A student writes:
Is there a balance to be achieved between practice and study? In fact is there a need to study at all?”
Lama Shenpen replies:
Yes, there is right balance to be achieved between practice and study. It is important to learn from a teacher and/or reading, what are the important points or principles involved in following the path to Awakening. Most people don’t have enough personal contact to pick all this up from the teacher and so they need to combine personal contact with home study. I have prepared the ‘Living the Awakened Heart’ training course with the intention of bringing out the main points and principles necessary for a proper approach to the practice.
All those points and principles can be pursued to greater and greater depths, There are various things that you might like to study in order to deepen and broaden your understanding but the Discovering the Heart of Buddhism course [the foundation of the Living the Awakened Heart Training] has the essential points.
So to achieve the right balance you need to take each point or principle and apply it in practice in your meditation and daily life awareness practice. That takes time and so you may find you study the same section over and over again before moving on. Alternatively you may find that you need to read on in order to get more deeply into the point you have just been studying. Each section gives a deeper perspective on the previous sections, until the last section which leads you naturally back into the first section at a much deeper level.
So there is no hard and fast rule about how much study you need to do to balance the meditation and daily life awareness practice. It is a matter of your checking to make sure that your understanding is deepening day by day as you apply what you have studied to your practice. If nothing is happening in the sense that you do not feel any inspiration or sense that the practice is going anywhere then that is the time to check out what is happening. I don’t mean that anything dramatic or even discernable in any concrete way needs to be going on, but there does need to be a general feeling that the practice is making sense and leading where you want to go.
I sometimes feel that I do not measure up to what I understand to be the Buddhist paradigm. I have all the fetters and negative aspects but very few of the desirable qualities. I feel I am not progressing. Is this unfair self-criticism?
We all have fetters and negative aspects, which is why we need to practise. We wouldn’t need to practise otherwise. The important quality that you need is to feel a real wish to follow the path to Awakening. You need to feel inspired by the whole idea and want to commit yourself to following it. At first though, you may find the commitment a bit difficult because you lack conviction. So you have to be able to keep going anyway until the conviction arises. That is when you can really commit yourself to the path and the practice. So the progress to look for is increasing conviction and commitment.
The Living the Awakened Heart Training is a structured, comprehensive, supported, distance learning programme in Buddhist meditation, reflection and insight. The training, which is open to all, brings the profound Dzogchen and Mahamudra teachings to a Western audience in an experiential, accessible way, through spiral learning. Find out more and how to join at www.ahs.org.uk/training
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