Know your limits

I recently participated in a monk-led Zoom retreat, where retreatants were encouraged to “know your limitations” with regard to Dhamma practice.
I don’t know what to do with this advice - how to interpret it. Does anyone have any thoughts?

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When you struggle to keep 5 precepts, don’t aim so high as to determine to keep 8 precepts for life as a lay practitioner, overnight. One can aim for the stars and land on the moon, as in aspiration and skillful means, but not as in force yourself to go so far when your level of cultivation is not yet there.

When you struggle to even want to spend money to buy gifts for your family (lack of generosity), don’t force yourself to spend all your savings to donate to charity. When you struggle to forgive others for a simple mistake, don’t aim so high as to forgive the person who broke your heart (romantically).

When you struggle to sit in meditation for 1 hour, don’t aim so high as to force yourself to sit for 2 hours straight.

The inner qualities, development of the path, of loving kindness, compassion, renunciation are developed bit by bit. When you exceed your limit, a lot of suffering happens, and the path becomes unsustainable. A little bit of outside your comfort zone is good, for improvement, but don’t go all the way out.

Vegan analogy: when you struggle to eat vegan for even once a week, don’t aim so high as to go vegan overnight for life (a one whole week of vegan food start is a good compromise, just to try out). Compassion towards animals is developed bit by bit too, renunciation towards meat is developed bit by bit too.


It is part of kindness to yourself. The central message of the Buddha is that for liberation, we should stop the like and dislike drive, which is connected to the fact that you realise that “this is not me; this is not mine, I am not this”. Yet if you push and push with your efforts too much instead of a gradual process, what happens is always frustration, depression. In other words, you start to dislike, and this is a problem. So better to know how much you can push at that moment and time and train to become better at each step so that dislike or even like (like proud feelings) does not arise.


That makes perfect sense. Thank-you.

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Yes indeed. Thank-you.

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This makes me think of the Buddha’s advice to Soṇa not to have the lute strings of his practice either too slack or too tight. We have to know how much effort is appropriate for us at any given time. If we’re over-ambitious and set our sights too high, then we set ourselves up for disappointment and disillusionment that might turn us away from practice altogether.

AN 6.55


Since every practitioner who persists is destined to face the full strength of a defilement, they should be aware which one they are most subject to, and build their strengths accordingly. This self assessment is the basis of starting a practice:

“One who earnestly aspires to the unshakable deliverance of the mind should, therefore, select a definite “working-ground” of a direct and practical import: a kammatthana[1] in its widest sense, on which the structure of his entire life should be based.”


“…they should be aware which one (defilements), they are most subject to”

To that end, these saṅkhāras have lately become interested in the Enneagram.
Type 5 seems a likely fit. Quietism, “other” avoidance, stinginess and a sense of
lack, would seem to point towards a metta practice being efficacious. :heart_eyes:

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Gautama Buddha is given as an example of a type 5 and he didn’t achieve enlightenment by practising metta alone. Type 5 favours investigation which is the key Buddhist quality and a factor of awakening, and does not relate to metta practice, being an active dynamic (SN 46.53). Here the doubting type (Type 5 in Buddhism) is a candidate for the investigative approach:

“A man traveling through a desert, aware that travelers may be plundered or killed by robbers, will, at the mere sound of a twig or a bird, become anxious and fearful, thinking: “The robbers have come!” He will go a few steps, and then out of fear, he will stop, and continue in such a manner all the way; or he may even turn back. Stopping more frequently than walking, only with toil and difficulty will he reach a place of safety, or he may not even reach it.” (DN 2)

“It is similar with one in whom doubt has arisen in regard to one of the eight objects of doubt.[4] Doubting whether the Master is an Enlightened One or not, he cannot accept it in confidence, as a matter of trust. Unable to do so, he does not attain to the paths and fruits of sanctity. Thus, as the traveler in the desert is uncertain whether robbers are there or not, he produces in his mind, again and again, a state of wavering and vacillation, a lack of decision, a state of anxiety; and thus he creates in himself an obstacle for reaching the safe ground of sanctity (ariya-bhumi). In that way, sceptical doubt is like traveling in a desert.”

Antidotes to doubt:

Firm conviction concerning the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.

In addition, the following are helpful in conquering Doubt:

Reflection, of the factors of absorption (jhananga);

Wisdom, of the spiritual faculties (indriya);

Investigation of reality, of the factors of enlightenment (bojjhanga).

Metta practice is not recommended in the suttas as a treatment for doubt, and sides with tranquillity. On the contrary after developing faith, an active investigation is the recommended approach.

Buddhist definition of investigation (analysis of qualities):

“And what is the food for the arising of unarisen analysis of qualities as a factor for Awakening, or for the growth & increase of analysis of qualities… once it has arisen? There are mental qualities that are skillful & unskillful, blameworthy & blameless, gross & refined, siding with darkness & with light. To foster appropriate attention to them: This is the food for the arising of unarisen analysis of qualities as a factor for Awakening, or for the growth & increase of analysis of qualities… once it has arisen.”—SN 46.51

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Know yourself and you will find it.
Find it and you will realize it.
Realize it and liberate yourself from any limitations.
Thats the truth work.

Just to add a little on leaving doubt, AN1.11-20 mentions:

“Mendicants, I do not see a single thing that prevents doubt from arising, or, when it has arisen, gives it up like proper attention. When you attend properly, doubt does not arise, or, if it’s already arisen, it’s given up.”