We’ve been talking on my teacher’s blog about spiritual progress. The big question is how do you determine if all the sitting, chanting, praying and offering has done you (or anyone else) any good at all. It’s a valid question, especially coming from those of us who live in a culture that prizes material success above all else.
First of all, spiritual progress is hard to measure especially with an inward-looking path like Buddhism. But even if you’re working in a tradition like Christianity, which promotes good works in the outer world, you can’t always be sure your motivations are pure. Volunteering, ministry, working with the sick and the poor could all just as easily be tainted with selfishness, greed and arrogance as any of the more contemplative practices.
After some great discussion and personal stories, a couple of us brought up the teachings of several Buddhist masters who recommend that we leave the assessment of our practice up to others. I think this is good advice. If our friends still think we’re assholes then maybe we need to turn up the effort knob a notch or two. But if those around us think that we’re more generous, kind, loving and patient, then these become the markers that tell us that we’re heading in the right direction.
I think we all came to the agreement that worrying too much about progress can become an obstacle in and of itself. It can become fuel for our arrogance and self-attachment, the very fires that we’re trying to quell. But with mindfulness and the disciplines of generosity and compassion, those obstacles can be overcome. One practitioner summed it up nicely by saying that “dedicating any progress or wishing others to have the same” can be just the method we need for keeping us from going astray.
Thanks for reading!