One of the things I like best of buddhism is that it requires nothing but that you practice. Mind you, there are practitioners who will cheerfully (and sometimes rudely) tell you otherwise, but that’s their issue and perspective to deal with, not yours.
The practice is about teaching yourself to be here, now, in this moment:
1. To be happy here, now, while you can.
2. To forget about the history/story you’re carrying because the only reason it’s here, now, is that you brought it.
3. To forget about the unknown future because hey, it’s unknown and you can’t have it here, now, anyway.
4. To stop using the past or the future as an excuse for what you’re doing (or not doing) here, now.
5. To learn that the things you think you see in others is more a statement of what is inside yourself than anything.
6. To discern that before you can be good, truly good, to others, you must first learn how to be good, truly good, to yourself.
7. To find the way to care for and love ALL others the same way you love your love, your closest friend, and your most treasured family member(s).
8. To practice and study and chant and prostrate and listen and strive until you manage it or until you move from this life.
There really is no dogma or ‘required way’ to manage it (even as there are many who will tell you otherwise). It takes what it takes, and what it takes for you may be different than what it takes for me.
Did you see ‘The Matrix?’ Do you remember ‘The Oracle?’ Do you remember how, “What the oracle says, she says for you, and only for you?”
That’s the way practice works.
If you think about it, that’s the way ANYTHING works. Personal experience delivers the certainty of personal knowledge. The perspective you hold is unique, therefore the things required to help you learn are unique. They may not seem helpful to me. What ‘works’ for me may seem silly or unhelpful or foolish or inconceivable to you.
None of that matters. The only thing that matters is, ‘Does it work?’
For some, mantra and prostrations and regular attendance to teachings help.
For some, reading and contemplation help.
For some, going on retreats help.
For some, a combination of all these things help.
For some, none of these help.
For some, something that “doesn’t look like buddhism” help.
The point is, the practice IS the practice. Not the ritual, not the chosen method, not the secular or non-secular, not the form of how it is done. That there is practice is all that matters. Effort. Striving. Mindfulness to these ends.
The first and most important lesson is that it isn’t about anything more than whether or not it is helpful TO YOU.
Stop comparing yourself to other practitioners or teachers/lamas/the buddha. You’re not them, you’re you. Your practice has to meet YOUR needs.
Stop measuring how ‘good’ you are or how ‘fast’ you’re moving by how much material you consume or move over. Don’t confuse either with actually knowing something. Knowledge is the ability to consistently respond correctly. What human is ever, truly consistent? Are you? Do you know someone who is? Then why set that expectation for yourself when all it will do is create the feeling that you can never accomplish it?
Practice is about self-education and self-learning. Both require a level of internal honesty that is, itself, challenging to develop. You cannot make progress until you know:
(a) Where you really are,
(b) Where you want to be,
(c) How far the distance between is.
This. This is what practice is about. Nothing more.