When you’re first starting out, it’s good to study the Sutras and Suttas widely to give you a wide base of knowledge. But there comes a time when you’ve got to no longer just read about Buddhism but to put those Buddhist principles into practice – then we will really begin to understand what the Buddha meant.
The easiest way to walk the Buddhist path is to try a few practices and see which one you like the best, see which one yields the best results for you and then stick with that practice until you become really, really good at it. Pick 1 Dharma Door and enter it deeply. Because this will be your “Go to” practice in times of need – when you really need your practice the most.
For example, some people might like breath meditation (called anapanasati), others might like metta (loving kindness meditation), others might like reciting mantras and yet others might prefer things like Chan meditation. Try them out, try to understand what principles they use to work and evaluate the results for yourself. What all of these are, are vehicles that help take you to the peace that is inherent in your own mind. They are vehicles that take you on a journey not forwards or backwards, but inwards into the stillness that is already within your own mind.
I’m going to make it really easy for you and pick 1 practice for you that is deceptively easy. It is so easy that you may not even consider it a practice. In fact, when I first learnt it – I didn’t even realize that it was a form of practice until years later.
This is a bit like Mr Miyagi teaching Daniel-san wax-on, wax-off. And Daniel-san not realizing that wax-on/wax-off were exactly the same motions as used for blocking punches. And by repeating those motions over and over again, Daniel’s mind was already programmed to react in that way without needing to consciously think about how to react when attacked – the motion just comes out naturally – because it has then become second nature.
Similarly, if we practice 1 thing over and over again everyday in our minds for several months, when something serious happens or in times of need, we can call upon this practice to be there in our times of need. For example, whenever you’re in trouble or whenever you’re in danger, you can recite the Shurangama Mantra, or the Great Compassion Mantra or even easier, recite the name of Gwan Yin Bodhisattva – these are 3 practices that you guys can all learn to call for help in times of need. But you will need to have developed some skill in your recitation in the first place by having practiced these mantras many, many times.
It’s said that to become an expert at something, you will need to have practiced for 10,000 hours in order to have achieved to a skill level of an expert. And I remember listening to one of Master Chin Kung’s (a Pure Land teacher who was an expert at reciting the name of Amitabha Buddha) tapes when he answered a question of how long it takes to see results in your Dharma practice – he answered – maybe around 3 years or so. That means, if you pick 1 simple practice and keep practicing it a little bit (or even a lot) everyday, you will see good results within 3 years or so. Why? Because by then, you will have programmed your own mind to react in times of danger to call upon your practice automatically.
I saw a clip of Jet Li with an actress on Youtube. The actress was learning martial arts choreographed moves – she spent a few hours trying to get it right but couldn’t do it, so she complained, “Oh, how come I spent all these hours practicing but I still can’t get it! How come Jet gets it straight away?!!!” Jet Li comes replies, “You’ve practiced for a few hours? I’ve practiced for 40 years!” Now that is the difference in skill level.
I like using short mantras – just like reciting the name of Gwan Yin Bodhisattva or Amitabha Buddha because:
1. They are short and sweet – so your mind doesn’t get confused and doesn’t have to remember the long mantras – as it’s easy to forget lines or repeat lines or get distracted when using longer mantras (even though it’s still good to recite the longer mantras). So you can really focus your mind right down into the mantra itself.
2. By reciting these holy names, you are actually invoking these holy beings to come. In the past, these holy beings have made vows to come to the aid of people who call upon their names. So it’s not just you by yourself cultivating – it’s you plus these holy beings secretly helping you out to help you progress faster.
So I’m going to make it really simple for you, I’m just going to give you 1 practice that you guys can practice by yourselves until you develop some skill with it. This practice is called the Universal Door and comes from Chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra. It’s “Universal” because it’s so easy to practice.
What is it? It is reciting the name of Gwan Yin Bodhisattva.
Here’s how you do it. Just recite:
Namo Gwan Shi Yin Pu Sa
Just recite that over and over and over again – however many times you want during the day. This is used like a mantra. The mind likes to think, so you are giving the mind something to think about – giving it 1 thing to focus on – the name of Gwan Yin Bodhisattva.
Namo just means homage to. It means to return and rely upon.
Gwan Shi Yin is the name of the Bodhisattva (enlightened being who enlightens others). This name means Contemplator of the World’s Sounds.
This Bodhisattva specializes in Compassion – his compassion is equal to that of the Buddhas. He appears in compassionate form in the form of a lady in white with a willow in her hand – you will see images of her/him in Asian temples all over the world. So by reciting his name, you are invoking his presence to be with you as you cultivate. The benefits of reciting this particular Bodhisattva’s name are many – these benefits are listed in the Universal Door of the Lotus Sutra, Chapter 25 – so it’s good to read that chapter.
The Theravadan Buddhists do something similar when they recite the mantra “Buddho” over and over again – so this practice is not exclusive to Mahayana Buddhism. The same principle exists in all major forms of Buddhism.
I remember a story about Ajahn Mun who taught these Thai villagers how to recite Buddho. Because they were villagers, they didn’t doubt as much as the city folk and thinking this and that about the practice – so they just sincerely recited – and the skill of the recitation of these villagers got to the point where they could observe Ajahn Mun’s mind. You guys can probably google this story and find it somewhere on the internet – I read it first on the Dharmabliss.org website. So don’t look down on such a simple practice of recitation and think that it’s nonsense or useless.
With recitation, the recitation should not bet too fast, not too slow. And you can do it aloud or you can do it silently in your mind (if you’re in a public place and you don’t want people to give you a funny look as to say, “What this guy doing?!”). It’s also best to recite silently if lying down as it’s more respectful.
You recite also not to expect anything or to gain anything. The attitude when reciting should be to let go of everything else and just focus on the recitation. If your mind wanders during the recitation, just realize that it’s wandered, let it go and return to the recitation – be patient as the mind will wander a lot – just gently reign it back in to the recitation – a bit like reigning a horse back on track.
The function of reciting mantras like this is to maintain a constant stream of mindfulness on the recitation during the day. Some people who recite seriously recite Namo Gwan Shi Yin Pu Sa as soon as they wake up, then recite it silently throughout the day. Then if they have to work or study – they do that normally, but as soon as the study or work is over or during break time, they bring their mindfulness of Gwan Yin back up again. But this is only if you want to focus on it intensely – not everyone has the time to do this everyday, but it just shows you how you can actually do it if you really want to try it in order to develop some skill.
Why do we want a constant stream of mindfulness like this? Why do some people recite 24/7 when not engaged in intellectual tasks? Because if they stop their recitation – then false thoughts can slip in and before you know it, you’ve grasped hold of those false thoughts and followed them around, scattering your mind this way and that way. So this is one simple, easy, effective way for a beginner to take up the practice of Buddhism.
You guys can try it to see if you like it and make a practice out of it. And if you do like it, try to develop some skill with it. Once you do develop skill with a practice, then you will know for yourself what benefits you get – you won’t need to ask anyone else.
Namo Gwan Shi Yin Pu Sa!