Practicing the Dhamma in Ordinary Life

Practicing the Dhamma in Ordinary Life


by Bhante Yogavacara Rahula

The main question for a lot of people is how to practice meditation in daily life. How to
practice the Dhamma in daily life. The practice of formal meditation in a retreat is primarily intensive
training in a very structured environment. This is helpful and important, but the real practice of
meditation, if meditation is to be of any real value, is in our daily lives.

In daily life, the full path and the other aspects of cultivating the mind have to be undertaken
and practiced as well. It’s really in our daily lives, in our day-to-day situations that we need skill and
understanding to meet all the challenges that come up: all the conflicting situations, the chaos, the
daily ups and downs.

We have to have a game plan for meeting and facing the defilements that come up within our
own minds as well as the negativities and defilements that come at us from others. We have to
develop qualities of the mind in addition to meditation.

Many people want to meditate and find peace of mind. But some of those people don’t want to
really change the rest of their life style. They want to have their cake and eat it too – be able to meditate
and get the “bennies,” such as peace of mind, but still be able to do whatever comes into their mind
according to their whims and their fancies.

But the process doesn’t really work that way. For most of us, the mind we encounter as we sit
in meditation – all the states that come up, the difficult emotions, other negative mental states, and
even the condition of our body, pains and the like – is basically the sum total of what we have been
accumulating all of our life. These accumulations are the consequences of our life-long habit patterns,
life style, and even of our viewpoints.

There are practices, in addition to meditation, that we can cultivate to help us bring the
Dhamma into our habit patterns, our life styles, and our viewpoints. Let’s explore some of these other
aspects of the Dhamma practice which we have to put into effect in our daily lives as the appropriate
situations come up.

We know that the second Noble Truth is that the source of suffering is craving and clinging,
unbridled desire. Because of this, one of the main practices in the Dhamma is called Dana. Dana
means the practice of giving or sharing with others. It is an antidote to attachment, to holding on
tightly, to really holding on to our things. We find this greed and attachment everywhere. We hold on
tightly to our possessions, don’t want to let go of them. The problem is, the more that we have, the
more of a burden it becomes. But the practice of giving helps. It’s an antidote to stinginess, and by
sharing things that we have with others, or letting go of our own selfish self-centeredness, it also
helps to open up our minds in lovingkindness and compassion. It is an antidote to clinging and

Giving has different forms. You might say there are three degrees of giving.

One is called one-handed (tentative) giving. With this degree of giving, you give things away
because people ask you, or because you are pressured into it, or because people are looking. But you
are also holding on with one hand. You may not really want to give, but, reluctantly, you do. Let’s say
that a beggar keeps on badgering you. To get rid of him, you give him something. If you’ve ever
traveled in India, you’ve probably encountered situations where beggars follow you around like a
shadow and won’t let you go until you finally give them something. That is a form of giving, of
sharing with others. But it has a limited value, because, of course, the whole spirit of giving is really
letting go. This is letting go to some degree, but not fully.

The second degree of giving is friendly giving. That means you give because you like to give.
It feels good. You don’t have to be pressured into it. Whenever you see somebody in a situation of
need, if you have enough for yourself, if you have two of something, you give it out of friendliness. If
you have two bananas and somebody is hungry, you usually give them one. That’s a higher form
giving because you’re not being pressured into it – it’s coming from your own friendliness, and you’re
not tightly holding on.

The third degree is called kingly giving. In kingly giving, you give anything at any time. You
give the shirt off your back. You give the last food you have to someone who is hungrier. Because
there’s no thought – you give the best that you have. There’s no holding on nor even thought of an “I”
involved in the giving.

Giving material things may be the easiest form of giving, especially if you have more than
enough. Most people, especially in the West, have more than enough. We have closets and garages
full of stuff; we have clothes that we don’t use. Perhaps we clear things out once a year and give them to
the Salvation Army or Good Will as a form of giving and generosity. Of course a lot of times, we’re
clearing our closets of things we don’t need because we’ve got to make room for more things that
we’re going to accumulate. Giving material things, giving food, giving money to charity, that’s all a
form of material giving or sharing.

Another form of giving is the giving of your time. That goes a little bit deeper, because your
own time is closer to your ego. It’s fairly easy to give a beggar a dollar or some extra food if you have
enough, but to share your time might be a little bit more difficult. Imagine that your neighbor comes
over and says, “Oh, you know, I’m really in a jam, I really need your help this Saturday to help me
paint my house.”

“Saturday! Oh, my God. That’s the football game, the soccer match. Can’t we do it on
Sunday?” Or, “I’ll hire my nephew. I’ll give him ten dollars and send him on down to help you.”

We cling to our own precious time and to our desire to do only what we want. Letting go of
our own desires and time to help a person in need is a deeper form of giving.

Sharing our knowledge or talents with others is another way of giving. All these forms of
giving – from the material to the mental – are ways of letting go.

Meditation is also a form of giving, of giving up. You might actually say that when we
meditate, that’s the highest form of giving, because we’re giving up whatever is coming through our
senses, especially in mindfulness meditation. We’re giving up the sound coming to our ear, whether
it’s a pleasant sound or it’s a painful sound, we’re just letting it arise and vanish without holding on. If
we do cling to it, we try to let go. We try to let go of our thoughts, let go of the pains in our bodies.
And of course, ultimately, each of us tries to let go of the self. We let go of the feeling of self in order
to realize unconditioned Dhamma and true liberation of mind. For this, even the sense of self has to
be let go.

Surely if we cannot let go of material things, of mental things, of emotions such as anger, of
other negative states or even of positive states, then when it comes time for it, we won’t be able to let
go of the self in meditation, to make that quantum leap to the unconditioned experience. Therefore the
practice of giving is a whole and complete practice in itself.

In your daily lives you can find many opportunities for practicing giving. You can be
especially giving of your time when somebody is in need, for example somebody at work say: “Can
you show me how to work this stupid computer?” Show him how to do this, or help her do that, or
give in other ways.

There are three foundations of the Dhamma that help us as we practice giving. They are Right
Understanding, the first aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path; Right Mindfulness, the seventh aspect,
Right Effort, the sixth aspect. All those three work together.

Right understanding understands selfishness and miserliness as being negative states. Right
Mindfulness ensures that when selfishness comes back or intervenes, we see it; we notice when our
minds are holding on tightly to things. Having become mindful of selfishness and attachment as
unwholesome states of mind, we use Right Effort to abandon them when they arise. Practicing Right
Effort, we make the effort to prevent and abandon unwholesome states, the effort to cultivate and
perfect wholesome states.