Why is it so Freakin’ Hard to Practice at Home?
I think that John Daido Loori explained the difficulty best when he stated that the things you do in a home practice are the same as those you do in a monastic practice. The largest difference lies in the amount of support you garner from the monastic environment. Fundamentally, the practice is similar – You wake up, open your day, sit zazen, tidy up, go to work, eat, sit zazen and then go to sleep. I am simplifying the lay-life a bit here but, mostly, you go about a similar routine.
However, two things differ in quantity: Intensity and Support. In a monastic environment you can expect support from fellow practitioners through-out the day. This is not the case in a home-practice. You cannot expect your family or co-workers to support you. They may not understand your practice or even care about it. It is a simple and painful fact. This is especially true of convert Buddhists in that a family isn’t Buddhist.
Personally, I fight for a time to devote to my practice when I won’t feel judged by my family/friends and co-workers. I think my daughter gets it but she is only 16 months old. Maybe that is why she gets it. This is hard for a home-practitioner to intensify their practice while not receiving support. Online communities and small grass-roots sanghas can aid in this but monastics are used to almost daily support, instruction and aid. Home-practitioners can not count on any of that.
Intensity is an issue that is a little easier to bear. intensity does not have to equated with legnth time practicing when it comes to a home-practice. In a monastery, a lay-person or monk is in essence “punching a clock”. I don’t mean this in a derogatory sense unless the practitioners begins to see it as ends to a mean or a way to pass the time. In which case maybe a little self-reflection is in order for that particular person. A home-practice, on the other hand, should be measured in ratios and quality rather than in spans of time.
A homemaker, parent and/or working adult that is able to devote even a small time of intensively engaged practice out of a busy schedule is worth more than a full-time monastic any day. Non-working college students have no excuse and can stop whining.
On a personal note, I am still working through Ango which means intensive practice (more than I usually do), increased engagement (sangha both online and “brick and mortar”), other devotional work (increasing involvement of liturgy into my practice both home and at the sangha) as well as strict following of the Precepts (I figured I’d give it a shot).
I’ve been working hard at keeping all these things in line and at the same time keeping up my level of performance at work, being an active and mindful father and husband, complete my thesis and keep my sanity. I planned on including some of my devotional aspects in dressing up the Christmas tree this year. I originally planned for it on December 8th (Rohatsu) Bodhi Day and also celebrating the end of my 3 month Ango, but due to other considerations we ended up doing it on Thanksgiving.
Well, I didn’t want to do the entire service (chanting and meditation) that I originally had planned in front of the entire family (again I guess I still have a little Christian guilt left over) so I settled on placing some prayer flags (that were kindly donated by a friend) on the tree. When I mentioned the prayer flags to my wife her comment was “That doesn’t make sense”. So I reacted less than mindfully, sulked and put the flags away and my Bodhi Tree goes unadorned.
Now the point of this isn’t about tradition or garlands or Zen. It’s about practicing around people who don’t care or who aren’t concerned about your practice (and there should be no expectation that they would be). This makes it hard for a home practitioner to practice. It makes it hard for me. Explaining the importance of these small things of my practice is an obstacle.
John Daido Loori Roshi puts it well, I suppose, when he states:
When we practice, life is made easier, not more difficult. Practice doesn’t bind us; it makes us free. Greed, anger and ignorance bind us.
I suppose that is correct. Am I binding myself to my practice or is my practice binding me? Illusions come in all sorts of flavors.