15. Four Practices are the Best of Methods
This slogan is very straightforward and action oriented. It lays out four specific practices to incorporate in our everyday life.
1. The first practice is to accumulate merit. This is pretty tricky. It sounds as if you should try to pile up good deeds as credentials, like scouts collecting merit badges. But here the idea of merit has a twist. It is not just that if you are good you will be rewarded. Conventional acts of merit such as practicing good deeds, revering sacred images and texts, and supporting the sangha, are encouraged here as a way disrupt egotism, not build a holy persona that is even worse than normal egomania.
2. The second practice is to lay down evil deeds. You do not need to be heavy-handed or guilt ridden about it. You just need to reach the point of getting tired of your neurosis, embarrassed and fed up enough to do something about it. Then you can refrain from what you have been doing, and let go not just of the evil but the evil doer as well.
3. The third practice is to offer to the döns. Döns are sudden attacks of neurosis that seem to come from nowhere in a sudden burst. When you are taken aback by such a dön, the idea is to take that as a gift. It shakes you out of your complacency so you should be grateful.
4. The fourth practice is to make offering to the dharmapalas, or “dharma protectors.” Dharmapalas are said to protect the integrity of the teachings and keep an eye on practitioners who lose their way. They are guardians of awareness. When we are caught in self-deception or unmindfulness, the world strikes back. The idea is that we should not only appreciate that, but invite it.
When you do something good, try to remove any add-on of self-congratulation or righteousness. When you make a mistake, try to remove any add-on of self-punishment or guilt. Instead, simply commit yourself to refraining from such actions in the future. Tune in to whatever arises as a way to reconnect with kindness and awareness.