Yesterday I was reading my Kindle version of Lodro Rinzler’s book, Walk Like a Buddha. I was reading a section where a reader had asked Lodro how to deal with her Ex who insisted that she wasn’t a ‘real Buddhist’ because she didn’t attend a Buddhist Temple or sangha.
In his response to this question, he first argued for not using a label at all, stating that the Buddha never called himself a Buddhist. Instead, the Buddha referred to himself as ‘one who is awakened,’ After stating his overall opinion about labels, he then listed seven things that every follower of the Buddha should have in their lives.
I read these and thought about them and present them below as they pertain to Practical Buddhism.
7 Practical Buddhist Principles for Living an Awakened Life
1. Have a connection to a mindfulness-awareness practice
A connection to a mindfulness-awareness practice is essential for any Buddhist. It’s most common form is mindfulness meditation that I’ve described here and in my book. It’s hard to call ourselves Buddhists if we aren’t regularly working with our mind. After all, meditation is the only time in the day where we can train our mind to appropriately encounter the rest of the day. The whole idea behind meditation is that it helps us see the causes of our suffering and, by becoming aware of them, chart a course for ending it. If we aren’t practicing meditation, are we truly a Buddhist?
2. Seek further awakening and enlightenment
In my experience, awakening occurs when you realize that suffering, confusion, and operating on autopilot are all optional. I came to this realization after operating in a state of murky confusion about life, religion, and happiness for decades. Once I awoke to the reality that life didn’t have to be lived like I’d been told it should be, everything changed – my attitude, my outlook, my refusal to be a slave to my psychic and spiritual narrators. Seeking further awakening is what I do when I meditate when I engage in mindfulness check-ins (I use an Android app to sound a bell every two hours as a reminder to check in with my body and my mind), and when I read dharma books by authors I appreciate.
3. Learn something
I just mentioned reading dharma books in #2 above. This is a great way to expand your awareness and learn more about what it means to live the Buddhist lifestyle. In addition to Walk Like a Buddha, books I recommend are Buddhism Is Not What You Think, Meditation Now or Never, Buddhism Plain and Simple, Buddha Standard Time, The Miracle of Mindfulness, Making Space, and Buddhism Without Beliefs. I also subscribe to Youtube channels for Lodro Rinzler, Sakyong Mipham, and Pema Chodron. The Internet is literally your access to the world for dharma materials of all kinds.
4. Learn from fellow practitioners
Even if we don’t have a teacher from an established lineage of traditional Buddhism, we can still learn from other Buddhist practitioners. Dharma materials, podcasts, and meeting with other Buddhist practitioners are suggestions. I recently posted to Craigslist in my area offering participation in an informal discussion group over coffee for like-minded practitioners. I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to attend a Buddhist Temple where established rituals and traditions are in full observance. You may enjoy that kind of community and it you do, that’s great. We all need to find the community, online or off, that resonates with us and allows us to learn from the experience of others.
5. Try not to cause harm
I abhor violence. It’s destructive to everything it encounters. But intentional violence isn’t the only way we cause harm. We cause harm to our environment, to our bodies, to our relationships, and to our belongings. Doing harm can be insidious and creeps into our lives in the form of embarrassing others unintentionally, casually bypassing an object on the sidewalk without removing it thereby endangering others who might pass by, or purposely not letting that other car into your lane on the roadway. When we look for ways we are doing harm we can also see how we can stop engaging in it. The awareness of how we cause harm is often a fruit of living an awakened life.
6. Do some good for the world
“The Buddha could have sat under the bodhi tree content to believe that none of us schmucks would really be able to understand his teachings, Instead he got up and went about trying to lead everyone he encountered toward awakening.”
Just as the Buddha felt led to positively impact the world by teaching the dharma, so should we do some good for the world around us. The Buddha probably didn’t envision the worldwide impact of his teachings, but instead focused on those he encountered in his daily life. Similarly, I feel the need to write about what I learn, think and do here on this site as it pertains to the dharma practice. Perhaps, if the Buddha lived in our time, he’d be a writer and teacher online, hosting videos, writing books, appearing on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, etc., all in order to do some good for the world. That’s actually kind of funny, but if you think about it, that’s what the Buddha did…in his time and in his way.
In addition to writing, recycling waste that would otherwise contaminate landfills and spoil our environment is a personal and important mission for me. I recycle more by volume than I place in a trash can. It comprises another way I can do some good for the world. Even a little effort in this regard can make a huge difference and I urge you to consider taking up this cause even if your waste provider doesn’t support it. It’s easy to do some good for the world when you make up your mind to take action.
7. Consider meditation practice a practice for life
“The Buddhist path is one of change through working with your own mind and heart.” ~Lodro Rinzler
Meditation is the foundation upon which your Buddhist lifestyle rests. If your commitment to meditation isn’t a practice for life, what it is? A hobby? One of the most effective ways to help yourself in this regard is to set up a primary location in your home where you meditate. In my bedroom, I have a zabuton (meditation mat) with a half-moon shaped zafu (meditation cushion) that rests on it. This area has become a visual reminder each time I go into my bedroom that my meditation mat and cushion are waiting for me. It reminds me of my commitment to meditation as a daily practice.
Thich Nhat Hahn, in his book, Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice, suggests we make an altar in our home. The altar isn’t for worshipping and praying, but to remind us of the sacred nature of, and personal commitment to, meditation and the heart-mind work that lays before us.
So, are you a Practical Buddhist?
Actually, it doesn’t matter what you are or what you call yourself. Going back to the beginning of this post, I said that Lodro called into question the whole idea of a Buddhist label. And he’s right, there is no label necessary. In reality, there is no list of requirements or precepts to keep in Practical Buddhism.
I know that you have a Buddha nature inside whether or not you realize it. I honor your life and your commitment to mediation, mindfulness and compassionate kindness.