Feb 28, 2024
Jenny Hall

Verses from The Dhammapada 168

The Buddha once said, Let a man rouse himself and follow the path of righteousness”. Without discipline and effort, the practice will never blossom but being too rigid will break our resolve.



‘Let a man rouse himself and follow the path of righteousness.’

One of the hindrances to walking the Buddha’s way is laziness. The ‘I’ is always looking for an easy life. However, at the start of a new year, the heart may incline to a re-dedication to the Buddhist path. The Buddha frequently exhorted his followers to use every opportunity to walk it. We may believe we want to commit to it but, after a while, we complain that our life is too hectic to practise on a regular basis. It is easy to convince ourselves that there will be limitless time in the future to do so. With such an attitude, our practice becomes rather sporadic. 

We may neglect zazen because we would rather not miss that fascinating series on television. We may believe that missing one zazen session is of no consequence. However, the next day, the reluctance to sit is a little stronger. Before we know where we are, we stop sitting altogether. 

On the other hand, when we do rouse ourselves, perhaps we put too much effort in. 

In the West, we have been conditioned to link success in any endeavour with hard work. Our effort is rooted in the desire for progress. We become rigid and frustrated when we don’t seem to be getting any closer to what we imagine enlightenment to be.

Sona, before becoming a monk, had been a musician. The Buddha asked him what happened if the string of his instrument was too loose? Sona replied that when plucked there would be no sound. The Buddha asked what happened if the string was too taut? Sona replied. That the string would break. The Buddha then explained that following the path was the same. He said we shouldn’t force ourselves to perform ascetic practices. Neither should we lose ourselves in sensual pleasures. Right effort is the middle way. Right effort isn’t ‘my’ effort but selfless effort. It involves wholeheartedly giving myself away into every situation that arises. 

In the following story, Ryokan had spent many years diligently following the Zen Way. He had a nephew who managed the family estate. One day Ryokan heard that his nephew was neglecting his responsibilities and had become very lazy. Instead of maintaining the estate he was spending all his money on a courtesan. The family had admonished the nephew but to no avail. They asked Ryokan to visit him in order to persuade him to mend his ways. Ryokan travelled a vast distance to visit him. His nephew was delighted to see him. He invited his uncle to stay the night. Ryokan spent the whole of it in meditation. The next morning before he left, Ryokan said to his nephew “my hand is shaking much, I must be getting old. Would you be kind enough to help me tie the string of my straw sandals?” The nephew was happy to oblige. “Thankyou” said Ryokan. “You see, a man becomes older and weaker every day that passes. Take good care of yourself.”  From that morning onwards, the nephew gave up his dissipated way of life. He applied himself to his responsibilities. 

When Ryokan heard about his nephew; the family had already confronted him. They had assumed that reasoning with the nephew would make him mend his ways. Words, however, had failed. During his visit, Ryokan didn’t mention the courtesan or the relatives’ complaints. Instead, he emptied out all intention and judgement in all night meditation. Choiceless Awareness opened and the nephew was addressed appropriately. When he was given the opportunity to help Ryokan, self-centredness was dropped. HIs eyes were opened for the first time. When his attention was brought to his uncle’s frailty, he saw what he would himself become. He saw it was imperative to waste no more time or energy. 

Right Effort involves our deportment. We are aware of our feet firmly planted on the ground. Our backs are straight. Our ears are in line with our shoulders. And we wholeheartedly bow slightly from the hips to avoid slumping. Our daily vow to help all sentient beings is fulfilled as the energy of Choiceless Awareness responds to each situation. Joy, reverence and gratitude flow. This is’ the path of righteousness’.

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