By Daniel Scharpenburg
Practicing the five strengths is about taking our practice seriously.
Plenty of people think that spiritual practice is a good idea and that living in a more awakened way would be nice, but they also think they can’t do it. We want to transform ourselves, but at some level we also don’t want to.
I want to be enlightened, but I also don’t *really* want to give up my tendency to give into every temptation all the time. How serious about my practice can I be if I’m giving into all my temptations all the time instead of resisting them?
The five strengths is a list of practices that are supposed to help us stay on track, and to get us to take the path more seriously. I need whatever help I can get sometimes to keep motivated and inspired. Maybe you do too.
The five strengths are: strong determination, familiarization, seed of virtue, reproach and aspiration.
Strong determination is exactly what it sounds like. It’s about the perfection of diligence, about taking ourselves seriously as bodhisattvas. We are practicing to transform ourselves and this is an important goal. We have to keep that in mind when we don’t feel like practicing. We’re awakening our basic goodness to help ourselves and others live in a more awakened way. We have the energy within us to walk the path we just have to remind ourselves that the path is very important. Motivation is the foundation for the other four strengths.
Familiarization is about making good habits. We train ourselves to be mindful by cultivating mindfulness in situations over and over and over. We do this until it comes naturally to us. We do the same in training ourselves to be compassionate. We do good works and be kind to others over and over and over, until it comes naturally to us too. Familiarization is about making these practices a normal part of our lives.
Seed of Virtue
Seed of Virtue is a reminder to think about our true nature. We all have Buddha Nature, the awakened state, at our core. Chogyam Trungpa used terms like “Basic Goodness” and “Constant Wakefulness” to describe this. I think those are good terms. We are all part of a lineage of spiritual explorers and we can reflect on the nobility of the spiritual journey as well. The fact that we’re thinking about the Bodhisattva path shows us that we’re already on it. And we have wakefulness as our nature, which helps to remind us that we are worthy. You are good enough and you always have been.
Reproach is about being honest with ourselves. It’s about noticing where are greatest weaknesses are so that we can work on them. We all have flaws and things we struggle with. If we aren’t looking at those honestly, then they are going to be way harder to handle. Buddhism is about being real with yourself, being more and more authentic and genuine. And part of that is recognizing where we need the most work.
Aspiration is real commitment to the path. We make a sincere vow to try to save all beings, or some similar thing. I can’t save all beings, of course, and that’s what makes the vow powerful. It makes me constantly inspired and encouraged because of the strength of my commitment to the path. We vow to serve others, to feel for others, and to care for them with everything we have. People sometimes wonder why we take vows in Buddhism and the reason is that vows spur us to make greater and greater efforts.
This makes me think of the Zen tradition. In the earliest days of the Zen tradition in China it was really just teachers wandering around giving meditation instruction, talking about Buddha nature, and giving Bodhisattva Precepts. These precepts were considered really important. I like that simple way of doing things and I think things in all the Buddhist traditions have gotten more complicated than they need to be over the years. I’m sure some will disagree, but those three things are really what I want to do as a teacher.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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