This time, I wanted to focus on the more practical side of it, i.e. the amount of time one spends on Buddhist activities and what exactly correct practice consists of.
I will use an anecdote as a starting point.
The other day at Discussion meeting, my Men's leader said that years ago a senior leader gave him the following advice:
You should try every day to chant for twenty minutes, study for twenty minutes and make three people happy.This already gives us the three major tenets of correct practice: chanting, study and shakubuku.
Obviously, it would be great to be able to dedicate ourselves to Buddhist activities.
Chanting a couple of hours every day, going to meetings, studying for a few hours, homevisiting people or calling them, going to the centre to chant, etc.
That would be awesome.
As it happens, life is also made of many other things, like work, study and family commitments to name a few.
So, to go back to the anecdote, what this piece of guidance impressed upon me is the importance of consistent, regular practice. I don't think the specific numbers have much importance, as long as I choose a quantity and stick to it.
For some people, five minutes of daimoku a day are already a great victory. For others anything less than an hour is unthinkable. Same goes for study and for sharing the practice, not to mention going to meetings.
As I mentioned in a couple of posts already, feeling guilty because one doesn't perceive one's practice to be "correct" has no place in our Buddhism, especially because there is no twue way of practising.
Our daily practice is shaped by our necessities and responsibilities, and it mutates and grows as our faith grows. At my first course, during the mini discussion meetings, a guy mentioned the fact that he didn't have a lot of time to chant during the day, due to his extremely high profile job. However, whenever he sat in front of the Gohonzon, he determined to make the minutes he could do count, and to really chant like a soldier of Kosen Rufu. His spirit made the little amount he could do enough to keep his life state positive during the day.
When I say consistent practice is important, I don't mean we should make our practice a dry routine, or that we should feel guilty if one day we can't carry on what we normally do, because that would make it only "a painful austerity". It's important to find the joy to throw ourselves into our daily practice and accept that sometimes we can't do everything we wanted to do.
I recently started a more rigorous daily regime, where I wake up at 4.50 every morning to chant half an hour, then I challenge my fundamental laziness by chanting another half hour when I come back home from school. I would like to gradually wake up even earlier and chant an hour in the morning.
I took this decision not because I think this is the "correct" way of practising, but because there are some things that I want to change in my life, and years of practice teach me that if I want my life to move forward I have to challenge myself with the thing I find least appealing.
I love studying, I love going to meetings, I adore doing lilac and I'm literally addicted to supporting other people. So what's left? Chanting and doing shakubuku.
I've always found doing a lot of daimoku an absolute chore, and I find it very hard to do shakubuku. I don't have any problems in talking about the practice, but I feel really shy when it comes to actually support people to start chanting. Part of my problem is that I'm a fukushi. There was never anything else than Buddhism in my life, I didn't go through the process of discovering this Buddhism and creating the incredible cause of choosing it. It chose me, in a way. So I have no idea of what goes through someone's mind when they challenge their entire system of beliefs and choose another, and I sure as hell don't think I'm good enough to create that challenge in the first place.
However, to quote a wonderful piece of guidance someone once received, I am a votary of the Lotus Sutra, how DARE I doubt myself?
So I decided to challenge these two areas of my life in order to open my heart and finally be able to fall in love again, after past experiences left me with what felt like a broken, blackened and shrivelled excuse of a heart.
The side effects of this new daily practice I designed for myself are many and wondrous. Mainly:
1. I am really, really starting to enjoy chanting in front of my Gohonzon.
2. I am seriously feeling my heart opening.
3. I am full of energy, positive and happy.
4. I am exactly the teacher I want to be, and I haven't had an actual 'bad' lesson since term started.
However, the other day I didn't get enough sleep, and as a result I had vertigo all day. At the end of the day (which was still positive, full of nice comments from pupils and productive) I was so exhausted by the sense of nausea and lack of balance that I had an emotional reaction and I burst into tears and loud sobbing. A couple of colleagues were very nice and comforted me.
I was faced with two choices:
1. Skip the Chapter planning meeting I had that night, go home and have an early night so I could wake up at 4.50 for my daimoku.
2. Go to the Chapter meeting, which meant I couldn't have an early night, set a later alarm and only do ten minutes daimoku in the morning.
It was a difficult choice. I take my District responsibility very seriously, and considering I don't have kids nor work nights I am often the only Young Woman leader that can attend the planning meeting. That said, I didn't want to face the day without my 30 minutes daimoku.
Then I realised two things:
1. I simply could not do both things. I had to take care of my health.
2. There was no point in skipping the meeting, considering I could always chant later.
So I went to the meeting, got back home and set a later alarm. I did my 10 minutes in front of my Gohonzon and stole another 20 on the train. Guess what? I had a great day, most importantly, I had no vertigo.
Our daily practice is not there to limit us, exhaust us and make us feel guilty. It's a daily discipline of renewing daily our vow to become absolutely happy.
In my opinion the best daily practice is one that includes the main tenets (chanting, studying and making people happy), to some degree of which we are the absolute judge, that is consistent, organic to our day and daily commitments and still a little bit challenging. Just a little bit. Baby steps.
You find it hard to chant a lot? Challenge yourself to do even just those extra five minutes.
You dislike going to meetings and feel you don't have enough time for yourself? Determine you will attend one meeting a month. Maybe a different one every month, until you find your dimension in your district.
You don't feel confident when talking to others about Buddhism? Make a point (this is what I do), to smile warmly to everyone you see during the day. Smile until they smile back, make sure you gave them a little bit of happiness, and then when someone asks you how can you always be so happy, mention chanting.
You get frustrated with studying and consider it a painful chore? Decide on a minimum daily amount (i.e. half a page) and read it on the train/bus/in the toilet. (Human and New Human Revolution are really good for this, because they are divided into really short chapters).
Just find your daily balance, however little you might feel it is, and stick to it. Find the area you want to challenge, however small you feel it is, and challenge it every day. The results will be amazing.
You'll see if I'm wrong.