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Setting up a daily practice

Setting up a daily practice


  • Setting meditation time
  • Generating a motivation
  • Remembering your intention throughout the day
  • Reviewing your daily practice at night

Daily practice 01 (download)

Let me talk a little bit about setting up a daily practice because this is a very important thing. So easily we’ll remember, “Oh yes, I want to sit and meditate, but oh, I’m so tired. I’m too busy.” What I think is really helpful is to set aside a certain time of the day, preferably early in the morning before you go to work, and do your meditation practice then. What I advise people—because sometimes we think, “Oh I get too busy, and then I can’t do it”—in your appointment book, you write in a timeslot that you have an appointment with Shakyamuni Buddha. You are very reliable with all your business appointments, aren’t you? Well, you don’t want to stand up the Buddha, and tell him that you’re going to see him and then, you know, ditch. That’s not very nice. It’s very helpful for your mind if you just have your calendar, whatever time it is because people get up and go to work at different times. Like for example, you say 7:00 to 7:15 every morning, or 7:00 to 7:30, whatever you decide: “I have an appointment with the Buddha.” Then if somebody asks you to do something, you say, “I’m sorry, I’m busy.” If you had an appointment, let’s say with me or with somebody else in the room at 7:00, and somebody asks you to do something, then you would say, “I’m sorry, I’m busy,” wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t call me or your friend up and say, “Well somebody else wants me to go with them, so bye.” You would say, “I’m sorry, I’m busy,” and then keep your initial appointment.

In the same way, especially if you think you have an appointment with the Buddha. I mean Buddha’s big time. Buddha’s important. You don’t stand up your appointment with the Buddha. It’s really very, very helpful, and also, like I said, when you tell people you’re busy, you’re not lying because you are busy, and it’s a very important appointment that you have.

I think that us taking the time every day to be able to sit quietly and do the breathing meditation or do some meditation on kindness, which I’ll talk about in a little bit. This is a way also of cherishing ourselves in a positive way and of taking care of ourselves in a positive way. Lots of people say now we have to love ourselves and we have to take care of ourselves, and that’s true. But we have to know how to do it in a really constructive, beneficial way, because taking care of ourselves doesn’t mean, “I go to the beauty parlor every week. And I go buy new clothes every week. And I go on a holiday every week.” Because from a Dharmic point of view, that can create some kind of a karma out of attachment. But really taking care of ourselves and really respecting ourselves involves recognizing that we have spiritual abilities, and that is an important aspect of our life, and we respect that quality in ourselves. We cherish that quality in ourselves. We want to see it grow because we know that in this life, at the time of death and in our future lives, it’s this spiritual quality that’s going to bring peace and happiness to our lives. We know that we want to develop it. We respect ourselves, so we take the time out every day to do that. It’s not being selfish.

In fact, it’s very cute. I’ve heard from numerous parents that if they let their meditation practice lapse, their children start to complain because they can see that their parents are more short-tempered. Really. Seriously. One mother told me that she had been practicing very regularly. Then the usual things–she got too busy. She stopped practicing. One day she was scolding her child, and her child looked up at her and said, “Mom, you really need to start meditating again.” [laughter] It really helps the entire family when we do this. I had another woman in our group in Seattle, and she’s been only practicing Dharma, practicing meditation, maybe six months or a year. Not so long. She’s in her 50’s, and her son is in his 20’s, and so one day she just kind of asked him, “Have you seen any change since I’ve gotten into Buddhism?” And he said, “Mom, you are way less neurotic.” Which in America is a really big compliment. [laughter]

What I’m getting at is it’s not being selfish to take time every day to sit alone and meditate. Or take time every day to sit and read a Dharma book and contemplate it because it actually helps you be calmer, and then that helps your entire family. It helps how you deal with the people in your office and your neighbors and everybody. It really has an immediate positive effect and a cumulative positive effect over time. I encourage you to do this.

It’s very good in the morning to generate our motivation. Then as soon as you get up, do some sitting because you haven’t been involved in the day’s activities. Your mind isn’t so busy. It’s clearer in the morning, and you can meditate for a little bit. You just choose an amount of time that is suitable for you. Don’t make it so long that you don’t want to do it again, but don’t make it so short that you can’t get into the meditation. You can determine yourself how long to make it. It’s good to start with about 15 minutes, and then see how things go from there. You can lengthen it afterwards.

Then throughout the day use things that happen regularly to bring you back to your intention of non-harmfulness and benefit and enlightenment. If you’re riding the MRT, every time your train stops at a station, you use that as a clue, “I don’t want to harm anybody, and I want to be of benefit today.” Every time you stop at a red light, “I don’t want to harm, and I want to be of benefit.” You use something that happens regularly to remind yourself. If you work at a job where the telephone rings a lot, every time the telephone rings, that’s your bell. “I don’t want to harm. I want to benefit.” Especially if you generate that kind of motivation before you take your business call, your relationship with your customers and people like that, is going to be much better because you’re going to have a good motivation, and that’s going to come out in how you talk to them. It’s kind of important.

Then in the evening, take a little bit of time to review the day and to think about what happened and think, “How well was I able to keep my intention? Was there time when I kind of slipped up and got angry at somebody? Or I said something insulting to somebody? Or maybe I cheated somebody? Lied? Fudged on the truth a little bit?” We take the time to look over the day and see how well we did. And if we notice that we were negligent in one area, we try and understand why. We make a determination to do better the next day. And we try and work with our mind to make our mind more peaceful. For example, we don’t go to bed angry. Because we all know, when you go to bed angry, what happens? Do you sleep well? No. When you wake up, are you in a good mood? We’re not in a good mood when we wake up when we go to bed angry. It’s really good before going to sleep to try and let the anger go.

You can learn all about anger – I now have to do a commercial. I didn’t intend this, but now that’s it’s here, there is the book Working with Anger. But really, it’s very important and especially I think with your family members. Don’t go to bed angry. Work with your own mind. Even if you can’t necessarily talk to somebody before you go to bed, at least in your own mind, try and let go of the anger and forgive, so that in the morning, when you greet them, you at least try and start out in a good way. Because we all know, when we start out in a bad way, it continues that way, doesn’t it?

Then in the evening also when you check up, then you can see how well you were able to keep your intention, and you kind of pat yourself on the back, and you say, “Oh good, I’m getting better. I really felt like saying some nasty remark to that person at the office, and I didn’t. Good for me.” I think rejoicing when we do positive actions or when we avoid negative ones is good. We should acknowledge that. That’s not being arrogant or selfish. It’s just acknowledging that. Or if we were generous or we did something kind, not get puffed up,” Oh I’m so wonderful.” But “Oh good, I was able to keep my motivation. This is good.” We encourage ourselves this way.

This makes for a very nice, rounded practice. I think this is a very good way to keep your Dharma practice in the context of having a family life and a work life and doing all the different things that you do.

Benefits of regular meditation

  • Meditation as respect for ourselves
  • Setting priorities and meaning in life

Daily practice 02 (download)

It’s very good to say, “Oh but I don’t have time-ma.” To which I say, “Baloney-ma.” Because we always have time. Have a daily meditation practice and to do it regularly. This is much more effective than meditating for three hours on one day and nothing the rest of the month. There are always 24 hours in a day. There are never 23 hours. It’s just what we choose to do with our 24 hours. Have you noticed that we always have time to eat? When you wake up in the morning, do you ever go out of the house without brushing your teeth? Without eating? We have our own little morning routine that we do. Every day. Include meditation in your morning routine, so then it’s just something you do as part of your morning. Just as you nourish your body eating breakfast, you nourish yourself, your mind, your heart by doing some meditation.

We meditate because we respect ourselves. We don’t have to push and force ourselves, “Oh, I should sit down and meditate.” But rather, when we see the benefits of meditation, and we want ourselves to be happy, then because we respect ourselves and we think we’re worthwhile, we make the time to do something that’s going to nourish us. If it means that you have to go to bed a half an hour earlier, do that. If it means you have to cut out a half an hour of TV–no big loss. If it means you can’t talk to your friends to get the extra half hour—you can’t gossip on the telephone, you have to cut out a half an hour of gossip or half an hour of listening to the news. That’s no big loss, is it? You think that you’re doing this for your own happiness. Does listening to the news bring you happiness? Does gossiping with your friends bring you happiness? Does watching TV bring you happiness? Look what we do–how we spend our time all day and ask yourself if what you spend your time doing makes you happy. We see that a lot of the things that we do habitually don’t bring us happiness at all. Why do them? I mean, who needs to go blah, blah, blah on the telephone for half an hour for no purpose? Who needs to read the newspaper? What, you don’t know what’s going on in the Olympics. I have no clue what happened in the Olympics. Do I look deprived and malnourished and miserable? You know, you live. I have no clue what’s happening with Wall Street–that there’s probably a traffic check. You can live without a lot of these things.

You know one thing that we’re also trying to do is set priorities in our life, so that we make sure we do the things that are really valuable to us and not just get swept away doing things that are meaningless. Which is easy to do if we don’t stop and think about what’s valuable.

I think a big chunk of setting up a regular meditation practice also involves this reflection about, “What am I doing in my life and what is really important to me? Am I living on automatic just doing one activity after the next because I think I need to do them or because somebody else wants me to do them or because I should do them in order to be successful, whatever successful means? Or am I really thinking about my life and thinking about what is meaningful and important and choosing what I do with wisdom and with compassion and letting go of all the stupid things that I so easily waste my time on?” Because I think if we really think deeply about our lives in that way and set our priorities, then we’re going to do what’s important, and our life is going to feel much more fulfilled. If we’re just living on automatic, then what happens?

I heard a story—I don’t think it’s true, but I like to think it is—of somebody who went to a town and happened to walk by the town cemetery, and on the tombstones, it had everybody’s name and how long they lived. John Jones lived four years and three months. Mrs. Lynn lived three years and six months. And somebody else lived two years and five months. And the person said, “Wow, everybody died very young here. Everybody just lived two, three, four years.” He found one town resident that was middle aged and said, “What’s going on? How come everybody dies young? Their lifespan is not so long.” And the town resident said, “Oh that’s not how long their body was alive. That’s how much they really lived their life.” That we might have a very, very long lifespan, but we only live our life, we are only consciously vibrant and present for our life, for how much of our life?

We want to be fully alive, don’t we, and make our time useful and have a meaningful life and not just space out and live on automatic? Because you can live 80 years that way but only really be alive for two of them. That’s a pity. That’s a tragedy. That’s a waste of human potential.

Coming back and saying to ourselves, “What’s important? What am I going to do in my life? What’s meaningful? Then do it. Who cares what anybody else thinks? Well, inside there’s this little voice that goes, “I care. I want everybody to approve of me. I want my family to think I’m good. I want to be rich so everybody will think I’m successful. I want to marry the right person and have everything that everybody else has because I want them all to think that I’m good.” There’s that voice inside us, isn’t there? Well, tell it to be quiet. I mean, really seriously because when we think of what’s important in our life, we have to do that. If we live our life in order to please other people, we’re not really pleasing them, we’re being selfish because we’re not really doing it with the motivation to make them happy. We’re doing it with the motivation to gain their approval. There’s a big difference between doing something with compassion because we care for somebody else and doing something to please somebody else because you want them to approve of you. The first one is compassionate, and it really cares about others, and the second one is self-oriented–wanting other people to like us and approve of us. We can waste our whole life that way.

We all have very unique human potential, very beautiful human potential when you think of it—we have the Buddha nature, which means that we have the possibility to develop an open, loving, compassionate heart towards everybody equally. We have the possibility to directly know the nature of reality. We have incredible human potential. But to waste that human potential just trying to live like you think you should or live to get a lot of money or live to prove yourself to somebody else, then we’re neglecting that beautiful human potential that we have.

I don’t think anybody ever got to their deathbed and looked back over their life and said, “I wasted my life. I should have read the newspaper more. I wasted my life. I should have worked overtime more. I wasted my life. I should have gossiped more.” Nobody gets to the end of their life and looks back with regret, saying they missed out. If we think of dying, what we look back on our life, the things we missed out on–what did we miss out on? On connecting with other people. On developing an open, caring heart for others. We missed out on forgiving–forgiving others, forgiving ourselves. We missed out opportunities to share with others and benefit them and really look at them in the eye with care and affection. We missed out on really using our human potential to develop ourselves internally.

I think we have to think deeply about what’s important in our life and then live according to what’s valuable. And no matter what you do, somebody’s not going to like it. Forget about trying to make everybody happy. It’s impossible. Absolutely impossible. Can you think of anybody in the world who everybody likes? No. There’s always somebody who criticizes everybody. Trying to live our life just so everybody will agree with us and like us and think that we’re successful and blah, blah, blah. Impossible. Much more realistic to try and become a Buddha.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.