Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Effort - Doing Your Very Best

                  As the earth has finally rolled around the Sun yet again, many have used this time marker to carefully form their New Years’ resolutions. But how many of these aspirations will actually come true? That all depends on how much effort is devoted to making them come true.


Original Photo by Edoardo Bartoccetti available on Flickr.com


                  The more of ourselves we put into something, the greater the likelihood of our success becomes.

                  In Buddhism, we’re encouraged to practice the most effort toward attaining absolute happiness. This means:

1.) Listening to the teachings of the Dharma

2.) Sharing Dharma with others

3.) Following the Six Paramitas taught within Buddhism


          When we’re not able to listen or share the teachings directly, that’s when we practice the Dharma in our life and with those around us.  Of course we can give freely to everyone, but we strive the hardest for those who belong to The Three Fields. To review, the Three Fields are the Field of Respect, the Field of Gratitude,  and the Field of Compassion.


Field of Respect:

Buddha, Buddhism itself, Teachers of True Buddhism,
Benefactors of True Buddhism.

Those who give all of themselves
to share the teachings that lead the way to absolute happiness.
This field also includes those who have exemplary character
and demonstrate a high level of ethics and moral conduct.
These kind of individuals work diligently
morning and night, solely for the public good
and the benefit of all mankind.

WHAT WE CAN DO: We can volunteer ourselves to help out at a Buddhist organization, offer donation, food or household supplies to a Buddhist temple, give a hand to someone of outstanding moral character, or lend our assistance to various benefactors of mankind and their charities.





Field of Gratitude

Parents, Family members, Doctors, Caretakers and Teachers.

Those who have given all of themselves
By either bringing us into this world or nurturing us
so that we could live, survive
and learn the way to be happy and healthy.




WHAT WE CAN DO: Treat both our parents with loving kindness and make sure they are well taken care of, show respect to doctors, caretakers, and teachers. We can write thank you cards, give small tokens of appreciation, and try to brighten their days with a smile as best we can.

Field of Compassion

Homeless, Poor, Sick, Unemployed,
Victims of Disasters or Violence.

Those who are in desperate need and are suffering just to stay alive.
 These people are in actual dire need of donation (such as food or water), help and moral support.


Photo (text added) by Ed Yourdon, original available on Flickr.com



WHAT WE CAN DO: Offer extra food or water we have to homeless on the street, volunteer at or donate funds to shelters and non-profit welfare programs, lend a hand to a sick family member, friend, or coworker, offer moral support to people looking for work, and also just be kind to those difficult people in your life. Many times such people are affected by trauma in their past and carry some kind of burden they may not want to outwardly talk about. Even though it may not seem that what you do makes a difference immediately, this will for sure bring unexpected joy and the strength of patience to your life in ways we can’t begin to imagine.

***

               The three categories above should take up the vast majority of the effort we give toward doing good. But we can of course do good anytime in our daily life whenever and wherever we possibly can.

               So the Fourth Paramita of Effort is a reminder and encouragement for us to actually practice virtue using our physical body and mind to help someone else in need. It tells us we should put the best effort we can into all of what we do, but especially when it comes to others.

                It could also be as little as just picking up something from the floor that someone has dropped. It could be opening a door or lending a helping hand during someone else’s move. At our work, it could be assisting a coworker with one of their projects. It could even be putting in a little unpaid overtime just for the company’s sake to ensure that the job was done properly. At home, it could be picking up extra groceries for our roommate or taking out the trash for our loved one.

                  We can apply the paramita of effort toward improving our lives in its many aspects. This can include school, work, relationships, hobbies, skills, or health. But as we strive to accomplish our own dreams and goals, let’s remember to also think of others along the way.

                 Contrary to what we think, helping others in their dreams in no way slows us down. We only stand to gain according to the Law of Cause and Effect. For our own happiness and well-being, it is essential for us to build and maintain harmonious relationships by understanding the needs of others. They will then, in their own time, follow our example and come to our aid when we’re in need. By sticking together, we can all help each other succeed even more than on our own.

              Because every time we lend a helping hand to someone else, we are in actuality helping ourselves feel better. Although it seems we lose effort or a material of ours by giving it away, the spiritual value of our lives and the satisfaction and joy we feel in life increases exponentially. What little we have suddenly doubles or triple right before our eyes the moment we open our hearts to share it with someone.

               Bottom line, the more we help others with anything we can, little by little, the more and more abundance and gratitude we start to feel. This is the fundamental Buddhist concept of Benefitting Others Benefits the Self. It is at the very heart of Buddhism and all its teachings.

               The more we brighten our mindset through the practice of good deeds, the more it will for sure brighten our own future with radiant worldly happiness.

The Law of Cause and Effect teaches us:

Good deeds bring good results.
Bad deeds bring bad results.

AND

Our own deeds bring our own results.

                  So all this extra effort we put in, whether it is seen or unseen, accumulates good karmic seeds within our Alaya Mind. All the more motivation to get off our rear ends and get out there and do good more work!

                  Everyone on the planet has some special talent, gift, or ability to share with humanity. It could be as simple as telling a funny joke, having a keen sense for business, being a great friend, or simply having a warm and wonderful smile. Some have already found what makes them shine, and there are some who haven’t found it yet. Some find it early in life, while some realize it much later in life. It takes everyone a different amount of time.

                   But what separates people who have what we would call “success” or an abundant amount of relative happiness from those who do not? It is usually not because some are lacking in creativity or inspiration. Success arrives to the people who practice working toward their goal everyday – the mindset of diligence. We all desire the very best out of life, but very few of us perform the necessary routine and often tedious steps required to bring wild, amazing success to fruition.


Original Word Art by Celestine Chua available on Flickr.com


                  What we do instead (all too easily) is envy the rich or people better off than us for their success. Rather than be jealous of them, we should instead be encouraged by our rivals. Rather than feel down about it, we should take it in stride and try to work harder for ourselves. In this way, competition can be done in a healthy, sporting way where everyone can benefit together.

                    The following story from Unshakable Spirit explains how a swordsman became bitter about his rival until he learned what made his competition so excellent.

***

What Makes a Master Swordsmith

                    This happened in fourteenth-century Japan. In a bid to decide who was the greatest swordsmith in the land, eighteen people were chosen, and each one made a sword. Among the submissions were swords by master smiths Okazaki Masamune and Go Yoshihiro. After rigorous examination, Masamune’s sword was judged the best.
Yoshihiro was from central Honshu, near the Japan Sea, and enjoyed a reputation as the finest swordsmith of the day. He was full of braggadocio and unable to forgive anyone who got the better of him. “There must be some explanation,” he thought, deeply disgruntled. “Masamune must have bribed the judges.”

                    He traveled east to see his rival in Kamakura, determined to settle the matter with a duel. When he arrived, Masamune was just tempering a blade.

                   “Sounds of rhythmic hammering came from within the foundry. Yoshihiro cautiously looked inside and was astonished by what he saw.


Original Photo by arbyreed available on Flickr.com


                   Inside the spotless foundry, Masamune was dressed in formal hakama and wielded the hammer with clean, regular motions. There was something majestic in his appearance.

                    Suspecting nothing, Masamune welcomed his visitor from afar with full hospitality.

                    Yoshihiro made a full confession. “Until now I doubted you, resented you, and was even determined to challenge you to a duel, but that was a grave mistake. Now I have seen the dignity with which you work, pouring yourself heart and soul into the making of a sword. In comparison, when I get hot I strip down, and when I’m thirsty I drink my fill. In fact there is no comparison between us. You have shown me that technical skill and strength alone are not enough to make someone a true master.”

                     Yoshihiro then begged Masamune to take him on as his disciple. At first Masamune modestly declined, but Yoshihiro insisted, and so in the end he agreed.”
(Unshakable Spirit, pg. 177)
***

                     In order to succeed ourselves, we first have to understand what is the effort required to create the happiness that appeals to us. Then and only then can we make the steps toward bringing it about.

Contemplate your plans in advance, then execute them.

                  Being laid-back or relaxed all the time, we can’t expect our lives to improve dramatically. We can’t expect A+ results to appear on our report card without first studying for the test AND doing the homework.

We’ve gotta do what we gotta do;
because it’s the only way
 we can make our dreams come true!

                 If we have a really great wish in our hearts that we want to fulfill, we must put in the effort required to make it happen. That’s what the Law of Causality teaches us.

                  A cause is what leads to an effect. If we don’t work hard toward that cause, the effect isn’t going to manifest any sooner. It’s that simple.

                  So if we want something really AWESOME as an EFFECT, it requires us to put in an AWESOME AMOUNT OF WORK as the CAUSE. A story from Something You Forgot Along the Way shows the how we should perceive life’s challenges.

***

Success is the Fruit of Effort

                 Long ago, there were two merchants who always crossed a narrow mountain pass with dry good loaded on their backs.


Original Photo by emzepe available on Flickr.com


                 One day, one of them plopped down on a rock by the roadside. “Exhausting, isn’t it?” he sighed. “Let’s rest for a while. You know, if only this mountain pass weren’t so high, we could cross it easily and make more money.” He looked up balefully at the steep pass.

                 “I disagree,” replied his companion. “In fact, I wish this pass were higher and steeper.”

                 “You do?” said the first man in astonishment. “Whatever for? Do you enjoy suffering? How strange!”

                   His companion explained, “If this pass were easy to cross, everybody would use it to do business, and our profits would go down; if it were higher and steeper, no one would cross it, and our business would prosper even more.”

                 Successful tradesman must be not only astute in business, but bold in endeavor. Success is the fruit of one’s effort. All that comes easy is poverty and shame.

                 The harder the task, the more glorious the triumph.

(Something You Forgot Along the Way, p.176)
***

                  Successful people have a totally different mindset than ordinary people. They push themselves to their limits, so that they can enjoy success beyond the norm.  People who have a lot in life know the importance of saving versus spending money as soon as its earned. They plan ahead for great fun, but they also meticulously build a safety net of their assets in case misfortune should arise.

                    These hotshots do vast amounts of research to learn their trade and master life. They travel great distances often on their own money to get the education or resources they need for success. They are friendly and reach out to many different people, establishing valuable contacts in many different fields. They put in the effort to follow through on their promises, and people trust and respect them for that. Whether they feel good or bad, they carry a strong smile to everyone they meet. The spirit of good customer service as well as good business practice is none other than to provide as many people as possible with a product or experience that adds value and happiness to their lives.

                      But all others see around successful people is the luxury that the rich live their lives in. They fail to recognize or understand the great effort that was put behind the scenes. People bent on success work around the clock, and it’s that commitment to excellence that brings about the results they wanted and earned.


Original Word Art by Celestine Chua available on Flickr.com


                   Someone may be born rich, but it takes wisdom not to lose it all as an adult. Ever wonder why so many people who win the lottery go bankrupt? It’s because being rich doesn’t automatically make you financially secure or magically better at managing a budget. In reality, the more you have, the more difficult it is to manage!

                   But most people don’t care to think about or see this big picture. They just put in an ordinary or so-so amount of effort in. And what happens? They will only get an ordinary or so-so result. This point should be very clear by now.

                 Practicing the 4th Paramita of Effort means going through the extra trouble that others don’t. Most people when they finish a job have only put in 80 to 90% of their efforts at best. They conserve their energy so they can spend the majority of their energies on fun, goofing around or watching TV.

                  That’s fine. If you’re happy where you are, keep on keeping on.

                  But know the only way to get your biggest dream to come true is to strive higher and higher than everyone else everyday. Reach toward that 100% more than anyone else does! Only through serious, concentrated practice can we expect a dramatic, life-changing breakthrough. You can do it!

                Going to college and getting your degree is a very important benchmark for young people today. It marks the entrance into the professional labor force. 


Original Photo by COD Newsroom available on Flickr.com


                 But these days, there is a lot of criticism of the academic system because many people with degrees are unable to get jobs. Even people entering the labor force with master’s degrees are not necessarily guaranteed employment these days.

                  Many exercise furiously at the gym and enroll in weight-loss programs that boast many new and inventive ways to get in shape. Some boast a certain style of fitness like kick-boxing or yoga is the ultimate aim to health. They show testimonials and photos of before and after. Others consume a variety of specialty foods or vitamins. But what is the key ingredient to fitness or vitality in any of these programs? What is the difference between a body like Arnold and a couch potato?

                    It’s not the programs or the products themselves. Of course eating right is important. But it’s the mindset of consistent effort dedicated toward a goal. The product is just a means toward that aim. Our will power is what actually makes it happen for us.

                    How about the applicants who got the best jobs from the ones who didn’t? What happened there? It’s not always intelligence or being connected. The answer is concentrated, consistent effort. A story from Unshakable Spirit shares insight on how effort is all about doing the dirty work and at the same time challenging our limitations.

***

Perseverance is Greater than Proficiency
Cuda-panthaka’s Perseverance at Cleaning

                 One of [Shakyamuni]’s greatest disciples, Cuda-panthaka, was dull by birth and unable to remember even his own name. One day Shakyamuni found him crying and asked him kindly, “Why are you so sad?”

                Weeping bitterly, Cuda-panthaka lamented, “Why was I born stupid?”

                “Cheer up,” said [Shakyamuni]. “You are aware of your foolishness, but there are many fools who think themselves wise. Being aware of one’s stupidity is next to enlightenment.” He handed Cuda-panthaka a broom and instructed him to say while he worked, “I sweep the dust away. I wash the dirt away.”

                Cuda-panthaka tried desperately to remember those sacred phrases from the Buddha, but whenever he remembered one he forgot the other. Even so, he kept at his practice for twenty years.


Original Photo by tsembo.thar available on Flickr.com



                Once during those twenty years, Shakyamuni complimented Cuda-panthaka on his constant diligent effort. “No matter how many years you keep sweeping, you grow no better at it, and yet that does not cause you to give up. As important as making progress is, persevering in the same endeavor is even more important. It is an admirable trait – one that I do not see in my other disciples.”

                 In time Cuda-panthaka realized that dust and dirt did not only accumulate where he thought they would, but in places he least expected. Surprised, he thought, “I knew I was stupid, but there’s no telling how much more of my stupidity exists in places I don’t even notice.”

                  In the end Cuda-panthaka attained the enlightenment of an arhat, a stage at which one I worthy of receiving respect and offerings. Besides encountering a great teacher and the true teachings, it was his long years of effort and perseverance that crowned him with success.

(Unshakable Spirit, p.156)

***

                 In the last blog post, we learned about the Third Paramita of Patience. We plant good seeds and wait, knowing full well that they will produce good results. Now we can start to see that patience and effort really go hand-in-hand. The more we balance these two elements, the more success we can welcome into our lives. It’s important to work furiously and quickly, but it’s more important to hasten toward our goal step-by-step without making waste. Remember that the turtle wins the race, not the rabbit.

                  So for the very best results, we should try focusing our efforts steadily just like Cuda-panthaka who cleaned and cleaned, as best he could. He was well aware of his limitations, but tried his best anyway. As his awareness of his inability grew, it only made him try harder and harder. Suddenly, he began learning new things and growing. From his experience, he noticed small things that others never even thought about before. This is the nature of wisdom and how it is developed. We clean out the darkest part of minds, knowing full well that no matter how hard we try, our thoughts will never be spotless. But we do it anyway.

                   Just like Cuda-panthaka, we can and will achieve insight and success in time that we never thought possible. We do this by constantly challenging ourselves and becoming aware of our own shortcomings. The Buddha admired this follower so much because of his tremendous resolve. That’s what made him stand out from the rest. Success can come and go easily. But our resolve is the underlying characteristic that brings about success.


Original Diagram by Duncan Hull available on Flickr.com


                    But only the wiser people can concentrate their energies toward a single endeavor in this way. A story from Unshakable Spirit tells us the disastrous consequences if we don’t.

“Sticking to a Single Path in Life

                       One night, a mouse fell into a bucket. At first he tried mightily to jump out, but the bucket was deep, the task hopeless. Next he tried to gnaw a hole in the side of the bucket, but the wood proved too hard and too thick for him to gnaw through. Giving up, he moved frantically to another place and tried gnawing there for a while, but the results were the same. Again he gave up and tried a different spot. The stout wood was impervious to his efforts.

                       After gnawing in vain all night long, toward dawn, worn out in body and spirit, the mouse collapsed and died. If only he had kept gnawing at the same spot the whole time, he might have gnawed all the way through and escaped.

                      The world is full of people who cannot afford to laugh at the story of the hapless mouse. Failing at one job, they try another and fail again, changing their job over and over. Such people may be called weak-willed; yet weakness is a general human failing.

                       Sticking to a single path in life is hard to do. It requires a will of steel and ceaseless effort. The more you waiver, the more your life’s efforts go to waste. Since this is the case, the thing to do is weigh your options carefully to begin with, make a careful decision, and carry it through with firm and unremitting effort. The entrance to a commuter train at rush hour can be so crowded that it seems impossible to squeeze another person on board—yet if you push on through, you’ll often find there is plenty of room further in. No one should ever despair because the entrance to his or her chosen career path is clogged.

                         There is an ancient saying: ‘The persistent drip wears through stone.’”

(Something You Forgot Along the Way, p.125)


Original Photo by Wolfgang available on Flickr.com


***

                Many people give up too soon on their dreams rather than charge forward through the most difficult parts. They feel like they have already worked too hard, and they feel that happiness should come sooner. 

                Demanding recognition, they often doubt cause and effect because the results are not showing in the way they wanted.


Original Word Art by BK available on Flickr.com



               The Law of Cause and Effect can also be thought of as the Law of Cause, Condition, and Effect. It’s only known as the Law of Cause and Effect to make the name easier to say. A cause cannot become an effect without first encountering a condition.

                If you’ve ever had your own garden, you know that planting an abundance of quality non-GMO seeds is important. Healthy seeds will grow into a large plant that will bare many fruits.

                 But also as a wise gardener, you must know the importance of just the right conditions. For a plant to sprout and then grow up strong, it of course requires a certain amount of sunlight, water, and the right type of soil. Too much or too little of any of these elements and the plant could suffer or even die.

Only after constant care and attention
over the conditions
surrounding the cause
can flowers then emerge and bloom.

                    For flowers to bud, they need certain conditions unique to their own kind of plant. These conditions have to be around and in just the right amounts for the buds to open up and reveal all the dazzling color that is stored within it. The warmth of the season of spring allows this special process to take place for most flowers. That’s when all the beautiful arrays of purples, reds, yellows, and blues become a feast for our eyes.

                    Later on in winter, flowers aren’t able to bloom because the conditions for them to exist are not present. The invisible, karmic energy of blooming flowers is suppressed until the snow melts away and temperatures warm up again. (However, you can make an artificial condition using science like building a greenhouse. Then it becomes possible to grow almost any kind of plant even in snow!)

                    Knowing how plants grow, live and die serve as a metaphor that applies directly to our daily life. We have to be the ones to clear out the snow that is accumulating in our own lives, or we must work hard to find a way for flowers to bloom in our life by building ourselves our own kind of greenhouse.


Photo (text added) by Doug Brown, original available on Flickr.com

                      People doubt the Law of Cause and Effect because they don’t understand that it operates well beyond this lifetime. They look at the results of their efforts in the short-term and say, “Look at all the hours I’ve put in at this job, and nothing’s happened.”  OR “I think I’m a great person. I do charity and volunteer work, and yet only bad stuff happens to me. Where’s all this good I’ve been promised?”

                      Rather than blame others or the bad conditions around us, we should be striving to do the actions we want to attract to our lives. We have to go out and seek those better conditions for our lives.

                       We have been transmigrating for a long, long period of time, since ages past. It’s beyond the scope of our imagination as human being. Only now have we come to be a human after incalculable aeons. Each one of us has uncountable karmic seeds, good and bad, stored in our Alaya minds. That’s why each one of us has a completely different destiny based on these karmic deeds from the past.

                        It’s true, sometimes the deeds of many lifetimes past will show up and it seems like we have no control over them. We suffer tremendously and don’t know why. Yet it’s important to know that life will always have suffering, even after one attains absolute happiness. However, when one attains absolute happiness the suffering of life transforms completely. This is why it’s our purpose of life. It’s our common purpose to have the root cause of our suffering eliminated.

                         Until then, however, there is always something we can do about our situation right now in the present. We can listen to Buddhism. We can do positive things for ourselves and those around us. We can avoid doing negative things that keep us from being happy. By doing more good and less bad, we are planting the right kind of seeds for our future.

***

On Seed-Planting

Don’t worry about when the
seeds will sprout. Just plant them.
The world is full of people who
spend all their time thinking
about the crop they’ll reap,
without ever planting anything.

(Something You Forgot Along the Way, p.98)

***

                       So we can’t let ourselves get down when we don’t see good results right away. Like the farmer whose livelihood depends on the success of his crop, we’ve got to keep trying to do good until the harvest finally comes. Vicious droughts and thriving rains come and go. But lasting happiness is something we have to work steadily toward.


Original Photo by IRRI Photos available on Flickr.com



                         By listening to the teachings, it may seem we have already received momentary peace of mind and understanding. We should remember the dharma in our daily life and put our best effort forward to put it into practice every day. Once we do this, our perspective begins to transform dramatically.

                        And once our true self and the truth finally become one at long, this is the split-second moment when we attain absolute happiness forever, permanently.

The one who knows the truth is happy. (LISTENING TO DHARMA)

The one who seeks after the truth is happier. (EFFORT)

The one who has attains the truth is the happiest. (ABSOLUTE HAPPINESS)


                         So let’s listen to the Dharma and make serious efforts. Share the teachings with family and friends. Practice the Six Paramitas. You only stand to learn more and more about yourself on the path toward enlightenment.


Original Photo by Ed Escueta available on Flickr.com

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