Lately it has occurred to me that Buddhist monks seem to have undergone a series of practices which have altered the way they think about a number of things. As Western lay practitioners seeking to progress towards enlightenment, perhaps it might be worth disentangling these, and seeing what we should be aiming at doing in our own practice to perhaps mimic these steps.
A first step I would say is freedom from fear. I’ve never yet met a monk in whom fear was a strong emotion, and I think part of their training is releasing those fears as a step towards compassion and true openness. A classic example of what they do is the charnel ground practice — by meditating amongst dead and partially decomposed bodies they gain familiarity with death. Now this isn’t practical for a lot of us in the West, so instead we can work with the imagination to familiarise ourselves with the objects of our fears. But without releasing our fears there are always going to be significant barriers towards compassion and loving-kindness.
A second step might be realising that we are all part of one whole. The teachings on interconnectedness, Buddha nature and metta all help to do this, but it takes time. You end up breaking down barriers of ego-centricity, ill-will, and some parts of self, which is basically a process of deconditioning ourselves away from the habits our body-identity has installed.
I’m sure there are more topics we need to address, perhaps you would care to suggest?
With warm greetings,