The Great Realizations (4): Laziness Leads to Downfall

Speaker: Ven. Zhi Xing

Fo Guang Shan Hsi Lai Temple, Los Angeles

I. Introduction

Auspicious Greetings to all friends from around the world! My name is Ven. Zhixing. Thank you for joining our online English Dharma service.  I will be sharing some of the teachings from the Eight Realizations of a Bodhisattva Sutra.

II. Fourth Realization

Realize that laziness leads to downfall. Be diligent and break through the evil of the affliction. Defeat the four kinds of Mara and escape the prison of the five aggregates and the three realms.

III. Laziness Leads to Downfall

An important insight to gain from this fourth realization is that laziness leads to downfall. When we talk about laziness, we are talking about someone who is disinclined to put in effort to carry out some activities that he ought to carry out even if he has the ability to do so. Instead, he would choose to engage in other less strenuous tasks or remains idle.

From the psychological perspective, the reason why a person might be lazy is because it may seem painful to put in effort on a long-term goals that don’t provide immediate gratification. Normally, a person will be determined to work on a long-term goal if he/she values the fruit from his/her labour more than the loss of comfort. More often though, one may become disinclined to put in effort because the goal or return of the effort is too distant and uncertain. If we think about it, it is very true. We tend to choose to do things that give us immediate gratification such as watching TV, or browsing through social media instead of working on a research paper or doing the house chores.

From the Buddhist perspective, laziness refers to not putting in effort to decrease and eliminate unwholesome deeds and cultivate wholesome deeds. It also refers to being lazy physically and lax on our thoughts and mind.

We might then wonder why does laziness lead to downfall? I remember when I was young, my mom told me a Chinese folklore to warn me against being lazy. This is how it goes. Once, there was a farmer turning the soil in his farm. Suddenly, he saw a rabbit running nervously out of the bushes, ran into a tree trunk, and stopped moving. The farmer walked over and saw that the rabbit was dead because it cracked its neck from hitting the tree trunk. The farmer was very happy as he got a rabbit for his meal without putting any effort in it. He thought, “If I can just pick up a dead rabbit everyday, then my life would be very at ease.”

From then on, the farmer didn’t work on his land anymore. Instead, he sat down by the tree and waited for a second or a third rabbit running itself into the tree trunk. What are the chances for another rabbit running into the tree?  It was super low. Of course, the farmer never found another dead rabbit, and his land was bared as he didn’t plant anything on it. He became a laughing stock in the village.

We reap what we sow. If we are not willing to put in the effort, then we won’t reap any result as well. We will end up with nothing, just like the farmer. Also, laziness is a self-defeating behavior. Not working to decrease and eliminate our unwholesome thoughts would give rise to more afflictions and make us become more negative. Discouraging and negative thoughts tend to create negative outcomes because the conditions that prevail within our minds eventually become manifest in the events of our life.

There was a time when the Buddha sent two monks to talk to people who had become seriously ill. One of the monks was old, while the other was a young man. Before long, people began to notice that when the older monk spoke to the sick people they would quickly recover from their diseases, but when the younger monk spoke to them their conditions would only grow worse. The difference lay in what they were saying. The older monk always would say, “Everything is impermanent and so is your disease. If you continue to practice diligently, you will quickly get better.” In contrast, the younger monk always said, “Illness is the result of bad karma. There is nothing you can do but accept these conditions and wait for them to pass.” The older monks, who had lived longer, had a much deeper understanding of the Buddha’s teachings than the younger monk. He knew that once we allow ourselves to feel defeated, our lives can only decline even more.

Therefore, we should not be lazy in cultivating our mind to decrease and eliminate the unwholesome and negative thoughts we have. It then begs the question of how can we overcome laziness?

IV. How Can We Overcome Laziness?

The antidotes to laziness are diligence and hard work. Diligence is the key to success in life. If we look at all the successful people, none of them had succeeded without hard work.

As the great inventor Thomas Edison said, “most innovations are ten percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” Today, when we talked about Thomas Edison, we think that he was a genius as he had invented a lot of things, including the light bulb and the system of power plants that bring electrical power and wiring to people’s home.  However, Thomas Edison would always remind people that just having a good idea was not enough. It takes hard work to make dreams into reality.

Kobe Bryant became one of the NBA’s best all-time players by starting practice three hours earlier than everyone else, even when he was injured with a cast on his wrist.

Mozart became a great composer not because he was born a great musician. His father Leopold trained him to be a concert pianist and composer since the age of 4. Also, he worked very hard over and over on his composition.

Marissa Mayer, the CEO at Yahoo, attributes her success to the 130-hour a week work-weeks while at Google.

If we look at all these successful people in different sectors, they all become successful not only because they have talents, but because of their hard work and effort. If we reflect on ourselves, how can we not work hard?  We may be worried about failures and fear of the obstacles along the path toward reaching our goals. However, failures and obstacles are nutrient for us to grow. As the saying goes, “Failures is the mother of success.” Through failures, we gain experience and know what doesn’t work and how we can improve next time. This is like we can’t have lotus without the mud. Lotus needs to grow from mud. It’s causes and effect.

V. Diligence Is the Key

The most important thing is we just continue to work hard and we will reach our goal one day. This is like starting a fire by rubbing two sticks together. If we keep at it, we will heat the wood enough to cause it to burn, while if we quit too soon, we will succeed only in making ourselves tired. This is the same with working toward our goals. If we stop too soon, we will fail to reach our goal. A lot of time, we might be very motivated and enthusiastic in our work at the beginning, but as time goes on and things become routine, we begin to lose interest and look for something else to inspire ourselves. Diligence is founded on knowing that deep inspiration must come from within. When we draw on our inner resources, there is nothing that can stop us and nothing that can make us change course too soon.

There is a Buddhist story about a pair of parrots who saw a forest fire one day. Though the flames of the fire were fearsome, the parrots decided that they should do whatever they could to stop the fire. Therefore, they began carrying water in their mouths from a river nearby. Though their efforts were insufficient to extinguish the blaze, the parrots kept at their labors. Seeing how determined they were, the god of fire spoke to them saying, “Parrots, why do you bother? You can never carry enough water to put such a huge fire out.” 

The parrots replied, “It is our duty to try anyway. If others would help us, we might even succeed in stopping the blaze.” When the god heard their answer, he was moved by their determination and put out the fire himself. This story shared with us that when we are really determined to do something, there would be conditions that help us. Diligence can unleash strengths in us that we never knew we had.

VI. Four Types of Right Effort

Of course, diligence needs to be appropriate and beneficial for self and others. This is called right effort. According to Buddhist sutras, there are four types of right effort:  

  1. To prevent unwholesome states that have not yet arisen. 
  2. To end unwholesome states that have already arisen. 
  3. To develop wholesome states that have not yet arisen. 
  4. To strengthen wholesome states that have already arisen.

In another word, right effort is about purifying this mind, so that we are always giving rise to wholesome thoughts. We might not think that having some unwholesome thoughts are a concern. However, we should realize that our action and speech arise from our thoughts. If our thoughts are filled with anger, frustration, stress, and agitation, then our speeches and actions are more likely to express such negativity through saying harsh words that hurt others or performing harmful actions.

Once, a lady cooked pancakes every day.  She knew that there was a homeless man who lived close by. Thus, she would always leave one pancake by the window sill. The homeless man would pick up the pancake and left without saying thank you and any word. At first, the lady didn’t think too much. As days pass by, she slowly became angry with the homeless man thinking that he was very rude and ungrateful. The more that she thought about it, the angrier she became, until one day, an evil thought arose. For one moment, she thought of putting poison on the pancake that she was making. However, she suddenly chided herself for thinking such evil thought as she wanted to help others in the first place. She wasn’t doing it for their gratitude.  Thus, she just cooked the pancake and put it on the window sill as usual.

This lady had a son who had gone out of town for business, but he hadn’t returned as he was supposed to. A few days later, her son looking like a homeless came back.  He told the lady that he almost died along the way as he got robbed. He was at the point of starving to death when a homeless man gave him a pancake.  He regained energy to walk back after eating it.  When the lady heard about the pancake, she had a moment of panic thinking that it might be the pancake she made. If she had really put poison on the pancake, she might have killed her own son.  Her kind heart that won over the evil thoughts in the end saved her son. She was more convinced about causes and effect and started to help more people.

What if this lady act upon her unwholesome thoughts of poisoning the homeless man? If she really acts upon it, she might kill her own son. Therefore, we should not underestimate unwholesome thoughts and think that it is fine to have some unwholesome thoughts. We should practice right effort and give rise to wholesome thoughts. This is why Venerable Master Hsing Yun taught us to practice the three acts of goodness, do good deeds, say good words and think good thoughts. In this way, we are always cultivating wholesomeness and slowly purifying our mind.

VII. Conclusion

To conclude, an important insight from the third realization is we should realize that contentment is the source of happiness. We can find To conclude, an important insight from the fourth realization is we should realize that laziness leads to downfall. All successes come from lot of hard work and effort. It is more important for us to practice right diligence or right effort, which is cultivating wholesome thoughts in mind. In another word, think positive!

Last, but not least, thank you for joining us in the Dharma Service. May Buddhas and Bodhisattvas bless everyone with happiness and peace. Omitofo