woman reaching arms up at sunrise_diligence

Diligence, the Opposite of Laziness

In Buddhist practice we place great emphasis on what is often called joyful diligence, or exertion. It means taking delight in virtue and positivity. Every day we have great opportunities to be a little more patient, diligent, generous, disciplined, and kind. Diligence is our opportunity to put a little bit of oomph into our life, into our practice. Come on, diligence! We all want to be diligent. No one really wants to be lazy.

Of course, when we do anything that is a little bit productive, we seem to get tired very quickly. But when we’re being lazy, being a couch potato, we never get tired of that. We can watch a TV show all night––even if we get sleepy, we can drink coffee and finish watching the rest of the season. If someone told us to meditate throughout the night, no one would listen. But if someone says, “Hey, this is a good show, you should watch the whole series back-to-back,” then sure, we’ll do it.

Whatever your goal, diligence is what brings the result. Whether the result you are seeking is wisdom, compassion, or anything else, in the end, what brings the desired result is diligence. There is no accomplishment without diligence. In every case, in our mundane life or our spiritual journey, it is the same. There can be no result if there is not diligence, if there is no perseverance, if you do not keep moving forward after you fail one time.

Failure and mistakes are very important, actually. If you don’t have at least the possibility of failure or a mistake, then what are you going to transform? We all want to transform. So if we really want to transform, we need mistakes. The minute you stop making mistakes, then you have nothing left to transform. At that point, there is no further progress you can make.

Diligence is more important than intelligence

If we compare the qualities of discriminating intelligence and diligence, we can see that diligence is actually the more important quality. In the context of practice alone, there’s no great benefit to having a lot of intelligence. We could be really smart, very well educated, and very adept at accomplishing all kinds of worldly activities. But in the moment of our practice, where the rubber meets the road so to speak, none of that will help us. If we don’t have diligence at that time, then none of our intellectual abilities will help us accomplish the transformation we want.

Without diligence we can’t get anywhere. There’s no way we can reach any destination. Therefore, whether we are talking about gaining experience in meditation practice or another worthy goal, we need diligence. How many times did we have in our mind, on our New Year’s wishlist, “Next year I’m going to be kinder, or meditate daily, or exercise every day?” How many times have we described our best intentions to our friends or teachers, saying, “I want to be diligent. How can I practice meditation more diligently? How can I develop this quality of diligent effort?”

What stops us from being diligent?

One thing that prevents us from sticking with our best intentions and making progress toward our worthy goals is what we call disheartenment or weariness. We become weary or disheartened when we consider the prospect of training in virtue for a long time. When we engage in developing positive actions or virtues, we get tired out. But no matter how long we are stuck in negative habits and behaviors, we don’t seem to become weary of them. It’s quite clear that, throughout the world, people never get tired of engaging in negative actions.

So what stops our progress is not becoming weary of negative actions, but becoming weary of positive actions. And in particular, training in virtuous action for a long time seems to make us weary. Two of the most important antidotes for this kind of weariness are developing patience and diligence, respectively.

When we consciously practice diligence, it involves a willingness to endure some sense of hardship. We apply more diligence, and then just a little bit more. You have to go somewhat beyond your comfort zone. If you just stay in your comfort zone, I’m not sure there’s going to be much progress. Of course, it’s still great to practice diligence, even within your comfort zone, but the effect will be different. Pushing a little bit further, we can really see how we can practice the way the great yogis and masters of meditation practiced. When we go outside our comfort zone, we are emulating the great example of truly wonderful persons who fully realized the nature of their minds. Then we can begin to have a taste of their extraordinary diligence in our own practice.

Wherever we are, we always have the opportunity to practice diligence. We can make a little more effort to be consistent in our meditation practice and to understand our studies. We can go a little further in our mindfulness and awareness, engaging in our activities with greater care and attention.

Often we have questions about how we can bring more meaning or mindfulness into our everyday life. There are so many ways we can engage in mindful activity––giving our time, effort, patience, kindness and diligence to our actions, wherever we are. Whenever we engage in our activities with diligence, in that very moment we are bringing wisdom and meaning into our everyday life.

Developing Positivity:  An Exercise

Joyful diligence means taking delight in virtue or positivity. By looking for the positive aspects of whatever happens in our lives, we develop a habit of noticing and appreciating it. Try doing this exercise before you start the day and then again at the end of the day.

1. Look around you. What is the first thing that catches your attention?

2. What is positive about what you noticed?

3. What do you appreciate about what you noticed?

4. Form a statement of appreciation. For example, “I appreciate being able to see/feel/notice the positivity in my world, here and now.”

5. Relax for a few moments and simply enjoy whatever positivity you were able to notice.

Get creative with this exercise! You can do it anytime, anywhere, for just a few moments.