The Skill of Reflecting
-Eveline Zwahlen, BA online student from Switzerland
A central aspect of Buddhist teachings is the process of studying, reflecting, and meditating. First, studying and listening to instructions are needed to establish a foundation of knowledge that can later form the basis for practice. Reflecting on the learned material is the second step. It lets practitioners dispel doubts and misconceptions and helps them gain clarity and conviction. As the concluding step, meditation serves to put the gained understanding into practice and come to a direct realization.
Inspired by my studies at RYI, I determined last semester to not simply dwell on the first step of listening, as I had done in the past, but instead integrate daily time frames for reflection as part of my studies. However, I quickly noticed that this was not such a simple undertaking. Reflection is a skill that needs to be cultivated—what seems to be a well-developed ability for many of my fellow students looked like a great challenge for me. Before I got interested in Buddhist teachings, I spent much of my free time enjoying pleasant things like going out with friends, eating delicious food, going to the cinema, and reading exciting novels to balance my busy work schedule. These things do not require a particularly great capacity for reflection—accordingly, my ability to reflect on the learned material was poorly developed. Encouraged by Śāntideva’s statement in his Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra that things will get easier through habituation, I pushed the initial frustration over my lack of ability aside and continued to practice. In the meantime, looking back on a few months of daily reflection, I observe that several things have changed even in such a short time. It has become easier for me to approach a subject in a focused and structured way, to look at it from different angles, and to analyze it. This progress led to more clarity on the topics I have been reflecting on and a feeling of familiarity. What I have heard about these topics are not just words I once picked up in class and then forgot. Instead, they have become a part of my thinking and behavior. Of course, what I am describing here is not such an outstanding achievement as, for instance, the realization of emptiness. However, these small attainments make practitioners step by step progress on the path, make them realize that they can further develop their abilities, and finally enable them to achieve the intended goal.