2021-06-17-The Dharmic Life (4 of 5) Intention and Committment
10:58PM Jun 17, 2021
The topic this week is living a dharmic life, with the emphasis on things we can bring into our daily life that will enhance our sense of dedication to practice. Things that bring us the benefits of a full-time religious life in a monastery or retreat center.
The difference between lay life and being a monastic in a monastery or living at a retreat center is more a matter of degree. When a person is living a monastic life, they get all these reminders to practice – all these associations and schedules that put them back into thinking about the practice, or remembering to do it.
For people who are not living a monastic life or in a retreat center, it is harder to remember. Sometimes there are family or work responsibilities that pull us into their orbit so strongly that we do not think about practice or mindfulness, being present, or the values of the Dharma.
The difference is not a matter of all or nothing. It is a matter of degree. I think overall, most people who practice in monasteries are not necessarily stellar monastics who are doing the practice every waking moment. They are doing all kinds of things. Some of them may not even be as dedicated to the practice as some people I know who are laypeople living in the world. It is a matter of degree.
For all of you who are living an ordinary lay life, it is possible to increase the degree to which you are dedicated, and to get a lot of the benefits of a more full-time, dedicated Dharma life. If you would like to do that, that is what the teachings this week are about. On Monday it was about being embodied and being present – mindfulness of the body. Just practicing that through the day is tremendously beneficial. Letting the body be your temple, your monastery.
Mindfulness of speech was the second day. To care for your speech and notice why you say what you are saying, and the tone of voice in which you say it. There is a whole world of our inner life that gets revealed by paying attention to our speaking. Rather than listening to the abbot of the monastery give a Dharma talk, listen to yourself speak. Maybe it is not a Dharma talk, but maybe you start becoming conscious of what you are doing, so that it starts changing. Naturally you will want what you do to be more dharmic, if you are really listening to yourself.
Then there is the dedication to being harmless. That is the essence of the whole buddhadharma – living a life that is harmless to self and others.
Today, the topic is commitment, or living with a sense of purpose, and being dedicated to that sense of purpose. Sometimes when mindfulness is taught, we emphasize that side of mindfulness that has to do with not wanting, not reacting – just being in experience, and coming back to being still. That is all well and good. But we have different layers of our psyche – our mind – different areas of how we engage in the world. For example, when we sit down to meditate, we might be dedicated to just being present – just being and not trying to do so much. We let go of the doing mind. Just being – feeling still, quiet and peaceful. It can be so nourishing to do that.
But there was something that brought us to the meditation cushion. There was dedication, commitment, a sense of purpose that brought us there to do the practice. At one point in life – before we meditate – getting to meditation, has this sense of purpose. Then we can put away that purpose to sit and meditate. I am trying to say that in different areas of life, it is appropriate to look at these different qualities. What I am encouraging today is to look at your intentions.
Why do you do things? What is the real intention, the sense of purpose underneath them? Not the surface purpose or surface intention, but what is really the heart's intention in doing whatever we are doing? What is the inner life's real, deeper intention and sense of purpose in what we are trying to do? Just to look at that – to be mindful of that – is a whole valuable practice in itself.
To take it a step further, spend some time reflecting on your deepest intention. What is your heart's deepest wish? If all things could be provided for you – if a genie came along and said, "I can provide you with anything at all" – what is your heart's deepest wish? Not what your desires are, or what your ego wants, but if you really get quiet and listen, what does your heart most want? What is the deepest intention?
I think this is so valuable that I sometimes tell people that it is more important to spend time every day reflecting on your deepest intention than it is to meditate every day. Clearly I value meditation a lot. For me to say that it is even more important to reflect on your deepest intention says something about how important I think this is.
Do it over time – not just for one day then decide what it is – but keep coming back and looking at it and looking at it every day. Because it morphs and changes. You see different angles of it, or you see layers and go deeper and deeper over time.
If you find that you answer the question, "What is your deepest intention?" with a negative statement – "My deepest intention is not to be afraid"– that is fine. But you might want to ask: if that negative thing was accomplished, what then would be your deepest intention? If you could feel safe, then what would be available for you?
Then, with this reflection on a purposeful life – an intentional life – what are you living for? Not so much from ideas of "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts", but really – what is the heart's wish? What is the heart's deepest intention? I emphasize the heart because this is an expression of inner depth, where our deepest wish or intention seems to arise out of us in the most natural way we can imagine. There is not an effort for it to come, but it really feels like this intention is integral to who we are in some deep, intimate way.
Then we make a commitment to that. Living a committed life. If you have something that is wholesome and valuable that is your purpose or intention, then it is wholesome and valuable to have a commitment to it. There are many wise things a person can do in one's life. Some people have too many choices – tremendous amounts. Like going into a supermarket these days – all these choices to make. Whereas in the old days, you went to a little market and there were not so many brands and choices. You just took what was there.
For some people in the modern world, there are many choices and ideas about what we should be doing. People can get so busy doing all the different things that they are called to do. A wise life is one where we are able to let go of even wholesome things – good things to do – so that we can focus on a few things well. Sometimes if we do a lot of different things, we do not go very deep in any of them. Some things are so valuable and useful to give ourselves over to in a fuller, deeper way – seeing it all the way through to the other side – all the way through to the depth of it or the heart of it.
If this Dharma life is what you are interested in doing – there is no obligation to do it – it is worth spending time on your sense of purpose with it, intentions and sense of commitment. Maybe there is a way of being more committed, so that you say, "This is what I'm doing." You have clarity and purpose. You put aside some of the things you do that do not fit that purpose – that dilute your possibility of engagement and involvement – so you can fully let your purpose grow and develop.
If you are watching more movies on the computer every day by a factor of two, three, or four times longer than you ever meditate, that says something about what you are committed to – what is important for you. Maybe it is okay. Maybe there is a higher purpose that comes from watching TV programs.
What do you want your life most to be about? By the time you get to be old or about to die, do you want to look back and list all the TV programs and movies you have seen? "Ah, that was a life well spent." Or do you want to look back at your practice life, your dharmic life, and realize how much you have changed and grown, and say, "Oh, 'that' was a life well spent." Or your life of supporting other people.
A committed life and having a commitment. There are plenty of times in Buddhist history and Buddhist traditions where the sense of commitment even takes the form of a vow. It is like what happens when we take refuge – we hold on to the refuge. We have deep faith, commitment and conviction. We hold on in a wholesome way. We dedicate ourselves. We limit ourselves to some degree. "This is what I want to do."
As you go through your daily life, maybe your daily life does not change any. The commitment is to bring practice to everything you do – to bring it to embodiment and speech – to everything. Whatever you do, you do it in a committed way. You are committed to the practice as you do it – that is more important than what you are doing. At work, for example, practicing as you work is more important than getting a raise.
Intention, commitment, dedication, and devotion can be some of the great supports and nourishments for a dharmic life. You might want to consider, at least for the next 24 hours, what is it that you are committed to? If you reflect deeply, what intentions do you want to have for your life? When you look back over your life at the end of it, what would you like to look back and see? How did you live that life? Does this reflection give you something to be committed to in a devoted and relaxed way – but still committed? Thank you very much. We will continue one more time tomorrow on this topic.