To attain enlightenment requires great effort. If we do not try to eliminate our laziness, or our attachment to sleep or other worldly pleasures, we incur a secondary downfall.
Enlightenment cannot be bestowed upon us. The state of enlightenment is a dependent-arising, which means it is something that only arises when all of the causes and conditions for its existence have been assembled. The laws of karma state that if the cause has not been created, it is impossible for the effect to arise. This means if we ourselves do not create the causes for our own enlightenment, it will never happen. We will remain trapped in samsara forever, or for at least until we do create the causes to get out. There is no escaping this. Since we are going to have to do it eventually, we might as well start now.
Sadly, our mind is pervaded by laziness. We don’t want to do anything. Interestingly, we find it easy to generate the effort to do things that are harmful to us, but we struggle mightily to do the things that are actually good for us. For us, a good day is one where we don’t have to do anything and nothing is expected of us. We struggle to get out of bad, we procrastinate everything that doesn’t have to be done right away, we take forever to work up the determination and focus to start working, and when we do we almost immediately start looking to do something else, like check our email or Facebook for the 36th time today. We never get around to starting our exercise regime, we continue to eat unhealthy foods despite knowing better, dishes pile up, laundry goes undone, thank you notes never get written, days go by until eventually we die without having ever gotten anything done. If we consider the analogy of the blind turtle putting its head through the golden yoke explained in the lamrim teachings, we realize that our current precious human life only happens once ever approximately 600 trillion lifetimes! For us to fitter away this precious opportunity doing nothing is a waste of cosmic proportions. But look at how many people do exactly that.
For us as Dharma practitioners, if we waste our life in this way, we will die with a mind of intense regret. We will realize we had been given the opportunity to finally break free from the cycle of samsara, but we squandered the opportunity on meaningless things and now it is too late. We will feel like the fool who had been taken a treasure island for a day who forgot to gather up any riches before it was time to go. If we die in such a miserable state, we will most certainly fall. We cannot let this be our story.
Effort in a Dharma context does not mean hard work. Quite the opposite, in fact. Effort means taking delight in virtue. In other words, a mind of effort is one that enjoys doing what is good for us. Venerable Tharchin explains the problem is we don’t actually believe Dharma works. If we don’t believe it works, it is very difficult to generate the effort necessary to do it. But if we see clearly how it does work and we see how everything is in fact eminently doable, then, he says, “effort comes effortlessly.” We will feel like somebody who stumbled upon plans to make a time machine or a wishfulfilling magical device. We are so excited about the prospects, that we don’t even think about the work it takes to get it built.
So the trick to generating the mind of effort is to constantly ask ourselves the question, “how does that work?” The Dharma does work and there are valid answers that explain how and why. In some other religions, people are discouraged from asking too many questions or probing too deeply. In the Kadam Dharma it is the opposite. The more we ask the question, “how does that work?” the more we receive satisfactory and perfectly reasonable answers. We get enough of these and we start to see, not just believe, that the Dharma does indeed work. Of course at first it begins with little things like happiness depends upon a peaceful mind, but in dependence upon these initial understandings we can get the ball rolling. We keep probing, trying and coming up with answers, and gradually more and more practices make sense. Then at some point we see, “if I do this, I see how it will set me in irreversible motion, and if I can attain that escape velocity I will eventually be guaranteed to attain enlightenment.” From this, we do more, probe more, until eventually we see directly how the entire path actually works, from the initial steps all the way to final enlightenment. If we understand this, effort will not be a problem for us at all.
Early on in the process, there is a critical turning point we need to reach. At present, we want worldly attainments more than we want spiritual attainments. As a result, we put effort into worldly attainments and little effort into spiritual ones. We need to reverse this. The method for doing so is a consistent practice of the 21 lamrim meditations. The main function of the lamrim is to change our desires from being worldly desires to being spiritual desires. When this is what we want, we will naturally work to fulfill them. This is why the lamrim is the foundation for all that follows, and why if we lack a lamrim foundation we will never get very far no matter how many advanced practices we try.