Daily Buddhist Practice for Beginners

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If you are new to Buddhism you are likely confused, and overwhelmed, on how to start a daily Buddhist practice.

You are not alone!

This article is your guide to starting a basic daily Buddhist practice that incorporates practices shared among the different Buddhist traditions.

This article is part of a series on the basics of Buddhism:  Click here to view more.
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Article Summary (TL;DR)

I know you may not have a lot of time to read a lengthy article (“too long; didn’t read”), so this summary can help.  However, it is best to read the entire article when you can!

To make things easy for this article’s TL;DR, you can view this graphic (be sure to zoom in).   If you would like to get a high-quality PDF for printing of the poster, click here for a small donation (includes over 20 other Buddhist graphics).

This makes it a very easy way to have right by your altar so you can follow along, step-by-step, as you perform your daily practice.

Get a letter-sized printable version of this graphic, with instructions, as part of my Buddhism Graphics Super Pack, for a small donation.  Click the image to learn more.

 

What is the Point of a Daily Practice?

So, let’s tackle a question before we get into how to practice:  why should you even have a daily Buddhist practice to begin with, and what is the point?

That’s a fair question.

  • The Buddha let us know that this human existence is a rare and wonderous thing.  Only humans have the special ability to actually become enlightened or devote themselves to that end.  So, don’t squander this rare opportunity!
  • Buddhism is about your effort and practice.  Nobody else is going to do this for you!  A daily practice is your constant faith, effort, and determination to continue on the path towards enlightenment.
  • All journeys begin with the first step on a path or road, and that first step is up to you.
  • A Buddhist daily practice is similar to going to working out for a muscular, toned, or healthy body.  You go to the gym, eat the right foods, learn proper techniques, etc., and are dedicated and consistent in order to achieve your goal.
  • Buddhism is practiced in everyday life, not some remote mountain somewhere.  A daily practice helps you with following the Buddha’s eightfold path through the Threefold Training (more on that in a moment).

So what does a daily Buddhist practice do for us?

Buddhist practice can also be considered Upaya, or ‘skillful means’.  We have several practices, ceremonies, etc., that help us – especially laypersons – with understanding and practicing Buddhism.

And a daily practice is right there at the top of the list.

  • It helps us with stopping the Three Poisons:  The Three Poisons/Fires of “Greed, Anger, and Delusion [Ignorance]” are what all Buddhist practitioners actively strive to “quiet” or “put out”.  After all, this is the cause of our continued suffering.  If we can’t get rid of these three things, we are in a house that is constantly burning (read the Fire Sermon to see how serious this is).  Ouch, why would you want to continue to live in a burning house?!
  • It helps us with the Threefold Training:  All Buddhist practitioners, regardless of tradition, are focused on the Threefold Training of the cultivation of morality, meditative concentration, and wisdom.  Why these three things?  Because these are the three groupings of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path which is the path to Nirvana.  It is also how the Buddhist scriptural canons are organized (more on that later).

While the ultimate goal of a Buddhist is to become enlightened just like the Buddha, this is often a difficult thing to actually achieve for most humans simply due to the built-up delusion we have.

But there is hope!

  • Eventually, one will have the opportunity to become enlightened!  We understand this thanks to the Buddha’s prior lives where he consistently made progress, and vows, to achieve enlightenment.  And he did in his final life, and helped others achieve enlightenment as well.  It’s a main reason the Buddhist religion exists:  we can achieve what the Buddha achieved, and he proved that through his monastics.
  • Even if you don’t “achieve” enlightenment in this life, the Buddha’s teachings allow us to live our lives closer to how it actually should be lived.  And in turn, we are helping to transform the suffering of others in the process thanks to our practice.
  • Our ability to even have the Buddha’s teachings (Dharma), temples to go to, monastics to help us, copies of scriptures being made, etc., is all due to countless centuries of everyday laypersons supporting the Buddhist religion.
  • Think of it this way, you have likely gained some karmic benefits that is helping you right now with practicing Buddhism.  Keep it going!
Learn about starting a new practice in the New Year in my article here.

Different Traditions, Different Practices

If you are reading this article, you are likely brand new to Buddhism, and don’t have a particular Buddhist tradition in mind yet.

That’s perfectly OK.

While it is recommended that you eventually find a Buddhist tradition that speaks to you, and incorporate their practices, this guide can provide you a nice start.

  • Laypersons in Buddhism, stemming back to the days of the Buddha, were not active practitioners like we may consider nowadays in our modern world.  The goal was to become a monastic if you were really serious, not stay in the ‘householder’ life.
  • Theravada Buddhism generally maintains this same philosophy, however layperson practice has picked up in our modern era thanks to movements such as Vipassana meditation that was created and promoted by Burmese monks.
    • Overall, the goal is to become a monastic in another life if one cannot become one now.  While laypersons can at least become “stream enterers”, it is very unlikely they will become enlightened (in the classical Theravada context).
    • This is because a “householder” (layperson) typically has too many attachments to make meaningful progress compared to a monastic.
    • Yet, becoming a “stream enterer” is quite a feat in itself!  And even some of the Buddha’s monks who didn’t escape rebirth achieved this level.  If this is your tradition of choice, a great guide for laypersons can be found on accesstoinsight.com.
  • Mahayana Buddhism was the first to push this boundary as it was focused not just on monastics, but on the laity as well.
    • Now everyone had a direct way to practice, and the ability to actually make progress, not just monks and nuns.
    • Popular traditions such as Zen (Ch’an, Seon, Thien) and Pure Land grew from the Mahayana scriptures.
    • The most popular Buddhist tradition followed by laypersons is Pure Land Buddhism where one can chant/recite the name of Amitabha (Amida) Buddha any time, and at any place, making it a truly accessible and straightforward practice.
    • In Chinese Buddhism (and also Humanistic Buddhism), Pure Land and Zen (Ch’an) are practiced as one tradition so laypersons get to experience and practice these two methods.

Regardless of the Buddhist tradition you follow, this guide will give you a place to start that will be respective to the major traditions, and allow you to move to a tradition that speaks to you later on.

Learn how to become a Buddhist with my article here.

The Threefold Training

CC0 Photo by Truthseeker08 on Pixabay

The vast majority of Buddhist traditions follow the Threefold Training for their practice.  This is actually the three groupings of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path.

But what is it and why is it important? 

  • The Threefold Training is designed specifically to help us eliminate the three poisons (three fires) of greed, anger, and ignorance. 
  • Only through diligent pursuit with the training can one achieve this.  And when the three poisons are eliminated, we also are awakened, enlightened, and realize our true nature:  Nirvana.

Think of it being similar to these analogies:  Each of these three parts is helping us take a hammer to our prison wall so we can become free.  Or, compare it to working out your body:  each one helps you with proper exercise at the gym, proper nutrition to grow muscle and burn fat, and proper understanding of how to properly exercise and stay health in order to achieve your desired result.

  1. Morality:  The rules, or ‘Precepts’, in Buddhism have a purpose which is to prevent unwholesome conduct and wrongdoing.
  2. Meditative Concentration:  The ability to face the eight winds of gain, loss, defamation, honor, praise, ridicule, sorry, and joy.  According to Venerable Master Hsing Yun, when one is proficient in meditative concentration, they become unmoved by anger or joy, and are not encumbered by happiness or suffering.
  3. Wisdom:  The ability to identify right from wrong and truth from falsehood is through our development of wisdom.  This goes beyond just faith, as we must strive to break down the delusion that blinds us from the truth.  In Buddhism, this is called Prajna which means “wisdom”, referring to the ‘profound understanding of reality’.

Beyond the Eightfold Path, the Threefold Training actually matches the Tripitaka/Tipitaka of the Buddhist canons which have three main parts:

  1. Sūtras:  Teachings of the Buddha on how to develop meditative concentration.
  2. Vinaya:  The discipline (or “rules”) for morality
  3. Abhidharma:  The analytical and commentary which helps to cultivate wisdom.
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To learn more about the Threefold Training, you may enjoy “For All Living Beings” by Ven. Master Hsing Yun

Setting Up a Home Altar and Practice Space

When it comes to creating your practice area, there is no one simple answer.

Each tradition can often have specific requirements, or recommendations, on how to set up an altar, how to display the Buddha, or other details.

If you are just starting out, my recommendation is “take it easy”.  It can be tempting to buy all the fancy “authentic” Buddhist altars, statues, and other accessories that come along with it.

None of that is doctrinally necessary. 

In Buddhism, your intentions matter, and that can also go for your practice area and altar.

  • Location:  If you have an extra room, or a quiet place, that would be a good location for a practice area.  If you don’t have this, don’t worry!  You can also “set up” wherever you need to.  For example, you could keep your supplies in a bag, and take them to the dining room or living room when it is unoccupied to set up for your session.
  • Meditation Cushions:  It is easy to find tons of meditation cushions and mats for sale, but should you get them?  You don’t have to.  There is no requirement for you to even use one, or to “sit like the Buddha” (known as the lotus posture).  In-fact, you will often find elderly laypersons in temples sitting on chairs – which is perfectly fine.  Should you wish to get a meditation mat and cushion, there are lots out there.  I have one from DharmaCrafts which has lasted me for years and is still going strong.  You might want to get their “Hi-Zafu” cushion (which is what I have), so you can sit more easily if you are tall and can’t easily do some of the other sitting methods.  This ‘bigger’ cushion allows you to sit in the Japanese style, where you are essentially kneeling, instead of doing some fancy and complicated leg posture.
  • Altars:  There is no simple answer with this one, which is why I made the video found above.  You can easily reuse what you have in your home to create a respectable altar.  Sometimes, even just a nook or niche somewhere will be enough.  Remember, throughout the centuries Buddhist laypersons often had humble homes and lives, and did not have fancy things.  You can also place other items on your altar.  For example, pictures of deceased family members is quite common, as well as respected teachers.  Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh has a picture of the Buddha, and the picture of Jesus, on his altar showing that you can still respect other traditions for the qualities that cross religions.
  • Buddha Statues:  There is no mandate to even have a statue.  In-fact, a picture of the Buddha is fine to use.  We do not have Buddha statues or pictures in a form of devotion to the Buddha, but instead to help us with our practice.  The Buddha is our teacher, so we show respect with a bow (which is customary in Asian culture).  This is also a subtle way to help you break your love of self/ego, by showing gratitude and compassion.  The statue is also a reflection of your inner-Buddha.  That’s right, what you are looking at is a perfected (enlightened) being, which the Buddha said is within all of us.  So as you meditate or chant and focus on the Buddha, you are observing and focusing on the qualities you wish to express as well.  Some traditions forgoes the Buddha altogether, such as Nicheren Buddhism, and instead use something called a Gohonzon.  Often, Guanyin (Kannon) is a popular Bodhisattva that is also found on Altars.
  • Offerings:  Part of a Buddhist practice may include offerings.  This ranges from lighting incense, giving food and water, flowers, even lighting a candle.  Personally, I have not been a fan of incense, so don’t think that is necessary for you to use to be a “Buddhist”!  Why do we give ‘offerings’?  It’s mainly a practice to help us develop and show compassion and loving-kindness.  Not to some metal or stone statue, but to yourself and others.  As you do this, with correct intent, you are planting seeds within yourself that allow you to show compassion and loving-kindness beyond your practice room.  Compassion and loving-kindness (Metta) are core Buddhist teachings and practices on the way to awakening.
Looking for some supplies?  Here is my idea list on Amazon.

A Guide to Practice

For a small donation you can get the electronic files to print out a daily practice guide like I have in my own binder! Learn more by clicking here. You can also find all the information in this article.

While you can find everything you need in this article, you might want something at your altar that helps you with your daily practice.

For years I have been using a small 3-ring binder with sheet protectors inside it to hold all the steps, scriptures, and information I use during my daily practice.  This is a convenient (and easy) way to take a guided approach during your practice session.  While not necessary, I found it beneficial.

In this article you can find most of the information you will need to set up your own guide.  For convenience, you can also get my Buddhist Daily Practice Guide files to set up your own guide.

  • Having a small binder like this, or even keeping it all digital/electronic on your phone or tablet, makes it portable.  This is great if you are travelling or want to have a practice session wherever you are.
  • Use a mini 3-ring binder. You can find these on Amazon (https://amzn.to/2PkokjC [Affiliate Link]) or at your local department store or office supply store.  Alternately, you can of course use a large three ring binder or just keep the papers loose.
  • You will also need some mini 3-ring binder “sheet protectors”. You can find these on Amazon (https://amzn.to/3d21Lbk [Affiliate Link]) or at most office supply stores.
  • Watch my video at the beginning of this article to see how I use it.
  • Don’t forget that at the beginning of this article I shared my one-page graphic that can help you.  This is a great way to keep on track!  It also comes as part of my graphics pack, but you can view it right now on this article.
My Daily Buddhist Practice Guide comes as part of my Buddhism Graphics & Resources Super Pack.  There is a printable version (for a mini 3-ring binder), PDF version for devices, and a Kindle compatible version.  Click here to learn more.

Getting Ready for Practice

CC0 Photo by Sasint on Pixabay

Starting your daily practice will vary greatly for many people, and different traditions.

Again, this is just general advice on how to start, and when you pick a tradition you should transition to the recommended practice.

  • Exercise may be part of your traditions daily practice.  For example, Tai Chi or Qi Gong might be used to help prepare physically and mentally for the practice.  While this is not necessary, it can be helpful especially if you are performing long meditation sessions, or if you just need to get your body and mind in sync for your first session of the day.
  • Prostrations/bowing before the Buddha or Buddhas.  This may also be done during reciting the Triple Gem, and more traditionally when entering the main shrine at a temple.  Prostrations and bowing are done out of respect, but also to foster humility within ourselves.  Because our ego is so strong, we may scoff at doing such a practice, however this helps us with breaking this self-love.  Additionally, when you bow before a Buddha, you are actually symbolically bowing to the Buddha that is inside you!
Some teachers or traditions may have various ways you prepare for your practice, or a Dharma service.  If you are ever unsure, ask your teacher or monastics for guidance.

Recite the Triple Gem

Photo by Lain on Flickr (CC0 License)

The first part of our daily practice is reciting our refuge in the Triple Gem.

  • The Triple Gem is the Buddha, his teachings (Dharma), and his monastic community (Sangha).  All three are important in helping us in our practice.  Think of the Buddha as a doctor, the Dharma as the prescription to cure us, and the monastics/Sangha/Temple as the nurses and hospital.
  • For laypersons, taking refuge in the Triple Gem is a public ceremony that official makes someone a “Buddhist“.  They are showing their faith in all three of these things, and their support of them.  For a daily practice, we are re-affirming our refuge in them on that particular day.
  • This is a way for you to refill your reservoir of faith in Buddhism and the Buddha’s teachings as you begin a new day.

This is not blind faith, but saying that they respect the Buddha as our teacher who gave the world his teachings.  We have faith in his sermons/teachings as the true path towards enlightenment and away from suffering (Dukkha).

And to cement this all together, it shows our support of his monastic community who have taken the ultimate step towards the ‘homeless life’ and in pursuit of enlightenment (and in turn, supporting laypersons in their path).

  1. I take refuge in the Buddha, wishing that all sentient beings understand the Dharma and make the supreme vow.

  2. I take refuge in the Dharma, wishing that all sentient beings study the Sūtras diligently and obtain an ocean of wisdom.

  3. I take refuge in the Sangha, wishing that all sentient beings lead the masses in harmony without obstruction.

Don’t worry if you have not taken the Triple Gem Refuge at a Buddhist Temple yet.  For many, a temple may not be close, or not have any ceremonies at this time.  You can take the Triple Gem Refuge right in your home, and then as part of your daily practice.

However, you should highly consider taking the ceremony at a temple when possible.  Why?  The public ceremony connects you with others  who are also taking refuge, you will gain insight and connection from monastics, and you will be doing what the Triple Gem is about: supporting the Sangha which is in-turn supporting the Buddha and his teachings with the lay community.

You can always watch one of these ceremonies first if you are unsure.  Temples may have classes or preparation sessions to help those about to take the Triple Gem so they understand at least some basic Buddhist teachings and what it means.  Those are highly recommended to attend!

Learn about the Triple Gem Refuge ceremony with my article here.

Recite the Five Precepts

Monastic and Laypersons. CC0 Photo by reginaphotos on Pixabay

The Five Precepts are the bare-bones guidelines for all Buddhists, particularly laypersons.  Monastics have hundreds of Precepts they follow!

But what are they?

  • Layperson [five] precepts provide us a distillation of the Vinaya, which is the rules for monastics, that applies to all Buddhists.  Violating any of these precepts means we have deviated from the Buddhist path.
  • However, don’t take that as a zero sum game!  As delusional human beings, we are likely to violate these to various levels.  When that happens, we need to reflect on what we did, and how it conflicts with the Buddha’s teachings.  Don’t worry if you do accidentally violate one of these precepts as there is no supernatural being that will punish you.  Karmic actions are your own, wholesome or unwholesome, and precepts are there to help guide you on the wholesome side of things.
  • When you take the precepts, you are saying this is what you aspire towards.  Remember, it is your intention that matters in Buddhism which includes how you might be breaking the precepts.  For example, if you lie to a criminal who is searching for an innocent victim to hurt them, and you say that person is not in your house (because you are protecting them until the police come), that would be acceptable.
  • “Don’t tell me what to do!”, you might be thinking.  Well, the Buddha isn’t.  These are precepts for those who want to take them – meaning Buddhists.  They are simply part of the path for one who wants to earnestly make progress.  You decide to take the precepts in order to benefit yourself on the path.  They are all there for a purpose, which is to help you correctly follow the Threefold Training.
  • Don’t want to follow them?  Nobody is forcing you.  But you are also not going to make meaningful progress if you are willfully violating all of them.

Now, nobody is perfect, so when you recite these you are saying you want to follow them and will to the best of your ability.  This is the constant effort and dedication we need to take on the Buddhist path.

Remember, intentions matter!

Sometimes we are in places or situations which make these very difficult to follow.  Even the Buddha’s followers had similar situations.  The key point is they made the efforts to eventually get to this level, or as close to it as possible.  That’s something we can all strive for.

  1. I will refrain from killing, harming, or violating others

  2. I will refrain from stealing or taking what is not mine

  3. I will refrain from sexual misconduct

  4. I will refrain from lying, gossip, or harsh speech

  5. I will refrain from intoxicants, stimulants, or illegal drugs

In addition to the Five Precepts, Mahayana Buddhists often undertake the Bodhisattva Precepts, and if you have taken the Bodhisattva Precepts as a layperson, you should incorporate them into your practice in this step.

Buddhists also will undertake the Eight Precepts on special days to reinforce their practice and live with some of the precepts that a monastic has.  You can practice the Eight Precepts on day(s) of your choosing, or during special retreats hosted by your temple.  This is not something you need to do everyday, however, but is a time-honored layperson practice we have to allow us to practice in some ways like a monastic.

A popular practice with laypersons is to attend a short or long term retreat at their Buddhist temple so they can undertake the precepts of monastics on a short term basis.  If your temple does not have this, check out larger temples to see when they will have a retreat and the requirements.  This can, depending on the retreat, allow you to live the monastic lifestyle as a layperson to refresh and invigorate your practice.  It is best to have been practicing as a Buddhist before diving right into a retreat, however some temples may have such retreat programs for beginners.

Recite the Five Remembrances

The Five Remembrances (or Five Reflections) are a beautiful practice of millions of Buddhists.  But they may not seem that way at first!

  • These can seem dreary, scary, and un-nerving.  This is because they are showing us our fears, but also give us  way to face those fears head on.
  • The Five Remembrances are our first step onto the Eightfold Path, so it’s a reason why we have it as a daily practice.  When we recite the Five Remembrances, we are confronting our fears so we can transform them, and in-turn, can follow the Eightfold Path.
  • There is also a historical aspect.  The Buddha’s “Four Sights” are featured in the Five Remembrances as the first three items.  That is important because it was these “sights” that fundamentally shocked the Buddha to his core and prompted him to seek the path towards enlightenment.  Now that sounds like a great reason why we recite them every day!
  • The Fourth Remembrance is directly tied to the Buddhist teaching on Impermanence.  Buddhists focus their entire practice not just on removing the false concept of self, but also with truly understanding impermanence.  And when understood, both are intertwined.
  • The Fifth Remembrance is empowering.  It tells us that we, not anything else, have full control over our actions.  While we cannot escape the consequences of our actions, we can ensure they are wholesome, and not unwholesome.
Get this poster in my free COVID-19 Buddhist Planner https://gum.co/BuddhistPlannerCOVID or as part of my Buddhism Graphics Super Pack https://gum.co/BuddhismGraphics

Here are the Five Remembrances, and there can be deviations in the wording depending on tradition, and translator.

  1. I am subject to aging. There is no way to avoid aging.

  2. I am subject to ill health. There is no way to avoid illness.

  3. I am going to die.  There is no way to avoid death.

  4. Everyone and everything that I love will change, and I will be separated from them.

  5. My only true possessions are my actions, and I cannot escape their consequences.

Get the Five Remembrances poster in my Buddhism Graphics Super Pack or in the free 14 Day Buddhist Planner.

Chant, Recite, or Read a Sūtra

Chanting is actually one of the most popular forms of practice for Buddhist laypersons.  Meditation by laypersons is mostly a modern practice that was never traditionally practiced.  Yet, nowadays laypersons are able to have the time to meditate as well, which is fantastic!

Chanting or reciting a Sūtras, or just reading one, is an important practice.  This can be grouped into the meditative concentration category, but also the wisdom category!

You can also read a Sūtra instead of chanting/reciting it at this step in the practice.

But what Sūtras?

For Mahayana Buddhists, the Heart Sūtra is perhaps the most recited Sūtra not just due to it’s short length, but profound meaning.  The Lotus Sūtra, which is also the only Sūtra for Nicheren Buddhists, is also respected.

  1. Some of the popular Sūtras in Mahāyāna are the HeartDiamond, and Lotus Sūtras.
  2. Some Sūtra are that influential with Chán/Zen include the  Decent into Lanka (Lankavatara)LotusDiamond, and Flower Garland (Avatamsaka) Sūtras.
  3. Pure Land Buddhism: Some of the sūtras used are the Amitabha (Shorter and Longer) and Meditation sūtras.

For Theravada Buddhists, these three Suttas are considered essential reading. They cover fundamental teachings of the Buddha which are the core of Buddhist practice (clicking these links will take you to the great Theravāda scripture website known as Access to Insight):

  1. Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion” (Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta)
  2. The Discourse of the Not-Self Characteristic” (Anatta-lakkhana Sutta)
  3. The Fire Sermon” (Ādittapariyāya Sutta)

Additional Suttas that will help the new Buddhist with core teachings and concepts:

  1. Sigalovada Sutta: The Buddha provides instructions for laypersons.
  2. Anapānasati Sutta: This Sutta covers the basics of breath meditation.
  3. Maha-Satipatthana Sutta: This Sutta covers the basics of mindfulness.
  4. Sabbasava Sutta Overcoming external influences that pollute the mind.
  5. Ambalatthika-rahulovada Sutta: Teaching on Virtue.
  6. Samadhanga Sutta: Teaching on Concentration.
  7. Dhatu-vibhanga Sutta: Teaching on Wisdom.
  8. Karaniya Metta Suta: The practice of loving-kindness.
I recommend you read (and watch) my explanation about the Buddhist Scriptures with my article here.

Meditate for 10 Minutes (or Longer)

Meditating was once the practice of only monastics, but now laypersons have taken to it in droves.  Yet, meditation is just one form of “meditative concentration”.  Chanting is also a form of meditative concentration which has been shown to have a similar affect.

  • This part of our practice will be on meditation, as we have mentioned chanting in the section before this.  In Chinese Buddhism, chanting and meditation are part of the practice, for example.
  • Spending at least 10 minutes is a good way to start, and an easy practice.  Build up until you can meditate longer, and more frequently.
  • Some teachers, such as Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh, include additional methods of meditative concentration such as mindful walking that a practitioner can also use.  However, sitting meditation is widely accepted.
  • You may want to use an app, such as Insight Timer, to help keep you consistent in your practice and also find audio meditation practices!

Venerable Sanathavihari Los Angeles provides these guidelines to help you begin a meditation practice:

  1. Sit with your back straight.
  2. Observing if there is any tension in the body and relaxing.
  3. As your body relaxes, the attention will automatically go to the breath.
  4. Observe the nature of the breath; is it long or short; obstructed or not?
  5. Observe how you feel in the body as you breathe in.
  6. As you keep doing this, the body begins to relax.
  7. Then you begin to experience the comfortable feeling of relaxation.
  8. Then you begin to experience satisfaction.
  9. Focus your attention on the experience of satisfaction and comfort.
  10. Observe any thoughts that arise in the mind
  11. Observe the mood of the mind
  12. Maintain attention on the breath and tranquility that arises from it.
  13. Remain in this state of tranquil observation of the body and mind as long as possible.
Learn about Meditation at home with my article here.

Dedicating Merits

CC0 photo by truthseeker08 on Pixabay

A common way to end a daily practice is by dedicating our meritorious deeds (merits).  This is not “transferring” merit, but dedicating.  It is a highly symbolic and meaningful practice.

Merits are accumulated through acts of body, speech, and mind, and you are likely doing all three with your daily practice alone!

  • Dedicating merit can be a perplexing practice to Westerners who may brush off this part of the practice as cultural, but they should consider it for a few good reasons.
  • Unlike other religions, only Buddhism has this unique practice where the benefits you gain from the practice are not to be retained by you, but instead given away!  That sounds counterproductive, but stick with me on this…
  • If we [mentally] “keep” or “hoard” merits, we are likely to pollute then at some point (which is just the nature of an unenlightened sentient being that is caught in delusion, after all), so why hold on to something that we can joyfully give to others?  After all, clinging and craving are the cause of suffering (Dukkha).  Why not give that nourishing piece of fruit you know you will not eat to someone who needs it, rather than let it get spoiled?  Generally similar concept.
  • However, it is not always practiced, or practiced fully, as some Buddhists feel it is unnecessary or have various views of it.  For example, some Buddhists may feel it is because one’s Karma is their own, so dedication of merit is contradictory.   If you choose to participate in this step of the daily practice, you may find it both beneficial and helpful in your practice as a Buddhist, but it is not mandatory.  Again, your Buddhist tradition, teacher, etc., will largely shape what your final Buddhist practice will become.

Buddhists can be as broad or specific in this merit dedication.

  • For example, they may dedicate merit to deceased family members, to a co-worker, friend, boss, someone who is treating them poorly, or even to any and all sentient beings everywhere (which includes existences beyond just our planet).
  • The last part, dedicating merit to all beings, is popular with Buddhists especially those in Mahayana that follow the Bodhisattva path.

There are some reasons for dedicating merit:

  • Buddhism is centered around breaking down the false concept and belief in “self”.  If you are doing this all for “you” to benefit, you are just reinforcing “self”, rather than breaking it down.
  • Compassion and loving-kindness are central teachings and practices in Buddhism.  When we dedicate merit, we are calling up dependent origination by arising these wholesome qualities.  In turn, they are transforming and refreshing us with the qualities that douse the three fires of greed, anger, and delusion in our thoughts, speech, and actions.

So, what is “dedicating merit”? 

  • It means that, with a pure intention, you are dedicating the wholesome merit you accumulated with not just this daily practice, but what you acquire through your constant actions, to other sentient beings.
  • For Mahayana Buddhists in particular, this is part of Bodhicitta (awakened mind) that is important in their practice of the Bodhisattva Path.

Now, does anything “magical” actually happen here? 

  • The true experience is what transforms inside of you.  As you go out in the world, that firm commitment changes your actions – and actions have power.  Your intention for your merits to help other sentient beings plays out in your daily actions, which in turn, can help sentient beings!
  • In this way, you are doing something powerful!  By dedicating merit, we are arising our Buddha mind that we are practicing for the benefit of all beings, and not just ourselves (which would be a self-centered practice).

You can, and should, dedicate merit throughout the day at different times.

For example, doing so before meals is a common practice.  So can washing the dishes, saying kind words to someone, or any other wholesome act as part of your practice.

How to Dedicate Merit? 

  • When we dedicate merit through a prayer, we are asking the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in all directions to hear our dedication.  After all, if you are just saying this to yourself, then who is really listening?  If you are skeptical that there are these beings out there listening to you, don’t fret.  The point is that we need to express this dedication beyond ourself.
  • While this may sound unusual, or even supernatural, Buddhist cosmology reflects that there is much more beyond just our little planet, and many other Buddha’s (including future Buddhas).  This may stretch your understanding (and ability to ‘prove’), it is allowing enlightened beings to be witness and hear your dedication.  Buddhist practice is Upaya (skillful means), and this is helps with that.
  • Dedicating merit is often a practice at Dharma services at a temple where you can dedicate merits to others practicing with you.  But, of course, can also be part of your daily practice as we are discussing here.
  • You can dedicate merit mentally, or verbally, however the latter is often most popular with laypersons.

Here is an example prayer of the Buddha’s Light Verse used by Fo Guang Shan (FGS), a worldwide Mahayana Buddhist organization:

May kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity pervade all worlds;

May we cherish and build affinities to benefit all beings;

May Chan, Pure Land, and Precepts inspire equality and patience;

May our humility and gratitude give rise to great vows.

In Theravada, here is an example where there are three dedications (click here for more):

Patthana (to oneself) “By the grace of this merit that I have acquired May I never meet the foolish But the wise Until I attain final emancipation!”

Patti Dana (to departed ones) “May my relatives share these merits and May they be well and happy!” (Repeat 3 times) 

Anumodana (to devas) “May all beings inhabiting space and earth, Devas and Nagas of mighty powers Having shared this merit Long protect the Dispensation! May all beings inhabiting space and earth, Devas and Nagas of mighty powers Having shared this merit Long protect the Teaching! May all beings inhabiting space and earth, Devas and Nagas of mighty powers Having shared this merit Long protect me and others!”

For a more general prayer, you can use the following of my own creation (note that this is a very condensed version, and you can find plenty of dedication of merit prayers/Gathas online):

For all sentient beings, I dedicate the meritorious actions of this practice (or action) so they may be guided and liberated from delusion and suffering with the light of the Buddha’s Dharma.

Sunday Dharma Practice

CC0 Photo by Truthseeker08 on Pixabay

In most Western countries, Christianity is the majority religion.  It also became a way that most Buddhist traditions incorporated into the culture.  For example, Buddhist Dharma services are often on a Saturday or Sunday.

There is a practical reason for this as well.  While not everyone has the days off, most people have the weekend off, so it made for a good time to hold services.

  • If you are near a Buddhist temple, it might be beneficial to start attending services.  This can be as easy as a weekly meditation session, classes, or something similar until you work your way up to a Dharma service.
  • For example, my temple is Hsi Lai in California, and they are large enough to offer English services and classes, whereas some temples may not.  Depending on the ceremony, I will be reciting/chanting in Chinese (a language I am not remotely fluent in).  Thankfully they offer a wireless translation and often translation in the liturgy we are using.
  • Look around YouTube for various recorded (and live) services.  Below you will find English chanting services from my Buddhist organization, Fo Guang Shan (FGS), which is one of the largest worldwide Buddhist organizations.  They have a full YouTube channel for English speakers that has a plethora of ways to learn about Buddhism from the Mahayana/Chinese Buddhism perspective.  You can easily use this as a way to pick a video each Sunday as your personal “Dharma Service” from Buddhist monastics.

Don’t be put off by the ceremony and the different practices.  Most Buddhist temples are practicing the form of Buddhism native to the originating country.  This could be China, Taiwan, Burma, Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, etc.

Each has it’s own nuances and special practices which may seem unusual, but often have deep meaning and a wonderful way to learn and practice Buddhism.

Just keep your mind open to it!  You can also ask the monastics about it so you can help learn.

Learn about different cultural aspects of Buddhism in my article here.

Buddhist Holidays

Buddhist holidays are numerous, and frequently part of the Buddhist laypersons experience in Buddhist majority countries.

But what about in Western countries?

You can easily incorporate certain Buddhist holidays into most ‘Western’ holidays as well.

For example:

  • Bodhi Day celebrates the Buddha’s enlightenment.  It is also in December, which aligns nicely with the Christmas season.
  • Independence Day(s) vary by country, but you can use this as a day to celebrate impermanence.  While not a Buddhist holiday, it can be a way for you to reflect on the impermanent nature of things.

I encourage you to participate in your local temples Buddhist and cultural holidays and ceremonies.

While some may be “new” to you, you are going to benefit in these ways:

  1. You will be experiencing and participating in another cultures activities and understanding of Buddhism – a learning experience!
  2. You may learn something new about Buddhism, and a new way to understand and practice Buddhism that may be very beneficial to you.

Remember, most of these cultures have been practicing Buddhism for centuries, so there is a reason they are structured as such.

Yes, there can be cultural influences, but opening your mind and removing preconceptions can assist you with understanding these Buddhist ceremonies and holidays.

You can find a list of all most major Buddhist holidays and ceremonies here, and you can find my Buddhist calendar here

Practicing Buddhism During the COVID-19 Pandemic

This article would not be complete without addressing the current COVID-19 pandemic.

With temples closed, and ways to practice limited, myself and Venerable Sanathavihari Los Angeles came up with a 14 day Buddhist practice, planner, and held a live daily practice.

Even though the live practice we had is over, all our resources and recorded versions are available!

 

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