Friday, October 25, 2013

DIARY 119 ~ What is practice and am I still doing it?

Once I launched myself on 'the spiritual life' I thought it would be clear exactly what I needed to do. This hasn't always proved itself to be true, because I've often found it hard to discern what I'm consciously practicing. What we commonly refer to as 'practice' is a rather loose, if not elastic, term, that can easily accommodate everything. The terms 'the spiritual life', 'practice' or 'the path' are rather carelessly used as a ready made shorthand. The assumption is that everyone knows what you mean by them.  Actually they're rather vague cover all terms. This lack of precision over what is or is not practice, is because the subjective content of practice cannot be really prescribed in detail.

The Buddha's discourses present us with methods, practices that can be used like medical prescriptions. If you keep taking these pills, things will eventually get better. He talks largely about the objective practices to do ~ meditation, ethics and wisdom ~ and the ultimate objective ~ Enlightenment.  He rarely talks or refers to his own or other peoples subjective experiences.  But what he does say, is that you don't have to take his word for it, that if in the light of your experience something doesn't work for you, then don't continue doing it. Objective practices have always to subjectively prove themselves. We are to consider as being practices, whatever is conducive to increased wisdom and compassion.

So what we talk about as practice usually has these two aspects ~ the subjective and the objective. These are the active content of 'the spiritual life', 'practice' or 'the path. These are the means for self-transformation, and ultimately self transcendence.  Whatever aspect of practice we are focusing on needs to be informed by an overarching vision of what its all in aid of ~ an ultimate objective.  Yet however we visualise this state of Enlightenment, what it is likely to be like, will be very subjective and personal, and from an ultimate perspective always a misconceived state.

Day to day, what form my practice decides to take arises from the raw subjective content, and that content is me, and the people and circumstances that I find myself with.  It's often convenient in Buddhist practice, to use those traditional objective forms of practice such as meditations and devotional rituals as the sole means of describing it. Necessary as these tools of 'the spiritual life' are, the real spade work is working with what is dug up by them, what arises out of the increased amplification of awareness. This deep soil, once unearthed requires analysis, reflection and refining. The diligent application of will often required for this, can become the real cutting edge of practice. Whatever comes up is all grist to the mill; the stones need removing, the soil needs tilling, riddling, aerating and mulching for new seeds to be sown, for the vision to flourish. I'll resist taking this gardening metaphor further, lest metaphysical speculations about the nature and relationship of the gardener to their garden mean I disappear completely up the backside of my flimsy metaphor.  But you perhaps get the picture.

Over my time of  being involved in Buddhism, my conceptions of practice, and what I'm actively doing in 'the spiritual life' have shifted and adapted. From being a hard line,rather harsh and unforgivingly disciplined daily meditator. I've become someone who finds meditating on a regular basis not only physically difficult, but psychologically obstacle ridden with resistances. This is largely a consequence of my past subjective mode of practicing those objective practices. I've had numerous, and frequently short lived attempts at re-engaging with meditation. Regrettably I've come to the conclusion that the volitional fire has gone out or its only on a pilot light. I keep hoping it will reignite itself, but as yet its no show. I'm beginning to believe that though this has its circumstantial conditioning factors, the actual problem may be that I am obstructing or enfeebling my own vision in some way. It may be that I'm looking for it in an out dated way, or perhaps seeking for it in the wrong direction. I've yet to get my head clear about where being an artist and my artwork fit into this Buddhist's vision

On a day to day basis, if I view my practice only from the perspective of traditional meditation practices, then I'm not practicing. Without a meditative compass it can be difficult to be precise about what exactly I am doing that is a daily practice. Though I can say that my practice is everyday life, how would I know if that was so? What the nature of my practice is, therefore turns into an ongoing internal debate. That I keep asking this question could either be seen as confirmation that its alive and kicking or that its dead but the bodies not yet been found so an autopsy hasn't been done to establish the date,time and mode of death.

Practice always has.its conscious and unconscious elements, the developing and the inculcated.  For myself practice has been led by the desire ' to know my own walking' to quote Dogen. which has its self- knowledge and self-transcendence aspects. In this, integrity has been an important principle, my self guiding compass. Still, I can easily get caught in feelings of falling short in my practice. This is a tricky one to call, because darker negative facets of my self view could be obscuring my objectivity. I can also tend towards the simplistic and doctrinaire. Viewed from the perspective of becoming Enlightened, whatever level of practice I'm doing is inadequate. Practice will always seem that way if assessed solely from an elevated viewpoint. What seems more important to me now, is that whatever I am doing contributes to making me a kinder and wiser person, about myself, about others and about worldly reality. Perhaps this can be my only real guide.


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