23: Always abide by the three basic principles

On the spiritual path, over and over again it is a good idea to keep coming back to a few basic principles. By doing so, you can bound your actions with discipline. You can keep your practice on track. It is a bit like setting up bumpers on the side of a bowling alley, so your ball stays in its lane and does not fall into the gutter. This slogan suggests you work with three basic principles: honoring your commitments, refraining from outrageous actions, and developing patience.

Honoring your commitments. In general, this means that when you make a commitment to train your mind, you do not back down but you stick with it. More formally, it means that you keep the two basic vows of mind training: the refuge vow and the bodhisattva vow. In the first, you vow to work with yourself and to develop mindfulness and awareness. In the second, you vow to work with others and to develop wisdom and compassion. When you first take such vows, they are highly inspiring and a bit intimidating, but it is easy to drift away and forget what you have vowed to do. So it is important to refresh those commitments daily.

Refraining from outrageous actions. The advice here is to be steady and modest. It is not necessary to be all that dramatic, and you do not need to draw attention to yourself. You should recognize the desire to be seen as special, to be noticed as “advanced” or “spiritual” as a stumbling block, and not give in to its seduction.

Developing patience. Mind training is not something you zoom through and then move on to something else. It is a lifelong occupation. You need to be patient and without bias as you go about it, both with yourself and with others. You should know yourself and not think more or less of yourself, but be straightforward, steady and realistic.

Today’s practice

What does it mean to make a commitment? What helps you to maintain the commitments you have made, and what throws you off track? 

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