As the Buddha taught: “I do not see any quality by which the skillful arises and the unskillful subsides than friendship with admirable people… [From our teachers] I learn what is beautiful in the beginning, the middle and the end, surpassingly pure. The spiritual life is one of mutual dependence, for together we can cross over the flood of ignorance.”
In our spiritual transformation we will make mistakes; after such errors there’s no role for self-judgment or self-punishment; the process is simply one of learning from mistakes and returning to practice with renewed conviction. We’re on a journey that requires perseverance and forgiveness, of myself and others.
The only time we ever have to live is now. The only time that spiritual practice is done is now. If we’re going to cultivate love and compassion, it has to be in the present moment, because we don’t live in any other moment. So, even though the present is constantly changing, it’s all we have. Life happens now. Our past glories are simply that. Our past hurts are not happening now. Our future dreams are simply future dreams. The future tragedies we concoct do not exist at this time.
A spiritual practitioner may remember previous illuminating moments and dream of future exotic situations, replete with fully enlightened teachers and blissful insights, but in fact, practice occurs now. The person in front of our nose at this moment represents all sentient beings to us. If we’re going to work for the benefit of all sentient beings, we have to start with this one, this ordinary person in our everyday life. Opening our hearts to whomever is before us requires discipline and effort. Connecting with the person in front of us necessitates being fully present, not off in the past or the future.
Dharma practice means dealing with what is happening in our mind at this moment. Instead of dreaming of conquering future attachment, let’s deal with the craving we have right now. Rather than drown in fears of the future, let’s be aware of the fear occurring right now and investigate it.
When this mind is clear and bright And is not covered over, Then you are not very different From the sages. If you allow no wavering From this clarity, and do not Let it change, And do not cling to it, And do not neglect it: This is learning. Just protect it all the time And do not damage its clarity.
“You can’t ever get everything you want. It is impossible. Luckily, there is another option. You can learn to control your mind, to step outside of the endless cycle of desire and aversion. You can learn not to want what you want, to recognize desires but not be controlled by them. This does not mean that you lie down on the road and invite everybody to walk all over you. It means that you continue to live a very normal-looking life, but live from a whole new viewpoint. You do the things that a person must do, but you are free from that obsessive, compulsive drivenness of your own desires. You want something, but you don’t need to chase after it. You fear something, but you don’t need to stand there quaking in your boots. This sort of mental cultivation is very difficult. It takes years. But trying to control everything is impossible; the difficult is preferable to the impossible.”
“DON’T EXPECT TRANSFORMATION or success to happen quickly. Some of us may find meditation to be easy at first, especially in its simplest form of observing the breath or repeating phrases, but while such practices can provide some immediate payoffs, such as serenity, the real insights take many years, if not decades, to experience. As we Dharma punx are wont to say: if you want to see how well your practice is going, take an overview every ten years; any sooner is impatience. It’s better to prepare yourself for the long haul by thinking of this change as a lifelong practice. If you try to make progress on a short timeline, it’s easy to get discouraged when we don’t see the results that we want — as quickly as we want to see them. The truth is that your commitment is not about measurable progress and timetables. You’re not finishing a project; you are pursuing a calling.”
How to cope with wavering thoughts?
Versatile are flying clouds,
Yet from the sky they’re not apart.
Mighty are the ocean’s waves,
Yet they are not separate from the sea.
Heavy and thick are banks of fog,
Yet from the air they’re not apart.
Frantic runs the mind in voidness,
Yet from the Void it never separates.
“When you come to sit in concentration, then even if your mind isn’t yet quiet, simply sitting in the meditation posture is something good. It’s better than people who don’t even do that much.
“It’s like being hungry, but today there’s only rice, with nothing to go with it. We feel disgruntled, but I’d say that it’s better than having no rice at all. Eating plain rice is better than not eating anything, right? If all you have is plain rice, eat that for the time being.
“It’s better than not eating anything at all. The same with this: Even if we know only a little about how to practice, it’s still good.”
Only when the mind
Is settled can it become quiet.
Only when the mind
Is quiet can it become still.
Only when the mind
Is still can it see.
And only when the mind can see,
Can it reach the mystery of mysteries.
This is the process
That anyone who
Practices has to go through.
How long it takes
Is up to the individual.
The important thing is to sustain moment to moment awareness of the mind. If you are really caught in mental proliferation, then gather it all together, and contemplate it in terms of being one whole, cut it off right from the start, saying, “All these thoughts, ideas, and imaginings of mine are simply simply thought proliferation and nothing more. It’s all anicca, dukkha, and anatta. None of it is certain at all.”
Have faith in the Buddha’s path to happiness that so many people have followed to enlightenment. Faith, in Buddhist terms, means confidence–confidence based on what you have seen so far, and confidence in what you can project to be true based on what you have seen. For example, you have personally observed that whenever you were full of negative mental states, you suffered. You recall that whenever you were full of positive states of mind, you felt happy. When all these states changed you saw their impermanence. These are facts. You can have confidence in this. This kind of confidence keeps you on course until a deep realization of truth leaves no more room for doubt.
“Just taking the posture of meditation, sitting up, arouses energy and confidence. It’s a gesture of bravery, a silent proclamation of fearlessness: we commit ourselves to working with any state of mind that arises – sadness and excitement, boredom and joy, fear and desire. They’re all welcome, fundamentally welcome.”
… Hindrances cannot arise when mindfulness is present. Mindfulness is attention to present-moment reality, and therefore, directly antithetical to the dazed state of mind that characterizes impediments. As meditators, it is only when we let our mindfulness slip that the deep mechanisms of our mind take over–grasping, clinging, and rejecting. The resistance emerges and obscures our awareness. We do not notice that the change is taking place–we are too busy with a thought of revenge, or greed, or whatever it may be. While an untrained person will continue in this state indefinitely, a trained meditator will soon realize what is happening. It is mindfulness that notices the change. It is mindfulness that remembers the training received and that focuses our attention so that the confusion fades away. And it is mindfulness that then attempts to maintain itself indefinitely so that the resistance cannot rise again. Thus, mindfulness is the specific antidote for hindrances. It is both the cure and the preventive measure.
~ Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
“Mindfulness in Plain English” (Updated and Expanded Edition), p.146. (Wisdom Publications, 2002)
Train yourself in doing good
that lasts and brings happiness.
Cultivate generosity, the life of peace,
and a mind of boundless love.
Puññameva so sikkheyya āyataggaṃ sukhudrayaṃ. Dānañca samacariyañca,
+ + +
NOTE: The Buddhist Pali canon, the collection of the Buddha’s teachings, is written in the Pali language (as seen above), which was recorded in Sinhala script some 500 years after the Buddha died. There remains uncertainty of the exact language in which the Buddha taught and whether it was a variant of what came to be Pali. See this thread about the subject for more and this one.