Dear Sangha,

What inspires or motivates you to practice?

I was recently re-reading the Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva, and I was struck by the powerful descriptions of the various hell realms in that sutra. For some people, those descriptions help us recognize the various forms of suffering in the world and can motivate us to practice harder. Others may respond better to thinking about the joy and benefit we can gain from practice and from the sangha community. Regardless of what actually motivates you, that motivation is in constant competition with all of the other responsibilities and opportunities that fill our time each day. As we try to find balance, we often find there just isn’t time for everything we want to do. Practice can begin to slip away. 

So, how do we support ourselves to continue making time for practice when our attention is pulled in so many directions? One answer I’ve come to lies at the intersection between our consumer-driven culture (which, to some extent, conditions how we experience the world) and the material aspects of pilgrimage to Buddhist temples in Japan. 

For hundreds of years, a common practice when visiting Buddhist temples in Japan has been to collect a stamp and calligraphy from that temple. If the temple is part of a pilgrimage route (for example the 88 temples of Shikoku, the 24 Jizō Bodhisattva sites in Kamakura, or the four temples affiliated with Ennin and Basho in northern Japan), there will often be a special book or scroll one can purchase to collect all of the stamps as a record of one’s journey. The photos above are from the stamp book I carried with me when I traveled the pilgrimage to the Saigoku 33 Temples of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva in 2016.  While filling a book with stamps hadn’t factored into my initial reasons for embarking on that pilgrimage, by the end of the journey I had a hard time imagining visiting a temple without getting a stamp. The stamp had become symbolic of the importance of energy and dedication to practice, and it was a connection to a larger community of pilgrims throughout time. Years later, this book is more than just a souvenir of a trip overseas, it is also a sacred object, an embodiment of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, and a container for the merit from that pilgrimage practice. 

Since that trip I’ve been seeking ways to incorporate this material aspect of pilgrimage into local pilgrimages. In time, through conversations with sangha members, I started to see this stamp-gathering process as a way for our own sangha members to add a spark of inspiration to your own practice. We’ll be offering our own version of stamp-collecting later this month; see the section on Practice Inspiration Cards below.

Does that seem like something that will inspire you to practice? If not, that’s ok. There are multiple paths and multiple practices to help us develop compassion, wisdom, and skillful means. We each need to find what works for us in this moment. Read on to see this month’s varied opportunities for practice. Visit a garden. Join a the monthly potluck. Participate in our morning practice intensive. Whatever it is, I hope you find your inspiration to keep moving along the path.