Every 2 years a survey is taken; citizens are asked questions like: how often do you meditate? how often do you have feelings of compassion and generosity? do you pray? how do you spend your leisure time? Notice the absence of any questions related to finance to help determine quality of life. Apparently the greatest stress encountered by the majority of Bhutanese (who are farmers) is the Dreaded Wild Pig.
Bhutan’s leaders seem to have understood the ultimate goal of existence: to be happy, in the enlightened, rather than the worldly sense of the word.
According to the Buddha, there are 84,000 different doors to enlightenment. We do not all have to follow the same path. Whatever practice we do is only relevant in the sense that it should create some benefit.
It doesn’t matter if you subscribe to Buddhist belief, or Hindu belief, or Christian belief, or no belief: we all have wisdom deep within that is hidden by our obscured view. We practice to clarify the view and uncover our brilliant original true nature.
So we should be alert to the effects of the practice. If we have been doing a particular practice for many years and don’t see positive results in our lives, then we should question whether that is the appropriate practice for us in our particular time and circumstance.
The Dalai Lama notes:
“When we take medicine, it is not the taste, color, or quantity of the medicine that matters; the important thing is the beneficial effect on our body. If in spite of having taken a certain medicine for a long time we see no effect, there is no point in continuing to take it. Regardless of whether your practice is elaborate or short, above all, it should be effective in bringing about some kind of a transformation, a change for the better, within you.”
The point is that the practice itself is not “It.” There is no prize for having an “advanced” practice, especially if we are using the practice to boost our ego. Practice is the tool, it is not the result that we are seeking. It is like a boat to ferry us across the ocean of suffering called samsara. Once we reach the far shore, we don’t need to, indeed shouldn’t, carry our boats around on our backs.
There seems to be a problem when we identify ourselves with the practice, or use the practice to define ourselves. I am a practitioner of X! This type of approach is an attempt to boost or perpetuate ego, which is exactly the thing a spiritual practice works to dissolve.
We should check in with our practice periodically to see: are we increasing wisdom and compassion, lessening self-centeredness and attachment? Is the practice working?
The proof of the practice comes out in our daily lives: how we interact with others and our environment. What is essential does not really need to be discussed. Practice is the thing that will show us the way: to living more fully and kindly with awareness of the present moment, the here and now, with all of its inconvenient and sometimes beautiful truths.