20 Signs of Progress in our Buddhist Practice

Who can tell us whether we makes progress in our Buddhist practice?

Opening picture for the article about 20 signs of progress in Buddhist practiceMany people who practice Buddhism or other spiritual paths for years are uncertain whether they make good progress in their practice. They believe that they have to go and see a Lama or teacher to find out.

Some teachers may be able to actually help you with this. There are of course some outer signs which can hint to good spiritual progress. Still, there is in fact one person who can really judge our progress properly. No, I do not mean our husbands, wives, or close relatives, even though they may serve as an indicator. 

The only person who will really know best about the progress of your practice is YOU.

Pretending to be a good Buddhist practitioner is quite easy. If one does it well, one may even believe it oneself. All one needs is having some basic knowledge of the Buddhist teachings and keeping up a good appearance before others. 

Whether aware of it or not, almost everyone does this to some extent. We want to be perceived as good disciples, students, teachers, Buddhist practitioners, meditators, generous people, having good moral ethics, and so on.

The Dharma and Inner Transformation

The Buddhist teachings or Dharma are sometimes called an “inner Dharma”. This points to the fact that Buddhist practice is not about external behavior or conduct. 

Buddhism is also not about doing specific practices and rituals. The amount of books we’ve read and studied is not that important. The hours we’ve spend meditating doesn’t count. It does not matter what we have learned. What really matters is if and how it has transformed us.

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition it is for example customary to do practices involving a great number of prostrations. Prostrations are a physical activity which may have some limited positive effect on our body. But in some cases, it can also harm our body, particularly the knees. 

It is therefore quite important for a practitioner to understand that it is not the physical prostration as such which matters. The inner perspective which goes along with it is important. The associated meditation can help us to transform our personality by strengthening our refuge and developing bodhicitta. If we do not pay attention to this, the practice of prostration may merely become some sort of physical exercise. 

How can we find out if our Buddhist practice goes well?

Along with many Buddhist practices, there are associated instructions which describe good signs like dreams and meditative experiences that may indicate our progress. 

These signs of progress should be seen as guidelines or indicators only. If we become excited or even satisfied if such signs of progress occur, they may even act as nourishment for our ego-clinging: “I am no longer a wonderful and intelligent person, but I am also spiritually advanced now.” 

Don't feel depressed if you do not witness any signs of progress in your Buddhist practise.

To the contrary, not having any such signs should also not make us feel bad or depressed. Actual spiritual progress is not about dreams or visions. If we misinterpret them, they can even lead us astray. All in all, the Buddhist path is about developing as a human being in all aspects of our personality.



A short checklist with signs of progress in Buddhist practice  

The following checklist contains 20 signs which may indicate that we make good progress in our Buddhist practice. It is meant as a guideline which we can use to reflect about ourselves. Being merely a result of my own introspection and brainstorming, I am looking forward for possible corrections, additions or suggestions. If you have any, please feel free to share them with us by leaving a comment on this page.  

It seems that our spiritual progress develops well:
  • if others notice that we have changed to the better

  • if we have fewer wishes and are more easily satisfied with little things

    Feeling more space to properly think about your response to whatever you encounter may indicate progress in your Buddhist practise.
  • if we notice more and more space that allows us to reflect before reacting to things that happen around us 
  • if we stop dreaming about becoming a great yogi by meditating 10 hours a day once in a while

  • if we start to do our practice regularly with joy instead

  • if our need for distraction decreases and we generally feel more peaceful

  • if we do not get carried away by experiences in our meditation or interesting dreams

  • if it gets easier to bear with hardships and difficulties in our daily life

  • if we stop priding ourselves with spiritual achievements or positions, but focus on meaningful things

  • if we bother less about the past or worry about the future, but mindfully enjoy the present

  • if we start to be more concerned about our own thoughts than what people may think about us

  • if we don’t react strongly when people scold us, but wonder what we can learn from it

  • if we start to enjoy helping others without any expectation to receive something in return

  • if we become more aware of our own shortcomings and the qualities of others

  • if we take ourselves less and less serious, and start to cherish others instead 

  • if we are less fanatic about our own tradition and teachers, but rejoice in virtuous activities of others, Buddhist or non-Buddhist

  • if our thankfulness and appreciation for our teachers grows stronger and stronger

  • if our love and compassion for all beings naturally grows, particularly for those we do not like 

  • if we become more and more fearless 

  • if Buddha is no longer a god, supernatural being or distant goal for us, but the true nature of the mind of all beings


Update: This post had recently been translated into french (Thank you Marie-Charles) and featured on the Dhagpo Bordeaux Blog

In the commentaries to this blog, Alain L. suggested that the following two additional points should be included:

  • if we are able to practice wholeheartedly for the benefit of others without self-interest or self-deception

  • if we are overcome from time to time by these wonderful ideas of the precious human existence, impermanence, karma, and death 
Cécile C. further suggested to add:

  • if our fears diminuish and our conviction becomes stronger

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