Do Not Be Defeated by a Lazy Mind
Knowing the Importance of Diligence
There is a funny verse in a Japanese song from the 1960s ("Sudara Bushi," by the Crazy Cats) that perfectly expresses the workings of our minds. It goes, "I know, but I just can't help it."
We are apt to either not do what we should, or do what we decided not to. We often reflect on our behavior and say to ourselves, "I know, but I just can't help it," just as the song says, don't we?
Buddhism teaches us that it is important to "always be diligent." The teachings of Confucianism and other ancient philosophies explain the importance of always learning and making the effort to lead a virtuous life. The reason for this is that the cultivation of the human mind has no ending point where we can say, "This is good enough."
Generally speaking, the Buddha Way is called "the unsurpassable Way," which means "the very best Way that no other exceeds." However, I think it is better to interpret this as meaning, "Even if you think you've awakened to it, that is not the final goal. There is no end to the number of opportunities for you to open your eyes to wisdom." This stimulates us to aim for further progress.
It is important to always be diligent, but we are liable to be defeated by thoughts such as, "It can't hurt to let things slide, just a little bit."
Chapter 14 of the Lotus Sutra, "Peaceful and Agreeable Practices," gives us these lines of scripture: "They will rid themselves of laziness / And all thoughts of indolence. / They will free themselves from worries /And teach the Dharma compassionately." The Buddha must have understood that we sometimes feel like letting our practice slide, and therefore he expounded this chapter, which allows us to clear away the various worries and delusions that spring forth and, with a peaceful mind of our own accord, agreeably and joyfully be diligent in the practice.
Someone Is Waiting for You
"Always studying and mastering something. What could be happier than that?" These are Confucius's words. The meaning is that, just like children who repeatedly imitate the actions of the adults they admire, when we have objectives and continue our studies in order to achieve them, there is no way that the experience would not be enjoyable.
This also applies to the world of faith. "Try to keep a smile in mind," "Don't forget to be grateful," and so on--if we can realize our daily goals and the purpose of our faith, no matter what these may be, then all we have to do is be diligent so we live up to our ideals. When this becomes habit, our joy is further increased.
With this in mind, understanding the goals and purpose behind why you have faith and the reason you're being diligent every day becomes the foundation of joyfully being diligent.
However, even though we know this, it is only human to be defeated by the temptations of our innermost hearts. Frankly, I think it is natural to get distracted or want to take it easy, and occasionally it's necessary to have a place for our minds to escape to. At such times, it's fine to do so, as long as we don't forget our goals and purpose.
I do not think, for example, that just because a sutra recitation or a gathering of the sangha has been decided upon, you should force yourself to do it if you aren't feeling well or if you're tired because you've been very busy. In other words, in order to continue being diligent, you should avoid forcing yourself, and rest when you need to.
"Peaceful and Agreeable Practices" also says, "Show compassion for all, / And never have a thought of laziness." These verses mean that when you are actively thinking of other people, your mind will not get tired or lazy. You might call to mind the image of a mother willing to take on any hardship for the sake of her child, no matter how tired she feels. Put differently, this is like when you realize that someone is waiting for your help, and you become far removed from the self-centered mind as your desire to help that person comes springing forth and every action of your diligence is turned into happiness and joy.
The world, not only Japan, is suffering from various difficulties. The scripture tells us to "teach the Dharma compassionately." Don't you have someone nearby who is waiting for you to do so?