Purelands Meditation Retreat Day 5 - October 2013
We are still looking at the advice that was given to Sumpa Lotsawa that says that if your mind is turned to dharma you can die with ease. Your mind suffers because it is not usually turned to dharma. Milarepaâ€™s song to Palderboom (the lady he was giving advice to) tells of the next life and how important it is to prepare for the next life through generosity, meditation and giving up attachment. He says that the next lifeâ€™s journey is longer and more perilous than this one so have you prepared a stallion? The stallion is exertion, and the enemy is laziness or sloth. Do you know laziness to be the enemy? And if you know this, cast it behind you. Not that you are all a lazy bunch!
But I thought it would be useful to look in more detail at diligence, and the stallion of exertion. What does it mean to mount the stallion of exertion? Because this is an issue for everybody. One of the reasons that you have difficulty maintaining a regular practice is because there is not enough diligence. Â You havenâ€™t got this stallion of exertion. You havenâ€™t given up laziness, you have not cast laziness aside. So letâ€™s look at bit more at diligence: what does it mean?
In Tibetan the word is tsoendru which means to work with joy at something. It means enthusiastic perseverance. It has a quality of joy to it. In English the word diligence is not very inspiring. It has a feeling of hard work and drudgery and no fun at all! That is very different from the Tibetan meaning of the word diligence. I donâ€™t know whether this difference is because we have different associations, or perhaps they are different words in English as well. Now translators have started to say enthusiasm, enthusiastic perseverance, joyful perseverance. This has the sense of mental enthusiasm about what it is we are trying to engage with. Itâ€™s not just doing something because you have to do it. You have to do your homework like schoolchildren, or you have to do cleaning, or certain things you really would rather not do. Not that idea, that you have to do your practice, you have to do your session, youâ€™d rather not be doing but it is something you have to do. Diligence has to have much more life in it. It has to have that quality of joy and wanting to do it. That is the glue that connects us up with whatever activity we are engaged in. It is a very positive feeling, it has a positive quality because if you have diligence you get things done. That is the result of it. Without diligence not much happens. It is said that in terms of all of the qualities we are trying to develop, like generosity, patience, meditation, right conduct, diligence is the engine, the motor that makes all of the others work. It is the motor that gives power to all of the other things we are trying to do. So if we look at generosity, in the first of Milarepaâ€™s verses, well generosity is very good, but without diligence, without that consistency and constant application it may not amount to much. But with diligence it can become something very big. Diligence gives power to everything we do. Without diligence we donâ€™t achieve very much. No matter which part of our life we look at, whether it is our work or our spiritual life, it is all the same. They all need that constant application. Without joyfulness we are likely to give up. If we see it as a hard slog, we are likely to leave it.
So diligence is a very important quality to develop and to maintain, because it makes everything else we do very powerful, very forceful. It is something we should really pay attention to. That is why Milarepa is saying that all of the four points are important, and one of them is diligence, the stallion of exertion. All four points are important, they are the key points if we want to develop and progress in any area. Without diligence we will find it very difficult to have a result. Everything we do will stay small and not have much effect. Diligence is a quality that throws off laziness, that s the opposite of laziness. We might be more familiar with laziness than with diligence! So diligence is the quality that rejects laziness, it turns away from laziness, it doesnâ€™t engage with it. In order to understand diligence we also need to look at laziness.
Laziness is generally described as being of three types some of which we might not have thought of as part of laziness. We need to reject and renounce these three types of laziness. The first type is simple idleness, the second is self-discouragement, when we put ourselves down and feel low about ourselves, and the third type is distraction.
Idleness: we are familiar with that! We put things off. The Spanish are said to be really good at it, they say manyana, we will do it tomorrow. But of course we all do it. We canâ€™t be bothered to do it right now, we intend to do it, we do seriously intend to do it, we know it is important but we put it off, because we are enjoying other things too much. We are enjoying lying around, we are enjoying doing nothing, relaxing, watching tv.Â When we look back we think how much of our time did we spend on idleness and how much on meaningful activities? Then we might regret this laziness which comes out of being too attached to neutral activity, like sitting around and doing nothing. Now of course, we do need relaxing time, but it is about getting the balance, and if relaxing takes over to the point where we donâ€™t get other things done then it becomes a problem. It is like we are attached to things that work against diligence. It is that type of idleness. And it is said that the remedy or cure for this type of laziness is thinking about impermanence, really contemplating impermanence, being aware that we havenâ€™t got all the time in the world. We actually havenâ€™t got very much time. Everything is temporary and we canâ€™t put off certain things. For example, we canâ€™t put off practice until we are older because we donâ€™t know how long we will live so we should do it while we can.
There is a little story about this. In this story a monk had a spirit attendant, who looked after him very well. The monk was living quite a good life and taking things easy but he knew he had to practice. He knew that. So he said to the spirit: I really must practice before I get too old, I must definitely practice before I die. So could you remind me? When you know I am about to die please can you remind me? And the spirit said, yes of course I will do that. Months and years passed and the monk was just idling time away and one day the spirit came up to him and said: Lama your hair is getting grey, did you know that? And the Lama said: Of course it is getting grey, Iâ€™m getting old and the spirit said, oh ok, so you know then, thatâ€™s good. More time passed until one day the spirit said: Lama your teeth are falling out. And the monk replied: Of course they are, I am getting old. So again the spirit said: ok, good. More years passed and one day the spirit said: Lama, you are going to die tomorrow. And the monk got really upset and said: Why didnâ€™t you tell me? I asked you tell me when you knew I was going to die so that I could practice. And the spirit said: Well I told you your hair was getting grey and you said you knew, and I told you your teeth were falling out so I thought you knew. And now it is too late. The monk was very upset but he couldnâ€™t do very much about it, because it was too late. Anything we try to do at the last minute is not really very effective.
This story is to remind us that we canâ€™t leave things till the last minute. We canâ€™t be like this monk and just put things off even though clearly time is passing, and our hour glass is running out. This is a form of laziness where we have many warning signs ourselves. Â We hear of people who are dying, people who are ill, we see time passing, we see others getting older. This is a clear message to all of us. Wherever we look there is change and impermanence but still we are easily deceived. This form of laziness is deceptive because we really do want to practice, we really do want to apply ourselves but at the same time our attachment to other things creeps in. We think we are going to do it, we really mean to do it, but we donâ€™t really manage. That is idleness. In the texts it says that we have to think about impermanence and we have to activate ourselves, increase our diligence through that awareness of impermanence. We should be like somebody who has a snake or a big spider falling in their lap. Many people are afraid of spiders, so if you have a big spider dropping on your lap you will jump up and get rid of it. It says we should be like that when it comes to our practice: we should get on with things, react to practice in the same way that we would if we had a spider dropping on our lap.
The second type of laziness is discouragement, where we discourage ourselves. We feel like others can do it but I canâ€™t. We put ourselves down. We compare ourselves with others, thinking everybody else is so good and I am just a poor person. We blame our bad childhood or this or that reason. We give ourselves all kind of reasons why we canâ€™t do it, why we are less than others, why we are incapable. We see all the things that need to be done and then think there is so much to do that I couldnâ€™t possibly do all of that so we donâ€™t do anything. We think, how could I possibly solve all the worldâ€™s problems! By looking at all the things that need to be done, all the issues that exist we end up just closing our eyes and turning our head away, feeling that we canâ€™t face it. This attitude results in idleness, in doing nothing. We have the feeling that we canâ€™t do anything because there is too much to do, or because we are too weak. We are not capable. So we find lots of reasons to justify why we are not capable: because of our parents, or we didnâ€™t go to a good school. We find all sorts of reasons and very often these reasons are from the past. We think that we are shaped by the past and although to some extent we are shaped by the past we use it as an excuse to do nothing in the present. So that attitude is a form of laziness. We are avoiding doing anything. We end up feeling sorry for ourselves and justifying this attitude. We donâ€™t do anything because we feel we canâ€™t do everything, so we do nothing at all. Thatâ€™s not really very helpful. It doesnâ€™t produce anything.
Here the remedy is to remember that all beings have potential. There is not a single being that does not have the potential for improvement and for developing Buddha Nature, or whatever name you want to give it. All beings have this potential. It is like a seed: if the seed is watered, if it has sunshine and good growing conditions, it will grow into a very strong plant. This means that we can achieve something as long as we put our mind to it, as long as we apply ourselves. There is nothing that we canâ€™t achieve in time. We may not achieve everything right away but in time we can achieve things gradually, gradually, gradually. It says we can achieve the highest, most noble things if we put our mind to it.
The third type of laziness is distraction. The first one was lying around doing nothing. This one is distraction or busyness. We are so busy with things that are not necessarily that beneficial. Of course some things are beneficial, but this relates to when we are very busy in the wrong direction, with the wrong priorities, when we donâ€™t give enough attention to what is really important. Distraction occurs when our priorities are not quite right. Busyness is when we donâ€™t have time. Many people donâ€™t even have time to spend with their families. There is so little time for things that are important in our lives because we busy busy busy. This is where we need to look at our life and see what is really important for us, to get our priorities right. Is it more important to work from morning till late at night, or is it more important to have other things in our lives? If we are only working for money or just to be busy, we may get more problems. Sometimes we need to rebalance our lives, to see whether the way we live now is helping to solve our problems or whether it is adding to our problems. That is the laziness of distraction, and the remedy is to think about your priorities and to try to achieve some balance.
There are three types of diligence. One is called diligence as armour, one is called diligence applied to activity and the third type is called insatiable diligence. The first type, diligence as armour refers to our mental attitude. Diligence is our own motivation, a statement of intent to really make a commitment. Monks and nuns take a vow in front of someone else saying that they will not kill, steal or lie. To make a commitment makes the motivation stronger. Diligence is where we have this very strong motivation. We donâ€™t have to make our commitment in front of somebody, but we do have a very strong and clear mental motivation to practice until we really achieve mental stability and the ability to help others. If we donâ€™t make a very strong commitment, if we donâ€™t have a very strong motivation, then our energy can get dispersed. A strong motivation and firm intention creates an armour around us so that we are able to deal with whatever distractions or obstacles arise. We are able to continue with what we were intending. And when we have that strong armour we are prepared for whatever arises. If obstacles arise we have that strong motivation. If everything around us collapses we have that strong resolution and we will still carry on whatever happens.
What usually happens is that we react, to situations and we react according to our own expectations.Â We have such big expectations: expectations of life, expectations of others, we think everything should be perfect, we think everything should be smooth, that there should be no problems, that everybody should be nice to us. So when they arenâ€™t nice to us then we get very upset. When they donâ€™t smile at us we get upset, if they donâ€™t say nice words we get upset, but this is actually due to our expectations. If we didnâ€™t have great expectations then on the day when somebody does smile at us we would feel really happy. The day they do say a nice word to us we would become really joyful, how nice! So our problem is that we have such great expectations of every thing and every body around us. And because life doesnâ€™t live up to our expectations, people donâ€™t live up to our expectations, we react by getting angry, upset and disappointed. If we have fewer expectations of other people that doesnâ€™t mean we think they are not capable, it just means that we accept that whatever arises is ok. Whatever arises we remain determined to continue what we have put our mind on, we are going to carry on doing what we intended to do from the start because we have this strong determination, this diligence as armour. So itâ€™s about being prepared for whatever comes. If we have this diligence as armour, a very strong intention, very strong motivation, then whatever happens around you, good or bad you will be ok.
The first type of diligence, diligence as armour is about mental attitude and the second type of diligence is diligence applied to activity. This activity is also divided into three areas. One area is mental, and relates to giving up our negativities. This means applying ourselves in working on our mind and especially its negative aspects: our negative habits, emotions, kleshas. The second area is diligence applied in the accumulation of merit. And the third is working diligently for the benefit of others. It helps to understand diligence more because we have a very vague idea of what it means to be diligent.
Applying ourselves to our negative emotions is very important. Anger, attachment, greed, pride and jealousy are the real enemies. They are our actual obstacles, there is nothing external. All of our obstacles come from these negative emotions. All of our pain and suffering comes from them. Itâ€™s nothing really to do with the outside, itâ€™s to do with our mind and how we deal with externals. If we can tame our minds and tame these emotions, transforming them into wisdom then they are not an obstruction. But if we canâ€™t do that, then they are the real enemy. They are what give us trouble. When we talk in terms of armour and warfare, then these negativities are what we need to attack. We need a forceful attack on our inner enemy, the kleshas. That is the true problem.
It says that we should deal with our strongest negative emotions first. So we need to work out which is the strongest, and that is not so difficult to discover. If you look at where your mind goes repeatedly, that will show you the strongest emotion. If it tends to go down the track of resentment, anger or irritation maybe anger is your main thing. If it tends to go to longing and attachment then maybe that is your thing. Of course we all have the whole spectrum of negative emotions but generally it says that we tend to have one of them as our strongest. So we should work first on the strongest and then gradually all of them. In Buddhism even though we refer to them as negative emotions, actually the emotions are not seen as bad in and of themselves. They are seen as fertile ground, and out of this fertile ground, out of this smelly manure in the garden, something very wonderful can grow. If we have a lot of anger we can transform that because we understand what it means to be angry, and when we see somebody else being angry we know exactly how they feel. So we can develop patience. We can develop kindness and understanding. This applies to all of the negative emotions. If we have great grasping or loneliness, great fear, confusion or jealousy, then we can understand what others feel.Â We can use the emotions to develop empathy and the qualities that are needed to tame those emotions.
In order to deal with emotions we should try to be very constant in dealing with them and we should apply constancy and steadiness. We should try and work with a great willingness, interest and joy, thinking how fortunate we are to be able to work with our emotions, to have found amethod. Because most people are unaware that it is actually possible to change your mind, to have a sense of being unshakealbe, to be tireless. That is this quality of applied diligence. In all three activities, we should try to have this quality of tirelessness and constancy. Whether it is the negative emotions, accumulation of merit or working for others we should try to have that aspect of diligence. Applied diligence in the accumulation of merit is straightforward: not just thinking about doing positive things but actually doing things, actually applying ourselves to do positive things like practicing patience, or right conduct, all of the things that are generally positive activity. To try and apply it for the benefit of ourselves and others.
And the third type of diligence is called insatiable diligence. This is the form of diligence that carries the other two to completion, like a very strong intent. We are not complacent until we really achieve the final result of what it is we have set out to do. It is like if you are studying for a Masters degree, you keep studying until you achieve that final degree. You put all your effort into it insatiably because you have that goal in mind and with that goal in mind you have that sense that you are not going to give up until that is achieved.
So that is the way diligence is explained and I think we should be very aware of the importance of this. We should be very conscious of the three types of laziness and the three types of diligence so that when we look at our life we try and get our priorities right. A lot of the time we are not really getting our priorities right, we are so busy acquiring things that we maybe donâ€™t even need. In the end if we think about impermanence all of those things we are busy acquiring are not going to help us. We need to really look at our life and make judgements and choices. That is what understanding this picture of diligence will help you to do. It will help you to look at your own life and see you have got your priorities right. It will help you to ask, is there anything I can do to improve my situation?
So that is the end of this advice from Milarepa to Palderboom. We have looked at generosity and meditation. In the third verse he asks have you prepared a guide?Â The guide is the divine Dharma. Do you practice it? He says that the enemy known as attachment to relatives seems good but will bring harm. He means that in terms of our relationships we should also contemplate impermanence and see how it relates to our dharma activities, whether we have so much attachment that it is bringing suffering. Milarepaâ€™s advice covered the same as that of Sumpa Lotsawa, If your mind is turned to Dharma you can die with ease. Your mind suffers because it is not usually turned to dharma.
We still have to look at the fourth advice which says that if you have recognised your mind as unborn there will be no death. Your mind suffers because you have failed to recognise your mind as unborn. We will look at that, but not today.
Questions: Sometimes I struggle with remembering my goal.
Lama Zangmo: More than anything, you should think about the Four Thoughts. They should always be there as a reminder to make you practice and to remember what it is about. The goal is to overcome suffering. Anger is suffering, jealousy is suffering, desire is suffering. The goal is to free yourself from suffering, that is the big goal. When these negative emotions are transformed, itâ€™s not nothingness. They are transformed into beneficial qualities that help yourself and others: the qualities of compassion, of patience, of wisdom, of generosity. The generosity of giving something as a present is a really nice quality but generosity can be more, the vastness of mind that can encompass all sentient beings as they are, accept all sentient beings as they are. That is real generosity when we have total impartiality. Itâ€™s a transformation of something small into something very great and vast, like a seed that grows from a very small sesame seed into a big plant, or a small acorn grows into a tree. That is why the negative emotions are fertiliser, something can grow out of them. Each of the negative emotions has an energy that, when freed from the clinging and selfish grasping of â€˜Iâ€™ becomes something else. But you can think of the goal as being freedom from suffering. We have to take small steps, we have to go gradually, dealing with what is there right now for us. We canâ€™t think that much in terms of enlightenment or all these big things we have to take it step by step you canâ€™t jump.