What does it mean to practice seriously?

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What does it mean to practice seriously?

Postby Jikan » Sat Apr 27, 2013 4:59 pm

I think some of the disagreements that unfolded in this thread...

viewtopic.php?f=64&t=12545

...reflect different expectations and understandings of what counts as appropriate practice for Buddhists. I'd like to know: what kind of rigor is called for in Mahayana practice? What does it mean to practice rigorously and seriously?
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Re: What does it mean to practice seriously?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Apr 27, 2013 5:20 pm

In some Zen temples they force you to sit through long sessions of zazen even if you're ill or feeling unwell. If you're dozing off they'll strike you with a stick.

One Zen monk I met said his master told them going to the toilet was not permitted, so he crapped his pants.

This is believed to somehow be beneficial by some individuals. I fail to understand their reasoning. It is tough practice and this tempers the individual. It might foster endurance, sure, but probably not wisdom and compassion.

Putting yourself through toil and needless suffering strikes me as irrational. Saying you'll kill yourself if you don't complete a pilgrimage is a mental problem on a religious level.

To practice seriously means to take the Dharma seriously and implement it with one's body, speech and mind. Meditate as best you can, but recognize your limits. Speak the truth and confess any lies. Don't utter nonsense. Try to keep the mind free of hostile and desirous thoughts. This is already at a serious level. How does gruelling toil and forced meditation sessions really help?
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Re: What does it mean to practice seriously?

Postby Astus » Sat Apr 27, 2013 5:31 pm

I think it depends on intention. What is the goal of practice? Worldly benefits, future life benefits, personal liberation or liberating others.
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Re: What does it mean to practice seriously?

Postby pueraeternus » Sat Apr 27, 2013 5:49 pm

Indrajala wrote:Putting yourself through toil and needless suffering strikes me as irrational. Saying you'll kill yourself if you don't complete a pilgrimage is a mental problem on a religious level.

To practice seriously means to take the Dharma seriously and implement it with one's body, speech and mind. Meditate as best you can, but recognize your limits. Speak the truth and confess any lies. Don't utter nonsense. Try to keep the mind free of hostile and desirous thoughts. This is already at a serious level. How does gruelling toil and forced meditation sessions really help?


I think what is needless or necessary is different for each individual and the type of commitment each is willing to embrace. For some the marathon pilgrimage might be life-threatening needless torture, but for some they might find it entirely attractive and have a burning desire to do it. For example, what about Master Hsu-yun's three-steps-one-prostration pilgrimage from Mt Putuo to Mt Wutai? Is that unnecessary torture and irrational? For those who wholeheartedly throw themselves into dharma might not see it as irrational.
When I set out to lead humanity along my Golden Path I promised a lesson their bones would remember. I know a profound pattern humans deny with words even while their actions affirm it. They say they seek security and quiet, conditions they call peace. Even as they speak, they create seeds of turmoil and violence.

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Re: What does it mean to practice seriously?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Sat Apr 27, 2013 6:12 pm

I prefer to practice humorously.
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Re: What does it mean to practice seriously?

Postby Konchog1 » Sat Apr 27, 2013 6:26 pm

For Buddhism to be your weltanschauung. For everything to be viewed though Buddhism and most of what you do, say, and think to relate to Buddhism in some way.

I think people who live the usual life, goes to a retreat of some sort once a year, and calls themselves Buddhist are just playing around.
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Re: What does it mean to practice seriously?

Postby Jesse » Sat Apr 27, 2013 6:27 pm

I think it depends, you can either be putting yourself through unnecessary agony, or you could learn alot. When I was sitting for about 2 hours per day ( on a couch ), one day I ended up deciding to sit for an entire day outside on the ground, not that this is extreme, but it was very hard for me at the time, but that day ended up advancing my understanding of meditation more than the previous 5 months of two hour meditations.

I can see the benefits of doing both, easygoing and difficult practice.
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Re: What does it mean to practice seriously?

Postby BuddhaSoup » Sat Apr 27, 2013 7:21 pm

What does it mean to practice rigorously and seriously?


One of the hazards of conversing in writing is that my response might seem patronizing. I don't mean it to sound this way. Here's my response: I know I am practicing seriously and rigorously when I am actually doing something of the Bodhisattva work. It's not whether I am sitting well or long that week, or whether I have studiously spent time with a sutra. These practices are important, but for me the test is so much whether I am actually off the cushion and doing something in the world to actually benefit others, to truly actualize the Dharma in some genuine way.

I see Ven. Indrajala and his travels and I review with great interests his articles that have helped me so much in my understanding of traditional Mahayana. I see Rev. Jikan leading a Tendai Sangha, hosting "Shugendo Now," and teaching the Lotus Sutra and other important teachings to others. I see the Dharma Bums in San Diego redistributing food to the hungry that restaurants would have discarded. I see others on this forum, as well, doing the real work of the Bodhisattva in their teaching and actions.

So, most weeks I fail quite well at walking this Path as the Buddha intended it to be. I review my week, and understand that I need to do better. I see what others are doing, and feel inspired at what is possible.

100 hours on the cushion mean little to a community that is going hungry because of food distribution issues. So, to me, practicing well means that I may never complete a Kaihogyo, but I can get off of my ass now and then and try to do something that inspires or assists others. Then, I know I will have been practicing well.
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Re: What does it mean to practice seriously?

Postby MalaBeads » Sat Apr 27, 2013 8:40 pm

Do you suffer less? Are you less affected by your conditioning? Are you able to alleviate the suffering of others?

To my way of seeing buddhism, this is what it is about. Buddha said quite clearly that he taught one thing and one thing only - the end of suffering. How you learn to lessen your own suffering and the suffering of others will vary from individual to individual and ultimately is not that important. The methods are less important than the result, ie the end (or at least, the lessening) of suffering.

So if that is your motivation and you are able to slowly increase your ability to both suffer less yourself and lessen the suffering of others, then you know about how to practice seriously. All the rest of it is just methods.

Caveat emptor: for a time, your suffering may increase rather than decrease and it may look hopeless. Only you will know whether or not what you are doing is beneficial.

My 2 cents.
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Re: What does it mean to practice seriously?

Postby Sherab Dorje » Sun Apr 28, 2013 12:31 am

pueraeternus wrote:For example, what about Master Hsu-yun's three-steps-one-prostration pilgrimage from Mt Putuo to Mt Wutai?
Putuoshan is an island, so he would be hard pressed to pull that one off! :tongue:

PS I like the new haircut Indrajala, I dunno about the lack of beard though! :smile: Congratulations on your ordination!
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Re: What does it mean to practice seriously?

Postby pueraeternus » Sun Apr 28, 2013 12:53 am

gregkavarnos wrote:
pueraeternus wrote:For example, what about Master Hsu-yun's three-steps-one-prostration pilgrimage from Mt Putuo to Mt Wutai?
Putuoshan is an island, so he would be hard pressed to pull that one off! :tongue:


Haven't you heard of the 轻功 known as 水上漂??

Image

But seriously, I don't know how he did that. I haven't read his chronicle yet, but accounts of his pilgrimage states that he did go from Putuo to Wutai on a 3 year pilgrimage.

gregkavarnos wrote:PS I like the new haircut Indrajala, I dunno about the lack of beard though! :smile: Congratulations on your ordination!


Agreed on the beard.
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Re: What does it mean to practice seriously?

Postby Jikan » Sun Apr 28, 2013 1:37 am

This has been an interesting discussion so far.

Approaching this topic from a slightly different direction (after reflecting on this, and BuddhaSoup's post and Ven. Indrajala's especially):

I think contemporary people sometimes get serious about practice. They feel very deeply, as deeply as they feel anything else, that they wish to practice. And they do their best to practice as best they can with the best motivation they can. This, in itself, is just excellent.

This gets complicated, however, when we read biographies of great masters such as Milarepa and consider the extent to which they committed themselves to practice. Does my aunt Ila's off-and-on practice of the mani mantra compare? Yes and no. Yes, they are comparable because Ila and Milarepa both practice to the extent of their capacities. They each give their all. No, they are not in the same league because Milarepa had more to give than Ila has. So there is no absolute basis for comparison. One's practice can only be meaningfully assessed relative to one's capacity, not according to some enculturated standard.

I am thankful there are so many Dharma doors available, because it means that so many beings can get a foothold into practice and then do their best. What more is there? I rejoice in Ven. Indrajala's practice of the Vinaya. I'm delighted that so many other members of the board are able to practice as they do. Let a thousand flowers bloom.

With that said, what ought we to expect of each other in practice, particularly in a non-sectarian or trans-sectarian environment such as DharmaWheel? I think the discussions around the practice of celibacy and the practice of the kaihogyo give two case studies in what happens when different expectations lead people to talk past each other.
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Re: What does it mean to practice seriously?

Postby Sara H » Sun Apr 28, 2013 3:09 am

Practicing seriously Jikan, means practicing Right Effort.

That is essentially what this thread is about.

There are a great many resources available on the subject of Right Effort.

Althouth admitedly, it is a difficult concept to get right at first, as for most people, Right Effort is something that has to be done to understand it, and for many people it is common to oscillate back and forth between extremes (which hopefully become less and less extreme, and more and more closer to the middle) in order to discover a middle path.

Pushing your body to physical extremes and to the point of possibly breaking is not a middle path.

It's like with our thumb position in meditation:

We don't mash them together until the thumbnails turn white, straining ourselves.

And we also don't let them hang limply.

We just hold them together, lightly touching.

Not too much effort, and not "not enough" either.

Just a middle path between lassitude, and straining ourselves.

We don't need to "ram down the gates of heaven" so to speak with a battering ram.

It is enough to politely knock.

In Gasshō,

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Re: What does it mean to practice seriously?

Postby Indrajala » Sun Apr 28, 2013 4:17 am

Jikan wrote:I think contemporary people sometimes get serious about practice. They feel very deeply, as deeply as they feel anything else, that they wish to practice. And they do their best to practice as best they can with the best motivation they can. This, in itself, is just excellent.


Unfortunately great enthusiasm can, like a pendulum, swing back the opposite way to a state of becoming disheartened.

Ideally one might seriously practice without any thought of it being serious. If it comes naturally and is not forced, then things will go well.


This gets complicated, however, when we read biographies of great masters such as Milarepa and consider the extent to which they committed themselves to practice.


Yes, but hagiographies contain a lot of fictional elements. You can sit in a cave and live on pine needles in the Himalayas or even the foothills, but for most people they would probably die from hypothermia and malnutrition. The story is inspiring, sure, but it isn't realistic. To measure oneself against a fictional ideal is perhaps humbling, but that doesn't really do much more than inspire religiosity and a common icon with which to rally the faithful around. This is useful, but it doesn't directly address the causes of suffering and their remedy.


I think the discussions around the practice of celibacy and the practice of the kaihogyo give two case studies in what happens when different expectations lead people to talk past each other.


Celibacy won't kill you. Strangling or slitting your own throat, however, will indeed kill you.

Killing yourself for reasons of piety or devotion is entirely irrational. Maintaining celibacy to curtail desires and cultivate stable mind and body is quite healthy and might even extend your natural lifespan.

You can't really compare the two.
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Re: What does it mean to practice seriously?

Postby Indrajala » Sun Apr 28, 2013 4:35 am

pueraeternus wrote:I think what is needless or necessary is different for each individual and the type of commitment each is willing to embrace.


Committing to irrational behaviour is simply contrary to the path. We should discern the causes of suffering and address them systematically. If we are able to see things from a grounded and well-reasoned perspective, then the appropriate course of action will be clear.


For some the marathon pilgrimage might be life-threatening needless torture, but for some they might find it entirely attractive and have a burning desire to do it.


Up until the Meiji Period some Mikkyo monks would mummify themselves alive. They would dry out their bodies from within while sitting in meditation, generally placed in an underground chamber. They "achieved buddhahood in this body".

Nevertheless, this was outlawed and stopped being practised.

Some might have a burning desire for such an extreme practice resulting in death, but again I fail to see it as necessary or desirable. Is there really a compelling reason to kill yourself in such a fashion?



For example, what about Master Hsu-yun's three-steps-one-prostration pilgrimage from Mt Putuo to Mt Wutai? Is that unnecessary torture and irrational? For those who wholeheartedly throw themselves into dharma might not see it as irrational.


You can justify any number of things for the sake of Dharma, but at the end of the day we need to ask if these are actually addressing saṃsāra or not.
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Re: What does it mean to practice seriously?

Postby jeeprs » Sun Apr 28, 2013 4:43 am

I went to the 10-day Goenka retreat over New Years 2007-8. At the end of that he says you should sit in meditation one hour morning and evening. I have never had the discipline to do that even though it sounds a reasonable aim. (I do wonder how many Goenka students actually keep that up.) But I do sit most mornings. Actually the idea occurred to me that this is in itself a form of devotion. So if you sit most days you're actually 'devout'. I suppose, then, that anyone who has a commitment to meditation could be considered devout. (I remember that column about a year ago by Lewis Richmond that most Buddhists don't actually meditate, so I think the practice of formal meditation is quite a commitment and signifies a seriousness about the teaching).

Anyway, I don't think I will do another Goenka retreat, but my ideal is sitting morning and evening. I think if one can sustain that over a long period then it is a serious commitment. Nishijima roshi and people who teach lay practitioners generally recommend 2 x 45 minutes daily. That is a pretty full on discipline in my view (but then discipline has ne'er been my strong suit.)

On the other hand, one ought not to get too attached to the notion of practice or of becoming something. Commitment and being serious can even become hindrances because you cling to them. That is part of the challenge of the spiritual path.
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Re: What does it mean to practice seriously?

Postby dyanaprajna2011 » Sun Apr 28, 2013 5:13 am

One is practicing seriously and rigorously when one is practicing for the benefit of all sentient beings. Extreme ascetism is not required; the Buddha rejected such as unnecessary and nonconducive to enlightenment. This isn't to say that some won't find meaning, or even enlightenment, in them. Just that it shouldn't be expected of everyone. The image of Bodhidharma sitting in zazen facing a wall for nine years is intriguing, and even inspiring, but most Zen practitioners gained enlightenment while doing normal, everyday work. Serious and rigorous practice is that practice done with right intent. The Buddha said that those who only know a small part of the law, yet keeping it, it is if they have kept the whole law, and are better off than those who, even knowing the whole law, practice none of it.
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Re: What does it mean to practice seriously?

Postby pueraeternus » Sun Apr 28, 2013 7:37 am

Indrajala wrote:
pueraeternus wrote:I think what is needless or necessary is different for each individual and the type of commitment each is willing to embrace.

Committing to irrational behaviour is simply contrary to the path. We should discern the causes of suffering and address them systematically. If we are able to see things from a grounded and well-reasoned perspective, then the appropriate course of action will be clear.


Yes, but what is rational to one may not be rational to another. What criteria should we use for determining rationality? How about the thirteen dhutangas sanctioned by the Buddha? Is it irrational for a monk to observe the dhutanga of only sleeping under a tree (not worrying about lightening strikes), of living near or in charnel grounds (not worrying about the terrible diseases), or of never lying down, only adopting the postures of standing, sitting or walking?

Indrajala wrote:
For some the marathon pilgrimage might be life-threatening needless torture, but for some they might find it entirely attractive and have a burning desire to do it.

Some might have a burning desire for such an extreme practice resulting in death, but again I fail to see it as necessary or desirable. Is there really a compelling reason to kill yourself in such a fashion?


Well, sans the part of the suicide for failure (which might be a relic from the mores of the warrior caste), I don't think people go for the marathon with the goal of killing themselves - people do it with the hopes they succeed. This brings to mind what the Buddha said in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta about pilgrims who died on the way visiting the four main holy Buddhist sites:

"And whoever, Ananda, should die on such a pilgrimage with his heart established in faith, at the breaking up of the body, after death, will be reborn in a realm of heavenly happiness."


He doesn't seem to mind that such a thing would happen. In fact, the Buddha seemed to present it as a good.

Indrajala wrote:
For example, what about Master Hsu-yun's three-steps-one-prostration pilgrimage from Mt Putuo to Mt Wutai? Is that unnecessary torture and irrational? For those who wholeheartedly throw themselves into dharma might not see it as irrational.


You can justify any number of things for the sake of Dharma, but at the end of the day we need to ask if these are actually addressing saṃsāra or not.


Well, in the case of Master Hsuyun, I would say the proof is in the pudding. How many of us can remain in continuous samadhi for 9 or 18 days? It is even longer than the limit of 7 days max indicated in the Mahavibhasa for a being in the Desire Realm to survive emergence from samadhi.
When I set out to lead humanity along my Golden Path I promised a lesson their bones would remember. I know a profound pattern humans deny with words even while their actions affirm it. They say they seek security and quiet, conditions they call peace. Even as they speak, they create seeds of turmoil and violence.

- Leto II, the God Emperor
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Re: What does it mean to practice seriously?

Postby seeker242 » Sun Apr 28, 2013 12:29 pm

When you can look your teacher in the eye and say "I'm trying my best" and have it actually be true. :smile:
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Re: What does it mean to practice seriously?

Postby Jikan » Sun Apr 28, 2013 12:42 pm

Indrajala wrote:Celibacy won't kill you. Strangling or slitting your own throat, however, will indeed kill you.

Killing yourself for reasons of piety or devotion is entirely irrational. Maintaining celibacy to curtail desires and cultivate stable mind and body is quite healthy and might even extend your natural lifespan.

You can't really compare the two.


Indeed, they are not comparable. That may be why I did not compare them, or even think of comparing them. Where did I ever advocate suicide as a Buddhist practice?

I did compare online discussions of celibacy with online discussions of the kaihogyo practice, as we have seen here at DW. The point of contact in these discussions is here: both are criticized by those who do not practice it as an inappropriate form of practice on the basis of expectations internal to their own traditions. I think this is an obstacle to learning anything, to meaningful discussion.

For myself, I'm glad people who can practice celibacy do so. I'm glad those who can practice the kaihogyo practice it.
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