So if you want to free yourself from suffering, which means freeing yourself from your ego-mind so that you can return home to the purity and peace of your true Buddha nature, meditation is an essential part of the process.
And given the power of the ego-mind, its deeply rooted existence in our being, and the challenges it brings every day to staying on our spiritual path rather than falling off, it is critically important to every day reconfirm the intent of our spiritual practice, to see things as they really are, and go deep within as best we can through the process of formal meditation.
Only through the daily process of watering our spiritual roots and thereby refreshing our faith do we have the ability, no even the chance, of being mindful throughout the day and standing up to the efforts of our ego-mind to pull us into its vortex. Even then it is no easy matter.
For some reason, I find that in many temples and other spiritual settings, the importance of daily meditation is not stressed. The only reason why I assume this is the case is that so many people find it difficult or inconvenient to meditate daily and so it isn’t pushed. Just like most aspects of the teaching are presented but not pushed. Teachers don’t want people to be discouraged from their practice and so they back off challenging them.
However, given the difficulty of the task before us when we choose to walk the path of Buddhism, the old 12-step saying, “half measures avail us nothing,” I think applies. In the Zen tradition that is my background, we were taught the importance of discipline and commitment. You are attempting to change the paradigms of your life, your habit- energies that have developed over a lifetime; no easy matter. And so we were pushed; we were challenged. I believe that is the only way to make real progress.
In so saying, it is important to remember that there is no such thing as “failure” in the Buddhist vocabulary. The importance is having the Right intent. All one can do is the best one can. And continue trying.
I am convinced that if teachers have faith in the ability of sangha members to walk the path, and show their faith through their teaching and compassion, then the sangha members will come to feel that faith in themselves.
Actually, compared to most other aspects of walking the path, daily meditation is perhaps the easiest to incorporate into your life (in its basic form, not its quality) and most subject to the control of the practitioner. It is one thing to say that every morning after you awake you are going to sit for 20 minutes to meditate regardless where you are or what is going on in your life, and quite another to say that you will not allow anger and fear, for example, to take hold of you.
As anyone reading my posts knows, I have certainly had, and continue to have (although to a far lesser extent), my challenges walking the path and not being subverted by my ego-mind. Yet I have had no problem whatsoever keeping to my commitment to meditate every day and have not missed a day no matter where I’ve been or what’s been going on in my life for 20+ years. That has been key to the deepening of my practice and my spiritual growth.
And so I offer myself as an example of what an ordinary human being, with a pretty messy life history and all the emotional pulls and cravings that go with it, can do if one believes in the Buddha dharma, is committed, and disciplined. But one must be patient.
Changing from a creature of our culture to a committed Buddhist is not an overnight thing. You will experience changes, more peace and happiness, even in the beginning. You will have moments where you experience what it could be like 24/7. But your ego-mind is powerful. Weaning yourself away from your emotions and cravings and strengthening your ties to your heart and true Buddha nature will take time.
Take heart. Keep the faith. And be disciplined in your practice.