I think specifically within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, there’s a strong emphasize on keeping practice commitments. Someone can take commitments to do accumulations continuously (i.e. 100,000 prostrations on continiuous days) or even take on practices for life (6 session guru yoga or doing a mantra recitation everyday for life). After a while, it can obviously become very complicated. Most people live busy lives that they have to balance with their family, work, and their practice. Life seems to get even more busy, while the practice commitments tend to equally get more complicated and demanding.
Lost in Details
One common practice within the Tibetan tradition is doing 6 session guru yoga, which is a requirement for taking a higher yoga tantric initiation. There are different lengths to each session. Some versions being quite extensive, while others being shorter and more abbreviated. I’ve heard from many long time practitioners that they were originally suggested to do the long version. While in order to strike a balance in a busy western life, some teachers are suggesting that people stick with the shorter, abbreviated version. For many people, this creates a conflict because they want to carry out the original instructions, but sometimes the motivation is simply to try to honor the doing of a ritual without remembering why they’re doing it in the first place.
Remembering the Essence
While some people get confused about this and feel like there are mixed messages being sent, I prefer how Geshe Phelgye explains it. His approach is to really remember the essence. Even if someone can’t do long versions, the important thing is to bring into mind what the point of these practices is. What is it that they’re trying to get us to remember or to think about? Once we’re sure on this, we can focus our attentions on this, instead of getting lost in rituals and the proper way to do them.
He mentions that remembering the essence of the practices can be done anywhere, like at the super market or anywhere else that someone is during the day. I actually think this is a great point because otherwise, people can get lost in what seems to be empty rituals. Eventually over time, they just give up on the whole thing because they find it meaningless or too overwhelming.
Rather than just completely stopping, its probably more beneficial to keep things at least “running in the background,” like a computer program. I think sometimes practice comes in waves. Sometimes during some periods, its very intense, while others it seems to plod along. I think by simply keeping things in the background, the momentum continues, no matter what phase we’re in.