A practice I can call my own

The Backside of Mt. Baker as seen from Highway 9 near Van Zandt, WA

So I’m currently shaping a daily routine for practice. As you may or may not know, I used to do the whole SGI thing, but left that behind. Now, I am attempting to set up something meaningful and unique that also fits within the scope of the rest of my life. I’ve been trying this out for the past few days (I missed a couple due to time issues coupled with exhaustion) and here is what I have so far:

First, a little stretch. I am probably the least flexible human being on this planet. Even thinking about sitting in full-lotus caused my groin to scream. My hips, legs, back are all in need of a good workout. I found this little routine on Tricycle blog that is supposed to help work/stretch the muscles needed to sit full-lotus. So I start with this. I try to hold each posture (an extremely modified version of each one) for 1 minute, then move on to the next. Next week, i’ll up it to 2 minutes, the week after that, 3 minutes. I’ll try to hold each one for 3 minutes for a while, and see where that takes me.

I’m thinking about adding in a bit of exercise here. Sit-ups, push-ups, yoga, getting on my elliptical. Something, but I don’t know what yet. I just know that my body is out of shape, and I need to do something about it. Sitting for 8+ hours a day at work is taking a toll on my body, and it needs to end.

Next, I chant. I still have all my materials from SGI, so I just chant a couple of chapters of the Lotus Sutra, and then dive into some diamoku. Now, when genuine Nichiren practitioners chant, there is meaning and purpose behind it. For me, I’m trying to use it as simply a meditative tool. Also I still struggle with the Japanese, so that adds a little humility to my practice. Maybe in the future I’ll try chanting something else. We’ll see.

At the end of chanting diamoku, SGI members typically offer 3 prayers that have been written down. Not one of them ever really spoke to me. They all have to deal with the organization and beliefs held within Nichiren Buddhism. Usually I would just try to clear my mind, or offer a prayer for the well-being of my family during that time. I decided that this needed a more personal approach, and so the other night I wrote out the following two “prayers” that I think I will use from now on:

I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.
I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.
I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.
All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

All evil karma ever created by me since of old
On account of my beginningless greed, anger, and ignorance,
Born of my conduct, speech and thought,
Now I atone for it all.

The first one is the Five Remembrances. They are a reminder that life is short, it is not to be wasted. They are a reminder that life is temporary and frail. They are a reminder that we must love and love now, for there may not be a tomorrow. They are a reminder that our destructive acts in this life have profound consequences in this life. They are a reminder that compassionate acts in this life have profound consequences in this life.

The second one is The Gatha of Atonement, something the Zennies apparently recite frequently. I first saw it on John’s blog, and thought then how I would like to use this in some way. It kind of speaks for itself I think. It is a way to reflect on how much strife I’ve caused in my life. Upon examination, I can come to see how unskillful that behavior was, and in the future abandon such behavior. And sometimes it helps to say I’m sorry, even if no one is listening.

If anyone has a suggestion for a third one, I’m all ears.

Next, I meditate. I’ve just been doing 10 minutes at a time. Nothing too grandiose. Just spending some time connecting with my breath, which proves to be quite a challenge. I can usually make it until 3 breaths before my mind kicks in with all kinds of nonsense.

At some point in the day, I study. Even if it is just 15 minutes. Right now I’m working my way through The Wings to Awakening (check the footer).

This is how my practice looks right here, right now.

It is not perfect. It doesn’t include a real life sangha. It doesn’t include a real life teacher. Maybe at some point in the future I’ll live closer to a dharma center, and those will be both possible and practical.

This is my practice. I think it will work for me for now. It is organic, home-grown, and provides me with goals and challenges. I know I will fail and stumble along the way, but I believe that if I can stick to a routine like this, I can keep picking myself up when I fall down.




Filed under Buddhism, Personal

15 responses to “A practice I can call my own

  1. zenfant

    super post! i’m on day 37 of 100 of my 100 days of sitting and it was with the same goal as you…to develop and be serious about my personal practice. as i started writing this comment i had too many thoughts crowd in so i’ll probably write a post about it instead. my basic thought tho, from my personal experience of having made a commitment to practice, is that it will develop organically for you and that’s the way it should be…i’ll try and put a post together soon and expound on what i’m thinking. i’ve also got some ideas for your third prayer /evil grin

  2. Nice post! I’ve been in the same place, trying to create a stable and routine practice.

    Hmmmm…as for a third thing, I don’t know. I’d say give koans a try, but you really need a teacher for that. Perhaps just sit. Us Zennies are good at being nothing. 🙂

  3. Andy

    If the Japanese chanting bothers you you might try the Heart Sutra in English. You could also do the refuges in Pali those are kinda neat and very melodic once you get the pronounciation down. Sesshins usually close the day with the refuges or at least they do here.

    • It causes me to stumble, which is something I appreciate. The Japanese is something odd and foreign to me, which forces me to concentrate and focus my efforts. So for now, I’ll take the hard road and continue stumbling. Once I get it down, I might switch things up. Or maybe I’ll throw it out next week if I find something more meaningful to me. I’ll take a look at the refuges in Pali though.

  4. I was going to suggest the Heart Sutra too, but in Japanese. It’s almost all consonants, so it’s a bit easier than the Lotus Sutra. And shorter.

    Maybe you don’t need a third thing. Sometimes keeping it simple is best. My practice most days is simply meditation and the Heart Sutra, either in Japanese or in English or sometimes I do both. Other days I might throw in the Refuges in Pali or the Four Bodhisattva Vows in Japanese. I only do one prayer, although I don’t really think of it as a prayer, and sometimes silently, sometimes aloud:

    For as long as space remains,
    For as long as sentient beings remain,
    Until then, may I too remain
    to dispel the miseries of the world.

    • “prayer” has a funny connotation here. I have a post coming on prayer in Buddhism soon. I’ll take a look at the heart sutra in Japanese though.

      And while I don’t need a third thing, I like the number 3. 🙂

  5. I used those makkoho exercises every day for a period of three years, including a time when I was in a demanding theatre conservatory program AND living at Providence Zen Center. Late hours at the theatre and then waking up at 4:30 to get ready for morning practice. The exercises are very helpful, but do take it easy and slow where you are tight. It’s a good opportunity to practice the patience paramita!

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  7. Check this out.


    I love this chant book my daily chants and liturgy closely follow it. A personal favorite (but difficult to chant) is the “Identity of Relative and Absolute” on page 10 and Hakuin’s “Song of Zazen” on page 50.

    “Affirming Faith in Mind” is a group chant that we do on special sessions with one side of the group chanting at the other side. It is actually pretty cool to experience with a big group.

    I think your practice is wonderful. Whenever we allow practice to be fluid and changing we realize the impermanence of it. A lesson in itself. This point in my life, I am doing the same thing. Trying to fit a static practice into flowing life is of limited use. I create my routine and as long as it works, I keep it going but as babies grow, jobs change and people die, it has to change and evolve into other things.


  8. I forgot to mention. For the study bit of your practice: go to Access to Insight and hit the “Random Sutta” option. Read the sutta and think about it. Wonderful study for the home practitioner.

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