Today’s ‘Advice from the heart’ is pretty straightforward:
Since you cannot become a Buddha merely by understanding Dharma, practice earnestly with understanding.
Ever notice how the simple things can become very complex? Or how we tend to try and make them that way? This piece of advice has caused both here, and neither were needed.
When I first started studying the ‘Advice from the heart’, I ran right by this sentence, thinking to myself that it was ‘pretty obvious’ that you can’t become a Buddha just by having intellectual understanding, it has to seep into your bones, become part of you.
Kind of like scratching an itch.
Do you think about whether or not you should scratch your nose when it itches? I don’t. It’s part of me. I don’t just understand that ‘itch = scratch’, I do it without thinking about it. Over time, I’ve realized that the natural response to itching is scratching. In fact, the only time I ever consider or think about it at all is if I’ve fallen into Poison Ivy or the thing that’s itching is infected.
Odd analogy, isn’t it? But it works for me. Took me a while to figure out that there’s quite a bit of difference between ‘understanding’ something in the front of my head, ‘knowing’ it in my heart, and ‘realizing it’ so naturally and well that I didn’t really need to think about it anymore, it was, quite literally, part of me. Natural as breath.
Mind you, there’s a tonnage of things that aren’t realized here. Likely a good bit that won’t be in this life, too. And you know what? That’s perfectly fine. The point is to do what I can do, and to put myself out there and push at my boundaries because that’s the only way they’re going to expand.
In fact, if I think about it, the worst possible thing I can do is tell myself that I ‘know something’ because, at that moment, I am giving up all possibility that I can know anything more than what I think I already know. (How many times have I thought I knew something only to find out later that I were missing something important that changed everything?)
‘Practicing earnestly, with understanding’ is to have the mindset that not only do I not know anything, that anything I encounter should be carefully considered and that consideration should begin with the thought/challenge that maybe what I am considering is worth more than anything I think I know.
This has been the only way to really challenge myself, the only way to insure that I consider it clearly, freely, and without bias or other intellectual impediment.
This is the mindset I have garnered from this piece of ‘Advise from the heart’, to take this approach to practice, to be genuine and dedicated to the effort, and if I must say I ‘know’ something, say only that I know that this approach is the way to generate realization.
This is the ‘understanding’ to be committed to practice – freely open to the experience and allowing it real, deep, and personal access as I do so.
Questions are the tools by which I push at myself.
I ask myself how I know I am truly seeking to learn (as opposed to swelling my head with thoughts that I know something, or that I have a full range of knowledge of the meaning of the things I find, read, study, or consider).
I ask myself how I know that I am really understanding things, how do I know that my perspective is truly clear. I ask myself how can I demonstrate the understanding that leads to realization, and I watch myself for signs that I’ve missed opportunity to align myself with practice and its goals.
It is work. But it’s happy work, because even when I mess it up, get it wrong, or misunderstand, I can say that I am striving, trying, and if I can say nothing else with any degree of certainty, I can say with full certainty that I am doing my utmost to honor the ideal of practicing earnestly and with understanding.
See that? Even when I do not understand, I still understand the point, purpose, intent, and goal. These are the things that this piece of ‘Advice from the heart’ remind me of, and like any practice or obligation, they are not things “I” tell “You” to do, they are the things I tell myself to do in an effort to give sincerity to my practice. If you happen to find my silly, ignorant way of understanding things helpful, I am happy for it, but ultimately, the perspective and interpretation you find for yourself is the one that will be most helpful to you.