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Putting It Into Practice

 

This website was never intended to be a practical “how-to” guide, as I explicitly set out to explain Buddhist philosophy. Some might like this, others may not. The reason I created this site is that I feel that many Westerners, Americans especially, believe that Buddhism is about eschewing theories entirely, while others criticize it for being a vague religion. Buddhism is neither anti-intellectual, nor does it involve speculation for its own sake. Buddhism employs both theory and practice for a sacred purpose.

 

Buddhism is certainly pragmatic, in that it emphasizes realism over idealism or negativity. Some would say that Buddhism is practical, but that’s only true if by this one means clear and practice-oriented, rather than a connotation of comfort or ease. Ease is a result of Buddhist training, but this path is not always about convenience. The middle path is built on a rational foundation – neither self-indulgence nor unnecessary austerity. The path fortifies and secures, but it is not a quick-fix, and it is likely to challenge you. Thus, some beginners might be surprised to find that the middle-way in Buddhism can be quite ascetic in a modern context.  

 

I don’t know, really, what effect this site will have. Some visitors might learn something new or gain a new appreciation of a different religion. Others might come away thinking that it’s utter nonsense. But it has occurred to me that after getting acquainted with its basic concepts and worldview, some people might want to actually convert to Buddhism. They might be thinking, okay, all of these teachings are great, so now what?

 

Keep in mind that in Buddhism there has always been a special bond between the laity and monasteries. Monasteries usually have the full-range of practices and, obviously, require a full-time and lifetime commitment upon entering them. If you choose to become a monk or nun, you should understand the gravity of this decision. With very few exceptions, the renunciate monk must be celibate for the rest of their life and cannot marry, and has to follow hundreds of rules, some very stringent. The traditional lay-practice in Asian countries includes financially supporting renunciates and monasteries, following the five precepts,* with extra precepts observed during special holidays, reciting sacred texts, mixed in with indigenous religious practices, such as ancestor worship and funerary rites. In the West, a new model has emerged of the lay-practitioner who performs some of the activities that have traditionally been done in monasteries.

 

As I stated on the home page, I recommend to those who want to practice to find a community of Buddhists (Sangha), preferably a traditional temple (pagoda) or a well-established practice-center. They can guide you in how to pursue a private practice as well. Good books, or better yet, good translations of the original Sutras, can also be helpful. Traditionally, Buddhism has stood upon the three legs of the “triple jewel” (the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha). I suppose, however, that one could self-identify as a Buddhist without the formal support of a Sangha.

 

The heart of Buddhist practice is meditation. Meditating at least once a day is important. The best time to meditate is in the morning, soon after waking up, and at night about an hour before going to bed or falling asleep. One should not meditate on a full stomach, and wait at least three hours after a meal, since digestion can make you sluggish or sleepy. Some Buddhists like to meditate in front of a shrine with a Buddha statue, incense, or some inspirational art. A bell or a singing bowl is a nice touch. Flowers can be good too. Pure Land Buddhists might use a scroll with the nembutsu written in Japanese instead of, or addition to, a Buddha statue. None of this is necessary for meditation, though. What is important is that you pick a quiet place, free from disturbance, which facilitates concentration and peace.

 

It is helpful to do some preparation before meditating. You might read a sacred text, or reflect on your intentions. Many traditional Buddhists prostrate before an image of the Buddha as a sign of devotion, which is also a way to prepare the body for sitting. But those who come from a Judeo-Christian or Islamic background might be very uncomfortable with this, depending on one’s upbringing. One could start with some sort of (hatha) Yoga that includes breathing exercises, cleansing, or postures. Even light aerobic exercise before sitting meditation could work; Tai Chi and Qigong work well in this regard. Another good traditional preparation is mantra chanting.

 

Meditation itself can be done in a number of ways. The basic posture involves sitting upright on a cushion, rug, or chair. Some close their eyes fully, while others close their eyes partially and stare at a wall or down at the floor at an angle. You can count your breaths, say from 10 to 1 and back to 10, or focus on the sensation of the breath with the expansion/contraction of the abdomen, or as it enters/exits the nostrils. You can also silently repeat a mantra. Some meditators use outer objects to focus upon, such as Buddhist art. (For more, see shamatha**).

 

At first it is very difficult to concentrate and not get lost in thinking. You might want to start out with five minutes at first, then work your way to 10, 15, 20 minutes and so on. 

 

But what about the rest of day? Once you get off the cushion, you need to cultivate a lifestyle that supports mindfulness, otherwise the benefits of meditation seep out like water leaking from a porous container. One should commit to following the five precepts, and choose an honorable profession, or at least maintain the precepts as best you can in whatever job you are currently doing.

 

Remember that the purpose of Buddha Dharma is awareness training. It is not uncommon for emotional issues, ones you might have previously ignored or repressed, to come up. It is not a sign of weakness, a character failure, or shameful to seek psychological counseling. Unless the therapist has a hidden agenda or some problem with Buddhism, generally psychotherapy should strengthen Buddhist practice, not undermine it.

(See www.enlightennext.org/magazine/j17/engler.asp).

 

I am not saying psychotherapy is always necessary, however. This should be a personal decision, as is the decision to convert. If you are against the idea, fortunately, Buddhism is very inclusive. For example, if you are having a difficult time with anger or impatience towards self or others, you could try Metta-Bhavana (www.buddhanet.net/metta_b.htm) or the Tibetan Tonglen visualization (www.acupuncturedoc.com/tonglen.htm).   

 

Lastly, remember that while Buddhism is not always an easy path, it is a noble one that can truly benefit your life and that of others. So bring enthusiam and heart to your practice!

*Five Precepts

**Meditation