Today was the 100th day of my Buddhist practice self-challenge, which I began on my return from Seoul, South Korea. As I’ve previously written, I was inspired to choose a 100-day period after reading Anyen Rinpoche’s book Momentary Buddhahood: Mindfulness and the Vajrayana Path, in which he writes:
…there is not one person that does not have the ability to have a consistent practice of meditation on a daily basis. Every person is capable of doing that. Every person can do it without missing any days if they dare to make a serious commitment. Having this kind of commitment to daily practice is one of the main supports for Dharma as a whole. . .
One way we can work on developing a habit to practice is by considering for how long we could consistently commit to practice each day. It may only be five or ten minutes when we begin. We should take this as the minimum for our daily practice. Then, we should commit to completing at least this much practice every day for one hundred days. No matter what happens, we should resolve not to give up. At the end of the hundred days, we can reevaluate the length of practice time we have chosen. We may want to increase it, or simply keep it the same, before we make another time commitment for practice. If we work with short periods of commitment that are not too overwhelming, over time we will find that we have developed the habit of daily practice without falling into any self-defeating behavior.
Because I completed my 100th days this morning, I want to take a moment to reflect on how it went. Looking back at the log I kept, I see that there was only 1 practice that I actually did every single morning without fail: a bodhisattva of compassion sadhana. The first 36 days, I used a short Chenrezig sadhana from the Karma Kagyu tradition and every day since, I’ve said the short Avalokiteshvara practice that I learned at my Phowa retreat with Anyen Rinpoche in Denver. Also since Denver, I’ve been reciting Om Mani Padme Hung Hri mantras every day as an accumulation practice. As of this morning, I’ve recited 1,062 malas worth of mantras, so I met my goal of saying 100,000 mantras by the end of the year (each mala has 108 beads, of which you count 100 when you say a complete mala, allowing 8 beads for mistakes and accidental omissions). Though it was not part of my originally stated commitment, I also completed reading The Words of My Perfect Teacher: A Complete Translation of a Classic Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism by Patrul Rinpoche.
As for the other aspects of my practice, halfway through the 100 days I changed from doing 20 prostrations each morning to yoga and stretching exercises due to back problems. I maintained that part of the practice very well until 2 weeks ago when I became quite sick with a bad cold. I had almost no energy and missed a total of 8 days of exercises. The 20-minute sitting meditation period was unfortunately even more inconsistent: I sat for all 20 minutes on only 53 days. On another 34 days, I did a combination of sitting and walking meditation, wind energy practice, and mantra recitation. The remaining 13 days, almost all during the period of my sickness, I either skipped meditation entirely or only managed the wind energy practice and a minimal amount of meditation. The short sutra reading I did every morning except for 2 when I was sick.
Overall, I found the 100 days of practice an excellent experience. I am pleased that I did actually manage to get up early every morning for 100 days and do Buddhist practice, and that I said the bodhisattva of compassion sadhana every single day. This is by far the longest period of daily practice I’ve ever accomplished before. However, it was quite sobering to see how undisciplined my mind really is. The 20-minute sitting meditation period was particularly challenging and I barely managed it 50 percent of the time. Looking back, I see that when I changed from 20 prostrations to 15-20 minutes of physical exercises, I began to slack off on the meditation. I think this was because my overall time commitment had increased and apparently at this point my limit is about 45 minutes of daily practice.
I also became very aware of how difficult it is for me to maintain mental focus during sadhana and mantra recitation; I have to continually bring my mind back from wherever it’s drifted off to when I find myself mouthing the prayers without really knowing what I’m saying. This was particularly true during my sickness when I had almost no mental control at all. That really brought home to me how critical it is to have a consistent daily practice that can be fully internalized over time. Otherwise, there really is no chance that I will be able to remember anything at all when I am in pain, overcome with sickness, or near death. On the other hand, I do feel like even with only 100 days of repetition, I’ve developed a closer connection with the bodhisattva of compassion, which is wonderful. I find myself mentally repeating mantras reflexively now, even when I’m not holding a mala, and that’s promising in regards to right speech, etc. I can definitely see the value of a true practice commitment.
So all in all, I’m extremely glad to have made the commitment and followed through to the extent that I did, and to have finished the 100 days and the 100,000 mantras before the end of the year, rather than to have tried them as New Year’s resolutions, which I think can often be very difficult to maintain.
Moving forward, I intend to continue the physical exercises, wind energy practice, sadhana practice, and short sutra reading on a daily basis. I will also continue mantra accumulation, though probably not as aggressively as I did over the last couple of months. I have also already begun rereading The Words of My Perfect Teacher: A Complete Translation of a Classic Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism as I know that the only way to get anything to really stick with me is repetition! As for formal sitting meditation, that is definitely an area to continue to work on. I am going to try 20 minutes once a week for the immediate future and try to get back to regular sitting with my local mindfulness practice center.
I once had a Christian friend express amusement when I described my spiritual endeavors as “practice”; he wanted to know when the practicing would finally be over and I would actually do whatever it was I was preparing for. After 100 days of daily practice, I can say with confidence that my practicing will never be over! I recently read a quote by Martha Graham that says what I wish I would have told my friend about practice. She said “Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.” And that, I think, could certainly take a lifetime.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
– from Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front by Wendell Berry