My notes from the Fo Guang Shan Hsi Lai Temple Short-Term Monastic Retreat
Part 1: Practice, Practice and More Practice
The monastic view of practice is to characterize it as a solid, constant lifestyle, in which the monk (or nun, but I'll just use monk for convenience) strives to forever maintain his bodhi mind. It's as if the monk strives to move through all aspects of life while in zazen, while in samadhi.
One of the masters asked us if we know anyone who is sixty or seventy years old. Of course, most people know someone who's in their sixties or seventies. The master then asked us how many meals that person must have eaten in his or her life. I imagined the number must be in the high thousands. Then the master asked us, what if you were seventy years old and had eaten thousands and thousands of meals, and you couldn't remember even a single one of them? Not because of memory problems, but because every time you sat down to eat, your mind what somewhere else? What if you never paid any attention to what you were doing, you were kinda on auto-pilot, and as a result you couldn't remember any meals?
Have you ever sat down at work, only to realize that you don't remember your commute? "I know I was in bed, then the alarm went off, and here I am..."?
This is a matter of practice. It's a matter of becoming a CULTIVATOR of the bodhi mind, and then practicing that cultivation diligently, throughout your daily life.
But how many of us lay folks can practice like the monastics? Here are a few considerations:
1. Don't encumber yourself with unnecesary worry or guilt about your practice. Just practice. If you want roses in your garden, you plant rose bushes, and then make sure the conditions are right for them to grow. Lying awake at night, worrying about how big the roses will be, won't make it happen any faster.
2. If your practice wavers, get it back on track. It's that simple. It's very much like your meditation - when your concentration wanders, bring it back. Keep your cultivation happening in the here & now.
3. Beyond upholding the precepts, avoid whatever will become an obstruction. Excessive luxury is an obstruction to your practice, for example - whether you've taken a precept vow against it or not.
This is the most important message for a new preceptee. Follow your practice, cultivate the bodhi mind in all things, in everything you do, and do it diligently without obstruction. Physical discomfort is irrelevant. Language is irrelevant. Tradition is irrelevant. The time of day is irrelevant. What matters in this life is practice, because without it, one cannot eventually achieve Nirvana.