reactions. If we clearly see our deluded mind as the problem, then we will naturally see changing our mind as the solution to our problems. Our daily practice is the very method by which we change our mind. If we understand this, then doing our daily practice will be the very method by which we solve our problems, and we will naturally do it. If we get this one right, the rest will be easy.
To get you started, one useful trick you can do is to connect your daily practice with whatever you consider to be your biggest problem. Before you start your practice, ask yourself the question: What is my biggest problem? You will come up with something external. Then think to yourself, “no, that is an outer problem, what is my problem?” Then you will see how it is your deluded mental reaction to the external event.
Then, as you engage in your daily Lamrim practice, try to directly apply the wisdom of the Lamrim meditation for the day as the means of changing your mind with respect to that external problem. For example, let’s say your Lamrim meditation for the day is the dangers of self-cherishing, try realize how your problem is you are considering yourself as more important than others and therefore the solution to the problem is to put others first.
Or if your Lamrim meditation is death, think to yourself :
Will I be worried about this on my deathbed?
If not, why should I worry about it now?”
At a very practical level, a useful thing we can do is to think about all of the things we do have time to do, and then consider how our practice is even more important than these things. For example, we find time every day to wash our body with a shower, in a similar way we should find time every day to wash our mind with our practice. If our body smells, it is a real problem. But if our mind smells, it ruins everything. Likewise, we find time every day to recharge our mobile phones, so in a similar way we should take the time to recharge the virtue within our minds. We take the time to nourish our body with (hopefully) good food, so too we need to take the time to nourish our mind with virtue. Just as we fill our lungs with oxygeon, so too we need to fill our mind with virtue.
Whenever we do these things (bathe, recharge our phones, eat, breathe, etc.), we can remind ourselves of how we need to do our practice. If we make a habit of reminding ourselves in this way, it won’t be long before our desire to do our practice will be ever present within our minds.
You have to wonder about our choice in career. If we are extremely busy at work and are home late and have x amount of kids, is everything really scheduled around formal Dharma practice or are we justifying it to our self to feel better? Is this actually just fluff talk?
We know that the meditation break is full of opportunity yet formal meditation seems different sometimes. It’s sometimes harder to get there. The very fact we make justifications to our self about these other commitments should be illuminating. There are infinite opportunities in the meditation break to practice but less so for formal practice so we need to asses our daily life, prioritize and make whatever changes we feel necessary.
There needs to be a balance between formal and informal practice. I’ve witnessed many Christians who far exceed many a Buddhist because they walk the walk. Justifying sitting on a cushion also doesn’t make us immediately holy so we should also watch for this type of mara. There are those who meditate lots but learn very little.
We have to really question our motivation. But more importantly ,we have to rejoice in the small minute practice that we actually can do.
and a partridge in a pear tree, go moderate me 🙂
Thankyou for a very interesting read on daily practice. I suffer with mental illness ie an anxiety disorder, could you please advise as to how i can continue my practice even when im ill?
Love and best wishes
Thanks Luna, i was enchanted with this article… …the examples….about our daily ordinary needs…i really enjoyed it very much !
Thank you very much for these practical advices. Since around 6 months it’s so difficult for me to maintain a consistent daily practice because family, laziness and so forth. l will try this practical method.