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What makes it dharma?

I was listening this morning to a podcast from one of my favorite content marketing "gurus," Jessica Stansberry, and she mentioned that for her what distinguishes a hobby from a business is that the latter brings in at least $1,000 a month. Her remark got me thinking...

...what separates "hobby spirituality" from a transformative spiritual practice, i.e., dharma? If you've been practicing -- in any spiritual tradition -- for a while, you may have wondered the same thing. I had a moment following the death of my mother when I realized that my Buddhist practice until then had often been more like a hobby, something I did daily and enjoyed.

But when I was confronted with the fact that there's an expiration date on each of us, even me!, I approached my dharma practice with a new sense of urgency. Also, being with someone as (and after) they pass is a transcendent experience, and I understood that there's more to us than these physical bodies, something ancient Buddhist wisdom is very well suited to guide us into.

I'm getting ready to teach a new mini-series called "How to Meditate Like a Buddhist (Even if You're Not One)," and the question of what makes a practice Buddhist has been on my mind. There are some traditional answers: you take refuge and generate bodhichitta before practicing, then dedicate the merit afterwards.

But there are many other spiritual traditions, too, whose practices are also "dharma," so is there a guideline to distinguish between meditation (or yoga, prayer, etc.) and dharma practice?

My simple answer would be: Am I doing it for my own short-term benefit, or am I doing it to wake up to reality and benefit others, too? I've meditated many (many, many) times without any clear motivation or aspiration, let alone the wish for my practice to help me wake up and benefit myself and others. I've even recited prayers and aspiration verses without paying attention to the words coming out of my mouth. I might have been reciting ancient Buddhist verses, but I'm not sure that was dharma practice.

On the other hand, I've given myself reiki with the motivation of soothing my subtle body so my meditation practice can go deeper; I've watched a nature documentary with the hope that it'll crack open the way I understand my world. I'd say that each of those was a form of dharma practice.

What are your criteria for determining whether a given practice is something that helps you feel good (or release stress or any of lots of other legitimate motivations) or is dharma practice?

I hope these reflections were useful to you if you've ever wondered what the difference is between just doing a certain type of practice and really training in a spiritual discipline.

And I hope that you'll join me for my upcoming mini-series! You can check out this preview teaching video on Facebook or get more info by clicking the button below.

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