Buddhism: The Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Religion
Unlike some other religions, salvation in Buddhism is an individual affair. That’s why Buddhism is considered a DYI or “do it yourself” religion. No external sources, faith or rituals can save you.
The only way to end your suffering is by purifying your mind through self effort. Each individual creates his or her own suffering; therefore, it is that person alone who can end it.
You have to save yourself just as you eat, drink and sleep by yourself. With the teachings of Buddha at our side, we must have an attitude of being ready to learn from every life experience.
We must be our own teachers. If we are wise, then every personal problem and event will instruct us and be a learning tool.
If we choose to be foolish, then not even having Buddha next to us explaining everything would help.
If Buddhism is a do-it-yourself religion, then is Buddhism a selfish religion?
Those who do not understand Buddhism may have the false assumption that Buddhism is a selfish religion where Buddhists are only concerned about eliminating their own pain and sorrow.
However, this is not true at all. Buddha taught us that while we should always be diligent pursuing our own deliverance from suffering, he also that that we should work tirelessly for the spiritual and material welfare of all beings.
In the course of Buddhists trying to seek ultimate inner peace, Buddhists strive not to kill, steal, lie, lust after others or to lose control through intoxication.
These moral commitments are quit the opposite of selfish and directly contribute to the happiness of others.
Practice is absolutely critical to Buddhism
Religious experience is not something that can be understood by conducting experiments in a test-tub or by examination under a microscope.
If we study the Buddha’s teachings but don’t walk the path ourselves by practicing, we won’t get any results. Whether we reap the fruits of practice is strictly up to each one of us.
A person who studies all the time but does not practice is like one who is able to recite recipes from a huge cookbook but never tries to prepare a single dish.
Your hunger to end your suffering cannot be relieved from book knowledge alone. Even praying and making vows alone will not bring us inner peace or get us what we want.
As the famous monk Ajahn Chah once said: “All those who seriously engage in spiritual practice should expect to experience a great deal of fraction and difficulty.”
This reason is because we are training our minds and hearts to go against the current of self-centered habits. It is a difficult task and patience is an essential ingredient.
The key of course is to start. You must set your wheels in motion or plant the seed for change now and slowly train yourself to improve your power of self-reliance.
Remember: the biggest Oak Tree is just a nut that stayed the course.
Practicing Buddhism is like getting a prescription
To further illustrate the point, here’s an example comparing the practice of inner peace to a prescription given by a doctor. Imagine that you’ve had chronic headaches (I know, some of us don’t have to imagine) and that you’ve never seen a doctor about it.
One day you say to yourself, enough is enough, and promptly make an appointment with a well-regarded headache specialist. You go to your appointment and she prescribes you medicine.
Like all prescription, your bottle has detailed written instructions on how to take the medicine and you read the directions hundreds of times.
Imagine that several weeks pass and your headaches haven’t improved at all.
Frustrated, you may complain that the doctor wasn’t any good or a fake and that the medicine was worthless. Meanwhile you haven’t followed the doctor’s advice and actually taken any of the medicine. The medicine will never help you if you never take it.
If you had actually followed the doctor’s advice and taken the medicine regularly as prescription, your headache pain would have improved.
If your headache pain was only minor, you could have been cured with just a little medication; whereas if your pain was severe, it would have been necessary to take a lot of medicine.
The teachings of Buddha are prescribed to cure a disease of the mind that we all possess. If we follow the prescription, it will to bring our minds back to a natural, healthy state.
So the Buddha can be considered to be a doctor who prescribes cures for the ills of the mind. He is, in fact, the greatest doctor in the world.
Buddhism requires practice, practice and practice
Watch out you don’t become like the person in the headache example.
This means we should study the materials but we won’t learn know how to push greed, anger and delusion from our mind without practice. Study without practice, without this “giving up”, brings no results.
As we discussed in our Guide to Buddhism: Step 8 – Putting in the Effort, we our certain to fail on our quest for lasting inner peace if we don’t put in continuous work.
This advice is particular relevant to the intellectuals out there. This is because intellectuals tend to spend too much of their time on study, analysis and debate.
This in unbalanced because they spend too little or no time on practice. This is why some people say that Buddhism is a do-it-yourself religion.
Buddha once said, “The Enlightened one only points the way.” No one can do the practice for you because the truth is something that you can not put into words or give away.
So how do we practice Buddhism?
Buddha placed great emphasis on personal experience which means that we must meditate. Meditation is a practical, scientific method that allows us to use our personal experience and insight to purify our mind.
We purify our minds when we remove the defilement that are causing our suffering. For a more detailed discussion on meditation, see Step 10: Meditation and Are You Ready to Meditate for the First Time?
How Long Should Enlightenment Take?
Not everyone will reach spiritual maturity at once but it has nothing to do with intellect or aptitude.
Buddha understood that people learn and develop at different speeds.
For this reason, the path to inner peace to be practical and to be a gradual spiritual development for each person.
We should not expect quick results because we are training our minds by fundamentally changing how we think and how we view this life. W
hen beginning down the path towards inner peace, you may find yourself making great strides quickly.
Or you may find the path extremely difficult and slow despite putting in study and practice. If the latter scenario describes you, it may be helpful to compare training your mind with teaching a child.
This exercise may be easier for those parents out there.
We all know that children think like children, teenagers like teenagers, and adults like adults. Therefore, we know it would be futile to force very young children to learn knowledge that is beyond their capability.
For example, it would be a complete waste of your time to try and teach a one-year old how to do algebra. It would likewise to futile to teach at a pace that is unnaturally too fast.
When teaching children new concepts, you can’t get too tough with them or try teaching them more language than they can take in at any one time.
We know this because children are unable to hold their attention long enough to focus on what you were saying.
Your mind is similar. Like children, we all learn at different speeds and through varying methods.
Sometimes it’s appropriate to give yourself some praise and encouragement; sometimes it’s more appropriate to be critical. It’s the same with children.
If you scold them too often and are too harsh, they won’t progress in the right way and may lose the confidence to even try. Other times, when children show the aptitude, they need to be pushed a little to do their best.
There is no quick and easy shortcut to inner peace
Keep in mind that those who seek the truth path to peace should not expect an easy path or a path made easier by offers of respect or honor.
Slight effort won’t get you far. It is a long journey and one that you will have to make mostly on your own.
Sometimes you have to force yourself to do things you don’t want to do, but you can’t push the mind to its limits all of the time.
As parents are with their children, you and you alone are in the best position to judge your level of effort and to respond accordingly.
But be careful. If you desire, crave or lust after inner peace, then this will also prevent you from finding peace just as not putting in enough effort. Y
ou can try as hard as you want, practice day and night, but you won’t find peace if it is with a desire to achieve in mind.
Wisdom won’t arise from desire. Instead, simply let go: Watch the mind and body mindfully but don’t try to achieve anything.
Don’t cling to anything, even the practice of enlightenment.