Excerpt from “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching” by Thich Nhat Hanh
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:
(l) preventing unwholesome seeds in our store consciousness that have not yet arisen from
(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 seed 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. The 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 our 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”.