Contextualizing Intentional Practices

Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, Lecture 2, Part 2 of 15 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

CTT: The particular thing that made me think of this as I was driving down here was remembering something I do regularly, but I never teach anybody because I’m afraid I would be pushing some particular belief system that I don’t know that much about. I don’t want to do that particular thing. The thing I always do, which I learned from my Tibetan teachers, is that you don’t do any kind of meditation practice in this vacuum of “Well, okay, I think I’ll devote 10 minutes to doing this controlled attention practice (CAP) right now.” But rather you prepare to do it by taking at least a few seconds or half a minute to remind yourself of what your aspirations are in doing this practice. And at the end of the practice, you don’t just stop and now it’s time to go to the store or something like that, but rather you dedicate the merit of practice. You pray that whatever good arises from this practice will go toward the eventual goodness and enlightenment of all beings.

Student: Are you saying that this is something we do naturally? Or that this is something to . . . ?

CTT: No, not “naturally.” This is a discipline within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. And since they’re big on tradition, they have traditional, specific prayers to do it. But I’m trying to present it in a more general context. So if Jesus is the figure that spiritually turns you on, you should ask Jesus for help at the end of some meditation practice; ask for some help to have this benefit all sentient beings, or something like that. If Jesus is not your person, then it would be kind of silly to do it in that particular form.

I’m not going to say that you should do this, but I do want to tell you that this is the way these things are traditionally done. That you give yourself a mindset that you’re not just…… well, how can I express this? I express it for myself in the form of a kind of generic prayer. Generic in the sense of I don’t know who the Gods and Goddesses are and what the proper form is and all that, but I don’t want to go to the wimpy extreme addressing my prayer and aspiration “To Whom It May Concern.” 😉 But sort of to whoever, whatever, however forces are involved in this, I hope that in some sense they’ll bless whatever kind of meditation practice I’m doing and that I will grow from this practice in wisdom and compassion and ability to be of service to people. and that it’s helpful to others.

I keep it relatively simple that way. In various spiritual traditions there are very flowery, complicated, detailed versions of this kind of thing. And in the end I dedicate the merit of my practice, by which I mean I hope that whatever I’ve learned from it, or whatever effect it has on the cosmos in ways that I’m not sure whether it does or not, but whatever it does, that it’s for the good of all sentient beings. And I would simply suggest that you think about developing some kind of personal ritual like that in terms of technical practices like this. That they’re not just isolated technical practices, but rather that you remember you have a goal in doing them.

You came to ITP. You’re going to spend a lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of transformational energy over the years. I presume that all of you have at least some conscious motivation that this would be for the benefit of all human beings as well as for yourself. Right? I don’t think anybody comes here to learn to be a better bank robber; there is some definite altruistic motivation. So you end your practice not by simply dropping back into “Now I’ve got to get busy doing such and such an ordinary thing,” but you remind yourself that you hope this is a benefit to all beings.

I feel awkward talking about this because it’s getting sort of personal, about my personal spiritual beliefs, and I try not to push my beliefs on anybody. But keep it down to the more psychological sorts of stuff that I have a lot of confidence I can teach quite clearly. So that’s the reason I wanted to bring up this context.

It’s a large elaboration of the statement I made last time that somebody never learns meditation or any other spiritual technique in a vacuum. There is a context. There are expectations. There’s conditionings and so forth that are going to affect how things actually work. So that was my elaboration of it. Yes?

Student: I was going to say I hear you suggesting that we should understand our purpose and action, which is much of the point of attention focusing practices.

CTT: That you start by remembering your intentions, and focus to the best of your understanding right now. At the same time, these kinds of controlled attention practices are designed to, over a long period of time, make even clearer to you what your intentions and hopes and fears and focuses are. So yes. It never hurts to remember why you’re here and what you’re trying to do. And, of course, don’t get too perfectionistic about that. If you can’t recapitulate your entire spiritual motivation in 10 seconds because you’re distracted, you know, there are days like that.

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