The tumultuous events of the past two years have shaken and disturbed all of our lives. And it is these ongoing waves of difficulties, whether they come from concerns about health, politics, justice, or even person struggles, which become excruciating difficult obstacles for our spiritual practice.
But all of these difficulties in the world are precisely the reason why we need to commit even deeper to our practices. Whatever your practice is—whether it’s reciting a sutra, meditating, reciting the Buddha’s name, or prostrating—do it regularly, and do it consistently.
I will admit that despite being Buddhist for so long, one of my biggest struggles has been with maintaining a consistent practice. Whenever I spent time in a monastery, I’d be immersed in spiritual practice. But upon returning to my regular daily life with homework and jobs and excursions, the habit of a consistent practice would fade over time.
I think many of us can relate and have experienced similar ebbs and flows when engaging in practice. It is important to remind ourselves that this does not mean we are terrible Buddhists. Just the fact that we’ve done any practice at all is already worth celebrating. However, it does mean that we have plenty of room to improve.
What’s helped for me is to commit to a simple practice: a bare minimum of what I will do every day. And then if time allows, my practice can become more elaborate. Later on, I began to add weekly expectations: once a week, I would do such-and-such a practice. And the process of training myself in this has slowly permeated me so that what once felt arduous is now something I do almost instinctively.
In Buddhism, spiritual practice is a method of transforming ourselves. Through our practice—whatever that practice may be—we are connecting with Awakening itself. What begins as us, the unlearned and lazy practitioner, and them, the virtuous buddhas and bodhisattvas, slowly begins to blur. For 5 minutes a day, we are less lazy and more virtuous. Then maybe for 10 minutes a day, we are decently virtuous. After a while, we might spend the next three hours after our practice maintaining the virtues we cultivated during our practice. And throughout the day, our general level of virtue has increased. Slowly, what was once a hard distinction between our afflicted minds and the serenity of awakening becomes harder and harder to separate.
Hopefully, we can all reach the serenity of awakening one day. But until then, let us diligently “polish our mirrors” to use a classical Chan quote. Having a consistent practice provides a natural anchor in our day, and no matter how tumultuous the world around us is, we can use the time we dedicate to practice as a way to reset ourselves and realign our intentions.