The Daily Brief form is only two pages long, much of it taken up with various Section Titles. The Preamble takes about two minutes to recite after which one goes straight into the Main Practice of which there are two versions, the same one from the Long Daily and an abbreviated one here which combines the texts from both tong len and mantra sections, and then all the remaining sections are similarly condensed.
There are two main reasons for having this Daily Brief version. First, it is the main one used most of the time once the practitioner is well-grounded in the Long Daily, something which takes a week to a month depending on the person and their familiarity with these sorts of practices. An experienced Buddhist practitioner, for example, might do the Daily Long for a week or so until the progression of the session is familiar and then use the Daily Brief to do essentially the same thing but with far less verbiage. Someone unfamiliar with such practices will probably enjoy the longer form verses which give one the time to contemplate what one is doing from several different angles and thus deepening the view with which one approaches the entire exercise, not to mention life in general. One could in theory just start with the Daily Brief and forego the longer version altogether but since I have never done this – having first composed the Long Daily of course – I cannot say how well this would work.
The second reason for the Daily Brief is to provide a faster means of doing the practice if you want to maintain a regular daily practice with this Liturgy which is recommended. (There will be more guidelines on all this one these initial introductory posts have been offered; first we are going over the texts themselves so we know generally what they are and what it done when chanting through them and then we can go over some guidelines as to how to do them, what to look for etc.)
The Daily Brief, being so shortened, gives a good overview of the Liturgy. You can see it all laid out in two pages side by side. There is a Preamble which is like a warm-up for a couple of minutes to get ready for the actual practice; then the tong len practice; then mantra; then formless sitting meditation; then closing; then a four-line dedication of merit. That’s it. If you chant through the whole thing it takes about three to five minutes. Obviously if you do the meditation sessions recommended it could take much longer. I find it takes about 40 minutes for a typical session with the tong len lasting about twenty minutes, the mantra about ten minutes, the free-form sitting about five minutes and about five minutes for the chanting. But if I am in a hurry and am using the Brief Daily just to stay in touch even though I don’t have much time that day, then I do it in about ten minutes. Sometimes I don’t do the text at all and just sit up straight and plunge right into the mantra, but again that’s the sort of thing we can go through in the upcoming Guidelines for Practicing.
What is the principle difference between the Long and Brief versions apart from the time they take to chant? The main difference is that the first few pages of the Long version are largely edited out such that the Preamble and the tong len part of the Main Practice all fit on the first page. Which leads to the question: what is the purpose or value of the first two pages in the Long Daily?
The Long Daily uses the activity of chanting in a regular rhythm as a way to bring body and mind together in a natural way. This is both helpful and needed for everyone all the time but especially for anyone strung out by the exhaustion and pain experienced during protracted episodes of chronic illness. Sometimes we are in great physical pain, sometimes it is mainly psychological – how many days can we go feel wretched physically without also feeling wretched emotionally? After a few weeks of feeling terrible it is very hard even for experienced meditators to go to their cushion and start quietly following their breath – or whatever. The mind is scattered, the body achy and dirty-feeling, the will is lacking.
That is where the first part of the Long Daily comes in: even though you feel completely wretched and have no desire to practice at all, you can just sit down and plunge into reading the text out loud. You don’t have to believe in anything or even want to do it. Just do it. Then the activity of simply chanting the words out loud will lead you into a slightly better feeling state. Hopefully the language is engaging enough to make this moderately interesting but at the same time not overly demanding; certainly there is no intention that the person chanting has to take notes and write a term paper about it afterwards, rather just regard the thoughts and images thrown up by the text in the same way a passenger might regard the landscape passing by a car or train window: it’s nice to look at it but one is not especially engaged by that activity.
That said, a lot of time and thought has gone into the composition of the text which, to the author’s point of view, seems to have written itself more than being a deliberate creation. The author had no idea what it was going to look like until it appeared, no idea of the beginning, middle and end until they manifested. His job was just to polish and refine over a period of two years after the basic text had appeared somehow. The text is an attempt to provide a passing landscape but a meaningful one, a deeply meaningful one, so even if one cannot really handle the meditation part of it, just reading the text regularly should be of some benefit because of the deep meaningfulness inherent throughout.
Once the Liturgy is familiar and if the heavy load of challenging symptoms is lifted such that one feels lighter and more awake at the beginning of a session, then the Brief Daily is fine. The initial three paragraphs help prepare body and mind for practice and then the Main Practice begins a couple of minutes later. Also, once the Daily Long has been practiced regularly, the shorter text in the Daily Brief will trigger associated meanings from the Long Daily immediately setting oneself up for the upcoming practice session. The rest of the Liturgy is pretty much the same as the Long Daily except shortened a little. And that’s that.
So the Daily Brief is envisaged as the principle text that will be used if one practices this Liturgy for an extended period of time. Personally, I started doing it when the symptoms were pretty terrible (after 2-3 months of never sleeping more than four hours a night and never more than two hours at a time – truly horrible) and kept doing it about five days a week for almost two years. During that period I also made small alterations to the text so it has been honed and polished over time until every line means what it intends to mean and flows well when being chanted. At a certain point I was much better and didn’t feel like doing it any more, though I always tell myself that I will. And if I come down with flu or another chronic illness episode – which is much rarer now than it used to be – I come back to this text and within a few days feel much better.
About feeling better: chronic disease symptoms are always coming and going and often changing too. Sometimes they are very intense sometimes minor. Some people are paralyzed or in agony, others are just like in a permanent state of having flu. I am one of those latter ones, so for me sometimes it is like having a very bad flu – which is no fun of course – other times more like a light flu or cold. However, when the bad flu times last several months in a row 24/7 they can be hard to deal with, both physically and psychologically. This is where the Liturgy comes in handy. It always serves to lift the psychological burden, the sense of depression that nearly always accompanies protracted periods of being under the weather and when the mind and spirit lift then the physical symptoms tend to lift as well. And even if they don’t, the way they are handled changes markedly: they become far less difficult a burden to carry, more transparent, more easy to live with. So whether the symptoms come or go, whether the disease is cured or continues, the daily practice the Liturgy leads us through is extremely helpful in teaching us how to take illness as the path, as medicine. It works. And the whole process can be quite delightful.
Instructions: The only part which might be confusing – assuming you are already familiar with the Daily Long version is the alternate, shortened “Main Practice, Brief.” Here is the text:
[or when desired:]
The Main Practice, Brief
Feeling the mother cervical soft spot of tender kindness,
Gently touching the barely-there breath,
Letting spaciousness naturally expand and establish,
Spontaneously we radiate blazing Bodhichitta to all sentient beings in the six directions
Seated as gently smiling Monarch on Golden Throne
In this living, radiant Palace of Sacred Presence.
The ‘or when desired’ is indicating that if you want to keep it much shorter – usually when doing a quick touch-in practice with the whole session taking ten minutes or less – you can forego The Main Practice, Full section and the next paragraph beginning “This transparently luminous and awake…” after which you would practice mantra. In this case, you just chant these six lines and then either do a little tong len or simply go straight to the mantra practice for a few minutes with an immediately generated sense of being awake, expansive, spacious and so forth as suggested in the text. (In later Guidelines some suggestions will be made for various options, all of which are entirely up to you of course.)
To be clear, if using this Main Practice, Brief section, you will go from the line ending the Preamble “Medicine to waken and open us further” straight to the line: “Feeling the mother cervical soft spot of tender kindness.” In this way, you will skip over the text following the title “The Main Practice, Full.”