Measuring Progress on the Path
Realistically, how can we gauge the progress we have made on the spiritual path?
I believe that one answer to this question is to meditatively reflect on the answers to key indicator questions that examine the fruits of one’s life. These may be listed as follows:
Is my meditation practice just an add-on to my otherwise busy routine, and something I practice inconsistently? Or, do I know that it is transforming my life – “on the cushion” (during meditation) and “off the cushion” (during post-meditation)?
Am I still more an “armchair Buddhist”, enamoured by the intellectually stimulating information that has been added to my mind? Or, am I experiencing deep transformation, whereby I am letting go of cognitive and emotional misperceptions of reality – and coming to understand what is simple and real, moving away from constant attachment and aversion?
Am I content with just being filled with intellectual and conceptual information, wanting quick fixes to any unpleasant feelings and problems? Or, am I committed to achieving slow but steady inner growth and transformation, backed up with discipline and diligent practice?
Has anything really changed in my life at a deeper level? Or, in the context of my daily life, have there been positive changes in practical expressions of body, speech, and mind – marked by evidence of love, compassion and wisdom?
Am I still conditioned and addicted to impatiently wanting a fast track to feeling better and to experience nothing but pleasure? Or, have I accepted that the true inner work of transformation takes place gradually, accompanied by increasing steady awareness and mindfulness?
Am I still dominantly other-centred, continually desirous of wanting to fix other peoples’ problems? Or, am I centred and patient with myself in alleviating and healing my own confusion and pain, knowing that such internal work operates at deep and even subtle levels?
Is my meditation practice now just a mundane, lack lustre routine? Or, am I experiencing precious insights and realizations about life and reality in my meditation, and where meditation is now an integral and vital part of the day?
Am I still essentially an impatient person, operating with a greedy and grasping mind that wants everything my way (with the exaggerated “I” still looming large)? Or, is there now clearly less agitation in my mind, greater peace, and calm abiding (with an understanding of selflessness)?
In sum, do I think that the mind can be transformed merely by sleeping and relaxing, and enjoying all of life’s comforts – that one can attain all the spiritual levels and realizations within a short time without making any effort? Or, do I realize that only through working hard and undergoing hardship over a long period of time will I be able to attain enlightenment – as was certainly the case with the great spiritual teachers of the past who attained spiritual realization through a great deal of meditation, solitude and practice, not taking any shortcuts?
(Adapted from The Essential Dalai Lama: His Important Teachings, edited by Rajiv Mehrotra, 71).
© 2013 by Alexander Michael Peck