Practice Circle: Make Practice Your Whole Life

Those of you who have joined us at Practice Circle lately know that we have been working with the Tibetan Lojong text, fifty-nine slogans that present seven points of training the mind. There have been countless commentaries on the Lojong text; the one we’ve been working with is Norman Fischer’s wonderful Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on Lojong. Fischer brings a Zen attitude and an American idiom to these Tibetan texts, and the result is an approachable summation of the essence of Buddhist teaching.

The slogans themselves can be used as mantras in meditation, but they have an instructive purpose. Each is a pithy summation of some point of dharma practice, and the point of the repetition is to imprint them in our memories so it will occur to us to remember them when we need them in our daily lives.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence then, that many of the slogans remind us that our daily life is our practice. Point Three of the training is, “Transform bad circumstances into the path.” Point Four is, “Make practice your whole life.” Along the way are slogans such as “Whatever you meet is the path,” “Drive all blames into one,” “There’s only one point,” and “Turn all mishaps into the path.” The Lojong text is at pains to let us know that what happens when we are sitting on our cushion is only the beginning. Our real practice is how we encounter the suffering in our lives, how we live in relationship with others, and our determination to cultivate compassion and equanimity.

As Fischer puts it:

People often complain to me that they don’t have time for spiritual practice. In today’s busy world, it seems that we can barely cover the basics, let alone refine our lives further with spirituality. When spiritual practice is an item at the bottom of our long to-do lists (which are these days embedded in task-accomplishment apps on our smartphones), it is very hard to get to it, and usually we don’t. My answer to this is simple: spiritual practice is not an item on the list. It is not a task we do. It is how we do what we do. It’s a spirit, an attitude. You are breathing all day long. It doesn’t take any more time to be conscious, let’s say, of three breaths in a row. Your mind is thinking distractedly all day long. It doesn’t take any more time to intentionally think of a slogan you are working with. Even meditation practice, which seems to take time you ordinarily would be filling with some other activity, actually takes much less time when you realize how much time you save when your mind is a bit calmer and more focused and when your day begins with processing and settling with your life rather than rushing headlong into today with yesterday as yet undigested. Practice, in the light of this point, is not something we are doing over and above our life. It is the way we live.

Making practice your whole life doesn’t mean that you have to move into a monastery. It doesn’t even mean that you have to be sitting cross legged or chanting all day. Practicing with your whole life can be as simple as remembering to notice when powerful feelings or thoughts have arisen, and taking a moment to breathe into then, noticing them and acknowledging their presence. A simple act of friendliness, like smiling at a stranger, listening carefully to a friend or coworker, doing a household chore with an attitude of service to others, can be a profound way to chip away at our illusion of separateness and alienation.

Taking the time to notice and be grateful when good things happen to you or others, and to offer yourself a wish for happiness and ease when you are suffering, can become habits that transform your life. It is this transformation – training to live a life of greater awareness, unhesitating compassion and spontaneous, unconditioned joy – that is the whole dharma path. Whoever you are, whatever your circumstances, you can take a step down that path in any moment of your life.

When Practice Circle meets again this Sunday, June 25 at 6 Pacific, 8 Central and 9 Eastern time, we’ll share practice and discussion around practical ways to make practice your whole life. I hope you’ll join us! To join our video conference group, simple follow this link: