Finding a quick way to spiritual realizations

A guest article by a modern Buddhist practitioner who works full time as a manager of software engineer teams.

Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 10.46.40 AM4.5 mins read

Have you ever thought to yourself anything along these lines: “How am I supposed to develop a state of perfect concentration — I can only focus for a few seconds before my mind wanders away?!” In Buddha’s teachings we learn about attaining incredible spiritual realizations, such as universal love, single-pointed concentration, and omniscient wisdom, yet we might feel as if these are something completely impossible for us.

Luckily, this is not true. Spiritual attainments or realizations arise as a dependent relationship — they are not something we either have or do not have. It is more helpful to think of them as an inner evolution. If we keep creating the causes, then the results we are looking for will necessarily appear.

Increasing the potentials for spiritual realizations

Tharpa Publications just released Geshe Kelsang’s new book The Mirror of Dharma. The eBook of this is now available for download. In it, Geshe Kelsang says:

If we have within ourself a strong potential for spiritual realizations, then with this condition we will easily develop and maintain profound knowledge and spiritual realizations. We can accomplish this condition, a strong potential for spiritual realizations, within ourself by sincerely practicing the Guru yoga of the Wisdom Buddha Je Tsongkhapa.

buddha teaching

During the time of Buddha Shakyamuni, many people easily attained high spiritual realizations. This was due to the strong potentials for spiritual realizations already in their minds.

In these spiritually degenerate times, it seems far more rare to possess these strong potentials, such that making progress on the spiritual path can often feel rough and difficult. Nonetheless, due to our connection to the Wisdom Buddha Je Tsongkhapa, we can become exactly like the disciples of Buddha, making quick and easy progress on our path to enlightenment.

Imagine the unbelievable confidence we would possess if we received the teachings on the perfection of wisdom directly from Buddha Shakyamuni! Through the kindness of Je Tsongkhapa, who was predicted by Buddha Shakaymuni, we are able to develop this same confidence and experience these same results.

The easiest way to develop these potentials

Geshe Kelsang goes on to say:

Through this we will receive the powerful blessings of all the Buddhas through our Guru so that we will easily develop and maintain profound knowledge and spiritual realizations.

Je TsongkhapaIn general, we say that all spiritual realizations ripen through receiving Buddha’s blessings. In particular, as Kadampa Buddhists we rely upon the blessings of Buddha Je Tsongkhapa.

Je Tsongkhapa was a Tibetan Buddhist Master and scholar who founded the New Kadampa lineage. Buddha Shakyamuni predicted him in King of Instructions Sutra, explaining that he  would spread and clarify Buddha’s teachings of Sutra and Tantra and prevent people from following mistaken views. Believing this Wisdom Buddha is in the space before us or at our heart and holding a mind of faith in him creates potent conditions for easy spiritual attainments.

As with any relationship, we first need to discover who Je Tsongkhapa is and then get closer and closer to him. Over time we’ll come to see in our own experience that the skill of his methods and the power of his blessings are unequalled.

It is because of Je Tsongkhapa that we are now able to easily integrate all the practices of Lamrim (the stages of the path to enlightenment), Lojong (training the mind), and Tantric Mahamudra into our daily life. He compiled all 84,000 teachings of Buddha into one complete and straightforward path to enlightenment.

The fact that this path can be completed by even the busiest person is one of the miracle powers of Je Tsongkhapa. If we entrust ourselves to these methods and blessings, we will soon develop advanced spiritual attainments.

(There is more explanation about Je Tsongkhapa in the books Heart Jewel and Great Treasury of Merit.)

Identifying with these potentials

Practitioners such as Gyalwa Ensapa and his disciples and Je Sherab Senge and his disciples are witnesses to this. They attained the state of enlightenment within three years. This is magical. Through this we can understand how fortunate we are to have the opportunity to practice these instructions. ~ The Mirror of Dharma

When we hear about enlightenment, we may concede that it could be possible if we could give it a few lifetimes worth of training. Thinking like this underestimates both our potential and the power of our teacher’s blessings.

Pure minds create the experience of pure worlds and impure minds create the experience of impure worlds. This means that experiencing our own pure world is a change of mind away.

If we want to have magical results in our practice, we need to learn to stop identifying with our limitations and ordinary appearances, to see through them and past them. Our limitations are momentary appearances arising from potentials in our mind. If we quickly increase our spiritual potentials through Guru yoga practice, and identify with these every day, then what appears to our mind will soon start to be radically different. It is just a matter of time before we experience the same results as the practitioners who have come before us.

Make the future an enlightened one

just-shower-thoughts-0-when-people-talk-about-traveling-to-the-past-30585898In movies about time travel, characters are very cautious of changing even the slightest detail of the past because they fear how it might affect the future they came from. We can apply this notion to changing our mind.

Even the slightest positive imprint we place in our mind has the potential to create dramatic consequences for our future self. Every day we can create these spiritual potentials and receive blessings. Eventually, maybe even in a few years, we will find we have traveled to a future in which we are now enlightened and benefiting every living being!

Over to you, comments welcome.

Being bound for freedom

 7.5 mins read

Who are you?

How we think about ourselves will bring that out of us.

Even if you have only meditated once in your entire life, would you do me a favor and try this thought out for size, for it is already in some ways true:

I am a meditator.

meditatorWhat do meditators do?! Yes, exactly, they meditate. Whether it goes well or not on any particular day, they do it anyway because that is who they are.

If instead we are thinking, “I am not a meditator, just vaguely attempting to do it ‘cos I can see that it could help, though it is unnatural to me and I’m basically useless at it,” what will happen? We’ll stay useless at it. There will be no energy behind it, zero enthusiasm.

Also, if we think of ourselves as a meditator, life becomes a fascinating journey — meditators use what comes up in their day to feed their meditations and insights instead of letting it drag them down.

Who we are depends a lot on who we think we are and can be. We need to stop identifying with a meaty body and sad, heavy, deluded mind, setting ourselves up for endless suffering and failure.

Truth is, every living being has such deep indestructible potential, and Buddhism has the methods to dig out from the mud of the delusions this gold nugget of endless compassion, wisdom, and happiness. The sooner we think of ourselves in the light of our potential, the sooner these methods will work for us.

This is the last of three articles on renunciation.

Boring party

Have you ever been to a party where you’re doing your darndest to enjoy yourself — drinking, eating, chatting, dancing, wandering around looking for people – but you’re actually feeling really bored?!

boring party

We’re supposed to be having fun so we don’t want to admit this. But after a while we think, “Okay, that’s enough … I’m outta here.”

We walk out the door to instant relief and fresh air.

This is like giving up on trying to make samsara work. We feel free because we no longer have to buy into something that’s not working. We don’t have to pretend any more. We have made the decision to leave this idiotic party. This constantly seeking happiness outside ourselves is not working. I want to be happy and free, but this samsara is not working — I am not getting happier and freer as the days and months go by. Year after year it’s the same. I can do better. I am going to do better.

In the context of renunciation, we identify with being someone on their way out already, feeling really happy. We are beings bound for freedom. We identify with this: “I am a being bound for freedom.” What do beings bound for freedom do?!

Existential context

Life is short, Buddha said, like a water bubble. I was wandering alongside Bear Creek last week, watching the water flow and the bubbles rise and subside. Each one of those bubbles is like one of my countless lives in the continuous river of samsara – fragile, fleeting, but in which I have invested everything as if that’s all there is, completely missing the existential context. Bear Creek

We need to take a step back to see our “real situation” as Geshe Kelsang puts it, or get an overview of where we’re actually at. We have had countless bubble-like lives already, and there are countless more waiting to rise up from the clear light continuum of our root mind once this one pops.

If we wake up to that truth we can use this life to become a Foe Destroyer (destroying ignorance and other delusions with wisdom), or a Bodhisattva, or at least in a position to carry on with our spiritual practice in our next life. This will only happen if we put our spiritual practice first in this life.

Dream-like nature of all things

Ever had a dream when you fell madly in love with someone, only to wake up and think, “Hmmm, what was that about?”

The point about falling for someone in our dreams is that (a) it can’t last! (b) we are making the whole thing up! They were never really there!

So what is the point of all that grasping and sadness? What’s it based on? Just illusions.

dream boy meets girlAs Buddha says in King of Concentration Sutra:

In a dream, a girl meets a boy and sees that he is dying.
She is happy to meet him but unhappy to see him dying.
We should understand that all phenomena are like this.

I find contemplating the dream-like nature of things – both their fleetingness and their emptiness — incredibly helpful for letting go of individual objects of attachment. It also works to develop the wish to let go generally of all the pointless suffering and sadness that comes from grasping onto something that isn’t even there.

For is it not so painful to grasp at something that is already slipping through our fingers and that doesn’t even exist from its own side to begin with? But that is what we are doing with attachment. Such relief arises from letting go. In samsara, all our dreams are broken in the end. It is about time we realized that and released our death grip on samsara so we can spring for liberation and enlightenment.

Meditation on renunciationrenunciation

Here is a practical way to do a meditation on renunciation based on the two parts I brought up in How to lighten up and And we have lift off!

We relax into our heart, maybe do some clarity of mind or breathing meditation, and feel the peace and freedom of a settled mind — the natural peace of our own mind when it is relatively free from delusions. There is plenty more of that where it came from; it is our Buddha nature.

We enjoy it and identify with it, thinking, “This is me. I am a being bound for liberation.” I don’t want samsara. I want the pure land and liberation. 

Part one: In the space of this concentration, we ask ourselves, “Am I a samsaric being at the moment?” Do I have a meaty body and a deluded mind, for example, and am I identifying with these, thinking this is who I actually am?

We can also take any problem we are having and go through the 7 sufferings to see if it belongs in that desperately monotonous samsaric pattern. If so, whatever problem we manage to get rid of, there will be another one waiting to take its place, guaranteed. And not just in this life but in countless future lives, just as it has been in our countless past lives — problems arising like waves from the ocean of our root mind, day after day and life after life.

Through a contemplation like this, we develop the wish to be free. This is renunciation. We can focus on it single-pointedly for a while, understanding that we CAN be free.

Part two: However, we cannot afford to keep following our attachment, or it will hold us back and down. We don’t want to be like a barnacle, or a bird with stones tied to its ankles, or attached to the prison porridge. Understanding the deceptive nature of worldly pleasures, and how our attachment causes most of our daily problems and prevents us from escaping even while we have the chance, we develop the wish to stop it.

We identify with being someone on their way out already, feeling really happy. We have made the decision to leave this very bad party, we don’t have to pretend it works any more. We become accustomed to this feeling in placement meditation until it sticks.

To conclude …

In this way we start experiencing the deep peace of renunciation. Now, too, we have a firm foundation for the happiness of bodhichitta, the joy of wisdom, and the bliss of Tantra. Our life will never be the same again.

Which direction we go in and where we end up depends upon our motivation. The meaning of our actions depends upon our motivation. With renunciation, even brushing our teeth can be a cause of liberation. Without it, no amount of virtuous deeds can get us out of samsara.

heroesRenunciation is great. We no longer need to buy into samsara’s dreary, heavy, repetitive, ordinary identity with its endless chapters of suffering, but instead start to view ourselves as a hero or heroine bound for freedom. We can start really enjoying ourselves!

We are very motivated also to contemplate emptiness, the doorway out of here. Renunciation gives us the lift off we need. Without it we succumb easily to the laziness of discouragement and attachment to worldly pleasures because we have no sense of the alternative.

If you ever find that your mind is not moving in the direction you want it to, or seems to keep slipping backwards, check your attachment levels. Despondency, instability, boredom, frustration, and feeling stuck are all built into attachment to samsara.

Over to you: Thank you for your interest in these 3 articles on renunciation. Feel free to leave any questions or comments below.

Related articles

How’s samsara working out for you?!

The monotony of samsara 

Transforming worldly enjoyments into the spiritual path

 

 

Exploring our potential for peace and omniscience

We all need to be able to let go of our unhappiness. This, to put it mildly, is a Very Useful Skill – unless of course we don’t mind hanging onto misery for a few more years, a few more decades, a few more lifetimes…

let-goConsidering that we probably do mind that, quite a lot in fact, why would we hang on?

Carrying on from this article.

No one ever wants to suffer and everyone always wants to be happy. These are the two most basic wishes of all living beings. Do you ever wake up and want a truckload of suffering? … I didn’t think so. We always want to be happy and we hate suffering, that’s why we call it suffering. But still we relentlessly hold onto it. Why?

One reason is that we have to think thoughts without control – for example frustrated thoughts, lonely thoughts, worried thoughts, jealous thoughts, depressed thoughts. We don’t particularly want to think these unhappy thoughts but we can’t help it, and that’s why we are unhappy.  When we are not thinking these thoughts, we are just fine.

The whole purpose of meditation is to understand our own mind, including which states of mind give rise to our chronic mental aches and pains. Buddhism teaches many meditations to dig deeper and see where unhappiness is coming from so that we can uncover and uproot those causes and cultivate our natural capacity for real happiness instead. We come to see how our so-called delusions have no basis in reality and we switch them out for their opposite, eg, switching out hatred for love. While we are loving someone, we are not hating them at the same time with the same mind – wishing them to be happy is opposite to wishing them to suffer, like turning on a dimmer switch extinguishing the darkness.IMG_6686

First step

Before we get to this point of transforming our thoughts, we first need to learn to let go of our distractions and deeply relax and enjoy the natural peace and space of our own minds. Then within that – as the second step, if you like — we can accept whatever is going on in our minds so that we can work with it.

The most common way to quieten our mind is breathing meditation (or we can meditate on the peaceful clarity of our own mind). Some space opens up – we can remember Buddha’s example of our mind being like a boundless clear ocean. Generally we are so caught up with externals, such as our body, our job, our relationships, and other things that are not our thoughts – constantly discriminating “Oh I like the look of that”, “Ooh he’s ugly”, “Hmm that’s pretty cool”, “Yeah, that sucks”, while neglecting to discriminate what’s going on in our own mind, “Whoah, that’s a cool thought! Yikes, that thought is ugly!” But it is only by discriminating what is going on within our mind that we can plumb our real potential – focusing on externals is like being caught up in just the froth, the waves, the bubbles, neglecting this enormous wellspring of power and freedom within us, failing to recognize that it is our thoughts that make our world, not the other way around.

IMG_6764We try to master the world we dualistically perceive to be around us, outside us, trying to get other people to behave (how is that working out for you?!), while neglecting to master our own minds. We identify with our passing emotions, our fleeting likes and dislikes, making them solid and thinking that this is what life is about; and meantime we neglect the extraordinary opportunity we find ourselves in at the moment to end all suffering. So we are not diving into this incredible thing we have all the time within us, our Buddha nature — our clear light mind and its emptiness — and because of this we are accessing a mere fraction of our spiritual potential.

Omniscience ~ a little digression
earth
Can you see Earth?!

And we have the potential not just for peace but for full enlightenment, for omniscience. Our mind is vaster than the universe, than all universes, including their time and space, which are all merely reflection of our mind that cannot be separated out from it. So by removing our ignorance and its imprints we can come to see fully and directly the interrelationship and totality of all phenomena; and how, because nothing exists from its own side, all minds and their appearances arise from the emptiness of the clear light.

When we realize the emptiness, or lack of inherent existence, of our own mind, we come to see also that it is not separate from the emptiness of the clear light mind of all enlightened beings and of all living beings; and that all phenomena, both their conventional and ultimate nature, including our individual and collective karma, are mere appearance to this clear light. We are not, nor ever have been, separated from any other being.

I have loved this William Blake quote since I was a teenager – it shone a light into my mind before I met Buddhism:

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.

magnified sand
Magnified sand.

Omniscience is not a gathering of facts and data outside our mind, as it were, or a knowledge describing all phenomena down to the finest detail, but the experience of an unobstructed mind that has understood the interdependence and non-duality of all phenomena, the union of conventional and ultimate truth.

At present we are hallucinating what is NOT there and we are overpowered by these appearances. We need first to stop being taken in by these appearances, which involves destroying our ignorance and other delusions (the obstructions to liberation). Then we need to remove the imprints of these delusions that cause everything to appear real (the obstructions to omniscience). At this point, we will see what exists. (I have a lot more to say on the subject of omniscience if you’re interested – like I said, I’ve been thinking about it for a while.)

Meanwhile, more in the next article about getting perspective on our hurt feelings.

Feeling stuck?

Continuing the subject of overcoming discouragement.

Motivation, the first step

woman meditatingHere’s a little five minute meditation. With our eyes closed, we can first identify with our potential so we feel peaceful and can get some space from the delusions we are about to observe.

Then we can bring to mind the main areas in our mind where we feel a bit stuck, certain tendencies we may have that cause us problems — we wish to be free of them and yet we find ourselves stuck there. Perhaps there’s a tendency towards anxiety, depression, frustration, guilt, or unhappiness with ourselves or other specific people. Our life seems to lack meaning even though we know it could be so meaningful and one part of us suspects what we are capable of. Something in us is holding us back. To begin with we just have to identify this (though not with it.)

We also need to actively think about how wonderful it would be if we could unblock this area, if we could let go of it and move forward to actualize our potential. We can imagine doing this. We have to let this wish to change arise and then stay with it in our heart for as long as we can.

To bring about this transformation we need to train our mind. The problem lies in the mind, and the solution lies in changing the mind. So we need to aspire to this.

We need to do this not just for our own sake but for everyone’s sake. How many people in this world are caught in compulsive patterns of behavior that are just causing suffering, trapped in painful thoughts, painful habits, and painful addictions? Feeling trapped in their minds, thus feeling trapped in their situations? Our friends, colleagues, family — are they actualizing their extraordinary potential or remaining stuck? Even whole cultures, whole nations, trapped in cycles of behavior which accomplish precisely the opposite of what they wish for … ?

We can think: “I no longer wish to participate in this creation of unhappiness. Instead I am going to change my mind, train my mind, so that I can help others do the same. I need increasing mental freedom and enlightenment so that I can help everyone else.”

This great motivation is part of our aspiration or wishes, and without aspiration there is no way we are ever going to develop joyful effort – we do what we want to do, always, unless coerced. With a big motivation, we’ll have big effort.

Are you fixed or not?

what self-cherishing seesOne major reason we feel discouraged when it comes to thinking about changing our mind is because we perceive ourselves as being fixed, as being someone who can’t really change, or not that much anyway. Easier to switch on the TV or go to bed.

When we think of ourselves we actually have a mind of ignorance. This delusion currently accompanies all our perceptions, including our self-perception. This ignorance believes us to exist in the way in which we appear. And right now we appear to have a whole selection of negative qualities. We may appear to ourselves to be a depressed person. Or an anxious person. A fearful person. An angry person. A loser. A victim. An unloveable person. An ordinary person. And so on. That is how we appear to ourselves, and our mind of ignorance basically assents to that appearance. It believes it’s the truth. This is the truth – I am this! I am angry, I am faulty, I am anxious, I am incompetent, I am no good … We are holding ourselves in this fixed way and thinking it’s the truth.

So then we try to practice meditation and Buddhism on top of that … ?! For example, we hear or read something that inspires us and it’s like a breath of fresh air, “Oooh that feels so good, I CAN change!” But then we walk back out on the street or into work, and we take a look at ourselves, and we are looking at somebody who can’t change. On the one hand we get it, “I can change!”, but on a deeper level there is an inner perception, “I’m fixed in this way, I can’t change.” We are actually grasping at ourselves as someone who can’t change.

overcoming the laziness of discouragementSo guess what happens if we don’t address that? We don’t change. We can’t change because we are holding ourselves as being fixed. That is our real meditation, what we are really familiarizing ourselves with – we might spend 5 minutes developing the aspiration to change as in the meditation above, and the remaining 23 hours and 55 minutes familiarizing ourselves with being a depressed loser, holding onto ourselves as being a FIXED person with nothing to offer. “You probably don’t even want this unloveable person loving you, right?”

If we are trying to change based on this strong self-grasping ignorance, this self-fixing mind, it is no wonder that we fail, and it is no wonder that we get discouraged. Then it can get even weirder because, in a strange sort of way, it becomes comforting to us that we can’t change. Simply because we think it’s the truth, I am a loser, I am a fixed person, an anxious person, etc – that’s who I am! It’s not a happy place but it feels like a secure place, it’s what we know, it’s where we feel comfortable. Then the idea of changing is unsettling because at least I know this. It’s like asking the person clinging onto the side of the burning building to jump into the net far below – they don’t want to, better the devil you know.

overcoming self-sabotage through meditationSo self-sabotage kicks in. Consciously, we set out to change – subconsciously we undermine ourselves because we don’t want to change. In fact, we are setting out to prove we can’t change. Like the example of someone who is always late given in the previous article on discouragement, or, another common example, someone who is trying to lose weight but they just keep snacking … And there is a comfort in that moment as we open the fridge door, isn’t there?! It’s like ‘You see, I can’t do it … I can’t do it … so then I don’t have to!!!’

Even though it is going directly against the fulfillment of our wishes, there is a strange relief there because it is affirming our limited view of self. “I’m stuck. I don’t like it here… but that’s the way it is.”

So, first thing to do is identify this problem. Then we can overcome it. More later. Meanwhile, do contribute to this discussion on overcoming discouragement — do you have any examples in your own experience of relating to a fixed, limited self, and/or how you overcome this?

Do you ever feel discouraged?

Happy Easter in Buddhism Happy Easter Everyone! I thought today would be a good day to start a series of articles on how to become unstuck – overcoming the long winter of our discouragement to arise anew. Sloughing off our sense of a limited, fixed, deluded self — a self that doesn’t in any case even exist — and arising and identifying ourselves as a wise, peaceful, positive, loving, happy, blissful, free person instead.

Easter and Spring both seem to me occasions to celebrate the ripening of deep potential and fertility. Isn’t that what Jesus was showing when he arose from the dead on what is, according to Christian friends, the most uplifting day of the Christian calendar? Isn’t that also what eggs and bunnies are about? And, when the daffodils do finally manage to get their little yellow heads up above the snow, isn’t that what daffodils are about too?

Self-effacement or self-sabotage?

don't believe everything you thinkAt my day job last week I was asked to fill in an incredibly long and complicated (to me) application form in a very short period of time, and I was protesting inwardly and a little bit outwardly too: “Don’t make me do this! It’s way above my pay grade, someone else could do it so much better, there’s so much at stake, I’m going to blow it!”

Later that day I overheard someone talking about the impossibility of their realizing emptiness in almost exactly the same terms!

I realized we were both under the influence of discouragement, and therefore setting ourselves up for failure. Only when I got going and realized I probably could do this after all, (with a little encouragement), did I start enjoying myself; and I did a perfectly okay job of it. Likewise, only when we get going and get rid of the notion that we can’t do emptiness, (with a little encouragement and inspiration), can we start enjoying ourselves and get the job done.

Laziness in disguise

Discouragement is rampant in our times, and when it is applied to our spiritual practice it becomes a dangerous type of laziness, called the laziness of discouragement. Over the last year or so, quite a number of people have asked me to write something about it. Now that I’m back in the land of self-deprecation bordering on self-sabotage, I thought it would be a good time to start.

We have enormous spiritual potential. And everything depends upon our mind, our thoughts; including our sense of self. Holding onto the thought of a fixed, limited self is preventing us from changing and realizing our potential.

British self-effacement can be endearing and sometimes even humble, but as often as not it is a tight grasping at a limited sense of self that is holding us back from attempting or achieving anything that will help ourselves and others. The self-talk thoughts, “You’re useless”, “You’re too old”, “You can’t do this!”… these are not humility, these are aversion, and comments we would not want to put up with from other people. That we put up with and heed our own self-defeating thoughts is a big shame, considering we have a precious human life and Buddha nature and can do anything if we go for it. As one Facebook friend put it:

overcoming discouragement in Buddhism

“Discouragement is a problem for me – often there is no boundary between being self-effacing and being self-destructive in my mind. My teacher once very helpfully pointed out that the full name for discouragement is ‘the laziness of discouragement’, but we don’t often think of ourselves as lazy when we’re feeling discouraged.”

Which is true. We might be assuming that putting ourselves down is almost innocent. We don’t think of it as a delusion, but this laziness of discouragement IS a delusion. Perhaps it is even the most pernicious delusion, insofar as, under its influence, we let our life go by without changing ourselves, and it keeps us forever stuck in suffering if we let it.

We can understand the delusion of laziness better if we appreciate what is its opposite, positive mind, which is effort. So perhaps we can start here.

What is effort?

“Effort” can sound like a lot of effort! Joyful effort, its full name, is better, but still seems to require, well, effort. Is “energy” any better? Inspiration? Enjoyment?  I’m inspired to practice, I’m happy to practice, I love practicing, I enjoy practicing – these are all manifestations of effort, far more than “I need to put in the effort”, “I really ought to be practicing”…

amazing race to enlightenmentEffort can sound tense, can sound like we’re squeezing or pushing for results. Sometimes we are — as competitive westerners we can bring our competitive streak to our spiritual practice. We may be sitting next to someone thinking “I wonder how they’re concentrating? Oh no, they can meditate for far longer than me! Oh, their posture is so much better…” We tend to push a lot in our own culture, job, family, society and so forth – we push for results. And we can also feel under pressure to fake for results in order to look good.

Do you ever live your life as if people are looking over your shoulder and judging you? Perhaps feeling guilty when you don’t think you’re up to scratch as mothers, workers, partners, and even spiritual practitioners? Then we feel we need to push and try harder (or fake better!); but guilt is certainly no substitute for joy, and this is not effort. I love to practice Buddhism or Dharma as if no one is looking.

When I first went to America, I noticed that Americans are unafraid to tell you about their qualities, whereas you could never get a Brit to tell you about their qualities except under torture. Brits resort to understatement and self-deprecation: “I am perfectly useless at that… I can’t meditate for the life of me”, whereas Americans like to put their best foot forward at all times, which can be good, but which can also sometimes mean faking it a little – it’s a bit like a job interview culture. Perhaps some of us associate effort, then, with pushing, and not being entirely authentic – and basically not really experiencing any change. However, effort is all about changing.

If we can avoid the extremes of self-deprecation and insincerity, and have a joyful, confident, enthusiastic, and relaxed approach to our meditation practices, we are guaranteed to change a great deal for the better.

What is “virtue”?

Effort is defined in Buddhism as “a mind that delights in virtue”.

Virtue means the causes of happiness. Again, not what we always think when we think of the word virtue, which can sound a bit too, well, virtuous (goody two shoes = not what it means.)

So, effort delights in the causes of happiness. This doesn’t sound much like effort as we know it! But we can see that if we did have a mind that delighted in cultivating the causes of happiness, we’d end up being very happy, because we’d be joyfully creating joy! With effort our meditation becomes delightful, like a child playing his favorite video game, and how much effort does THAT take?! We are aiming at enjoying our practice so that it feels effortless – and that funnily enough IS what genuine effort feels like.Buddha's face in flower

We may not be there yet, but it is as well to know that this is what effort is. Not pushing. Not squeezing. Not clenching. Not forcing. Not grasping at results. Not feeling miserably as if I am over here TRYING so hard to practice, and the results are over there, years or even lifetimes away in the future, an unbridgeable chasm between us — setting ourselves up for failure. Not comparing and contrasting what everyone else is doing or fantasizing about what they think of us. Not putting ourselves down or believing all our own inner narrative about who we are. Effort is all about being in the present moment, enjoying virtue or the causes of happiness, identifying with being a happy person – enjoying, in other words, being positive, kind, wise, happy, and free.

A little tip: To begin with, if you have to, you can pretend you are enjoying your virtuous activities — or rather imagine that you are.  I remember when I first got into Buddhist that I used to do this with really long prayers, prostrations, fasting, and so on, as I didn’t always automatically enjoy these spiritual practices. So I would think: “I’m really enjoying this!” until I believed it. It is just thoughts, after all. It worked for me.

Next time, more on how we get stuck and how to get unstuck.

YOUR TURN: Please help me with my continued market research on the subject. Do you ever feel discouraged? How do you overcome it?