Geshe Tashi of Jamyang Center once said something about the beginning of spiritual practice, which was very powerful for my mind.

He said that in order to really begin a Buddhist practice, one has to fully understand the first two of the 4 Noble Truths: The truth of suffering and cause of suffering. Understanding these fully will create the mind that takes refuge in the last 2 Noble Truths: Cessation and the Path.

Many westerners really don’t like to hear the words suffering, and some western teachers specifically avoid talking about this. However, Geshe Tashi said that without understanding suffering, spiritual practice hasn’t begun yet. The example he used was Formula 1 racing. When the race is going to begin, there is a starting line that all the cars line up on. When someone fully understands suffering and is fed up with it, that’s when someone is at the starting line and is ready to race. This is the beginning of spiritual practice. Until then, we’re not on the path yet. I found this to be very powerful.

This echoes what a lot of other contemporary Buddhist teachers have said. Chogyam Trungpa has said that spiritual practice begins after a feeling of hopelessness has set in. Shunryu Suzuki says that strength only comes after someone has tasted the bitterness of defeat.

The Beginning of Meditation

Tenzin Palmo once said something interesting about meditation. Tenzin Palmo spent 12 years in cave in the Himalayas doing solitary retreat and is a highly realized practitioner. Her teacher told her that once someone has seen the empty nature of their mind, this is when meditation practice actually begins.

For most of us, that may sound discouraging. Meditation practice for most of us is just trying to sit still and concentrated for 15 minutes. To hear that we havn’t even begun our meditaiton practice, or even our spiritual practice may sound shocking.

I like reflecting on what teachers have often said, specifically those who have spent extensive time in retreat and have gained attainments. They say that these things are not as far away as we think they are. Tenzin Palmo says we have access to teachers and books. All we need is patience and determination.