This series titled Practical Companion is for intermediate practitioners.
We started this series by examining mental defilements that could potentially threaten or sabotage our practices. This is because we need to constantly identify them and fix them quickly if we want to succeed. It is a type of self-help and self-motivation. All successful people from businessmen to a student studying for exams need to do it. When we are striving towards a goal, it is inevitable that we suffer from doubt, fear, pain, distractions, etc at some point in time. If we can overcome these negative mental obstacles, then we will still be striving. Otherwise, we would give up.
So you see, we started off by examining from within ourselves (our mental health check).
This is the opposite of how we teach beginners. For beginners, we start from external topics. Meanwhile, let us continue with this series.
Examining our body
Following the self-examination of our mental health, we examine our body. This refers to our physical bodily actions and conducts.
For laypeople, we don’t spend our day meditating in a conducive environment. We encounter various challenges and unpleasant situations in our daily activities. How we manage those situations will carry over to our meditation cushion. While some of these situations are unavoidable, others are caused by our daily habits.
Face unavoidable situations with a consistent principle. That means we react to situations according to Buddhist principles so that our minds will be conducive to enlightenment. For example, we stick to principles of non-violence (physical or verbal). We avoid lies and stealing. We avoid lust and intoxicating ourselves. Basically observe the 5 precepts. In addition to that, we train our minds to generate the 4 heavenly attitudes. (Loving Kindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity)
Is our daily habit conducive to spiritual development? The aforesaid talks about unavoidable situations in our daily life. This refers to daily routines that we adopted ourselves. Our hobbies and interests. To be realistic, laypeople are unlike monks or nuns. Most of us have that favorite pastime to relax after work. For some people, it is Netflix and for others, it could be a glass of red wine. We have to determine if our past time is supportive or obstructing our spiritual practice? For example, just a few years back. My meditation was regularly disrupted by Khaleesi (Game of Thrones). There is no right or wrong, we just need to weigh our priorities and decide which is more important to us.
Is our daily practice consistent? This refers to our daily formal practice. We might be practicing chanting or mindfulness during our working hours already. But nothing beats a formal practice session. Do we set aside 15 minutes a day, 30 mins, or an hour? We need to stick to it and be consistent with our formal practice. Discipline our mind and train it to focus.
Our body posture during practice. We try to do our practice in the meditation position. It will signal to our mind that we are engaging ourselves in spiritual activities. If your physical body cannot sit cross-legged on the floor (full or half lotus), then try to sit in a chair without slouching. Avoid doing meditation lying down (unless one is sick). Neither should we be doing prayers or chanting while slouching on our sofa or couch.
Our health. Last but not least is making sure that we have a healthy body. That means, we need to ensure that we eat right, sleep right, keep proper hygiene, etc. Enlightenment is not some hocus pocus and we cannot attain it if our physical condition is bad. For example, if we have insufficient sleep, then we will probably doze off during meditation.
Examine our environment
After taking stock of our physical body, we examine our surrounding environment.
Are we surrounded by wise or foolish people? Wise people refer to those who appreciate our effort to practice. Most of the time, our immediate family members can be the worst opponent. For example, my mother used to freak out when I meditate and she would try to disturb me in some little way. I was the only Buddhist in my family back then (remember, how we react to such a situation will loop back and affect our meditation later on)
Being Buddhist, we have to manage such challenges wisely. While family members are unavoidable, we cannot say the same with friends. For example, if we mix with friends who enjoy a drinking session after work every day, then such friendship will obviously affect our daily routine and practice. Again, it is about managing our priorities.
Do we have a conducive place for practice? Unless you can enter Jhana at will, a quiet environment is more conducive for practice. In that manner, do we have a place to practice? Does our place offer us a safe and conducive environment to practice? Again, it is something that we can manage and should manage wisely.
Our altar. This had been covered in one of my previous posts. An altar is not a necessity. But if you have an altar, then it is best to manage it well. Our altar defines a sacred place where we practice. How should our altar be? In short, declutter. Just look at your own alter and ask yourselves. Does it channel, contentment, peace, tranquility, respect, focused concentration, etc? Or is your altar showing laziness (dirty), fear and greed (various deities for various “wants”), disrespect, confusion, etc.
note: In case you decide that you need to declutter, please manage the clutter respectfully and wisely.
Examine our method of practiced
This is the last part of this post but is too much to cover here. So let’s take a break for now and I will share more in the next post.
May all be well and happy.