Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Knowing when and how to rest is part of effort

Now Shantideva gives some advice on the fourth power we need to rely upon in order to increase our effort, the power of rejection.

(7.67) If I become weak or tired, I should stop what I am doing
And continue with it once I have rested.
When I have done something well, I should not be attached,
But move on to what needs to be done next.

It is important that we take time to rest so that we can then continue to put effort into our Dharma practice and into our Dharma activities.  People tend to oscillate between being lazy not doing anything or engaging in their Dharma practices like a maniac and then burning out.  Both are equally faults.  With the power of rejection, we are primarily focused on avoiding the latter situation where we push too hard in an unsustainable way.  Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path that our effort in Dharma needs to be like a slow, steady river making its way to the ocean, not a waterfall cascading and then nothing.  When we hear the teachings on overcoming our laziness, we can easily develop a form of manic guilt that we need to go, go, go with our practice and any letting up is somehow a fault.  I also know many people who feel like it is a fault to relax in non-Dharma ways.  Such a neurotic approach to Dharma practice never lasts.  We need to be honest with ourselves when we are too tired or when we are pushing so hard out of guilt or some sense of obligation.  We know if we become too tired, then we very easily become unhappy, and then we have no strength to fight our delusions, and they will to surface in our mind. If we push ourselves unsustainably for too long, we will burn out and do much less in the long run, and may even wind up abandoning the Dharma altogether.

While there is nothing wrong with resting in non-Dharma ways if we need to, there are also some Dharma ways of resting.  The best method is to let go our self-grasping.  Our self-grasping, our self-cherishing, and our delusions are what tires us out.  Letting go of our delusions allows us to relax.  We can also train in simply shutting off our mind by making it like a block of wood.  We all tend to think too much about everything.  We think way too much, it is exhausting.  We need to allow ourself to not think about anything and relax our mind.  We can do this even sitting in a chair.  We also need to quit taking ourself so seriously.  Because we think everything we do is all so important and  because we think we are so important, we take what happens in our life really seriously.  This makes everything emotionally exhausting.  If instead, we don’t take ourselves so seriously, we can relax and lighten up.  We need to remember, none of this is real – it is all appearances – hallucinations.  There is no reason to take any of it seriously.  When we do, we can break our identification with our tiredness.  We think, there is tiredness in my mind, not I am tired.  There is a big difference between the two.

How can we find a balanced attitude for resting that accepts our capacity but doesn’t use it as an excuse to give in to laziness?  We can try the following strategy:  First, we try resting in a Dharma way as I just described.  If that does not work, then we should do what we want to rest, but learn to want what is actually good for you.  Among the non-Dharma ways of resting, some are more healthy and less deluded than others.  We need to gradually outgrow our unhealthier methods of entertainment and relaxing.  At a minimum, when we rest, we should make sure we do not do anything that is harmful to ourself or to others.  Harmful things do not give us rest, they just create more problems, which in turn tire us out.

The power of rejection also does not mean we reject virtue.  It means we take a break from applying effort to engage in it when we need to.  We still recognize virtue as the cause of our happiness, and we rest so that later we can come back to our Dharma activities refreshed.  The power of rejection is a strategic mind which wishes to maximize the virtue we can do in the long run, and so takes a step back so can do more in the future.  When it comes to learning how to rest in more qualified ways, we need to train gradually without guilt.  We shouldn’t be extreme about it now, but rather understand and learn to enjoy more and more beneficial ways of resting.  Again, we should do what we want to do, but learn to want what is good for us.

The second piece of advice is this verse is “When I have done something well, I should not be attached, But move on to what needs to be done next.” This indicates that we must always be moving forward, taking things that little bit further.  We should feel drawn towards greater and greater goals. Otherwise, we plateau, don’t we?  We can become satisfied with what we have accomplished and become complacent.  It is not enough to just dig ourselves out of the holes we fall into, we need to positively build the future.

Ultimately, we are trying to construct a completely pure world filled with pure beings and environments.  We can look at our mind and ask how much of the world we perceive resembles the pure land.  Seeing the difference, we know there is still work to do.  But we should also remain within our capacity.  We should not try push ourselves too far beyond our capacity, nor should we let the best become the enemy of the good. 

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