In recent “Zen’s Eye View” columns I presented the first three of eight practices of awakening beings: 1) have few desires; 2) know how much is enough and 3) enjoy serenity. The fourth awakening is diligent effort. We realize diligent effort when we engage wholeheartedly and ceaselessly in wholesome practices. That is why it is called “diligent effort.” It is choosing an activity that promotes total physical and spiritual well-being without diluting that activity with harmful behaviors.
The Buddha said, “Monks, if you make diligent effort, nothing is too difficult. That’s why you should do so. It is like a thread of water piercing through a rock by constantly dripping. If your mind continues to slacken, it is like taking a break from hitting stones before they spark; you can’t get fire that way. What I am speaking of is ‘diligent effort.”
The opposite of diligent effort is indolence or laziness about wholeheartedly and consistently engaging spiritual practice – whether that practice is going to church, attending a regular yoga class or getting up early and attending morning meditation at the Creston Zendo. In a broader view, spiritual practice could include taking regular walks, eating in way that supports our health or exercising regularly at the pool. Laziness that prevents us from healthful activities is much more subtle than the kind that plunks us in front of our computer to gobble up salty fatty foods as we watch six consecutive episodes of Breaking Bad. The second kind of laziness is the result of not taking care of the first kind. It’s laziness on steroids.
Spiritual laziness and neglect of spiritual practice leads to back-sliding into being controlled by many desires and into no longer knowing how much is enough. It causes disturbances in our minds and bodies so that we no longer enjoy serenity. For these reasons it is necessary to strive diligently in our efforts to interrupt addictive patterns that lead us to overeating, excessive use of intoxicating substances and couch/computer potatoing.
Freedom from these habitual and harmful patterns of self indulgence can only be realized when we develop awareness of the extent to which our laziness prevents us from diligent spiritual practice. It’s obvious that we can’t break the hold of harmful habits until we are aware of them. For this reason, noticing when we have fallen into laziness is the first step to freeing ourselves from the prison of habitual harmful actions.
It is as the Buddha said, “If you make diligent effort, nothing is too difficult.” For example, with diligent effort at eating a diet for optimal health, exercising, and engaging spiritual practices, we can solve many of our lifestyle dis-ease. But it takes diligent effort and unflagging vigour in spiritual practice.
Suggested Practice: Notice when laziness has crept in to affect your decisions about how to spend your time. When you notice that laziness has taken control, choose to do something different; something that will enhance your emotional, mental, physical and spiritual well-being.