Dear Still Water Friends,
Many of us were raised to work hard at tasks in order to get something else. We worked hard on homework, in order to get good grades. We got good grades, in order to get into better schools. We worked hard at jobs, in order to advance, be recognized, or earn more money. We moved down a track laid down by the expectations of our parents, our teachers, and of the world immediately around us.
Some of us were not able to move along the tracks as fast or as far as others, and often we felt like failures. Others of us speed along, getting reward after reward, but then we realize one day we feel hollow or empty inside. All our efforts have not brought us happiness or contentment.
Mindfulness meditation offers a very different approach to life. We are urged to “be here now,” to become present to our moment by moment experience of our life and to the world around us. We practice conscious breathing, sitting meditation, or walking meditation because when we do them we feel alive, in touch with life. Ironically, when we let go of our intense desire for future rewards, our life transforms. New possibilities appear.
Recently, at the three week retreat at Plum Village, I heard Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) address these issues in terms of the eight fold path of the Buddhist way. The sixth element, samyak pradhana in Sanskrit, is usually translated as right effort. Thich Nhat Hanh prefers the term right diligence. For Thay, efforts can tire us out. When we practice, we should feel energized, not tired. His way of practice is continuous, regular practice, not intensive, effortful practice. This is how he believed the Buddha practiced:
The Buddha after his enlightenment continued to practice. So practicing is not to become a Buddha. The Buddha is already a Buddha, why does he have to practice? Because he likes it. He likes breathing like that, he likes walking like that, he likes sitting like that, he likes eating like that, because it brings him well-being, not because he wants to become a Buddha.
This Thursday evening, after our sitting, we will explore the difference between right effort and right diligence. The questions we will begin with are: Are you able to practice like a Buddha, because you enjoy it? What helps you to practice this way? What makes it more difficult?
An excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh’s June 11, 2009, Dharma Talk is below.
Peace and joy to you,
The best times to join our Thursday evening gatherings are just before the beginning of our 7 p.m. meditation, just before we begin walking meditation (around 7:25), and just after our walking meditation (around 7:35).
You are also invited to practice with the Sangha through the following upcoming Still Water special events:
- On Tuesday evening, July 7th Still Water will offer a workshop (A Calm Mind and A Joyful Heart: An Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation) at the Friends House Retirement Community in Sandy Spring, Maryland—click here.
- On Sunday, July 12, please join us for a Still Water MPC Day of Practice at Blueberry Gardens in Ashton, Maryland—click here.
- For information on Thich Nhat Hanh’s U.S. retreats this summer—click here.
From a Dharma Talk by Thich Nhat Hanh, June 11, 2009.
I prefer the term right diligence rather than right effort. Making efforts can make you tired, but when you are diligent, you don’t need to be tired.
I don’t want intensive practice, I want regular practice, diligent practice. There are those of us who practice very intensively for a few weeks and then after that abandon the practice. But there are those of us who practice regularly, not intensive but continuously, that will bring good results. That is why I prefer the word diligence.
Why do you continue to do it? Because I like it. That is a good answer. Because I enjoy doing that. That applies to the practice. If you don’t enjoy the practice you have to make an effort, you get tired, and finally you abandon the practice.
You continue to do it because you like it. It is not because you have to do it. Why did you practice sitting meditation. The best answer is: because I like it. Why do you practice walking meditation? Because I like it. . . .
That is true diligence, right diligence. We know that right diligence brings well-being. The practices of mindful walking, mindful breathing, smiling, bring well-being, happiness.
The Buddha after his enlightenment continued to practice. So practicing is not to become a Buddha. The Buddha is already a Buddha, why does he have to practice? Because he likes it. He likes breathing like that, he likes walking like that, he likes sitting like that, he likes eating like that, because it brings him well being, not because he wants to become a buddha.
So when you ask the Buddha: Dear Buddha, why do you continue to practice sitting meditation, walking meditation, because you are already a Buddha. Because I like it, not because I want to become a Buddha. So that is the best answer: Because I like it.
But there are those of us who do not practice right diligence. They are very diligent, but their diligence is wrong diligence. Wrong diligence can bring ill-being. They are caught in their work. They become workaholic. They don’t have time to take care of themselves. They don’t have time to take care of their beloved ones. They are sucked into the work. They are caught in their work. They cannot leave their computer.[Someone like that is] always reading the Wall Street Journal instead of looking at his children. At breakfast, instead of looking and smiling at his children, he holds the Wall Street Journal and hides himself from his family. He is totally caught and sucked into his work. He is very diligent. He wants success as a businessman. He always thinks of the value of his stocks. He goes up and down with his stocks. He is very diligent, but that is not right diligence.
He is working so hard. He is making a lot of effort. He is very diligent in his work. But there is no happiness.