The problem is you think you have time

We often lượt thích to think that we’re busier and more stressed than our ancestors ever were; in the West we also seem khổng lồ think that the arrival of Buddhism poses particular problems for us, due to cultural differences. Here, we’ll look at what’s changed, what’s the same, how we can deal with these issues, và the ageless practices that suit all times và cultures.

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Are There Specific Difficulties in the Modern West for Practicing Buddhists? Arrow down Arrow up

Is there anything special about the practice of Buddhism in the West that is different from the practice of Buddhism anywhere else, at any time? Is there anything special about us? Why would we even be interested in knowing if there’s something special about us?

There could be several reasons. Some people might face some difficulties they think are specific lớn our time, & want to lớn know how lớn overcome them. Others might be looking for an excuse not to have khổng lồ practice as hard as people have done at other times; they’re looking for a bargain, they want enlightenment at a cheap price. Putting that motivation aside, let’s look more seriously at whether there are any specific difficulties that we face.

If we’re involved in the Buddhist path, one of the most basic things we have to try and develop is the awareness that there’s nothing particularly special about us. We can’t really say that at present in the West people have more anger, greed or selfishness than people have elsewhere in the world, or have had in the past. Throughout the universe và throughout time, people have been working with the same disturbing emotions, so there’s nothing special about “now.”

Some people argue that the circumstances are now different. We have, for instance, very stressful lives. & we’re always really busy. Well, was a struggling farmer in the Middle Ages or ancient India, working the fields for sixteen plus hours a day, less busy than we are, working in an office? The activity may have been different, but they were certainly as busy. What about cave people? They must have had quite a lot of stress & worries, about wild animals, finding food & so forth. They also had a lot of fear, of things lượt thích lightning and thunder, & other stuff they didn’t understand. People have always lived with fear & stress, haven’t they?

What about the bubonic plague? We think we have stress and fear now, but can you imagine living then? So, I don’t think we can say that what is special about us is that our lives are so busy and stressful. It might be a different flavor of stressful, a different flavor of busy in terms of the activities we’re involved in. But stress, worry, no time? This has been going on all the time, everywhere.

Then you could say that our society and culture don’t chia sẻ any, or most of the fundamental assumptions that you have in Buddhism. So, Buddhism is really alien lớn our culture. But we can look at Buddhism’s transmission into trung quốc as an example, as the Chinese didn’t believe in rebirth. They thought in terms of people dying và becoming a sort of spirit or soul, & then you would worship these ancestors. That’s very different from rebirth, which would say that ancestors are no longer around. So it took quite a while for the Chinese to lớn understand a lot of these fundamental, basic Buddhist concepts. When we now face a similar challenge, it’s nothing new.

Realizing this, that we’re not “special,” can be very helpful. Think of teenagers or people who have a certain problem, be it their parents are alcoholics or whatever. They often think that they are the only one with that problem, & then it becomes really huge to lớn them. If they learned that there are many others who have the same types of problem, then they are not alone. They don’t feel alone và the problem fits into a larger context. It provides a different perspective that optimally would lead khổng lồ developing compassion for others with a similar problem rather than thinking of it in just a “me, me, me” type of way.

So, in terms of crafting a daily practice of Buddhism, everybody’s problem is the same: How vị we apply the Buddhist teachings to lớn help us khuyến mãi with the trials of life? That’s not “my” special problem, but an issue for all of those interested in practicing Buddhist methods in the West.

We cannot deny, however, that there are some chất lượng challenges living in the West in the modern age. In the past, most people faced the problems of too little food & too little information. Before the invention of the printing press, to lớn copy out by hand a Buddhist text was an incredibly positive generous act. You were making one more rare & precious copy available for others to read và study. Even procuring the paper and ink was a monumental accomplishment. Nowadays, we can just post a text or a liên kết on our Facebook page!

Our quality challenge is having too much food and too much information available. How to lớn choose what is right for us? How vì chưng we discriminate when there are three hundred different “brands” of Buddhism? This is a big problem, but there is no magic answer. Just because something comes up number one in a Google search, it doesn’t mean that it’s the best or that it suits everyone’s needs. We need lớn use our intelligence, discrimination & patience to see what is best for us. To lớn decide what suits us, we need to lớn try things out khổng lồ see for ourselves.

Suppose, however, after a period of testing, we choose a Buddhist tradition, center & teacher to study with. Then we face another issue: There are so many different levels of practicing Buddhism, and a huge number of ways in which we could go about applying it lớn our daily life. How vị we start? There’s the very superficial level, which doesn’t vì chưng much khổng lồ change us internally. Then there’s the deeper level, in which we actually work on ourselves, with the minimal aim of improving the unique of our lives and avoiding making it worse. Whether we will go on lớn aim for liberation & enlightenment depends on how we develop. We can’t possibly aim for those lofty goals from the very start. Most of us don’t have the slightest idea, even, of what liberation và enlightenment mean.

In the beginning, many people are attracted khổng lồ the superficial level, và so they khuyễn mãi giảm giá with the externals. By this I mean that they’ll get a red string to lớn put around their neck or wrist, or both! They’ll wear a mala, a rosary of beads, và sometimes use it while mumbling something. They have a good supply of incense and candles, and all the proper meditation cushions, Tibetan paintings & pictures, & eventually perhaps, they’ll even start to lớn wear some sort of Tibetan clothing. They sit very solemnly in this almost Hollywood setting, but have no idea what lớn do.

I remember when I first went to India in 1969. It was the height of the hippie era và there were very few Westerners there at the time. But many of those that were there dressed fully in exotic Tibetan robes & costumes, which I remember being rather judgmental of. I thought it was a bit offensive to the Tibetans: these Westerners were just mimicking & copying them. Then I asked the Tibetan monk I was living with, what he thought of these Westerners going around dressed in Tibetan clothes. He replied, with a very helpful answer, “We think that they lượt thích Tibetan clothes.” There was no judgment there whatsoever.

Whether we’re judgmental of that or not, just changing our clothes or wearing a rosary and many blessing cords, doesn’t really change us very much, does it? Internally it doesn’t really vì chưng anything. It doesn’t bring more “blessings.” Our Buddhist practice needs lớn be internal.

Whether in the West or in a traditional Buddhist society, what Buddhist practice requires is working on ourselves. We have lớn transform ourselves, which is not something done through rituals. It’s easy to lớn learn to vị a ritual và recite mumbo-jumbo in a foreign language that we don’t understand at all. But this doesn’t transform us. We’ll still get angry, we’ll still get attached, và we’ll still not get on with our parents. His Holiness the Dalai Lama always says that practicing these rituals when you have no idea of what you’re doing is not going khổng lồ get you far at all.

Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, và all the great Indian masters have said that the practice of Buddhism comes down lớn taming your mind. This means first of all learning the teachings, the methods of how to khuyễn mãi giảm giá with disturbing emotions and problematic situations, & how to lớn analyze the various experiences we have. We keep mindful, so that we remember the teachings & apply them as & when we need. In this way, they will help us to overcome at least the ordinary problems of life, lượt thích anger, worry, & nervousness, sickness, old age, relationship problems – all of this stuff, and more.

So we need lớn work on and improve our personalities & basic attitudes toward life to lớn transform ourselves. This requires a tremendous amount of work và is not easy khổng lồ do. We need patience, courage, & perseverance. Our tendency in the West is lớn want things cheaply, easily and above all, quickly. We want all the teachings instantly. We want khổng lồ gain all the wonderful things we read about, that a Buddha attains and so on, with the least amount of work as possible.

To bring about internal transformation, however, requires getting teachings, and getting teachings in the West requires money. This is one of the difficult points that is fairly unique in Buddhist history. Usually, you would never pay khổng lồ get teachings. You voluntarily made a donation if you wanted, but it was never required that you pay at the door lớn get in.

In the West, however, if we want teachers và facilities, they need khổng lồ be supported either voluntarily or through paying an admission. This is on the practical level. The deeper cấp độ is that if you want khổng lồ receive something that is precious, namely the teachings, you have khổng lồ put a great giảm giá of effort & work into getting them; otherwise you don’t really appreciate và value them.

Historically, in order to invite teachers to Tibet, not only did the Tibetans need to lớn walk to lớn India to lớn invite them, but they also had khổng lồ gather all sorts of resources for the journey and as offerings. They put an incredible, tremendous amount of effort into getting the teachings. People had lớn make huge sacrifices to get them. Look at what Marpa made Milarepa go through in order khổng lồ access the teachings. So in a sense, if we really want the teachings, then we need khổng lồ make some effort, for example to get some money together, or travel to lớn India or to lớn a place where they are available.

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Now it’s easier. Here in Latvia, you lived under the Soviet Union & couldn’t travel far or go anywhere really. Now teachings are available and as a member of the EU, you are quite không lấy phí to travel. So you need to take advantage of this & not just whine, “There’s nothing available where I live.” This isn’t meant to sound harsh, but if we are serious about transforming ourselves, it takes commitment. It has to lớn have priority in our lives. We need courage & bravery & energy khổng lồ make whatever moves, or vì chưng whatever is necessary, to lớn get the optimum circumstances for study và practice.

Being Honest và Realistic with Ourselves about Our Commitment khổng lồ Dharma Practice Arrow down

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If we’re not as serious as that, it’s fine. But we can acknowledge this: “I’d like to learn a bit about Buddhism. Maybe it can help me in my life, but I’m not willing to lớn relocate if the circumstances aren’t fine where I am. It doesn’t have đứng top priority in my life, there are other more important things for me.” If that is our situation, then it’s absolutely fine. But we can’t expect lớn get the results we might get if we put full time & full effort into it. Be realistic. A little bit of effort gets a little bit of result. Lots of effort và time gets a larger result.

In the West, most people seem to lớn prefer lớn practice as laypeople, not as monks và nuns, which is a bit different from traditional Buddhism. Because of this, rather than having monasteries và nunneries, we have Dharma centers. There was no such thing before Buddhism started to develop in the West.

What vì chưng we expect to achieve from going lớn a Dharma center? If we go once a week after work, & we’re really tired half the time, sing a tuy vậy in Tibetan but don’t really know what’s going on, what result can we expect from that? Not much. What is really sad is that most Dharma centers are not even a social club like when you go khổng lồ church. Whether it’s Christianity, Judaism or Islam, there seems to lớn be a sense of a congregation, of community. If someone is sick or doesn’t turn up, people will ask and call và bring food. This seems to be missing in the Dharma centers. People come, bởi vì a bit of meditation, maybe a puja ritual, and that’s it. I’ve heard complaints from people who say, “What is Buddhism all about? I’ve been sick & in hospital, & no one called or visited; nobody cared.”

If our daily practice of Buddhism means we go by ourselves khổng lồ the center to bởi vì a puja or meditate, và then go home, but we don’t even care about the other people who are part of the center, what is that? We sit there và say, “I’m doing this for all sentient beings; May all sentient beings be happy…” but then someone is sick và we don’t care or make time lớn visit them. This isn’t proper. If our practice of Buddhism is lượt thích that, then something’s wrong. We can become too narrow or focused on our own practice of doing puja và meditation, without thinking socially about helping those in our group. Engaged Buddhism, which started in Thailand, is something we really need more in the West. Already some Buddhist centers have prison programs, for example. A few people volunteer khổng lồ go lớn prison to lớn give Dharma lessons to lớn the prisoners, which is great. But it’s actually not enough to lớn just vì chưng this, and not visit someone who’s sick.

Being Buddhist, however, doesn’t mean just being a kind person, but of course we have to be a kind person, that is the basis, and it’s not at all exclusive lớn the Buddha’s teachings. You don’t even need khổng lồ be religious to know that it’s important lớn be a kind person. So of course, in our daily life we should try lớn be of help to others. If we can’t help them, then the least we can vì is lớn not hurt others; that’s the basic minimum. If we want lớn say that this is our Buddhist practice, that’s fine. But we have to understand that it’s a very light version of Buddhism.

Although it’s a light version, it is absolutely necessary. We try not to lớn get angry with others & if we do, apologize as quickly as possible. We try lớn be less selfish and more sensitive lớn other people’s needs and to the effect of our behavior on others. If we bởi business, we try lớn be honest. If we deal with customers, we try to lớn remember that they are human beings just lượt thích I am và they like to be treated nicely, not hurriedly or rudely. The last customer of the day deserves as much attention, care & pleasantness as the first.

All of this is what His Holiness the Dalai Lama refers to as “basic human values,” values that are not based on any particular philosophy or religion. We need to lớn apply them not just with strangers, where it’s a bit easier because we just see them for a few minutes & don’t need to giảm giá khuyến mãi with them afterwards. The real challenge is lớn apply these values when we’re with the members of our families or the people we live with and the people at work. We don’t ignore those who are closest lớn us.

Let me mô tả an example from my own experience. When my mother was still alive & I would visit her, she would lượt thích me to watch television with her in the evening. She especially liked quiz shows and would encourage me khổng lồ try to lớn answer the questions, like, “How much does this refrigerator cost?” In these types of situations, we need khổng lồ be patient và generous, và not just sit, looking bored, mumbling mantras under our breath và snapping back, “What a stupid question! Who cares how much it costs?” Try khổng lồ answer the question, no matter how silly it might seem. Trying khổng lồ answer questions like these was a way for her to lớn keep her mind active in old age, and showing tư vấn for what she was doing was, in fact, an act of basic human kindness and generosity.

If we wish khổng lồ practice Buddhism in the West, then, we need lớn go deeper than just working on ourselves khổng lồ be a kinder person. For this, Buddhism offers a huge array of practices suited for a wide variety of mentalities and abilities. These include both study và meditation. There is nothing uniquely Asian or Western about that. The main point, however, is that we need lớn integrate into our daily lives whatever we study & meditate upon. We need to lớn make our Buddhist practice our way of life.

We start by setting the intention for the day when we wake up. What is our motivation? We remember what our goal is và what we’re doing with our life, & then create the intention lớn actually pursue that. When we wake up, ideally that should be, “Thank goodness I didn’t die during my sleep, và how wonderful that I now have a whole day ahead in which I can work further along the Buddhist path.” Having these kinds of thoughts upon waking are much better than, “Oh no, not another day!”

We vị the same thing when we go to lớn bed at night. Instead of thinking, “Thank goodness the day is finished. I can’t wait to drop into unconsciousness,” we think, “I can’t wait to lớn wake up tomorrow lớn continue.” What this really boils down to is “refuge.” I don’t use that word much because I think what it really talks about is having a direction in our lives. This is the direction shown by the Buddhas, their teachings & personal accomplishments, & the spiritual community that has followed them. This is a direction that is safe và protects us from suffering.

If we have a direction in our lives that has meaning và purpose, it helps us enormously. We are working to rid ourselves of all our confusion và disturbing states of mind và to realize all our positive potentials. Putting this direction in our lives means that we are trying to lớn follow in the footsteps of the Buddhas and their spiritual community. Even just making a small step in this direction we will find is very worthwhile. But we need to lớn confirm this by our own careful analysis & experimentation. Buddha said not to accept anything he said merely on faith. As Westerners, perhaps we can appreciate more easily this scientific approach that Buddha taught. We must always maintain a critical attitude.

This direction in our life is something that needs lớn be very deeply internalized. Doing so is what actually what makes us Buddhist. Just being a nice person doesn’t make you Buddhist. It requires total conviction that it’s possible to lớn achieve what we’re looking to lớn achieve. If we don’t think it’s possible khổng lồ overcome our shortcomings and realize our positive potentials, then what’s the point in trying lớn achieve a fantasy?

In the beginning, we’re not going khổng lồ believe for sure that it’s possible lớn achieve any of the Buddhist spiritual goals. We might have faith based on some charismatic teacher or even wishful thinking. It takes work lớn become convinced that it’s really possible to achieve them, step by step, và once you do, you’ll really put your full heart và energy into it.

As a Buddhist this is part of our work. They’re very important và help the direction we’re going in lớn become stable. So we start the day off reaffirming this intention. We end the day with a dedication & a review of what we’ve done during the day, how we’ve acted. If we’ve gotten angry or whatever, we admit it, we regret it, và we purify it. Whatever positive things we’ve done, we dedicate them toward achieving the positive goals we have. The great Tibetan Master Tsongkhapa said that our intention needs khổng lồ be carried out throughout the whole day, not just at the beginning & end. This means we need to lớn remind ourselves of it during the day.

The modern Vietnamese Master Thich Nhat khô hanh has a lovely method for this. He has a “mindfulness bell” that rings at random times during the day. Everyone stops for a few moments lớn regain their mindfulness of their intention. One of my students has programmed his cell phone so it beeps at various times throughout the day. So there are various methods we can use lớn help us remember our motivation, if it’s not something that comes to lớn us automatically.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama always stresses that what we need most is what’s called “analytical meditation,” which at our stage is thinking over the teachings, relating them to lớn our personal lives và experience. An example would be lớn analyze why we’re having problems with that person at work. How can we khuyến mãi with it? We need to lớn develop patience. What are the teachings on patience? What is the method? So we sit quietly & practice being patient while we think of that person. This is Buddhist practice – that is exactly the word “practice.” We are practicing lớn be able lớn be patient in actual real life situations.

At the end of the day, we đánh giá what we’ve done. There’s no point in feeling guilt if we’ve failed to lớn live up to our good intention, because we remember that the basic feature of life is that it goes up and down. Progress is never linear. No matter how hard we try, some days will be good và some will be bad. So when we’ve made some mistake và done something hurtful, we acknowledge it và make a resolution khổng lồ try our best to avoid repeating it.

All of this up & down is going to happen until we become a liberated being. That’s a long way away. Until then, we’re going to lớn have greed and anger & all of that. This is quite sobering! The attitude that is most helpful with all of this is “equanimity.” When we’re tired, we take a break. That’s fine, no problem. When we want lớn get going, we vì it. That’s also fine, no problem. We have to avoid the two extremes of being really hard on ourselves or treating ourselves like a baby. We just go ahead, no matter what. We hotline this “armor-like perseverance.” It protects you in any situation.