Notes on a Buddhist path

Practice, practice, practice

June 2, 2013 By | 9 Comments

“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

One of the things I like about Buddhism is its open-ended vista to learning. There’s never a dictum to become an expert or to throw platitudes of faith at its feet. It’s a philosophy of practice. Practice in meditation, practice in loving kindness, practice in not taking judgements about yourself or others as any permanent identification tags. And in all his teachings the Buddha never proclaimed “my way or the highway”.  Instead it was more like “Try it, you might like it.”

Herculean_effortI’ve been finding that my practice of late has been wanting, a lot. Wanting more focus, more effort, more stick-to-itiveness, more walk of the talk. As much as I try to keep my attention on my breath in my meditations, observing the rising and falling of my belly, invariably within a few inhales and exhales I’m deep into my task list for the day at the office, wondering when would be the best time to pick up my cleaning, where that letter is from immigration, did I turn off the stove, what should I have for breakfast, planning my retirement, remembering the movie I watched the night before, and/or berating myself as to why I can’t just focus on my belly for 15 lousy minutes.

My 20% solution that held so much promise and zeal two months ago has become more of an 80% quagmire. My  vow to meditate more and turn on my computer less each evening has gradually evaporated and I find myself again working into the late night hours on my side jobs, or searching for the best deal on cod liver oil, or trying to figure out how to get my new Macbook to take screen shots of an online video. (Anyone out there have a clue? Anyone…hello…?)

Yet as I know that all is impermanent, and as confident as I am that this too shall pass, I recognize an intrinsic need within me for a re-enlistment to viriya, energy or effort. So essential is viriya to the tenets of Buddhist teachings, it is included as a critical component of The Noble Eightfold Path (right effort), a factor of enlightenment, and one of the paramitas (virtues), indriya (spiritual faculties) and panca bala (strengths).

All that being said, effort takes, well, effort. Each time I sit on my cushion, I come back to the opportunity to experience that sit as the first meditation, the first breath, the first time of witnessing all that arises and passes away in the universe of my body. It’s the only chance I have to be completely in that instance, with all its wisdom and all its clarity. When I feel viriya by my side, I marvel at the peace I encounter in the utter contentment of not doing, not planning, not becoming any thing at all. Meditating is good for nothing. That’s effort worth embracing.

By effort and heedfulness,
discipline and self-mastery,
let the wise one make for oneself
an island which no flood can overwhelm.

Dhammapada 2.25

The classic Carnegie Hall joke has been ascribed to violinist, Mischa Elman. See Carnegie Hall’s website for the story.

Image credit:

Herculean effort By B. Picart [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


  1. Th effort to make this blog was true dana, thank you.

  2. Gandhi said, “Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment. Full effort is full victory”.

    Then again, Bruce Lee said, “The less the effort, the faster and more powerful you will be.”

    The secret is finding the common ground in both of these; in finding effortless effort.

    Nobel prize winner Rabindranath Tagore said, “Trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven.” May we all give a little effort to be like trees.

  3. apple-shift-3 captures to desktop

    I’ve been thinking of this subject myself: doing the best we can in whatever we commit to, even getting attached to that commitment! just not getting caught up in the storyline, greed, aversion, fear of that attachment.

    Also to be free to see things from our own perspective, and not to have to apologize or feel lacking for seeing things less clearly or differently from others.

    • What a great observation about commitment. Putting our best effort into the task at hand without getting enmeshed in the fetters of the doing. So important and often so elusive.

      And thanks for the screen-shot code – brilliant!

  4. Also, I’ve been thinking how children don’t need this effort to the same extent, picking up a lot just by awareness, curiosity and osmosis, like the mother tongue.

    But children also don’t have the same autonomy of identity. Beliefs and who we are as children is shaped a lot by our upbringing.

    • I think we come into this life with our kamma and the dominoes of becoming just start to fall as we grow. Our upbringing, expectations from others and then ourselves start to intercede and before we know it our identity is our way of being. I agree with you that children are more present in everything: emotions, perceptions, thoughts, sensations. They can teach us so much.

      And thank you again for your thoughtful comments. I always appreciate your words.


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