If you are a hardcore Buddhist and find yourselves having a hard time in your practice, maybe you want to take a step back and consider if you are stepping too hard on the accelerator. Hardcore Buddhists refer to those who spent hours listening to various sermons and attending various meditational courses, or studying and reading Dharma books. They embraced Buddhist practices with gusto and try to be that “perfect” Buddhist. Many a time, their ideas of a “perfect” Buddhist or a “perfect” disciple” are inspired by stories of great masters. The standards are therefore very high. Although they lead a layman’s life and have a family, they try to copy the monastics’ lifestyles. That fixated view that we (laymen) have to live like the monks to be “worthy” or to be enlightened, is an attachment to form,
From observing the various precepts to meditation, they take on more than what they can chew. Some shut themselves out and focus all their free time and energy on meditation. Some gave up entertainment. Some try to be celibate. Some try to meditate for hours. Some try to say a particular mantra a million times or more. The spiritual practices of Buddhism became a task-oriented enterprise. There is an unhealthy expectation that if we achieve a certain quantity, then spiritual success is guaranteed. Put simply, we are overly fixated on the process of doing something, that we miss the objective altogether. In that manner, we are attached to the appearance or process of superficial practices. So what is the objective of our practices?
It is all about transforming our minds to experience true happiness! A happiness that is not dependent on craving, aversions, and ignorance. We are training our minds to produce happiness independently, without the need to rely on external stimulants.
This is where it becomes tricky. I am not saying we should all give up on our spiritual training or become lazy with it. The idea is more about achieving a balanced state of mind. If we are new to meditation, and can only comfortably do 10 minutes, then stretching to 15 minutes can be a method of cultivating tolerance and endurance. But if we set an unrealistic 1 hour as a practice target, some may suffer burnout.
More importantly, we should be aware of whether we are really meditating or just sitting for the sake of sitting like a statue. This is where awareness and self-truthfulness become critically important. If we practice Samantha meditation, are we training our minds to be disciplined during that 10 minutes? Or are we helplessly daydreaming for 1 hour on the cushion? Worse still, are we feeling bitter about sitting there for an hour and then feeling defeated at the end of that session? Does our practice make us more capable of focusing outside of meditation sessions? Do we develop enhance awareness of our thoughts and emotion outside of our meditation? Does it lead to us having better control of our minds outside of meditation? If all the answers are no, then we are probably treading wrongly or missing the mark.
If you notice, the word is “outside of meditation”. That is when the skills obtained in our meditation start to benefit our living world. For example, you find yourselves being capable of controlling your temper and less likely to pick a fight with family members. You find yourselves more loving and kind towards your colleagues. There are fewer ill-will and hateful thoughts appearing. You can focus better at work. And various other positive transformations to our minds.
Therefore, our spiritual practices should result in positive changes in ourselves, OUTSIDE OF OUR PRACTICE SESSIONS. If we become more irritable or depressed, then something is obviously not right.
In summary, we have to set realistic targets for our practices. Be mindful of what we are trying to achieve, Be aware of our mental health and well-being. Be flexible and learn how to adjust our practices according to our own situations. Although we may be inspired by great practitioners, we still have to be realistic about ourselves. Buddhist practices are not a type of penance and not a form of self-torture.
Therefore, it is important for us to tread the middle path. Be mindful and be aware. Last but not least, be wise.
May all be well and happy.