Meditative Progress is Within Reach

I am providing the follow excerpt as encouragement for those of us who meditate not as ordained monks, but as householders…

Though a monastic lifestyle might be more conducive to enlightenment than a busy life within the world, when it comes to individuals rather than models all fixed preconceptions collapse. Some lay people with heavy family and social commitments manage to make such rapid progress that they can give guidance in meditation to earnest monks, and it is not rare at all to find sincere monks deeply committed to the practice who advance slowly and with difficulty. While the monastic life, lived according to the original ideal, may provide the optimal outer conditions for spiritual progress, the actual rate of progress depends on personal effort and on the store of qualities one brings over from previous lives, and often it seems individuals deeply enmeshed in the world are better endowed in both respects than those who enter the Sangha.

 Lifestyles and Spiritual Progress, by Bhikkhu Bodhi

This is not to suggest that the monastic training is irrelevant to the practice of meditation. The monastic setting may provide an optimal setting for progress on the spiritual path. However, as the familiar disclaimer states, individual results may vary. The particular setting of spiritual practice matters less than the traits of the individual, just as with music, or dance, or any other discipline worth developing.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: don’t think you are unable to make progress in your meditation practice simply because you are unable to devote yourself to extended periods of monastic style training. If you wait to begin a practice until the optimal setting becomes available, you will more than likely never begin at all. So, learn to make the most of what you have, and know that real progress is within reach.



Filed under Buddhism, Meditation, Personal Development

6 responses to “Meditative Progress is Within Reach

  1. Your sentiments are the very thing to which I have dedicated my blog (and much of my ministry). Practical and engaged spirituality is about here, now, and this, rather than there, later, and that. Too much weight is placed on finding the right environment, clothing, teacher, and time. The moment of the sacred is NOW. A little meditation on the ordinary in a few moments is worth the intention to spend hours. Thank you for underscoring that message.

  2. When I’ve encountered comments from monastics criticising the moral rectitude of more socially engaged teachers it always raises my hackles! It seems to me that any idiot with a bald head and robe can maintain rectitude in an environment completely removed from the challenges of modern culture and daily living. As you say, there’s no such thing as an ‘optimal setting’ for practice; but there’s definitely an ‘optimal attitude’. It strikes me that there’s a lot of people in monasteries kidding themselves they’re getting on with it, when in reality they’re running away from it! Grrrrrrrrrr! 😉

    • Jackson

      Yeah, and there are also a lot of people in monasteries because that’s the thing to do for a while before starting a family, or when it’s time to retire but you can’t support yourself enough to go it alone. I’m not saying that’s why ALL monks don the robes of whatever color. I just mean to confirm what you said above – that it’s the attitude that counts. As Jack Kornfield so often teaches, if you put some of these renowned monastic teachers in a lay context, with a mortgage and a spouse and children, they’d stumble through life just like the rest of us.

      I do think that monasteries are good for sustaining the integrity and longevity of spiritual traditions, since they do a lot of textual translation and exegetical study, as well as provide an appropriate context for people to practice ritual and listen to teachings. I just don’t want people to think that an un-ordained lay person can’t get enlightened.

  3. Ryan

    Thanks for this post, Jackson.

    I appreciate the sentiment very much, having grappled for a few years with how the appeal of practice as a lay person interacts with the appeal of monastic life. In other words, I used to be a lay person, then I began meditating, and somewhere along the way I was inspired to prepare to ordain (pay off debts, receive parental permission, etc.), and now I’m sticking with where I am (and I happen to be a lay person).

    Also, I second your appreciation for monastics who take the time and effort to do scholarly work — I’ve specifically been grateful for Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s translations and essays available on Access to Insight (which I notice you’ve linked to your blog).

    Additionally, to those who may be reading and unfamiliar with these resources, I heartily recommend the Dharma Overground site, the Kenneth Folk Dharma site and the Vipassana Dhura Dhamma Friend Program, particularly to lay people without access to a local community of practitioners / a teacher.


    • Jackson

      Thanks for the comment, Ryan.

      This is the first I’ve heard of the Vipassana Dhura Dhamma Friend Program. I’ll look it up.

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