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Right Diligence

Right Diligence (samyak pradhana), or Right
Effort, is the kind of energy that helps us realize
the Noble Eightfold Path. If we are diligent for
possessions, sex, or food, that is wrong diligence.
If we work round-the-clock for profit or fame or to
run away from our suffering, that is wrong
diligence also. From outside, it may appear that we
are diligent, but it is not Right Diligence. The same
can be true of our meditation practice. We may
appear diligent in our practice, but if it takes us
farther from reality or from those we love, it is
wrong diligence. When we practice sitting and
walking meditation in ways that cause our body
and mind to suffer, our effort is not Right Diligence
and is not based on Right View. Our practice
should be intelligent, based on Right Understanding
of the teaching. It is not because we practice hard
that we can say that we are practicing Right
Diligence.

There was a monk in Tang Dynasty China who
was practicing sitting meditation very hard, day
and night. He thought he was practicing harder
than anyone else, and he was very proud of this.
He sat like a rock day and night, but his suffering
was not transformed. One day a teacher asked
him, "Why are you sitting so hard?" and the monk
replied, "To become a Buddha!" The teacher
picked up a tile and began polishing it, and the
monk asked, "Teacher, what are you doing?" His
master replied, "I am making a mirror." The monk
asked, "How can you make a tile into a mirror?"
and his teacher replied, "How can you become a
Buddha by sitting?"


The four practices usually associated with
Right Diligence are: (1) preventing unwholesome
seeds in our store consciousness that have not yet
arisen from arising, (2) helping the unwholesome
seeds that have already arisen to return to our store
consciousness, (3) finding ways to water the
wholesome seeds in our store consciousness that
have not yet arisen and asking our friends to do the
same, and (4) nourishing the wholesome seeds that
have already arisen so that they will stay present
in our mind consciousness and grow stronger. This
is called the Fourfold Right Diligence.
"Unwholesome" means not conducive to
liberation or the Path. In our store consciousness
there are many seeds that are not beneficial for our
transformation, and if those seeds are watered,
they will grow stronger. When greed, hatred,
ignorance, and wrong views arise, if we embrace
them with Right Mindfulness, sooner or later they
will lose their strength and return to our store
consciousness.

When wholesome seeds have not yet arisen, we
can water them and help them come into our
conscious mind. These seeds of happiness, love,
loyalty, and reconciliation need watering every
day. If we water them, we will feel joyful, and this
will encourage them to stay longer. Keeping
wholesome mental formations in our mind
consciousness is the fourth practice of Right
Diligence.

The Fourfold Right Diligence is nourished by
joy and interest. If your practice does not bring
you joy, you are not practicing correctly. The
Buddha asked the monk Sona, "Is it true that
before you became a monk you were a musician?"
Sona replied that it was so. The Buddha asked,

"What happens if the string of your instrument is
too loose?"

"When you pluck it, there will be no sound,"
Sona replied.

"What happens when the string is too taut?"

"It will break."

"The practice of the Way is the same," the
Buddha said. 

"Maintain your health. Be joyful. Do
not force yourself to do things you cannot do."

We need to know our physical and psychological
limits. We shouldn't force ourselves to do ascetic
practices or lose ourselves in sensual pleasures.
Right Diligence lies in the Middle Way, between
the extremes of austerity and sensual indulgence.

The teachings of the Seven Factors of
Awakening are also part of the practice of Right
Diligence. Joy is a factor of awakening, and it is at
the heart of Right Diligence. Ease, another Factor
of Awakening, is also essential for Right Diligence.
In fact, not only Right Diligence but also Right
Mindfulness and Right Concentration need joy and
ease. Right Diligence does not mean to force
ourselves. If we have joy, ease, and interest, our
effort will come naturally. When we hear the bell
inviting us for walking or sitting meditation, we
will have the energy to participate if we find
meditation joyful and interesting. If we do not have
the energy to practice sitting or walking
meditation, it is because these practices do not
bring us joy or transform us, or we do not yet see
their benefit.

When I wanted to become a novice monk, my
family thought that a monk's life would be too
difficult for me. But I knew it was the only way I
could be happy, and I persisted. Once I became a
novice, I felt as happy and free as a bird in the sky.
When it came time for chanting sutras, I felt as
though I had been invited to a concert. Sometimes
on moonlit nights, when the monks were chanting
the sutras standing by the crescent pond, I thought
I was in paradise listening to angels. When I could
not attend morning chanting because I had another
task, just hearing the words of the Shurangama
Sutra coming from the Buddha Hall brought me
happiness. Everyone at Tu Hieu Pagoda practiced
with interest, joy, and diligence. There was no
forced effort, just the love and support of our
teacher and brothers in the practice.

At Plum Village, children participate in sitting
and walking meditation and silent meals. At first,
they do it just to be with their friends who are
already practicing, but after they taste the peace
and joy of meditation, they continue on their own
because they want to. Sometimes it takes adults
four or five years of practicing the outer form
before they taste the true joy of practice. Master
Guishan said, "Time flies like an arrow. If we do
not live deeply, we waste our life." Someone who
can devote her life to the practice, who has a
chance to be near her teacher and friends in the
practice, has a wonderful opportunity that can
bring her great happiness. If we lack Right
Diligence, it is because we have not found a way to
practice that is true for us, or have not felt deeply
the need to practice. A mindful life can be
wonderful.

Waking up this morning, I smile.
Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment
and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion!

Reciting this gatha can give us energy to live the
day well. Twenty-four hours are a treasure-chest
of jewels. If we waste these hours, we waste our
life. The practice is to smile as soon as we wake
up, recognizing this day as an opportunity for
practicing. It is up to us not to waste it. When we
look at all beings with eyes of love and
compassion, we feel wonderful. With the energy of
mindfulness, washing the dishes, sweeping the
floor, or practicing sitting or walking meditation are
all the more precious.

Suffering can propel us to practice. When we
are anxious or sad and see that these practices bring
us relief, we will want to continue. It takes energy
to look into suffering and to see what has brought
about that suffering. But this insight will lead us to
see how to end our suffering, and the path needed
to do so. When we embrace our suffering, we see
its origins, and we see that it can end because there
is a path. Our suffering is at the center. When we
look into the compost, we see the flowers. When
we look into the sea of fire, we see a lotus. The
path that does not run away from but embraces
our suffering is the path that will lead us to
liberation.

It is not always necessary for us to deal directly
with our suffering. Sometimes we can just allow it
to lie dormant in our store consciousness, and we
use the opportunity to touch the refreshing and
healing elements within us and around us with our
mindfulness. They will take care of our pain, like
antibodies taking care of the foreign bodies that
have entered our bloodstream. When unwholesome
seeds have arisen, we have to take care of them.
When unwholesome seeds are dormant, our job is
to help them sleep peacefully and be transformed
at the base.

With Right View, we see the way we need to
go, and our seeing gives us faith and energy. If we
feel better after practicing walking meditation for
an hour, we will have the determination to continue
the practice. When we see how walking meditation
brings peace to others, we will have even more
faith in practice. With patience, we can discover
the joys of life that are all around us, and we will
have more energy, interest, and diligence.
The practice of mindful living should be joyful
and pleasant. If you breathe in and out and feel joy
and peace, that is Right Diligence. If you suppress
yourself, if you suffer during your practice, it
probably is not Right Diligence. Examine your
practice. See what brings you joy and happiness of
a sustained kind. Try to spend time with a Sangha,
brothers and sisters who are creating a field of
mindful energy that can make your practice easy.
Work together with a teacher and with a friend to
transform your suffering into compassion, peace,
and understanding, and do it with joy and ease.
That is Right Diligence.

From "Heart of the Buddha's Teachings"
by Thich Nhat Hanh
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