You will be able to listen to many of Geshe Tashi’s teachings on the Talking Buddhism website for free, please visit: this site
Here we include a sample of one of the teachings he gave in London as part of his regular public teaching programme. It is not a part of The Foundation of Buddhist Thought course. It is offered here as a way to introduce you to Geshe Tashi. We hope it will be of benefit to you and countless others.
What is Daily Practice?
Why we need a daily practice?
In order to have an effective daily practice first of all we need to know why we should have one. What is the purpose of a daily practice?
In my own experience I do many things, I participate in many events and in the majority of cases I have not thought through very thoroughly why I am doing these things: “What am I looking for in participating in this event?” Because of this lack of thorough understanding – that failure to really ask myself the question “why am I doing this?” – the benefits of participating in such events are limited. Although the teachings from His Holiness the Dalai Lama or other great masters are really amazing – very profound, very precise – from my side the intention is not clear. Why am I there with the other monks? In part it is a social occasion and I may think I will go along with the other monks to these teachings. What I am saying is that I am not really digging deep down in my heart searching, looking inside to understand what am I looking for.
Because of a lack of that kind of thorough analysis within myself the benefits of receiving the teachings are limited. That is something that we need to consider in relation to a daily practice. You might well believe it is good to do a daily practice but you might not know why it is.
So, why do we need a daily practice? What can a daily practice do for us? If we do not have a daily practice what are the things that we will miss from our daily lives; if we do have a daily practice what are the things that we will gain? These are important questions that need to be addressed. If we have a clear idea of why we need to set up a routine of meditation and practice, then we will not be wasting our time and we will get the most from the experience.
I do not see daily practice as some ritual of meditation, recitation and prostrations. These are things to facilitate our daily practice but they are not daily practice in their own right. Real daily practice is engaging in activities such as helping other people, having a good heart in the community. I would like to differentiate between the practice and the tools that aid that practice. I am not saying recitations, meditation and making prayers are not spiritual practice, they are. But I would count these as supporters of our real daily practice which are the actual actions we do in the home, in the community, in public or individually – activities done with a good heart and love and caring; actions which are committed out of that mind. If we manage to do that then that is what I would count as real practice.
The main practice is how we act and how we behave and what state of mind we have during our daily lives – working in an office or looking after children. Our Buddhist “practice” helps us with the real practice of have a good state of mind and good behaviour.
We are all looking for ways to increase our happiness and reduce our suffering. Of course external things – money, fame, friends, environment – can help increase happiness and reduce our difficulties but they are very limited. The wise way is to search for an internal solution. External solutions are not that trustworthy as they can change at any time. If we only rely on external things to reduce our suffering then there is no guarantee we will be much happier, but if we do it by training our minds through reducing attachment and those emotions then that is a very good way to pursue things.
There is nothing wrong for a Buddhist practitioner to be searching for happiness. Some people think that as a Buddhist you should always be thinking about suffering! If you look at the Buddha’s teachings the main point is to reduce suffering and find happiness. The right way to go about things is to acknowledge this and build up confidence in trying to achieve this by developing internally through loving, caring altruistic attitudes. This will definitely bring happiness. We won’t necessarily become richer or more famous but in our minds we will definitely feel more contented and relaxed and experience joy inside which is real happiness. Training the mind is reducing disturbing thoughts on the one hand and giving support to positive states of mind on the other.
This is the main practice, but here I will be discussing these tools – the meditation, recitations etc. – but I would like you to always remember these are the supports of our daily practice, not the practice itself. It is very possible that someone can do daily recitations but somehow their meditations remain separate from their daily activities and states of mind. In that case the daily practice just becomes another Samsaric “thing”. It becomes just another possession such as a new computer.
For me it is very important that when we discuss doing such practices these are seen as ‘supports’ of our real daily practice which is what we do in our everyday life. Not that they are seen merely as an extra possession: “As well as my computer and a new car I have such-and-such a practice.” If our everyday mind remains completely separate from these practices then these are not a spiritual practice.
So what is daily practice? Mainly I consider daily practice to be a good heart and a good mind – to have a caring mind and heart and therefore commit actions because of them. To help us have this heart and mind we need supportive activities such as meditation and recitation.
It is vital to have a daily practice (and here I am referring to those ‘supports’) as they will help us turn our mind and actions in that direction, to lead them towards the spiritual path. Therefore, even if it is a short one it is good to have a daily practice. We need to learn good habits and that will only happen by repeating things again and again and again. Only then will our good actions become something natural.
For example, even reciting the four lines of the refuge prayer contains a very rich meaning. Reciting those lines on a daily basis will lead to learning a good habit, therefore it is good to have a daily practice. If you have been given a daily commitment by a lama then that is up to you, but for people who do not have commitments when I say a “daily practice” do not take that as a commitment. Actually the word ‘commitment’ doesn’t really have a very positive connotation. I would say take it as a daily hobby. Do it as your hobby! Make the things that you enjoy doing your daily practice. If you make your daily practice enjoyable you will want to do it on every day. It is important, therefore, to do something that you want to do. If you have to push yourself then it will be hard to get benefits from it.
It’s natural, isn’t it? It is very much up to us how we see things. If we see a daily practice as something that we want to do then we will look forward to it. If we see it as something that has been forced upon us – for example, because of fear of the future – then we will not look forward to doing it. I often half-jokingly talk about those people who play golf. On a cold winter early morning they go willingly from their beds in the dark, carrying their heavy bags because definitely they enjoy it! During the week they look forward to it no matter how cold and wet it is, because they enjoy it. And that is the point, our minds are important.
It is good to have a place in your home for your practice which is clean and tidy. I know that some of you cannot have a very spacious, relaxed room but wherever the place, however small, make it tidy and clean, somewhere where your mind feels relaxed. That is the first step.
How can we make our room tidy? I know I have a problem with this! How can we do it in such a way that it is not just an ordinary action? In Buddhism there is a strong tradition taught by many great masters to see cleaning things (such as our room, our dishes, our environment) as cleaning our delusions, cleaning our minds. Although physically we are cleaning objects, it is very useful to think, “I am cleaning this external dirt but at the same time I am cleaning my mind which is full of attachment, anger, jealousy.”
It is particularly helpful when we are experiencing a specifically unhealthy emotion such as attachment or anger. While we are suffering strong attachment we can think “At the same time as I am cleaning away this dirt I am cleaning away this attachment which is causing me such pain. In the same way as the dust is making these objects dirty similarly my attachment is making me unhappy and internally ugly. Therefore I am cleaning my mind at the same time”. There are many stories of practitioners whose entire practice is cleaning the rooms of the Sangha and who have achieved amazing results doing it. In this way you can transform these mundane activities into purifying activities. Purification is not only about reciting mantras – if we constantly think that this attachment, this anger, this jealousy is something that needs to be cleaned away in this way, all these activities can be a process of purification.
Secondly – and again this is not compulsory – if you are a committed Buddhist and as long as your partner or family have no objection, it is good to have some sort of representative of the Buddha: an image or a photo. Again, it is very helpful to our mind. Sometimes when I visit museums and I look at abstract art, because I am not good at interpreting these things and do not know the significance of this art, I wonder what sort of impression this art will leave on my mind. I have no doubt, however, that if I look at an image of a Buddha my mind will immediately be drawn back. Even if a few moments ago my mind was everywhere as soon as I see this image my mind is drawn back. Just saying the word “Buddha”, as a Buddhist can have an amazing effect to awaken the mind.
I know that some of you have difficulties because your partners or friends are not involved in Buddhist practice and having an image could cause problems. But if you do not have those problems then even if it is in your bedroom you can have a small Buddha image. It will help. Our sight is very powerful. What we see during the day can very often influence our dreams at night. Therefore what we see during the day does leave imprints on our minds. If that is the case then seeing a Buddha’s image on a daily basis is amazing. Also having an image of the Buddha in front of us when we meditate is good, even though the main point is our mind. The purpose is to make our mind more positive and less negative, and different things will help us do that. It can be very helpful to have an image. Particularly for those who feel lonely in their homes I think having Buddha’s image will help – something is there with you. If your mind says this is the Buddha’s image, an image of a fully enlightened person, then I think this can help combat loneliness.
If you are a beginner just one Buddha image – a small nice painting or postcard – is enough. Sometimes having a big collection is an obstacle, you have more attachment instead of reducing it! You do not need more than that because one image can represent all of the Buddha’s qualities. It is not wrong to have lots, but if you do have lots already it is good to arrange them nicely and tidily. And however much you have you should place the Buddha image at the centre. Whatever else you have right at the centre put the Buddha’s image – the historical Buddha. He is the founder of these teachings and the entire focus should be on him.
Thirdly, if you can and again this is optional, have a small offering. Some flowers or fruit or something you feel to make a gift. Not necessarily elaborate or traditional but something that you feel is an offering, that from the bottom of your heart you want to offer to that representative. It is not decoration – offering is different from decoration.
If you buy delicious cake then after the offering obviously the Buddha image cannot eat it so you should eat it yourself! The first thing is that when you buy it you should not think “I will offer that and then I will eat it!” But you should buy it with the full intention that you want to make an offering, but at the end of the day you can take it and have it.
You will need a cushion to sit on. It does not necessarily have to be a traditional meditation cushion – it could be a pillow from the bed. Ideally it shouldn’t be too soft, it should be a little bit hard. A chair is also okay, but not something comfortable like a sofa because after a few minutes you will fall asleep!
Your clothes should be loose and light, loose to help with the breathing and with sitting cross-legged and light so you don’t feel too heavy. Monk’s and nun’s clothes are very convenient as you can adjust them very easily. The point is not to wear clothes which are too hot as it immediately makes your mind dull and the more you take your mind into meditation the more your body will warm up. If you meditate on a daily basis then your clothes are important.
Sit as comfortably as possible with crossed legs but the most important thing is your back being straight and feeling relaxed within the posture. Your entire body should be relaxed but there needs to be a straightness to your back, although the muscles should always be relaxed. This is very important when you are doing meditation. Particularly as a beginner spend a couple of months concentrating on just getting that body posture right. Try to make yourself feel comfortable and this process will help your mind. In the long term it will help if you spend months trying to get this right.
After that spend however many minutes left meditating on loving kindness, developing a strong feeling of closeness towards all sentient beings. Although it is very difficult to develop a close feeling to people who have caused you great suffering, if your heart is truly searching for a spiritual path then it is good to spend time and energy doing this. At the end of the day even if you do not get a dramatic result you will not feel any regret. If your heart is really in Buddhism then it is good to spend time and energy trying to make sense of the teachings and see how they can really practically help with your difficulties.
In our morning meditation it is good to spend the last few minutes meditating on loving kindness and from that developing a strong feeling of wanting to help others with their short-term and long-term needs. Their short-term needs are whatever difficulties they are facing now whereas their long-term need, naturally, is to realise enlightenment.
Then just before the end I would recommend you do a short dedication such His Holiness the Dalai Lama‘ favourite one from the Bodhisattvacharyavatara:
As long as space endures
As long as sentient beings remain,
So may I too remain ?
And dispel the miseries of the world.
Say that and dedicate all that you have done to that. “Whatever I have done so far in the meditation I will dedicate in that way”. That is very good way to end the practice. On the day that we do that there will mentally be a greater sense of peace – we ourselves will have a sense of relaxation and people around us will sense that. This is so important.
I hope that this all makes sense! It is a very basic daily practice for beginners and as such I have not included many recitations. Perhaps in a past life I have committed very negative karma towards recitations because I am not good at encouraging people to recite mantras! Of course it is good to recite Shakyamuni Buddha’s mantra or Tara’s mantra but in the early stages I think it is important to do a simple practice which makes sense for you. If you add in more the practice can become messy. Do a practice which immediately gives you and others benefit, then people living with you will notice a positive difference. That is really what following a spiritual path is about. As I said at the beginning, our real daily practice is engaging in activities such as helping other people and having a good heart in the community. What we’ve talked about here is just the tools.