Sunday, October 26, 2014

Buddhists Wobble, But They Don't Fall Down: On the Three Principles

So much of my study and practice of Buddhism is acknowledging that I will never be perfect at it. This idea most definitely applies to how I worked with last week's concept. I put plenty of effort into tracking when I lost my way, especially with regards to kindness and openness. Doesn't seem to have any effect yet, but I'm going to keep working on it. I'll get better eventually. I just have to give myself time and space to work on it.

This idea of being patient with myself plays into the tenet I'm examining this week:
Always abide by the three basic principles.
I did not pass go, did not collect $200, didn't even try to reason out what this meant before heading to The translation they've presented, "Always train in three principles," is essentially the same. The explanation did add to my understanding:
The three principles are: intention, action, and balance. 
I can't help thinking of Weebles whenever I think of balance in this kind of context. In my mind, a bodhisattva might wobble, but they don't fall down.

That idea didn't leave me completely as I moved onto reading the Tricycle piece on this teaching. There's something about western Buddhist writings that make me feel like I'm on the right path. That was definitely true here. I pretty much always find comfort and resonance in Judy Lief's interpretations and commentary. For instance, in her piece about this tenet she says: "On the spiritual path, over and over again it is a good idea to keep coming back to a few basic principles. By doing so, you can bound your actions with discipline. You can keep your practice on track." Yes. Exactly that.

As she got into the heart of it, though, she had a slightly different explanation of what the three principles are:
"This slogan suggests you work with three basic principles: honoring your commitments, refraining from outrageous actions, and developing patience."
She goes on to explain that these aren't just with regards to your actions, commitments, and patience for others, but also for yourself. This idea is so important. I need to constantly remind myself. For those moments when I fall into my old habits, when even I'm startled at my snark or cynicism, I need to remember to be patient with myself instead of getting angry. Also, touching back on last week's practice, I need to use these moments to reaffirm my commitment to this path.

And that's what Leif wants us to think about as we work with this teaching: "What does it mean to make a commitment? What helps you to maintain the commitments you have made, and what throws you off track?"

So that's what I'll be doing. Until next time, namaste and all that.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Making the Best of a Bad: On Practicing Even When Distracted


Yes, it's been a while. I'm teaching a class this semester and that seems to have eaten up all of my spare time that's not spent with friends or at work or doing crazy extravagant things like, yanno, sleeping and eating and chores. Despite having pretty good reasons for having ignored this little blog of mine, I've been feeling guilty about it. Then, when I saw the new tenet, I felt even guiltier:
If you can practice even when distracted, you are well trained.
Really? A guilt trip? Also, isn't practice the opposite of distracted? <theatrical sigh> I have been meditating pretty much every day (missed three times in the last month, and I was sick for two of those), but I haven't done much beyond trying to be mindful and meditation. Too distracted.

As is my pattern with these teachings, I turned first to to see if they have an alternate translation and/or a helpful explanation. Their translation of this teaching wasn't very helpful, "Proficiency means you do it even when distracted." Their explanation helped, however:
"Your training arises naturally to correct imbalances when you encounter unexpected events, just as an expert equestrian corrects imbalances without thinking about doing so."
That passage made me think of a cat who does something utterly klutzy, but manages to make it look like the whole maneuver was on purpose - like that kitten above. Like you might get off balance, but you work with it and right yourself smoothly. (On a side note: I keep thinking about giving up on, but then I get occasional gems like this...)

Tricycle's piece echoed this idea of being able to regain your balance, but Lief added one further idea:
"According to this slogan, instead of waging a kind of battle with distractions you can co-opt them as supports for your practice. It is like setting a default tendency toward mindfulness and bodhichitta, so that the moment a distraction arises, it brings us right back. The instant we notice we have lost our attention, we have regained it. So for a well-trained mind, when sudden distractions arise, they do not interrupt your practice, but reinforce it." (Source)
And that gets at the whole reason lojong attracts me - the idea of using my daily life to inform my practice of Buddhism. It's about making the best of a bad situation. She adds one further idea in her suggestion of how to incorporate this tenet into practice more concretely:
"In your practice and during your daily activities, pay particular attention to the points at which you lose your mindfulness. In terms of bodhichitta practice, pay particular attention to the points at which you lose your openness or kindness. Notice the process of losing it and coming back."
So that's what I'll be doing. Until next time, namaste and all that.