three steps of the Eightfold Path have to do more with inner
work of meditation than outer work of Right Livelihood and
Right Speech, and so forth. The next step is called Right
Effort. It's very important in understanding spiritual practice.
Maharshi, the great Indian master, one of the greatest ever,
and certainly in the last century or so, said:
is not your birthright.
Those who succeed do so only through proper effort.
an amazing thing for him to say because he became fully enlightened
at seventeen years old when he went to his uncle's house and
said, "I wonder what it would be like to die. I think
I'll try it." And he laid down on the floor and died,
and then came back somehow. It's hard to know whether he physically
died, but it seemed like he died, and he came back with a
very different perspective on life. Nevertheless, he taught
for many, many years, and even he said this.
Nasrudin went to the market with a recipe for some kind of
liver and kidney pie, or something like that, and he bought
the meat. He had the recipe in one hand and he took the stuff
for his pie in the other hand. And a huge raven or crow saw
him walking home and swooped down from a tree nearby and grabbed
the meat out of his hand and flew off with it. And Nasrudin
shook his head and said, "It won't do you any good. You
don't have the recipe."
kind of reversed for us. Most of us, especially living in
California, as we do, are overburdened with spiritual recipes.
How many Dharma talks, how many spiritual books, how many
retreats, how many good therapy things, how many sesshins,
and how many whatever have you had? You have the recipe. Like
all the people sitting under the bodhi tree with the Dalai
Lama, and the pilgrims who had come from miles and miles on
foot from the high Himalayas to be with the Dalai Lama in
Bodhgaya, he said, "Okay, you're here, and you think
you're very fortunate because you have the blessings of being
under this bodhi tree where the Buddha was enlightened, with
all these famous lamas, and the Dalai Lama himself, and you
have the teachings, the sacred meditations, and mantras, and
all these things. It won't do you any good. The only thing
that makes it work is if you take the trouble to practice
it. All the rest of it is very nice, and you might as well
watch Dallas or something like that. It's not so different.
Maybe you would learn more from Dallas, I don't know. At least
it wouldn't be pretentiously spiritual." So the answer
is central in our spiritual practice. Traditionally, there
are four kinds of effort that are talked about. The effort
to deal with unskillful things has two parts. First, the effort
to abandon that which is unskillful, and that means abandoning
our grasping, our fear, our hatred, or our anger. It doesn't
mean judging oneself or resisting it. It means learning skillful
means not to be so caught up in things, not to be so attached.
Then, the effort to maintain their absence, once you're figured
out how to let go of them some. It's like Mark Twain and smoking.
You all heard that. When someone asked if he had ever stopped
smoking, he said, "Sure, it was easy. I've done it thousands
of times." The second effort is the effort to maintain
that abandonment in some fashion.
two traditional definitions of Right Effort have to do with
that which is skillful; the effort to develop or cultivate
or nourish that which is skillful within ourselves, and then
the effort to maintain or sustain it, so that in some fashion
it stays with us.
from the Dhammapada:
person on the battlefield conquers an army
of a thousand persons,
Another conquers himself,
and that is greater.
Conquer yourself and not others,
and thereupon learn freedom.
the effort of learning how to cultivate or generate that which
is skillful -- which means awareness, loving-kindness, or
caring for the world around you, or living more in the present,
the effort to abandon the habits, the fears of things that
we get caught in that create suffering and that keeps us in
the muck, and the effort to sustain them. This is wonderful
because it's a teaching that can apply very much to our daily
life; it's not just a retreat teaching. It's small habits
and all the little pieces. Our life is made up of little activities,
little pieces, little habits, and little ways. And we can
begin to work with the way we drive our car, the way that
we relate to people at work, or the way we eat, what we choose
to eat, and how we set about eating -- to make those things
more conscious. To make our approach to these bear the fruit
of greater awareness, greater attention, of more caring, of
now for just a moment: what are a few things in your own life
that could well be served by bringing a little more of this
effort, this effort to pay attention, or the effort to let
go and abandon? What little things do you do that you could
use in some way to wake up more, to awaken?
the meaning for Right Effort can be expressed in a simple
way: it's the effort to be aware, the effort to see clearly,
to pay attention. That's Right Effort. One Zen master was
asked, "Would you give me the essence of the teachings?"
He wrote down, "attention". Then the person said,
"Fine. Now would you give me the whole teachings, the
commentary, and how I should undertake it?" He wrote
down, "Attention, attention." The person said, "Isn't
there anything else?" And he said, 'Attention, attention,
attention. That is it, to be present, to see clearly."
Effort isn't so much the effort to make the world a different
place, as it is the effort to understand the nature of this
world, of our body, our mind, this life.
it hard to make the Right Effort, why is it hard to pay attention?
It's hard for different reasons. It's hard because we sometimes
don't want to see. You know, this idea of "Be Here Now,"
and so forth, it sounds good,.It's not so good. It isn't,
because what happens when you're here now? Has anybody looked?
What do you have to be here now with? Pain, boredom, fear,
loneliness, pleasure, joy, beautiful sunsets, wonderful tastes,
horrible experiences, people being born, people dying, light,
dark, up, down, parking your car on the wrong side of the
street, getting your car towed; all those things. For if you
live here, it means that you have to be open to what Zorba
called "The whole catastrophe." Sometimes we don't
effort is the effort to see clearly. This world is crazed.
There's war, there's prejudice, there's political prisoners,
there's all this kind of suffering that we need to remember
living in Marin, because it's really kind of a ghetto that
we live in, and we forget how incredibly fortunate we are.
a letter today from someone I know . She's kind of middle-aged
and very poor, and just gets by doing some sewing, and her
husband works in a gas station. They live in Florida. They
are related to some people I know. They've had a very hard
life. She has some kind of progressive degenerative disease.
They do not live in such a nice neighborhood, and their house
was broken into, and the few things of any value that they
had were just stolen. I thought, "God, here I live in
such a nice place, and have nice things, and I leave the front
door open most of the time, and don't worry about it,"
and we forget what blessings we have. We forget about the
sorrow and the struggle in the world. Part of the effort is
to really wake up and to look at ourselves and at the world
around us, and to be conscious of it, not to be just asleep.
Achaan Chah said there are two basic ways of practice. One
way of practice is to be comfortable. And it's valuable. You
can sit a little and get yourself quiet. You keep the precepts,
so you don't harm people, and they start to like you. You
say "Om" at dinner. You chant a little before you
eat. And everything becomes nicer in your life. It becomes
more comfortable and more pleasant because you live a good
life and you're peaceful. The other way to approach spiritual
practice is not to be involved in trying to be comfortable,
but rather to be free or liberated. And that way of practice
has nothing whatsoever to do with comfort. Comfort may come
and it may not. Sometimes it may be terribly uncomfortable,
but its goal or its direction is not comfort; its goal is
freedom. It's a wonderful thing, and it's a real legacy of
Effort means we really need to start to pay attention, and
to see how fortunate we are, and to begin to see the laws
that govern the world within which we live.
friend of mine just called me this week and said her husband
who is in his mid-forties has advanced lung cancer; he just
found out about it a few days earlier. Then she called about
four days after that. She asked me what was the lesson in
that. She said, "You're a teacher. Tell me what the lesson
is." I don't know what the lesson is. I said, "I
don't know. Call me later, maybe I can think of one."
And she called back. If you trust people they generally find
out what the lesson is anyway. She said, "I know what
the lesson is." I said, "What?" And she said,
"The lesson is to love people while you have them, when
they're here." It was so sweet and so touching because
it came from a place where she really, really knew it. It's
to take care with what we have that's beautiful, and nourish
it; and that which isn't, to abandon it.
you a passage from Nisargadatta Maharaj, the old bidi wallah
who I studied with in Bombay; wonderful old teacher. He sold
little Indian cigarettes on the street corner, and he was
fully enlightened somehow at the same time. He had these classes.
He died a couple of years ago. He was a wonderful old man.
can truth or reality gain by all our practice?
truth and love interchangeably. He says:
whatsoever, of course. But it is in the nature of truth
or love, cosmic consciousness, whatever you want to call
it, to express itself, to affirm itself, to overcome difficulties.
Once you've understood that the world is love in action,
consciousness or love in action, you will look at it quite
differently. But first your attitude to suffering must change.
Suffering is primarily a call for attention, which itself
is a movement of love. More than happiness, love wants growth,
the widening and deepening of awareness and consciousness
and being. Whatever prevents that becomes a cause of pain,
and love does not shirk from pain.
an amazing thing to say, that love doesn't shirk from pain,
that what loves wants is not pleasure. You live in Marin,
you know about pleasure. It's wonderful, but it gets boring
after awhile. It does! There is something deeper or higher,
that's richer, that is our capacity, or our birthright, or
our deepest need. I don't know what it is, but it is different
than just pleasure.
it mean to make Right Effort? We've touched this, or we want
that, or we want to discover or open. There are two different
approaches or styles to effort. I've practiced with them both,
and I'll put them out, and you can listen and see which works
better for you.
the Rinzai approach, using Zen terminology, where there is
enlightenment, and it's a goal, and you work very hard - you
literally bust your ass on your cushion or whatever you do
to get to satori or kensho or enlightenment,
and you really make an effort directed to this goal.
the ways of practice in the Theravada tradition that I'd done
in the Sun Lun Monastery was to sit without moving a minimum
of four sittings a day of two hours. The first hour was heavy
breathing, where you sat and did as full and deep breathing
as you were capable of for an hour. And the sayadaw
was sort of like a football coach, and he would come around
and say, "Harder, more." And you concentrate on
it. You get very concentrated in an hour. If you were sleepy
it woke you up; if you had thoughts it kind of blasted them
out of your head; and by the end of an hour you were very
present. Then the next hour you continued to sit without moving,
and used that concentration just to be with what your experience
was. It was very powerful.
kind of effort in the Mahasi Monastery where I practiced where
you sit and walk l5 or l6 hours a day, or l8 if you can. You
sleep for four hours and you eat a little bit. You sit motionless,
you don't move, and the sittings are shorter, 45 minutes or
an hour, and you don't make a a movement without paying attention
to it. Lift your hand, blink your eyes, "blinking, turning,
moving." You pay attention to every single little thing.
Why do that? It sounds so hard. It is, it is very, very hard.
And if you start to do it, all the defilements, all the desires,
all the fears, all the reasons that you keep yourself spaced
out and in fantasy, and don't want to pay attention, they
all come at once. Like this wall. And you just sit, and you
just walk, and you do it. The purpose is to dissolve the sense
of solidity of the world. If you pay attention that carefully,
and that fully, or that deeply with concentration -- that's
next week's talk on Right Concentration -- you begin to see
that what's solid is not solid, and that what seems as "I"
or "body and mind together" starts to dissolve into
all these little parts. There are the four physical elements,
the different mood states, and consciousness, hearing, seeing,
smelling, and tasting. And that's all there is! And it takes
the whole show apart, but it takes a powerful concentration
and a sustained attention to do it. It really is going through
fire. There's even a physical transformation.
a book I read recently by Ireena Tweedy called "Chasm
of Fire". She's this old Sufi lady who worked with this
master in India. She talked about her experiences, more in
the Kensho metaphor, but it's not so different. It's really
sitting through the fire and letting your body, your desires,
and your fears, just burn through you, and you just sit. After
awhile your attachments to things change and you become much
more detached from this that we take to be ourselves, this
physical body. And you become more detached from the fears
and feelings, and all of those things. You start with that
detachment; then you see it as it operates, clearly, because
you're not so incredibly identified with "I, me, mine,
my body, my mind." It's very powerful!
teaches Zen sesshin in a very strict fashion. Or Chan
Hsun Hua who runs Gold Mountain Temple. He used to have 49-day
chant sesshins in San Francisco. You sit for 49 days,
and you sleep sitting up, you sleep in your place. I never
wanted to do it. I've thought about it. For some people it's
terrible because they're already tight and they do it and
it just drives them crazy, it makes them tighter; and it doesn't
bring any enlightenment at all; it just brings pain. But for
some people it's a way of practice, the effort to concentrate,
the effort to pay attention, to bring yourself back -- again,
and again, and again. It's not the effort of tensing your
body, but it's the willingness to sit with anything, and keep
bringing your mind back, or to walk with anything, to really
person gives way to all their desires, or panders to them,
there will be no inner struggle in them, no friction, no
fire. But if for the sake of attaining liberation, they
struggle with their habits that hinder them, they'll create
a fire which will gradually transform their inner world
into a single whole.
one way of undertaking practice. And when you look at how
powerful our habits are, and how much we go to sleep, and
how much the world really needs somebody to have the courage
to say "no" or "stop" or "wake up"
or "live differently," it becomes very compelling.
I know that you're not on retreat, that we live in busy household
lives -- but the same spirit, this kind which is just half
of the effort I'll talk about, can be brought to your daily
life. It can be the effort to do whatever it happens to be
in your life that you know is really going to make a difference.
So one can bring that effort, and it's a wonderful thing to
do. And if you learn to do it -- it takes practice - it's
really empowering; it brings a certain inner strength with
it as well.
approach to Right Effort is actually a bridge between these
two that would be nice to read about. Someone recently gave
me this book called ""Peace Pilgrim." It's
about this woman who walked around the country for 20 years
wearing her blue jogging suit that said "Peace Pilgrim"
on it, carrying a toothbrush. She spoke about peace, that
you had to make yourself peaceful and the world peaceful.
She never took food unless it was offered to her. She fasted
otherwise. And she never took rides until much later in her
life. She just walked and talked about peace. And this is
her story, and it's a fantastic book.
my earlier spiritual growth period -- The ten years that
she was getting prepared to do her peace walk -- I desired
to know and do God's will for me. Spiritual growth is not
easily attained, you know, but it is well worth the effort.
It takes time, just as any growth takes time. One should
rejoice at small gains, and not be impatient, as impatience
path of gradual relinquishment of things hindering spiritual
progress is a difficult path, but only when relinquishment
is complete do the rewards really come fully. The path of
quick relinquishment is an easy path, for it brings immediate
blessings, and when God fills your life or the truth fills
your life, the gifts overflow and bless all that you touch.
said is very beautiful. It takes time, just as any growth
takes time, and it's not easily attained but well worth the
effort. If you do a lot of it, you get a lot of reward; if
you do it slowly, which most of us do, then it's a little
more frustrating because a lot of the reward comes when you're
much, much freer. It's the way it goes. What can you do? It's
still worth it. It talks about both these kinds of effort,
that if you're willing to make the effort to really do a lot,
or let go of a lot, or transform your life, then tremendous
fruits can come. You can change how you live this week, how
you relate, or you can take it slower.
kind of effort is not goal-oriented, to get to kensho,
or satori, or enlightenment, or dissolve the world,
transcend yourself; it's the Soto Zen approach. It's the approach
that says that you're already enlightened. And that is enlightenment;
it's not something else. It's just what's here. And the only
thing that blocks our enlightenment is all these thoughts
that say, "This isn't enough; I want it different."
If you could just live with things as they are; that's all;
this is it.
speaks about it very beautifully when he said:
the truth which liberates and not your effort to be free.
year I'm going to get this, and be that, and now I'll be --"
I remember when the first interesting meditation practice
experiences started to come, I got very excited, and my mind
started to fill with thoughts again. There were these lights
and things, and I thought, "Gee, this is really exciting,"
because I started to think about what I'd do when I was enlightened,
who I would go visit and what I would say. It's like that
ego, that part of us that wants to take it as a kind of a
merit badge or something that you can wear; or a degree. And
it's not that at all. It's to live with things as they are,
to see them clearly, directly, and truly in each moment.
are two paths to awakening. One is that of self-inquiry,
where you look to see.
koan is, "Who am I?" or " What am I?"
And you do it through awareness; or through whatever training
that you can, to discover and investigate the body and mind.
And the other is the path of surrender, where you say, "Not
my will but thine." It's actually the same if you really
look at it. "Okay, in this moment I'll be aware of what's
here without trying to change it and just see what it is."
In that awareness you start to see the truth of it -- that
it's impermanent -- that it's not "I, me, mine";
that it's not self; that we're not separate; then it begins
to reveal its nature.
of effort then is the effort more of surrender, of letting
go, rather than trying to attain something. It's surrender
to be in each moment in a balanced way.
is to succeed in anything, the success must come gently.
With a great deal of effort. But with no stress or obsession.
rather the effort to be here again and again and again, and
to truly see that things arise and that they pass away; that
they're born; that they die; that we don't own anything; that
none of it is ours. Our thoughts, do you control your thoughts?
Does anybody here have control of their thoughts? We think
that they're ours. Or our bodies. We do a little better at
that, but not very well, if you look at it.
something I want to read. I've been reading all these books
on early child development and labor and whatever. It's from
a book that I've come to appreciate very much called "Whole
Child, Whole Parent." If anyone is looking for a spiritual
guide to parenting, it's the best that I've found. It's called
"Zen and the Art of Throwing a Ball." It gives a
much more Taoist sense, instead of making the effort to come
back again and again and dissolve the world. This is the way
of effort which finds the Tao within our movement, the way
that we live.
-- the self-centered sense of us -- knows that freedom has
something to do with law and order but thinks that order must
be brought about by will power. The child shows us that, on
the contrary, freedom comes through subservience to existing
order, to the Dharma, through conscious alignment with it.
The self knows that freedom has something to do with pleasure,
but it thinks it means feeling good and being above the law
is what pleasure is.
shows us that this pleasure is really spontaneity and that
it too is a by-product of absolute compliance or obedience
to the law or the dharma.
I heard a father marvel, "How did he learn to throw
that ball so far? I didn't teach him. When did he learn
to do this? I didn't even see him do it? Why did he do it?
No one in our family is particularly interested in baseball,
and yet he did."
that father thought might have been a hindrance. had it
actually been present. The family's interest in baseball
or someone watching him, or anything.
along the way, in the throwing of a ball, the child had
conceived of a possibility of freedom. Perhaps it first
came through watching someone else, perhaps once in flinging
a ball, he had let it fly and surprised himself. At any
rate, some freedom had been encountered and was now a possibility
in his consciousness.
that, as long as he remained unself-conscious -- which means
undivided -- he was able to give his undivided attention
to the possibility of which he had conceived. Through his
pure desire for freedom in the sense of possibility, certain
laws were given the opportunity to gain power over the child.
Aiming himself toward a conscious possibility he became
subservient to it. And then through the child's receptive
and devoted consciousness the underlying force of being,
itself, organized and energized and utilized and coordinated
everything in the child to express himself in the form of
freedom to throw the ball so beautifully.
have practiced for hours on end, expending tremendous effort
but little strain because his interest in seeing what was
possible carried him along, confident that what he could
conceive of was possible and could be realized if he went
at it. Sometimes the ball fell short but he did not infer
that he lacked power. Sometimes the ball went wild, but
he did not infer that the thing was impossible or that there
was no predictability and all was chaotic.
seemed too hard only showed him that he had not yet discovered
the knack. Whatever appeared chaotic only suggested that
the order and his oneness with it had not yet been discerned.
Sometimes his shoulder hurt, but the very hurt became a
guide, directing him into better alignment with the hidden
force he did not doubt. He looked at everything for what
is and what isn't, and everything taught him, until he could
throw the ball far, fast, accurately and with remarkable
he wasn't proud. He wasn't too pleased, and he didn't feel
triumphant. He felt grateful. And he didn't feel powerful,
he felt surer. And he felt free and was freer.
never that he had his way with the ball, rather through
his undistracted, absolutely focused, unselfconscious attention,
the invisible laws of physics had their way with him. through
the total submission of himself to the invisible laws, he
found both dominion and spontaneity which he rightfully
experienced as true freedom and joy.
wonderful way to learn. It speaks to this other meaning of
effort, and it also speaks to a kind of secret about the first
kind of effort, which I've used a lot in practice, and gained
from in some ways. And that is, in the end you have to let
go. No matter how much effort you make and where it takes
you, it doesn't take you all the way, because it's not your
effort that makes you free but your discovery of what's true
about yourself, and life, and its changing nature and the
laws of it; that you come into harmony with it, that you become
free. It can be big things. It can be a big satori
and a big awakening. Sometimes you get hit over the head by
someone near you getting cancer or a near car accident, or
it can be little things, like a child, where you just begin
to take your life as a discovery, and you start to see what
are the laws that operate that make people happy, make them
unhappy, what are the laws that operate that make war and
make harmony or peace between people.
a letter recently from someone who had been in one of these
classes asking about the question of enlightenment. We talk
so much about precepts and following them, and Right Speech
and Right Action, what about enlightenment, where does it
fit, or is this just a system of ethical conduct? Is this
Buddhism? The Buddha said it quite explicitly a number of
times in one very beautiful sutra. He said:
reason for my teaching is not for merit or good deeds or
good karma, or concentration, or rapture, or bliss, or even
insight. None of these is the reason that I teach, but the
sure heart's release. This and this alone is the reason
for the teaching of a Buddha.
other things are secondary to it, secondary to what that child
experienced with the ball or what the old bidi wallah talked
about of the movement of love. It's not compelled by pleasure,
not by precepts, not by success or failure, but by learning
to grow, learning to open, learning the laws of the world,
learning to connect. There is enlightenment, there is freedom,
it's true, it's absolutely true; and you can experience it;
you can come to that.
in the Dhammapada that:
one day and taste very deeply the meaning of impermanence
is better than living l00 years and not to touch it.
that be so? Because to taste that, even for a moment, is that
you see what's true about life and you start to live out of
that truth more fully. You become free, which is what we all
want most deeply. . I ask you a few questions. Think about
Right Effort for a moment. Where are you making too much effort
in your life? What things do you do where it's too tight and
too hard? You need to learn balance. Can you think of them?
Where do you try too hard or grasp too much? Where do you
make too little effort in your life? Where are you lazy or
habitual? What aspects of your life could be ennobled or awakened
with more effort? Think about them. Which ones? Where is your
life too internal? Where do you shy away out of fear from
the world of events and circumstances around you? Where is
your life too external, or you don't sit enough, you don't
take enough silence? You don't listen inside to your heart,
to what you care about, make it inform your life.
in this way inside is to discover the laws like throwing the
ball of Right Effort in your life. Where do you miss the mark?
Practice a little more. What takes more effort, what takes
a little less? What takes more solitude? What takes more giving,
and loving, and serving?
know the answers to those things. They come pretty easily
to us. We just forget to ask, or we don't want to ask because
it means, "Ugh, I have to rearrange my life yet again
in some fashion or other." But it doesn't really matter,
because that's the game. Everything gets rearranged anyway.
Either you can rearrange it or you can wait for it to be rearranged.
It's also the game; to grow. So you can stall it for awhile.
If you really drag your feet, you can; but it's not as interesting.
with my question to my teacher Achaan Chaa.
have very many thoughts, my mind wanders a lot, even though
I'm trying to be mindful.
worry about this, try to keep your mind in the present.
Whatever there is that arises in the mind or the heart,
just watch it, let go of it. Don't even wish to be rid of
thought, then the mind will reach a natural state, no discriminating
between good and bad, hot and cold, fast and slow, no "me"
and no "you", no self at all, just what there
you walk, no need to do anything special, simply walk and
see what there is. No need to go to a cave or cling to isolation.
Wherever you are, know yourself by being natural and watching.
If doubts arise, watch them come and go. It's very simple.
Hold on to nothing.
as though you're walking down a road, periodically you run
into obstacles. When you meet difficulties, see them and
overcome them by letting go. Don't think about the obstacles
you've passed already, don't worry about the ones you haven't
seen yet. Stay in the present. Don't worry about the length
of the road or a destination either.
is changing. Whatever you pass, do not cling to it, and
eventually the mind will reach its natural balance where
practice becomes automatic and effort becomes effortless.
All things will come and go of themselves.
hours on end is not necessary. Some people think that the
longer you sit the wiser you must be. I've seen chickens
sit on their nests for days on end.
comes from being mindful in all postures. Your practice
should begin as you awaken in the morning and continue until
you fall asleep. What is important is only that you keep
aware, whether you're working or sitting or going to the
person has their own natural pace. Some of you will die
at age fifty, some at age sixty-five, and some at age ninety.
Don't think or worry about this. Try to be mindful and let
things take their natural course. Then your mind will become
quieter and quieter in any surroundings, like a still forest
pool. All kinds of wonderful, rare animals will come and
drink at the pool. You will see clearly the nature of all
things in the world. Many wonderful strange things come
and go, but you will be still. This is the happiness of