Every athlete, musician, artist, performer, writer, and speaker knows what it is to train. The word is slightly different from the word “practice,” which is how we usually describe our meditation and devotional routines. It is different in that it implies that we are training for an event – a concert, a race, an opening night – whereas the word “practice” implies a lifestyle, with no particular goal but to enrich our overall consciousness. Either word is good, but the word “training” is more specific. It is purpose-driven.
What is our spiritual “purpose?” This question speaks more to someone who feels a calling and, even more specifically, a mission. That word, mission, is somewhat problematic, because it evokes fears of fanaticism. The world has suffered greatly at the hands of those who felt it needed fixing. But the worst examples you can think of do not negate the genuine few who know they have something to do. For them, the word “practice” is not enough; “training” is a better fit, because their spiritual work is a preparation, not an end in itself.
Just as weight-training makes a lineman more powerful on the football field, meditation makes us more powerful on the __________ field. (You fill in the blank.) Many people say that their practice is its own reward, but no one loves weight-training, except for the results it gives. When we become too enamored with our practice, we tend to over-ritualize it and eventually turn it into a god. Then our purpose becomes the perpetuation of the method, not reaching the goal the method was designed to reach.
When it comes to our own spirituality, most of us are more comfortable with the word “practice” than we are with the word “training.” Practice means that we are practicing a method, which we can use at our own pace, whereas training implies the need for a coach or teacher. And although spiritual training can be undertaken without a teacher, it is not generally recommended. The ego is simply far too adept at creating distractions and reasons why we should ease up on ourselves, especially at those crucial times when a breakthrough is imminent. You know the story. Sometimes we need that impersonal nudge to get us going, and true teachers know how to do that without coming across as your personal lord and savior. If you can find one, you will make better progress toward your goal.
My teacher once said that you never know what your mission is for this lifetime until it is over. We have to remain open to higher guidance and not assume that we know what it is we are supposed to be doing. Oftentimes, our methods, though important, are merely steps along the way. But when they are over, we need to let them go and prepare ourselves for the next step – life is ever changing and evolving. But our training never ceases. We never lose the need for concentration, generosity of spirit, love of truth, or a quiet mind. These are generic and always part of the spiritual life.
If you want to establish the teachings,
Make them firm in your mind.
In the depths of mind, you will find Buddhahood.
If you wish to visit Buddhafields,
Purify ordinary deluded attachment.
The perfect, excellent Buddhafield is near at hand.
Develop diligence to practice
The essence of the teachings.
Without, who can gain the siddhi?
It is hard to see one’s own faults.
So, pointing them out to oneself
Is a crucial instruction.
In the end, when faults are, one by one, removed
Enlightened qualities increase and shine forth.