|So we have this basic nature which we are trying to gain access to. We have this suffering that we are trying to eliminate. We are trying to become the masters of our world and obtain sustainable peace and happiness. We may also be inclined to be able to help others and share this experience with others.
A great deal of our suffering is the result of not being able to view the world from the point of view of this basic nature. The result is that our view is incomplete. Because of this incomplete view, we make mistakes in how our world appears to us. This mistaken appearance leads us to create the causes of suffering through our mistaken reactions to this mistaken perception.
This mistaken appearance is why things that are impermanent appear permanent to us, why things that contain the potential for suffering appear pleasant, why things appear to be independent when they actually depend on a whole series of causes and conditions for their very existence. It is also why we get the impression of some sort of fixed, separate entity underlying all of these things.
These appearances are why we end up full of longing and attachment, fear and frustration, and doubt and confusion. When we act based on these feelings then we reinforce and strengthen the suffering conditions and circumstances in our world.
So our minds are a combination of this basic nature and our temporary nature that arises from it. Our basic nature is what gives us our underlying wisdom and intelligence. Through understanding our temporary nature from the point of view of our basic nature, we develop skillfulness. Therefore our goal becomes to work towards experiencing our basic nature and developing this skilfullness in expressing our temporary nature.
In order to completely experience our basic nature, we need to work through 5 stages of practice.The Accumulation Stage
Before we can experience the Peace and Joy of our Buddha Nature, we need to learn where to look for it and how to look for it. Developing this understanding and undergoing this training is part of the accumulation stage.
Here we learn the techniques we need to know in order to search for our Buddha Nature and we learn about what we need to do to remove the dirt that’s covering over this basic nature of ours.
This means training ourselves to replace our incomplete view of the world with a more complete view. It means replacing harmful reactions and emotional disturbances with beneficial ones.The Preparation Stage
Once we’ve cleaned away the majority of the mud of our harmful reactions and mistaken views, we can begin to look for the hidden gem of our Buddha Nature.
At this point we learn about how to look for our true self and we begin the process of looking for our true self in all of the places where we have been told that it exists. In the process, we uncover our mistaken sense of self, and begin to recognize the true nature of our self and uncover our Buddha Nature.The Insight Stage
With the insight stage, we begin to see the true nature of our self. This opens up a whole realm of possibilities and allows us to realize that we are not completely and permanently bound by who we have been in the past.
This opens up a whole new way of viewing ourselves and the world around us.The Meditation Stage
In the meditation stage, we stabilize our experience of our true nature. In the process, the pull of our habitual way of being becomes weaker and weaker. We build up our abilities to the point of expressing our true nature continuously and completely.The Perfection Stage
When we reach the perfection stage, we have reached the doorway to Buddhahood. We round out completely our expression of our True Nature to the point where it can really be called our Buddha Nature.
We finally reach Buddhahood, which has the nature of perfected Knowledge and Skillful Means, which manifests as Wisdom and Compassion in unison. The result is complete Peace and Joy.The Beginning of Practice
So, the beginning steps of Buddhist spiritual practice are part of what is called the Accumulation Stage. In this stage, we accumulate a basic understanding of spirituality and some basic training in aligning our thought, speech, and action towards spiritual goals and a complete view of ourselves and the world around us.
This is done by developing EFFORT, CONCENTRATION, and MINDFULNESS and using them to keep our THOUGHT, SPEECH, ACTION, and LIVELIHOOD in line with the VIEW that leads to the complete elimination of suffering, the understanding of reality, and achieving the ability to help others.
The Accumulation Stage involves the following practices.
a) Developing Intention, Confidence, Enthusiasm, and Alertness.
Like it or not, every moment of every day, we are making choices. We choose when to get out of bed; when and what to eat for breakfast; what to wear; where to work; how we are going to respond to each person that we meet; – even what thoughts and feelings and objects of the senses we are going to pay attention to and which ones we’ll ignore.
We often make these choices without much thought. We also make a lot of choices early on in our lives and then respond automatically to situations and don’t often question those choices of how to respond once they’re made. These pre-made choices of ours become our tendencies of thought, speech, and action. These are part of what is called Karma in Buddhism.
Part of Spiritual practice is to begin to question our intentions and our values and the choices that we make because of them, and to see if these values or goals are really helping us and making us happier or if they are causing us misery.
The next step is to become more selective and deliberate with our intentions. We need to pick more positive intentions and goals and then begin to remind ourselves more frequently of these new positive intentions. Reminding ourselves of these intentions more often strengthens the intentions themselves. It also automatically makes us more alert to any messages from outside or any feelings from inside that would help or hurt these new intentions that we’ve developed.
Our current state is like the sun being covered by clouds. We have to acknowledge our potential, that we are Buddhas, and act accordingly. This is like recognizing that there is a sun behind the clouds even though we can’t see it at the moment. The sun is always there, and by focussing on the sun instead of the clouds, we can learn to look for the sun’s light. We need to focus on our abilities and how to strengthen and add to them.
Or like dirt on a mirror, if we clean away the dirt, then the mirror can be bright and clear and reflect things as it should. Or, like the glass of muddy water, if we let the water calm down, the mud will settle to the bottom and the clarity of the water will show through. Our basic nature is just like the sun, the mirror, and the clear water; bright, luminous, clear, and calm.
Confidence also involves recognizing that getting what we want depends on the creation of the appropriate causes and conditions. Keeping this law of karma in mind, we can relax and just go about setting up the causes and conditions we need, while being confident that the results will come “on their own” once the causes and conditions have been set in motion. We will become like Johnny Apple-seed. We will focus on planting causes and not worry about what we planted a few moments before, because we are confident that the seeds that we are planting are good ones. We will recognize that there is no need for worry or feeling disheartened. It’s like driving to Vancouver. We may get delayed. We may have detours and stops. However, if we always return to driving in the direction of Vancouver, we will eventually get there.
We need to remain convinced that suffering and its causes are not a part of our basic nature and that it is possible for us to completely rid ourselves of these things. It is possible for us through our own efforts and persistence to become a Buddha. As we progress with these practices, we will see the signs of this happening and therefore our enthusiasm, confidence, and intention will increase. With each step that we make in the direction of Buddhahood, our peace, well-being, and understanding and therefore our enthusiasm will increase.
If we imagine ourselves as Buddhas, and imagine what it would be like and feel like, then holding that idea or vision in our mind will increase our enthusiasm and strengthen our perseverance. It can help us undertake things that may seem difficult by imagining what the result would be like. We need to use our sense of dreaming and vision to boost our enthusiasm. Doing so will turn the effort required for study, contemplation, meditation, prayers, good deeds, patience, morality etc into something that we will easily and readily undertake.
We have created a good intention, gained confidence by recognizing that we are capable (being inherently Buddhas) and we know that the proper causes and conditions can be created in order to achieve our intention. Automatically because of this, we will be inclined to notice signs of things that need to be done, or directions that we need to take to fulfill our intentions. This is the beginning of creating Alertness.
It is at this point that we begin to work on our focus and awareness. We begin to learn to look for evidence of suffering, its causes and its elimination. We begin to practice meditation to develop and strengthen our concentration and mindfulness. With the practice of watchfulness or mindfulness, we begin to gradually walk the path to the permanent elimination of suffering and its causes, and to the attainment of that Joy & Satisfaction which cannot be destroyed.
B) – DEVELOPING THE FOUR MINDFULNESSES
This Alertness begins with contemplation of the 4 objects of Mindfulness. First we develop mindfulness of the Body. Then mindfulness of Feelings. Then there is mindfulness of the Mind and finally there is mindfulness of Phenomena.
Through developing mindfulness in each of these four areas, we begin to recognize and confirm our own states of suffering and their causes. We begin to notice the difference between our current view, and a more complete view of what we’re experiencing. We begin to notice skillful ways of behaving versus unskillful ones.
C) – DEVELOPING THE WHOLESOME AND ELIMINATING THE UNWHOLESOME
We begin to develop an instinctive understanding of skillful and unskillful acts. We also begin to counteract the wrong views that reinforce Thought, Speech, and Actions that lead to suffering. The main teaching on these 4 foundations of mindfulness is found in the discourse of the Buddha called the Satipatana Sutra.
With this mindfulness and some basic understandings, we gradually begin to develop and strengthen our skillful thought, speech, and action which leads to peace and joy and we learn to eliminate and avoid unskillful thought, speech, and action which leads to suffering.
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