3 Buddhist Practices That Will Improve Your Life
The practice of Buddhism is full of rules and rituals that can be overwhelming to the average person. Remembering when to bow, how to sit, and where to go to the bathroom can be frustrating when all we want to do is ease our mental suffering. Thankfully, there are many dharma practices that translate easily into everyday life, and they don’t require years of practice to learn. Incorporating these gems into your daily routine will make life calmer, simpler, and more fulfilling.
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This is a Japanese word that is most often translated as mindfulness. However, in the context of Buddhism, it would be more accurate to call it loving attention. This practice is demonstrated in the way that Zen practitioners carry themselves during meditation sessions. Everything is done with a ceremony. The hands are held just-so when bowing. The incense is placed on the altar in a very specific way, and there is often an elaborate ritual for signaling the beginning and end of practice. The reason for all of this attention to detail is that Buddhism teaches that every moment is sacred. In fact, this present moment is the only thing that’s real! The past is a distant memory and the future is a dream.
So the here and now is treated as a rare and precious gift because it’s literally all we have. The practice of menmitsu trains us to appreciate how special this moment is by causing us to focus with rapt attention on whatever we happen to be doing at the time. However, you don’t need to be in a Zen monastery to practice menmitsu. Remember, every moment is sacred. And that includes the mundane ones in which we are going about our day at work or having dinner with friends.
Menmitsu isn’t about what we are doing, rather the focus is on how we are doing it. By giving loving attention to the minutiae of everyday life (driving, washing dishes, speaking with friends, etc.) you gain a greater appreciation for the specialness of everyday life. In this way, putting away the groceries takes on the same importance as attending the altar in a Zen center. And getting dressed for work is just as special as putting on bowing robes for meditation. By attending to regular life with menmitsu we can recognize the sacred beauty of life’s mundane events.
This is the word for effort or great zeal in Japanese Buddhism. Nothing in life gets better without hard work and dedication. Life itself is no exception to this rule. It’s common in conventional society for people to think that hard work should be reserved for only the most important things in life. We do calculations in our head, and we decide how much energy will be devoted to a given task based on the expected reward.
That being said, Shojin requires us to take a different approach. We don’t do a task in the hopes of getting a reward. Rather, we train ourselves to see the task as its own reward. In this way, we elevate ourselves by elevating the importance of our work and the energy that we put into it. An example of this can be seen in the practice of Shojin Ryori which requires Japanese monks to prepare vegetarian meals without the use of modern equipment. A delicious meal is the end result, but the process of creating that meal is where the real training is done.
The early morning visit to the market where vegetables are selected, the long hours spent chopping them by hand, and the meticulous process of balancing colors and flavor-profiles into a tasty, visually-appealing meal are where the true marrow of shojin are found. In this way, we can turn literally anything into part of our spiritual practice by doing it with a mindset of shojin. There is no such thing as busy work or killing time. Every task is important, because each one is an opportunity to practice the dharma.
Standing in line at the grocery story teaches us patience. Being stuck in traffic teaches us how to endure. And a friend who asks us for help is kindly letting us practice generosity. When we approach the world with a mentality of shojin we shift our mindset. And when we shift our mindset we simultaneously change our lives for the better.
A rough translation of intoku is, “good done in secret”. It epitomizes the Buddhist ideal that we should do good works without expectation of reward. This is empowering because a sad fact of life is that doing the right thing is no guarantee of a good outcome. When this happens it can be easy to think, “Why did this happen to me?” or “I don’t deserve this.”
But intoku teaches us that we don’t do good deeds in the hopes of a reward. Instead, we do them because the deed itself is the reward. The feeling that comes from helping someone in need is priceless. More importantly, it’s very easy to do. We can listen intently while someone talks about their day, compliment a friend on their outfit, or simply refill the coffee pot at work when it’s empty. This practice isn’t about doing something big and flashy. Instead, it’s about constantly being on the lookout for small things we can do to make life nicer for both ourselves and the people around us. In this way, we make the world warmer, and more welcoming for everyone.
Over the past 2,600 years, Buddhist teachers from countries all over the world have found ways to incorporate the dharma into daily life. To that end, the practices of menmitsu, shojin, and intoku represent three methods that have been proven to create positive change. By incorporating them into our daily lives we can make things better for all sentient beings.
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