Practice of the Week
Do Good, Avoid Evil, Appreciate Your Lunacy, Pray for Help
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.
Adapted from Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion
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 for 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 for help and for strength to do what you know you must do, with the understanding that though 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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from Judith Lief, "Four Practices are the Best of Methods," Tricycle.
This slogan is very straightforward and action-oriented. It lays out four specific practices to incorporate in our everyday life.
The first practice is to accumulate merit. This is pretty tricky. It sounds as if you should try to pile up good deeds as credentials, like scouts collecting merit badges. But here the idea of merit has a twist. It is not just that if you are good you will be rewarded. Conventional acts of merit such as practicing good deeds, revering sacred images and texts, and supporting the sangha, are encouraged here as a way disrupt egotism, not build a holy persona that is even worse than normal egomania.
The second practice is to lay down evil deeds. You do not need to be heavy-handed or guilt-ridden about it. You just need to reach the point of getting tired of your neurosis, embarrassed and fed up enough to do something about it. Then you can refrain from what you have been doing, and let go not just of the evil but the evil doer as well.
The third practice is to offer to the döns. Döns are sudden attacks of neurosis that seem to come from nowhere in a sudden burst. When you are taken aback by such a dön, the idea is to take that as a gift. It shakes you out of your complacency so you should be grateful.
The fourth practice is to make offering to the dharmapalas, or “dharma protectors.” Dharmapalas are said to protect the integrity of the teachings and keep an eye on practitioners who lose their way. They are guardians of awareness. When we are caught in self-deception or unmindfulness, the world strikes back. The idea is that we should not only appreciate that, but invite it.
When you do something good, try to remove any add-on of self-congratulation or righteousness. When you make a mistake, try to remove any add-on of self-punishment or guilt. Instead, simply commit yourself to refraining from such actions in the future. Tune in to whatever arises as a way to reconnect with kindness and awareness.
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For list of all weekly practices: "Spiritual Practice Directory"