One of the unique aspects of Buddhist practice is the freedom to challenge the teachings. Buddhism invites us to question our own perceptions and convictions, even question ancient wisdom and insight. Questioning encourages us to be active in our own awakening, and demands that we fully engage rather than operate on blind faith. This experiential approach to Buddhist learning places real value on our personal understanding of the world, our inner voice. This can seem daunting. How can we ensure that our inner voice is wise? The articles below provide a few methods for cultivating our inner wisdom.
Calling All Skeptics. Whether Buddhism is a religion or more of a secular philosophy is the subject of much discussion. Especially in the West, Buddhism attracts people who refer to themselves as spiritual rather than religious, who may view organized religion with deep distrust. Happily, Buddhism is confident. It urges us to test the teachings against our own experience. In Are You Spiritual But Not Religious? 10 Reasons Why Buddhism Will Enrich Your Path, Melvin McLeod, editor-in-chief of Lion’s Roar Magazine, provides methods of exploring our mind as first steps toward understanding reality:
“Buddhism definitely asserts there is a reality that is not material. Other religions say that too; the difference is that in Buddhism this spiritual reality is not God. It is mind.
“This is something you can investigate for yourself:
“Is my mind made of matter or is it something else?
“Does my mind have characteristics, like thoughts, feelings, and identity, or is it the space within which these things arise?
“Does my mind change constantly or is it continuous? Is it one thing or many?”
Be a Lamp Unto Yourself. “Therefore, Ananda, be ye lamps unto yourselves, be ye a refuge to yourselves. Betake yourselves to no external refuge. Hold fast to the Truth as a lamp; hold fast to the Truth as a refuge. Look not for a refuge in anyone besides yourselves.” — Mahaparinabbana sutta
In this famous quote, the Buddha urges us to trust our personal experience when determining what is right. This is no small responsibility. Knowing that we are subject to unskillful judgments and reactions, how can we trust ourselves to determine truth? Happily, author Larry Rosenberg, founder of Cambridge Insight Meditation Center and author of “Three Steps to Awakening,” provides some guidance:
“Ultimately, your ideas of the truth must be put to the test of lived experience. Throughout his teachings, the Buddha offers a simple formula that guides us in this direction: Examine everything in terms of cause and effect. Whatever is unskillful, leading to harm or suffering for you and others, should be recognized and abandoned. Whatever is skillful, leading to happiness and peace for you and others, should be pursued.” Read More
An Awareness Toolkit: Vipassana & Lojong. With so much importance placed on our personal experience of reality, it is helpful to have methods that hone our awareness. Meditation is a key aspect of Buddhism, a way to gain a level of understanding beyond what we can learn by reading a book. In What Exactly is Vipassana Meditation?, Bhante Henepola Gunaratana explains that “Vipassana is a gentle technique. But it also is very, very thorough. It is an ancient and codified system of training your mind, a set of exercises dedicated to becoming more and more aware of your own life experience. It is attentive listening, mindful seeing and careful testing.”
In the same vein, the Lojong (“mind training”) teachings help us develop compassion – not only for others, but for ourselves. Lojong is made of up seven main points and 59 slogans, some of which Pema Chödrön explores in Lojong: How to Awaken Your Heart:
“It is unconditional compassion for ourselves that leads naturally to unconditional compassion for others. If we are willing to stand fully in our own shoes and never give up on ourselves, then we will be able to put ourselves in the shoes of others and never give up on them. True compassion does not come from wanting to help out those less fortunate than ourselves but from realizing our kinship with all beings.”
Prajna – our Inner Voice. In Buddhism, prajna, or “best knowing”, refers to our natural curiosity, our tendency to question and explore the world as a step toward insight. In The Sharp Sword of Prajna,
Buddhist teacher and writer Judy Lief explains that though prajna is inherent to our make-up, it requires cultivation:
“Prajna has to do with cultivating inquisitiveness of mind, cultivating deep understanding that is not a mere credential but transforms who we are altogether. How can prajna be cultivated? The process of deepening our understanding is referred to as the three levels of prajna, or the three prajnas. These are called hearing, contemplating, and meditating.”
Road test. Interested in finding your inner voice? Join Lama Tsomo and guest teacher, Aaron Stern, for a transformative workshop exploring how to tap into your own inner wisdom and bring awareness to action in daily life. More info at Namchak.org.