Can you practice Buddhism alone?

Not just meditation ...

As Buddhists, when we hear "practice" we usually think of the meditation practice first. But Buddhist practice is more than that, for there are all kinds of meditation, and not all of them naturally lead to liberation and enlightenment. Practically every human quality - positive and negative - can also be cultivated through meditation. So that positive things arise in the mind through meditation and the mind is ultimately guided in the direction of enlightenment, a complete Buddhist practice therefore includes two further aspects: The meditation must be embedded in a liberating view and a correct behavior.

The liberating view arises when one receives Buddha's explanations of the true nature of the mind, becomes familiar with them and develops an inner certainty about them through reflection and questions. It is the view that the experiencer, the experienced and the experience are parts of a whole and that all the qualities of Buddhahood already reside in our mind as potential to be awakened, is what allows our practice to lead to enlightenment.

Meditation lets what is understood in this way become an experience - "slipping from the head to the heart" - because the ultimate goal on the way is not to accumulate more and more knowledge, but to recognize the nature of the mind, which lies beyond concepts and ideas.

The correct behavior that goes with it is not paternalism, as we know it from the theistic faith religions, but a well-intentioned recommendation of the Buddha, which helps one to experience a round human development. Buddha can be seen here as a friend with a better overview: He draws our attention to the effects of certain behaviors, gives advice on how we can safeguard development stages once we have reached.

These three pillars of Buddhist practice belong together. For example, meditation alone, without the right perspective, does not lead to enlightenment. Meditating without having an idea of ​​what the mind experiencing all phenomena and the things experienced actually are in their essence is compared in Buddhism to someone groping helplessly in the fog.

On the other hand, if one engages with the Buddhist point of view without ever meditating, he could become a wise scholar, but he would never fundamentally get a grip on his disturbances and never get to the essence of the Buddha's teaching. He would be comparable to someone who theoretically knows a path but never actually goes it.

Finally, it would be difficult to have a correct outlook combined with good meditation if the Buddha's advice on behavior was completely ignored in the long run. These means of securing what has been achieved are comparable to securing hooks when climbing a rock face.

Distraction and inspiration

Today, the Diamond Way groups offer those interested a variety of options to use what they have to offer. You can simply use parts of it to give your life more meaning and inner richness, or you can fully entrust yourself to the gradual path and start with the basic exercises, the ngondro, after the refuge meditation.

Almost anyone who, in one way or another, wants to begin a regular meditation practice encounters all sorts of difficulties in doing so. Countless circumstances distract you and steal your time; the whole world seems to be a conspiracy aimed at getting lost in the many images experienced by the spirit instead of learning to look at the experiencing spirit itself. Again and again you catch yourself slipping away from Dharma practice and you realize that it takes a conscious effort to get inspiration and move on.

Fortunately, there are also a number of external and internal aids. Above all, the contact with a group of friends who walk the path with you, as well as a trusting relationship with a Diamond Way teacher, always give you strength and inspiration. Inwardly, it is above all the refuge and the altruistic motivation to not only want to go the way for one's own benefit. Like a hot knife through butter, the deep trust that ultimately only the buddha state brings lasting happiness to oneself and others cuts through all the distractions of the conditioned world. The pleasant is experienced more and more as a gift of the spirit to oneself, and the unpleasant as a purification, as a dissolution of negative impressions in the spirit. Neither the pleasant nor the unpleasant can then dissuade you from the chosen path. If you have internalized this trust deeply, many obstacles dissolve in no time, because you set completely different priorities in life. Much of what is now believed to be indispensable pales in comparison to the grand vision of attaining the Buddha's state and leading others to it.

The most famous example of someone with such unwavering trust and the consequent consequence is Milarepa, who went from the worst possible start as a murderer of 35 people to a fully enlightened Buddha. He once said, "If you don't meditate in this life, you waste it. Make sure you have nothing to regret when you die." Reading his life story is one of the most powerful inspirations a book can give us.

One foundation

Such a trust as Milarepa had, of course, cannot simply be turned on; it has to develop and needs a solid base that remains in place even when things get stormy in life. This inner strength of giving Dharma practice a central place in one's own life and staying with it, regardless of the joys and purifications on the way, is what the Tibetans call njing-rü, "heart bones". Above all, it is the preoccupation with the so-called "Four Directional Thoughts" that gives us the foundation and depth to make our Dharma practice unshakable. Great Masters even said earlier that these four thoughts are more important than the actual main practice, because without them there will never be stability in the practice anyway. Without an understanding that one is now in a very favorable situation and that this will not stay that way forever, without the knowledge that we are responsible for our own experience because of karma and that the state of non-enlightenment is always unsatisfactory will be compared to the joy of enlightenment, one will never come to a stable meditation practice.

Difficult to understand these teachings are, with some basic faith in the Dharma, actually not. But what should one make of the fact that even great masters sometimes say that they still have not really understood them? What they want to indicate is: When dealing with the Four Thoughts, the main thing is not to be satisfied with an intellectual understanding, but to really internalize it. Only what has penetrated into the marrow of our bones remains in the face of old age, illness and death and the other problems of human life. You can only hear the teachings about the precious human body, impermanence, karma and the disadvantages of the conditioned world once and they really get under your skin and change your view of life and the world. Or you can hear it all your life and be like a "stone in the water" that only gets wet on the outside, but never on the inside. Perhaps it is just a matter of being open about what these teachings might have to do with your own life and the situation of all the beings around us.


Kalu Rinpoche is said to have often replied to people's questions about their practice problems that they probably did not really understand at least one of the Four Thoughts, otherwise they would not have any problems with the practice. The natural consequence of internalizing the Four Thoughts is taking refuge in lasting values ​​rather than just ephemeral and short-term ones. So at the beginning of each of our meditations prepare the mind for refuge and the development of the spirit of enlightenment in order to give these two more depth. Forcing oneself to practice Dharma without this understanding and without taking real refuge makes little sense and usually does not come from the right motivation. None of us can try to practice overnight like Milarepa did. There are sometimes people who bow so many bows on a weekend that their knees are bloody, but often they don't do anything for months afterwards, which is not the point.

It is better to do so much each day that it is possible to develop a daily habit of dharma practice from it. Habits arise from doing the same thing over and over for a long time, often over many lifetimes. It is difficult to change it with one quick action on a weekend, but you can change it through perseverance and continuity, because the unenlightened mind is like a lazy animal that prefers to do what it has always done, namely: to remain unenlightened.

The habit of finding the experiences more interesting than the experiencer himself has been ours since time immemorial. We always run after the images in the mirror instead of looking at the mirror surface of the mind itself, and it usually takes a while in Dharma practice before something fundamentally changes. The experience that the mirror itself is infinitely more beautiful and interesting than all the images that appear in it, and that everything that happens in the mind is exciting just because it happens does not usually come straight away after a few weeks of practice. The first step is to have the confidence that it could be so; because it does not correspond to the current experience. Fortunately, there are living examples of people among the Diamond Way teachers who have this experience and can share it with you to the extent of your own openness.

"Noblesse oblige"

What can come quickly, however, is the experience that practice does something good in you and that you get along better with yourself and the world. More and more often you get into situations that you used to experience as problematic and you notice with astonishment that suddenly they are no longer. This experience gives a taste of how much more freedom and joy awaits one along the way.

So if you put some energy into practice right from the start, you will quickly get good feedback experiences that give you further confidence in the methods, so that you can enjoy the practice more again. This also happens, for example, through the Phowa, where a real physical and mental change occurs through a few days of intensive meditation in the force field of a strong teacher with deep blessing power. This quick first experience gives you a good boost for further practice.

As is so often the case, quality and quantity ideally come together in practice. Quality gives depth to the practice - it is associated with understanding, good motivation, devotion to the teacher, compassion for beings. Quantity means that you are not lazy, but use your time and sometimes practice a little more than is convenient at the moment. It is definitely worth it, because the 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje once said: "If you meditate while strengthening your stamina in the face of difficulties, you will reap unimaginable qualities."

Of course, it would be best if you had quality and quantity, but who starts with that? Since the two are mutually dependent, you just follow where you are drawn. In working with the mind, quantity automatically leads to quality at some point anyway; the accumulation of many good impressions in the mind opens him more and more to a wider view; the mind “dares” to recognize something more of its true nature. On the other hand, if a sense of the profundity of the Dharma develops through studying the teachings and applying them in life, this will increasingly give rise to the desire for more practice.

Our Karma Kagyu School, also known as the "Lineage of Practice", has produced many of the most significant achievements of Tibet - and: "Nobility obliges". Gampopa's teacher Milarepa once conveyed the importance of the practice in a particularly powerful way: when Gampopa said goodbye to him, Milarepa gave him all kinds of advice and prophecies along the way. At the end he said: "I still have a particularly profound teaching that I cannot give you because it is too valuable." What else could Gampopa do? He set out without this teaching.

All of a sudden Milarepa appeared again and said: "On the other hand: If I don't give it to you, who else?" Gampopa also asked whether he should offer Milarepa a mandala for this teaching - as is customary in this case. Milarepa just said it wasn't necessary, then lifted his robe and showed Gampopa his buttocks, which were scarred and blurred from meditating on the bare stone floor. He said to the surely perplexed Gampopa: "The most profound teaching in Buddhism is: practice!"


In principle, there are always two ways in which you can motivate yourself: through the joy of enlightenment or through the suffering of the conditioned world. You can also juggle both of them alternately, depending on how you feel.

In the West nowadays, of course, the aspect of joy is more popular: one realizes the tremendous joy that goes with enlightenment, goes to teachers who can give you an impression of it, reads the biographies of great masters in which this is expressed, presents oneself how great it would be to be able to make other beings happy all round, etc. When asked how one recognizes that one has done the basic exercises "well", Künzig Shamar Rinpoche is supposed to have replied in the same way: "Then one has really enjoy the Dharma practice. "

Using joy on the path to enlightenment is at the heart of the Diamond Way. The goal is a state where space and joy are inseparable, and some of the most effective practices along the way work directly with states of supreme joy coupled with an understanding of their emptiness. The experiencer himself, who experiences the alternation of joys and sorrows in the unenlightened state, is in his true essence not neutral, but the very highest joy; but without the idea of ​​an ego experiencing it. Being aware of this can be a huge inspiration.

The centuries of Catholicism with threats in front of hellfire, also the teaching style of some representatives of Buddhism with little joy in life, have made most of us allergic to the other line of motivation: The emphasis on suffering in samsara was strong in Tibet, but it is frightening in the west people tend to drop. But one can also think beyond all drama from time to time about how much suffering there is all over the world. Reports from Africa, the slums of the Third World, the cancer or AIDS wards in our hospitals, etc. can make you feel how nice it would be if you could really do something for all of these people. And the idea of ​​what it is like when you get old and sick and die yourself - and still believe that you really are this body instead of having it - can also give you a good motivational boost without leaving the world straight away Must make a valley of misery. Out of his special situation, with 35 dead on his conscience, Milarepa followed this second approach: He himself said that it was the fear of the karmic consequences of his bad actions that had driven him to enlightenment.

Whichever of the two approaches one likes to work with: In any case, one should develop the attitude right from the start that one not only practices so that one feels better, but also to become able to really benefit others. It is only in this attitude that the practice becomes truly enlightening, rather than just leading to a state of personal peace.

Friends and helpers

Few people are able to practice alone in the long run. Most of them find it very helpful when they are in contact with a group and can talk to friends. For a well-rounded development, it is always good if you keep getting feedback from the dharma group and so don't somehow end up on the sidelines of development or “put together” your own dharma. The friends in the group, like everything else experienced, should be seen as a mirror for one's own mind. Working together in the force field of a Diamond Way Center is something different than working in the local rabbit breeder association, because it touches and changes the deepest levels of the mind. Like soiled diamonds that grind, clean and become more and more radiant through mutual friction, the joint work in the centers is associated with very intensive development. At the same time, there is hardly any other comparable way of filling the mind so quickly with the positive impressions necessary to recognize its true nature.

In the amicable exchange in the group you also learn that all people had the same problems and joys with the practice as you did yourself and you can share in the great wealth of practical experience of your friends and helpers. Most people lead a reasonably regular life, for example, and here many have made the experience that a fixed place and a fixed time are very useful for practice. If you set up a place in the apartment specifically for the practice, with a picture or a Buddha statue, you will be reminded of the practice every time you see the place, and you will be drawn there more and more often. Regular meditation in a specific place builds a strength there that is very helpful in practice, and a fixed time is also very helpful in building a good habit. It is much easier to make the practice an integral part of daily life than to always wait for it to happen every now and then. It does that very rarely: Many people say that in times when they led a regular life they were able to meditate much more than in times when they actually had nothing to do and had much more opportunity.

Author: Detlev Göbel (born 1960), editor at BUDDHISMUS HEUTE, took refuge in Buddhism with Lama Ole Nydahl in 1984. Lived 15 years in the Buddhist Center in Munich, teaches internationally as a travel teacher and organizes every pilgrimage to Bhutan.