So as you can see down at the footer, I’ve been reading Thanissaro Bikkhu’s The Wings to Awakening for some time now, and the main theme I’m getting is that everything the Buddha taught comes down to a process of practice (or maybe a practice of process?) as well as a system of developing skills. It isn’t as simple as getting totally blissed out on some amateur enlightenment experience. And it isn’t so difficult that it’s completely untouchable and mystical. But it can be overwhelming, and at times seem paradoxical.
For instance, take karma. The conventional wisdom says that we need to develop good karma. And this is true. And isn’t. Because ultimately the goal is to develop the 4th type of karma, that which leads to the end of karma.
And what is kamma that is neither dark nor bright with neither dark nor bright result, leading to the ending of kamma? The intention right there to abandon this kamma that is dark with dark result, the intention right there to abandon this kamma that is bright with bright result, the intention right there to abandon this kamma that is dark & bright with dark & bright result. This is called kamma that is neither dark nor bright with neither dark nor bright result, leading to the ending of kamma.
It is in a virtuous life that we lay down the foundation for practice we construct that will aid us in our goal of unbinding. But that isn’t really enough either. Because we need to have right view and right mindfulness and cultivate all the factors of the Noble Eightfold Path.
Of course, it isn’t that simple. Developing “right view” alone could take years, decades, lifetimes.
This path at times can seem complicated, especially when one tries to look at the entire path and system all at once. It is easy to get lost in the old sutras, or even in the modern commentary of them. There is a whole site devoted to the lists of lists in Buddhism, and the list is quite extensive.
This is where it helps to see the dharma as a practice, and viewing the dharma as a process really comes in. First, go to the triple gem. Actualize the precepts. Focus on the breath. Then focus on the body without reference to the feelings on the body that come up… etc…
One step at a time. One breathe at a time. We all know that the bucket fills one drop at a time. But in Buddhism we’re trying to empty that bucket. Sometimes we forget that it will empty the same way it filled up. At times we’ll need to use a thimble to gently scoop tiny drops out; other times we’ll need a ladle to splash things around a bit. There are many skills to develop on the path that we can layer onto our practice that all help us to empty that bucket and reach nirvana.
There is no way to do this all at once. There is no way to do it in a week, a month, a year. You can’t jump right to the 4th type of karma. You have to start with the basics, and know your limitations. It is a process and it takes time. The dharma was laid out in a system of steps to take to finally reach ultimate unbinding, nirvana. Use the steps to focus on where your feet plant firmly on the ground and with one eye look a few feet ahead. In this way the great process will unravel itself and reveal a ground upon which you can forge your path.
So this is where my practice is. I view it knowing that probably no great awakening will happen this month or year. My practice is a process that will evolve, in that I have faith. To see it in this way feels liberating. For now I will stretch, and sit with my breath, and keep an eye out for the ox. I will sit for 20 minutes at a time. Next year, it will look different, more developed (hopefully!). In 20 years, it won’t resemble anything that I’m doing now. It’s hard work and the results aren’t evident right away. This is where faith comes in. Faith that what I’m doing today will lead to a better practice tomorrow. This is the process.