CUUC

CUUC

2017-06-14

Do Good, Avoid Evil, Appreciate Your Lunacy, Pray for Help

Practice of the Week
Do Good, Avoid Evil, Appreciate Your Lunacy, Pray for Help

Category: Slogans to Live By: Practices for everyone to keep in mind and pay attention to. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in each of these areas as you go about your day, and sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling. The titles of these practices are guiding slogans to live by.


Four-in-one this week! These four reminders -- slogans to try to live by -- fit together, and bring us back down to earth. If spiritual teachings are to really transform our lives, they need to oscillate between two levels, the profound and the mundane. If practice is too profound, it's no good: we are full of wonderful inspiring, lofty thought, insights and speculations but lack the ability to get through the day with any gracefulness or to relate to the issues and people in ordinary life. We may be soaringly metaphysical, movingly compassionate, and yet unable to relate to a normal human or a worldly problem. This is the moment when the Zen master whacks you with her stick and says, "Kill the Buddha!"

On the other hand, if practice is too mundane, if we become too interested in the details of how we and others feel and what we or they need or want, then the natural loftiness of our hearts will not be accessible to us, and we will sink under the weight of obligations, details, and daily-life concerns. We need both profound religious philosophy and practical tools for daily living. This double need, according to circumstances, seems to go with the territory of being human.

First, do good. Do positive things. Say hello to people, smile at them, tell them, "Happy birthday!" or "I am sorry for your loss, is there something I can do to help?" These things are normal social graces, and people say them all the time. But to practice them intentionally is to work a bit harder at actually meaning them when you do them, to actually cultivate a sense of caring and feeling for someone else that is as real as you can make it, paying attention to what you say, how you say it, and how you actually feel it, or don't. We genuinely try to be helpful and kind and thoughtful in as many small and large ways as we can every day. From a religious point of view, doing good also includes wholesome religious acts like chanting a sacred text, studying, meditating, or giving money and other gifts to the spiritual community. All of these intentional positive actions, directly religious and not, generate virtue. They create a positive attitude in the mind or heart that will strengthen us for the good.

Second, avoid evil. Pay close attention to our actions of body, speech, and mind, noticing when we do, say, or think things that are harmful of unkind. Having come this far with our mind training, we can't help but notice them, we feel bad. In the past we might have said to ourselves, "I only said that because she really needs straightening out; if she hadn't done that to me, I wouldn't have said that to her. That's why I did it, it really was her fault." But now we see that this was a way of protecting ourselves (see "Stop Blaming"). Now we accept responsibility fr what we have done. I'm not speaking of terrible things. Most of us probably do not do terrible things on purpose. This practice mostly references unkind thoughts or words that do not seem so bad and yet erode our sense of integrity if we don't pay attention to them. So we do pay attention to what we say, think, and do -- not obsessively, not with a perfectionistic flair, but just as a matter of course and with generosity and understanding, and finally we purify ourselves of most of our ungenerous thoughts and words.

Third, appreciate your lunacy. Indo-Tibetan Buddhist practice includes making offerings to demons. Psychologically, it's the same idea: bow to your weakness, your own craziness, your own resistance. In fact, congratulate yourself for them, appreciate them. Truly it is a marvel, the extent to which we are selfish, confused, lazy, resentful, and so on. We come by these things honestly. We have been well trained to manifesst them at every turn. This is the prodigy of human life bursting fort at its seams. It is the effect of our upbringing, our society, which we appreciate even as we are trying to tame it and bring it gently round to the good. So we make offerings to the demons inside us, we develop a sense of humorous appreciation for our own stupidity. We are in good company! We can laugh at ourselves and everyone else.

Fourth, pray for help. Pray to whatever forces you believe in -- or don't believe in -- for help. Whether you imagine a deity or God or not, you can reach out beyond yourself and beyond anything you can objectively depict and ask for assistance and strength for your spiritual work. You can do this in meditation, with silent words, or out loud, vocalizing your hopes and wishes. Prayer is a powerful practice. It is not a matter of abrogating your own responsibility. You are not asking to be absolved of the need to act. You are asking asking for help and for strength to do what you know you must do, with the understanding that thought you must do your best, whatever goodness comes your way is not your accomplishment, your personal production. It comes from a wider sphere than you can control. In fact, it is counterproductive to conceive of spiritual practice as a task that we are going to accomplish on our own. Remember: "Be Grateful to Everyone." There is no way to do anything alone. Not only does it make sense to pray for help, not only does it feel powerfully right and good to do so, it is also important to do this so that we remember that we are not alone and we can't do it by ourselves. Sometimes we forget this point and fall into the habit of imagining an illusory self-reliance.

Do good, avoid evil, appreciate your lunacy, and pray for help. Simple everyday instructions.

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"

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