What do we mean by practise?
For a lot of meditators it means the time we spend on the cushion, practising vipassana or zazen or TM or whatever label we like to give our meditation. Practise means, in this context, something like playing the guitar or learning a foreign language. But what are we practising for when we meditate? Do we have an aim? Surely to practise is to ‘get good at something’, to be better at it. A lot of meditation techniques offer different outcomes or goals, but few describe it specifically. Names are given to these goals – nirvana, moksha or transcendence amongst many others. Often it’s said that these terms are beyond description. Beyond language.
Or is the point of meditating just to become a good meditator?
We sometimes hear it said that the path is the goal. In saying this we mean that travelling is the same as the point of arrival. This sort of illogic requires that we hold two opposing ideas in our mind at once, like the particle/wave theory of quantum physics. But if we pick apart the apparent dichotomy of this idea we see that it points at something that can teach us about why we practise? If the path is the goal, then at every point along the way we are at our destination. As we are always traveling that path, on or off the cushion – we can always be practising, knowing that this is the goal.
What also comes out of this realisation is the idea of engagement. That if everything we do is both the practise and the goal then it behoves us to bring our aspirations to every moment and not to hold off till some point of perfection is reached in the future. This is the ethics of engagement and this is where we meet others on the path. Engaged practise makes sense of our meditation because it relates to how we are in the world and how we treat those around us. Surely this is the true reward of practise…