Can You Walk this Path Alone?

There’s hope for the solo practitioner, even at the earliest stages of learning Buddhism

solo buddhist


Diving headfirst into anything all on your own can be daunting, and more of a challenge than most of us ever assume at the outset – but when you’re trying to make an earnest entry into something as all-encompassing and as ancient as Buddhism, going at it alone brings its own set of hurdles.


Thankfully though a lot of the frustration and anxiety that some of us feel when we begin to teach ourselves the path fades away after you simply get to it – placing one foot in front of the other and moving towards the ideals that Buddhism teaches.


Sure, those that start off with guidance are going to have a bit of an advantage in that they are likely following a traditional curriculum and will have assistance through the early transition into this new lifestyle. As an independent student however, you’re going to have to be disciplined and resourceful.


By embracing the road before you, recognizing that there is struggle in everything beautiful, and realizing that the lessons Buddhism has to teach you will come to you as you progress, you’ll be able to fight back against this spiritual gravity regardless of the volume of material you believe you have to push through to get started.


But committed self-study practitioners do have more flexibility and can set their own pace of learning. Not to mention freedom in choosing the source material and in what order.  Often, the solo practitioner is able to progress more quickly than matriculated students simply because they carve out larger blocks of uninterrupted time to study – as opposed to a scheduled hour with a teacher so many days per week.

It is of critical importance that you embrace the need for regular, routine, and proper scholarship as you begin to learn all that Buddhism has to offer. You’ll want to look into the different teachings of Buddhism, you’ll want to look into the different pathways to Buddhism, and you want to search for guides – physical, tangible, as well as mental and emotional – that have the opportunity to shine the brightest light of Buddhism on you.


It’s also important to remember that a true dharmic understanding of Buddhism is only going to unfold in three different stages

  • hearing (or reading)
  • contemplating
  • meditation

An intellectual understanding of the material that you are studying is only going to provide you with a framework of Buddhism. You’ll need to wrestle with the material, force it into your subconscious, and fold it into the very fabric of your personality while contemplating it as often as you can. Different life situations will obviously bring different teachings to the surface, and this is when you’re going to want to capture the moment, embrace all that contemplation has to offer, and spend time really trying to understand all that this lesson is promising.


Finally, you’ll want to spend time every day (ideally every morning and every night) looking for new opportunities to meditate on the lessons that you have been studying as well as the lessons that you have uncovered through your daily life. This time spent meditating on both the mysteries and the lessons of Buddhism will pay off significantly, especially if you are committing to master all that this spiritual pathway has to offer.


At the end of the day, there is a larger amount of research available to anyone and everyone hoping to study Buddhism today than ever before. On top of that, Buddhist lessons from a number of different experienced practitioners are available as well – many of them at your fingertips free of charge thanks to the reach of the internet – and it’s never been easier than it is today to self-study Buddhism.


Of course, it’s impossible to represent all the knowledge and lessons that Buddhism has to offer in a book, DVD, or YouTube series. Buddhism is, at its very core, something distinctly personal and something separate from our physical world and you’ll do well to strive to understand as much of this mysticism as you can along your path without fighting the fits and starts that are inevitable along the way.

dharma wheel

Why Form Matters in Buddhism

Why Form Does Actually Matter in Practical Buddhism

buddhists praying hands

The challenge, that all Buddhists face, is not one of whether or not this kind of lifestyle and spiritual calling makes sense – it resonates and rings true, for sure – but one of whether or not the “form” of our Buddhism is “correct”.


This is especially true of those that have come to this calling later in life, compared to those that have been embracing all that this spiritual choice has to offer from birth. We wonder whether or not we are doing things the right way, whether or not we are making our offerings correctly and with the right mindset, and whether or not we are embracing all that our hearts tell us we must – or if we’re just playing around with foreign superstitions.


Worst of all, so much of what we worry about as practicing Buddhists never seems to impact those that have been “dyed in the wool”. Monks do not seemingly have these concerns, and in truth they reach a place in their minds, their spirits, and their souls that allows them to forget completely about form, ceremony, and pomp (as much as there is “pomp” in this world) and instead just feel the way that they should honor their traditions.


This can be particularly confounding for those that want to become more authentic, those striving for a more impactful connection, and those that are looking for answers in a world that has so few with any real weight.


Make no mistake about it, the form – the physical rituals we all go through as practicing Buddhists – definitely has a place in our spirituality. It has a way of manifesting the way we feel in the physical realm, and it has a way of making our souls a more tangible thing.


And while it is essential to spend as much time honor the form of our bows, our rituals, and our prayers, it is most important that we don’t allow the form – or the stress about whether or not our form is correct – to cloud the connection we feel with all that we have learned and strive to be.


Above all else, it is most important that we strive to be our most authentic selves.


While this may not always involve pitch perfect form, or the most traditional of rituals, it is what we all owe to ourselves and to our souls. Authenticity is so severally lacking in our world and as Buddhists it is our calling to celebrate it in every way possible. The things we keep, the things we discard, and the things that we hold most dear are all going to shape the future of Buddhism, just as the workings of past generations have. The beauty of this calling is that it is alive, ever changing, and always evolving. By letting go of the stress and pressure of mastering form (sounds a bit like mindfulness, discussed in this post), while at the same time striving to perfect it as much as possible, is the true balance that we all deserve to pursue.


It’s not easy. It’s never promised to be easy.


But it is worthwhile.