My first Buddhist teacher was Shunryo Suzuki Roshi. After Suzuki Roshi died, I went to study with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche due to having witnessed firsthand the remarkable devotion Rinpoche had for Roshi. Trungpa Rinpoche said that meeting Suzuki Roshi was like meeting his root guru, or most important teacher. 

In teaching us, Roshi always emphasized ordinary life as spiritual practice. 

In Tibetan Buddhism, which I have practiced for many years, now with Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, I have heard “practice” discussed in many different ways, including as a distinction between meditation and post-meditation (daily life) practice. But sometimes when we focus too tightly on these labels, it can create an obstacle for us.

We may give more importance to meditation practice than our post-meditation daily life practice. We may burn our omelet while obsessing about how many mantras we still have to do. Even worse, after engaging in meditation practice diligently for an extended time, we may think we are better than people who don’t meditate.

Drawing on my good fortune to have studied with such great teachers, I have been able to remember that many ordinary situations that I used to think “didn’t count” are actually situations of spiritual practice. 

I used to avoid cleaning the bathroom, until I heard the story of how, as a young monk, Suzuki Roshi, would get up in the middle of the night to secretly clean the monastery toilets (not his job!). After that, my view of practice –– and of toilets –– changed.

Now when I enter any bathroom, no matter how “unkempt” it may be, I recall what life would be like without indoor plumbing. I refresh my gratitude for having the use of such a bathroom, and for the efforts of all the people who invented, produced, and installed it.

Roshi made it very clear that such moments deserve our attention. If we don’t extend our commitment and diligence beyond meditation into our post-meditation daily life practice, we run the risk of making our practice no more than a personal ego trip, leaving our habitual sense of ingratitude and entitlement untouched. 

With each of my subsequent teachers I heard the same message in different ways. But without knowing about Roshi’s vivid example of selflessly, secretly cleaning the toilets used by everyone in the monastery, I might not have given the message much importance.

“Taking the attitude that the phenomenal world is sacred is the first and last practice of all.”
–– Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

“Every living situation can become a part of your practice. You can be living the practice, instead of just doing it.”
–– Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the 16th Karmapa

“This path of mindful activity is indispensable for arousing the courage we need to connect with our heart of enlightenment and the experience of immeasurable love and kindness for all beings.”
–– Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

I have read that Thich Nhat Hanh would hold up a piece of paper and ask, “What do you see when you see this paper?” He would share that he saw the woodsman who cut the tree to make the paper. He saw the woodsman’s wife who baked bread for him to eat before he left for work. He also saw the farmer who grew the wheat for the bread. And on and on. 

“When you see a piece of paper on the ground, pick it up.” 
–– Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

Whether in formal spiritual practice or daily post-meditation practice, may you have success on the path!

Jack Elias
Jack Elias

Jack Elias has studied and practiced Buddhism since 1967, first with Zen teacher Suzuki Roshi, then with Buddhist teachers Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche. A hypnotherapist and NLP trainer since 1988, Jack is co-author of The Outrageous Guide to Being Fully Alive: Defeat Your Inner Trolls and Reclaim Your Sense of Humor and author of Finding True Magic: Transpersonal Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy/NLP. More at jackelias.com.

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