So it's probably a good idea to have a word on practice.
There are many types of Buddhist practices; it's a pretty old religion, older than Christianity. My practice is Zen.
Shokai recently had a post on this, from his Soto Zen perspective. While I largely agree with his points there, I would shade things a bit differently in my Rinzai Zen perspective. To wit:
Everything we practice is a way of practicing MU. We practice not to cultivate mindfulness, although mindfulness is cultivated. We practice not to practice MU better, but each mindful practice enables us to practice MU better. Our practice is an expression of ourselves, but strictly speaking, there is nothing we cannot do except practice, either mindfully or not.
As Mumon - the original one, so to speak- is translated:
To realize Zen one has to pass through the barrier of the patriachs. Enlightenment always comes after the road of thinking is blocked. If you do not pass the barrier of the patriachs or if your thinking road is not blocked, whatever you think, whatever you do, is like a tangling ghost. You may ask: What is a barrier of a patriach? This one word, Mu, is it.
This is the barrier of Zen. If you pass through it you will see Joshu face to face. Then you can work hand in hand with the whole line of patriachs. Is this not a pleasant thing to do?
If you want to pass this barrier, you must work through every bone in your body, through ever pore in your skin, filled with this question: What is Mu? and carry it day and night. Do not believe it is the common negative symbol meaning nothing. It is not nothingness, the opposite of existence. If you really want to pass this barrier, you should feel like drinking a hot iron ball that you can neither swallor nor spit out.
Then your previous lesser knowledge disappears. As a fruit ripening in season, your subjectivity and objectivity naturally become one. It is like a dumb man who has had a dream. He knows about it but cannot tell it.When he enters this condition his ego-shell is crushed and he can shake the heaven and move the earth. He is like a great warrior with a sharp sword. If a Buddha stands in his way, he will cut him down; if a patriach offers him any obstacle, he will kill him; and he will be free in this way of birth and death. He can enter any world as if it were his own playground.
Breaking that down a bit...
Enlightenment always comes after the road of thinking is blocked.
Not "when" the road of thinking is block, but after.
If you do not pass the barrier of the patriachs or if your thinking road is not blocked, whatever you think, whatever you do, is like a tangling ghost.
This I think is one of the differences in Shokai's practice and mine.
Tangling ghosts ain't generally useful. Being free of what we think and what we do, and being able to act despite that or because of that, with choice is being free. Ultimately, this path is about transcendance of suffering. "You" have to be in a place to a) see that freedom, and b) to be able to skillfully act when you see that.
Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not 10,000 lifetimes from now. But also maybe in the next whatever the inverse time unit of an eon is...From the right vantage point, we now can see this. Listen to this. Accept and hold this.
And engage this.
But we have to get to that vantage point, and we have to learn how to function at that vantage point.
When Shokai says:
First, to approach zazen correctly, one must enter this training practice with no expectations of results.This is the practice-enlightenment of which Dogen speaks; in a seriously disturbed state it is nigh impossible to do this. "No expectation of results" I take to mean: Don't expect a magic want to be waved and all your problems will go away, even after sitting 10,000 times.
But that's not the point; the point is that there is a point at which the suffering permeating our problems like an indelible dye is transcended. Problem and suffering are still present, but we are different, and in a less painful way to ourselves and others.
Is this not a pleasant thing to do?
That's wallowing in understatement.