Why do we cultivate?

As an elementary practitioner, I originally started cultivating without the knowledge of why a Buddhist practitioner would cultivate.  However, after a few years, I realized that many of the effects of regular cultivation, such as reduction of anxiety and depression, opening of the heart, encouraging generosity and compassion all lead to the effects of a peaceful life.  99% of my problems were caused by my mind (or in western success/entrepreneurial terminology – my poor mindset).  These effects are wonderful and could be considered as a form of skillful means to attract people to Buddhism, however, it doesn’t get to the heart of what constitutes a real practitioner. I continually question whether I meet these criteria (monthly, if not weekly or daily). In a course run by the True Buddha School (thank you to the presenter who prepared this lesson, in which I took much of the content), I was taught the following criteria from Chapter 29 of Grandmaster Lu’s book: “The Sword of the Yogi”. 

A true practitioner…1. …never kills. They also save lives. They may be a vegetarian, but if not, they know to perform deliverance, make offerings, and purify.2. …is not stingy and engages in kind deeds and charities. These may be in the form of monetary donation, donations of time, volunteer work, philanthropy. In general, the sincerity of the act is the most important.3. …lives a pure and honest life. They do not engage in the vices (that stem from attachment to desires and temptations such as smoking, drinking, gambling, sexual misconduct and fighting). They do not indulge in comfort and pleasures and do not hate hard work. They are also optimistic and diligent.4. …is honest and not hypocritical towards their Root Guru.  They are respectful to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and values and honors the Buddhadharma and respects all practitioners. They do not: lie, utter abusive speech, cause discord, speak meaningless words. They are honest and sincere.5. …is intelligent and also wise, able to discern cause and effect of good and evil, and see clearly the right and wrong doings in the human world. They also have the ability toreconcile differences between others.6. …acts prudently and only in accordance with Buddhist teachings, and would not do anything not in accord with Buddhadharma. They are not tempted by sensual pleasures, money, fame and they follow closely in the footsteps of saints, sages, great wise and virtuous friends, including the footsteps of their Root Guru and not that of those who have strayed. 7. …truly engages in cultivation, cultivating the purity of the body, speech, and mind. They enter deeply into samadhi, often experiencing a dharma flow of empowerment and blessings streaming into them, and have real results from their practice. They respect their guru and practice diligently. 8. …has great bodhicitta, the four immeasurable minds of loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity, and loves all sentient beings even more than themselves. This is the Mahayana path.  The Hinayana path is when one loves oneself over others. If one hates others, one will fall into the three lower realms. Real practitioners are those who have great bodhicitta and love others more than themselves.  9. …has a strong aspiration for renunciation. Becoming ordained and spiritual cultivation is most important. If they practice at home, their mind is that of a renunciant. They are indifferent to worldly things, leaving behind the secular world including cravings for money, sensual pleasures, fame and craving itself. 10. …has no doubts about their Root Guru, only pure faith, so they will definitely receivethe blessing of empowerment. 

Meeting these ten criteria is essential to determine if one is a true practitioner, and some days I find it difficult because of the nature of the everyday life in this western world. However, it’s always good to review the Heart Sutra (the abbreviated version of the Diamond Sutra), which continually reminds me of the impermanence of the world.  This leads to the knowledge that this state is only temporary, and why it is so important to continue cultivating. Once that knowledge leads to understanding, then we are one step closer to becoming enlightened.  

By Yvonne Wong, Ph.D. 


Lu, S. (2010). 瑜伽士的寶劍 : 戒律的法教 = The sword of the Yogi. 大燈文化.

26th June, 2021. Session 1: “What is a Real Practitioner?” 2021 True Buddha School Introductory and Training Course for Current and Future Lay Dharma Propagators.