Shakyamuni’s Great Vow

Practitioners come to retreat hoping to get great benefit and go home a new person. This attitude is very good in itself but it can also become and obstacle to practice. Harboring this kind of desire will distract you from your method, and the harder you press the greater the obstacle becomes. Expecting to gain something, as well as being afraid of not practicing well are both incorrect attitudes. But, while having a seeking attitude is counter-productive, we still need vows to keep ourselves from faltering on the path. When he meditated beneath the Bodhi Tree, Shakyamuni vowed that he would not rise from his seat until he realized supreme enlightenment. By fulfilling this vow he became a fully awakened being, a buddha. So, you should make a strong vow to put your whole self into your meditation and to be concerned only with the practice. Once a traveler knows the directions to his destination, he should just get on with the actual traveling. Even if you cannot yet see the final destination, you need not be doubtful or anxious. To make a vow is to set the direction and the goal, and the practice is our vehicle. Great vows and diligent practice go together; without both, you will waste time and not receive genuine benefit. At best you may alleviate some karma.

To make a vow is to set the direction and the goal, and the practice is our vehicle. Great vows and diligent practice go together; without both, you will waste time and not receive genuine benefit.

There are many kinds of obstructions in practice and just about everyone has them. On this first day of retreat, some people are already experiencing obstructions. Some are angry with themselves but don’t know how to pacify their minds. Great as their hope is to practice well it is hard to do so. Being eager to practice is good but when one is over-eager for results, it becomes an obstruction. This is an example of how an obstruction manifests. In other cases, the obstructions have not yet manifested but lurk below the surface.

There is a saying that before one is liberated from the cycle of birth and death, one is like an ant in a red-hot frying pan. Someone who clearly understands the suffering inherent in the cycle of birth and death, and who works hard for liberation already has the proper anxiousness towards practice. Indeed, only after one has glimpsed their true self-nature are they truly anxious to end transmigration. By contrast, over-anxiety is usually based on an unwholesome attitude, such as being envious someone who seems to be practicing well.

Then there are those who are practicing very well, or who think they are practicing well. They see lovely visions or hear beautiful music, or their body feels very comfortable, light, and joyous. These are signs that one is practicing well and it is natural to feel elated. But if you cling to them, these experiences become obstacles to progress. When you experience these things, do not attach to them; just acknowledge them and get on with the practice.

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