#NationalLazyDay *. Seriously, wow. Actually, that sounds quite appealing… but not really a very good idea. Coincidently, I was just listening to a teaching on effort this morning, so I’m feeling inspired to reduce the global laziness quota a bit with this post.
Effort, the opposite of laziness, is a mind that delights in virtue. So you can be very busy, but still be being lazy in a spiritual sense. Alternatively (and I like this part!), we can be sitting with our feet up and be applying effort – if we are, for example, rejoicing in others’ good qualities. Like with any Dharma practice, it’s all about our mind, not our physical actions.
‘Effort’ sounds heavy, but by its very definition, it is a light mind. You know what it feels like to be delighted: imagine feeling the same delight at the idea of meditating as you feel about going on holiday. If we train to overcome our laziness, we could be filled with that delight all the time!
So, what makes us lazy with regards to our spiritual practice? Well, first of all, we procrastinate, thinking we’ll put it off until later. This is a bad habit that most of us have with our ordinary daily activities, and we carry it across into our spiritual practice. And we know how it makes us feel: like we are carrying a burden of unfinished business, weighed down by worry. I find it also makes me easily bored: I try to distract myself from all the things I know I should be doing, but can’t really settle to anything else because they are nagging at me. Sound familiar? The solution is to meditate on death. I know that may not have an immediate appeal, but remember that it will cut through all the anxiety caused by procrastination. Recognising that we may not have much time left in this world helps us to prioritise and clear away all the excuses; it makes us very clear and focused. (You can find more on this point here)
Another way laziness manifests is in an attraction to meaningless things. In The Bodhisattva Vow, Geshe-la says:
Most of us are very familiar with the second type of laziness. We give in to it whenever we watch television for hours on end without caring what comes on, when we indulge in prolonged conversations with no purpose, or when we become engrossed in sports or business ventures for their own sake. Activities such as these dissipate the energy we have for practising Dharma. Though they may seem pleasant, they deceive us – wasting our precious human life and destroying our opportunity to attain real and lasting happiness.
So, what, I’m not allowed to watch TV anymore? I never said that: of course, we need to rest and relax, and there is nothing wrong with enjoying ourselves… but we do need to honestly ask ourselves whether what we’re doing is actually relaxing or deeply enjoyable. I think the reason this sort of attachment is called a laziness is because what we’re really doing is avoiding our spiritual practice. You know that feeling where you’re not really enjoying watching Antiques Roadshow, but you just can’t quite be bothered to go and do something meaningful instead? If we cut through this laziness we’d actually enjoy ourselves more, because we’d be able to feel fulfilled and contented with our lives. So don’t tell yourselves off about all the time-wasting garbage (ahem, facebook…!); tell yourself how much more rewarding a meaningful life can feel.
The third type of laziness is discouragement. Interesting, isn’t it, that discouragement is a form of laziness? But it does make us feel disinclined to practice virtue, strips us of delight in our practice. Why? Because we don’t have confidence that our practice will bring us results. Bodhisattva Maitreya gave some beautiful reasons to help us overcome discouragement: we have Buddha nature, we can receive Buddha’s blessings, and we have met the Dharma. That really is everything we need to attain all our spiritual goals. It will take time, that’s all – time and effort.
Some people begin their practice with great enthusiasm and then give up when great results do not appear, like a waterfall caused by a sudden storm cascading furiously for a short time and then trickling away to nothing. Our effort should not be like this. At the very beginning of our practice, we should make a firm decision that we shall persevere until we attain Buddhahood no matter how long it takes, even if it takes many lives. Then we should practise gently and constantly, like a great river that flows day and night, year after year.
* Well, yesterday now, because I procrastinated about writing this for too long!