One Must Be Diligent in Seeking the Buddha Way

Grand Master’s Dharma Talk:

      Cultivation requires us to be diligent: set our thoughts on practice, bring forth great compassion, make great vows, and always keep the Buddhadharma in mind. In all hours of the day and three parts of the night, constantly ask ourselves, “How were the past buddhas and bodhisattvas diligent in their practice? Now, I must also practice that diligently!” If our minds are negligent, not raising right mindfulness, then that is not diligence. Without diligence, our cultivation will not succeed.

      This is analogous to two people both trying to reach Puli. One is diligent and travels quickly; therefore, he arrives in Puli very fast. The other ambles along, stopping here and there for leisure and sight-seeing, even making detours to visit other places along the way. Naturally, this second person has no means to reach his destination. Cultivation is like this too. The bodhi path is available to everyone and anyone can walk it to completion—it all depends on if we are diligent or not. Only with diligence, will we realize the Way.

Diligently cultivate the three karmas without a thought of exhaustion.

      There are two forms of diligence: one is diligence in body, the other is diligence in mind. For example, the first of Samantabhadra’s Ten Great Vows is “pay homage to all buddhas.” It means paying homage to all buddhas over the entire span of empty space and across the Dharma realm, not only in the present, but also into the infinite future. This is diligence in body. Moreover, “raise thought after thought without interruption, be indefatigable in body, speech, and mind”—we must also be diligent in mind. Perform all great deeds attentively and thoroughly, keeping them in mind thought after thought, uninterruptedly and without any irrelevant thinking.

      When the minds of ordinary people are not raising wholesome thoughts, they are otherwise inclined to raise unwholesome ones. Then, if the mind is not raising thoughts of greed, anger, or ignorance, it is thinking about money, lust, fame, or personal gain. When not abiding in the Dharma, the mind gives rise to deluded thoughts, thinking about past, present, future, and all sorts of things we should not dwell on. Indeed, this is how we are. Because we have already grown accustomed to raising these kinds of thoughts, we may not even notice when they come up now.

      Because the minds of sentient beings tend to have deluded thoughts, we must first counteract them by raising wholesome ones. For example, the four kinds of right effort are:

“Grow the wholesome thoughts that have already arisen.

Quickly raise the wholesome thoughts that have yet to arise.

Eradicate the unwholesome thoughts that have already arisen.

Never raise the unwholesome thoughts that have yet to arise.”

Always raise wholesome thoughts and never unwholesome ones. Keep the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, precepts, giving, and impermanence of death in mind…in thought after thought without stopping.

      The Universal Gateway of Guanyin Bodhisattva says, “When thoughts do not go idly by, one can extinguish the suffering of samsaric existence.” Reciting Guanyin’s name and keeping the bodhisattva in mind are to raise wholesome thoughts; we must do so in thought after thought without stopping. All of this is to be diligent in mind. If we are not, then the mind will raise deluded thoughts. Thus, it is essential to practice like this in thought after thought without interruption.

      At the same time, we must also be diligent in body: prostrate in repentance, practice recitation, teach and spread the Dharma, and perform the work of buddhas (i.e. hold Dharma ceremonies and events). Perform these actions constantly, without slacking off or wearying, indefatigable in body, speech, and mind. We must be diligent in this way. If not, we will become negligent.

Contemplate suffering and practice the Way with discipline and diligence.

      The Buddhist sutras teach us to be diligent through the first, second, and third parts of the night. To ordinary people, however, this may seem impossible: “If I’m diligent all day and all night, does that mean I can’t rest?” But, if we understand the anguish of samsara, we will not slack off in any way. Because the suffering experienced as we cycle through the three lower realms of hell beings, animals, and hungry ghosts in beginningless samsara is utterly indescribable. Even as a human being, there is great suffering if we have ignorance or are mentally or physically handicapped. It is impossible to read the sutras with blind eyes, recite buddhas’ names if we cannot speak, or make prostrations with a disabled body…once we understand these facts and think them through, then we realize the temporary hardships of diligence are nothing compared to the endless suffering of samsara. How can we not be diligent?

      Because of this, we should contemplate our own suffering and that of sentient beings as well. Without contemplating, we will not understand suffering and fail to bring forth a mind of diligence. But if we understand, then we know for certain: we must be diligent in body and mind.  With diligence in body, refrain from creating unwholesome karma; with diligence in mind, raise no wandering or deluded thoughts. When we finally achieve a state of “one mind without scatteredness,” then we can realize both merits and wisdom, broadly accumulating them as provisions for our practice. However, this is not something that can be done in a few days or months, so we must not only bring forth a mind of diligence, but also one of perseverance.

      The ancients said, “Do not lose the beginner’s mind, that is more than enough to reach buddhahood.” After raising the initial resolve to reach buddhahood, each of us is extremely diligent. But as time goes on, some people improve very little. Seeing a great many sutras to study and sitting in meditation with our legs getting sore, painful, and numb, we feel cultivation is really too difficult and think, ‘I should just plant some virtuous roots.’ Thus, our beginner’s mind regresses—this is how we lose diligence.

      Diligence is to proactively take on everything we must do in cultivation, like Shakyamuni Buddha, who was able to reach buddhahood before Maitreya Bodhisattva because of his diligence. The sutras tell us when Shakyamuni was still cultivating the causes of enlightenment, he saw Pusya Buddha radiating light from his body, which was replete with the thirty-two good physical marks and eighty fine attributes. Awed by the Buddha’s splendid appearance, rarely seen in the world, Shakyamuni’s mind gave rise to boundless reverence. For seven days, he did not avert his eyes. Afraid that he might doze off or lose diligence, he stood with one leg raised and the other on the floor for the entire span of seven days and nights. Then, Shakyamuni praised the Buddha with a gatha:

      “In the heavens above and the earth below, no one can be compared to the Buddha. Throughout all the worlds, he is peerless.

      I have seen all that is in this world.
      There is no one who is comparable to the Buddha.”

These seven days of diligence surpassed nine great kalpas in time, and thus Shakyamuni was able to reach buddhahood before Maitreya.

      The six paramitas include diligence paramita. It is to counteract our slacking off and negligence, so we must be diligent in whatever we do. Furthermore, we must also understand: diligence in body, speech, and mind is conditioned diligence. In the end, cultivation must go from the conditioned to the unconditioned. From being diligent in conditioned dharmas, we go on to relinquish all attachments and reach diligence in the unconditioned dharma. The unconditioned dharma is to not raise a single thought, to abide in no-thought in the present, the future, and even across three incalculable eons. With no-thought in the here and now, this very mind transcends the three periods of time—this is true diligence.

      Once we understand this teaching, we must not slack off and become negligent. In addition, the mind must remain focused, and further go from having thoughts to having no-thought, where myriad dharmas return to one, to this very mind. In the end, we attach not even to this very mind. Then this is true diligence, the highest form of diligence. By deeply understanding the Buddhist teaching of diligence, we will surely attain the Way in this very life.


Chung Tai Magazine #254