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Three Kinds of Laziness

--by Tenzin Palmo (Mar 14, 2016)


The Buddha described three kinds of laziness. First there is the kind of laziness we all know: we don't want to do anything, and we'd rather stay in bed half an hour later than get up and meditate. Second, there is the laziness of feeling ourselves unworthy, the laziness of thinking, "I can't do this. Other people can meditate, other people can be mindful, other people can be kind and generous in difficult situations, but I can't, because I'm too stupid." Or, alternatively, "I'm always an angry person;" "I've never been able to do anything in my life;" "I've always failed, and I'm bound to fail." This is laziness.

The third kind of laziness is being busy with worldly things. We can always fill up the vacuum of our time by keeping ever so busy. Being occupied may even make us feel virtuous. But usually it's just a way of escape. When I came out of the cave, some people said, "Don't you think that solitude was an escape?" And I said, "An escape from what?" There I was—no radio, no newspapers, no one to talk to. Where was I going to escape to? When things came up, I couldn't even telephone a friend. I was face-to-face with who I was and with who I was not. There was no escape.

Our ordinary lives are so busy, our days are so full, but we never have any space even to sit for a minute and just be. That's escape. One of my aunts always kept the radio on, or the television. She didn't like silence. Silence worried her. Background noise rang out at all times. And we're all like that. We're afraid of silence—outer silence, inner silence. When there's no noise going on outside we talk to ourselves—opinions and ideas and judgments and rehashes of what happened yesterday or during our childhood; what he said to me; what I said to him. Our fantasies, our daydreams, our hopes, our worries, our fears. There is no silence. Our noisy outer world is but a reflection of the noise inside: our incessant need to be occupied, to be doing something.

Recently I was talking with a very nice Australian monk who was once occupied with doing so many wonderful dharma activities that he became a workaholic. He would be up until two or three in the morning. Eventually he collapsed totally. [...]

His problem was that his identity was connected with doing. As his work was for the Dharma it looked very virtuous. It looked like he was doing really good things. He was benefiting many people and carrying out the instructions of his teacher, but now that he can't do anything, who is he? And so he is going through a tremendous crisis because he always identified himself with what he did and with being able to succeed. Now he is not able to do anything and is dependent on others. So I said to him, "But this is a wonderful opportunity. Now, you don't have to do anything, you can just be." He said he was trying to come to that, but he found it threatening not to do anything, to just sit there and be with who he is, not what he does.

This is the point—we fill our lives with activities. Many of them are really very good activities but if we are not careful, they can just be an escape. I'm not saying that you shouldn't do good and necessary things, but there has to be breathing in as well as breathing out. We need to have both the active and the contemplative. We need time to just be with ourselves, and to become genuinely centered, when the mind can just be quiet.

by Tenzin Palmo, excerpted from her book, Into the Heart of Life.

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On Mar 24, 2016 Sharon Adams wrote:

Do we engage in action to escape the silence of meditation, or do we meditate to escape the confusing ambiguity of action?



1 reply: Kuldip | Post Your Reply
On Mar 16, 2016 Shekina wrote:
 
I loved this reading.  I love solitude and silence.  I love the calmness I experience when I give myself permission to stare at the goddess sticker I have on my bathtub.  I love the calmness I experience as I gaze at the diamonds
shining on our lake....as the sun glimmers there.  I love the way flowers stay still in the vase until I remove them....dried and quiet in their death state.  I love the silence between musical notes.  I love being in sangha
and not needing to talk.I love looking at photos in 365 Days of Serenity photos of Wisdom to Soothe Your Spirit.
These are doing; however I am aligned with the joys of quiet.



 

On Mar 15, 2016 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:

 Oh this rings so true for me. Though thankfully (and gratefully) I am better now. Progress, not perfection :) One of my fave phrases is "we are human beings, not human Doings." :)  I come from a long line of "doers" My grandmother in her 80's would apologize for sitting down. I learned early on that "stillness equaled lazy" and so I filled my life with movement, literal and figurative. And several times I became so busy doing that I got physically sick, just like the monk in the story. My body told me to stop and slow down and just be. In that just being, a small bit of clarity came. In the years since, I have taken much more time to be still. And in being still important things are happening. If we look at nature, trees when dormant are still doing important things for their overall health and beauty. We we are still we are doing the same. :) We are refilling so we can give when needed. <3 Breathing helps me to center. Being in nature, being near water does too. I love  See full.

 Oh this rings so true for me. Though thankfully (and gratefully) I am better now. Progress, not perfection :) One of my fave phrases is "we are human beings, not human Doings." :)  I come from a long line of "doers" My grandmother in her 80's would apologize for sitting down. I learned early on that "stillness equaled lazy" and so I filled my life with movement, literal and figurative. And several times I became so busy doing that I got physically sick, just like the monk in the story. My body told me to stop and slow down and just be. In that just being, a small bit of clarity came. In the years since, I have taken much more time to be still. And in being still important things are happening. If we look at nature, trees when dormant are still doing important things for their overall health and beauty. We we are still we are doing the same. :) We are refilling so we can give when needed. <3 Breathing helps me to center. Being in nature, being near water does too. I love watching waves either on the ocean or in a stream or a lake. Even a puddle can do. To just watch that water be. Ahhhhh. Breathe in. Breathe out! (PS It can be a challenge sometimes just being in DC where there is a huge push to be busy busy busy 24/7. I really feel so much compassion for those who cannot just be. Hugs from my heart to yours!

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On Mar 15, 2016 melanie wrote:

 This writing bothers me.   Indeed there is immense value in learning to be silent, in quieting the mind, and in learning to be alone with ourselves (and thus confront ourselves). Yes, of course. However, I do not agree that there is value in holding the selflessly occupied, worn out Australian monk out as a cautionary tale. He likely learned immensely from his dharma work. Much, much better to be busy doing for others than sitting alone in a cave. And I doubt that monk was able to become a monk at all without doing plenty of requisite silent meditation.    The aunt who needed noise might have needed to find herself through getting comfortable with silence. Or, she might have just been lonely and seeking companionship. But sitting in judgment of her fear of silence seems heartless, unnecessary, and uninformed.   The whole story is not printed here, but I more appreciate the old, busy monk who finally collapsed and then fretted that he wasn&rsq  See full.

 This writing bothers me.

 

Indeed there is immense value in learning to be silent, in quieting the mind, and in learning to be alone with ourselves (and thus confront ourselves). Yes, of course. However, I do not agree that there is value in holding the selflessly occupied, worn out Australian monk out as a cautionary tale. He likely learned immensely from his dharma work. Much, much better to be busy doing for others than sitting alone in a cave. And I doubt that monk was able to become a monk at all without doing plenty of requisite silent meditation. 

 

The aunt who needed noise might have needed to find herself through getting comfortable with silence. Or, she might have just been lonely and seeking companionship. But sitting in judgment of her fear of silence seems heartless, unnecessary, and uninformed.

 

The whole story is not printed here, but I more appreciate the old, busy monk who finally collapsed and then fretted that he wasn’t doing anything than the writer who feels that it is lazier to be in the world doing things than sitting alone in a cave. In fact, why use the term “lazy” at all? What a loaded, unempathetic, guilt-inducing, judgmental pejorative. So is “workaholic.” 

 

The real laziness is holding oneself out as an example of “not lazy” by the example of sitting in a cave. Whether the writer wants to admit it or not, it is an escape that most people will never have the luxury of doing. The real, hard work is in being effective, active, selfless, and relational in a monumentally difficult world. Not the other way around. (And yes, to sit in silence, to understand ourselves, is of great value and an important step in preparing for the rigors of the world.)

 

We were not put on this planet to live in retreat from the world or to “just be.” Life is very demanding. Spending a lot of time alone in a cave does not impress me. A cheerful janitor who goes to work every day, whistling and singing a tune while cleaning up other people’s messes? That impresses me. (Even if he gets old and tired eventually.) So does a monk who occupies himself with the dharma until two or three a.m. every night. “Who is he now?” is an irrelevant question. Let’s take a look at what he accomplished, at the lives he touched, if we must ask that decidedly ego-based question. I hope the Australian monk can find peace in knowing he contributed value to a needy world.

 

I think the writer is wrong about what the nature of “escape” is but I’ll leave that objection for another day. I’ll just say that balance is important, yes. But if one is to err in one direction or the other (too much doing or too much being), I’d pick the do, not the be. I’d pick the giver, not the sitter.

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On Mar 15, 2016 Maya wrote:

 



On Mar 15, 2016 melanie wrote:

This writing bothers me.   Indeed there is immense value in learning to be silent, in quieting the mind, and in learning to be alone with ourselves (and thus confront ourselves). Yes, of course. However, I do not agree that there is value in holding the selflessly occupied, worn out Australian monk out as a cautionary tale. He likely learned immensely from his dharma work. Much, much better to be busy doing for others than sitting alone in a cave. And I doubt that monk was able to become a monk at all without doing plenty of requisite silent meditation.    The aunt who needed noise might have needed to find herself through getting comfortable with silence. Or, she might have just been lonely and seeking companionship. But sitting in judgment of her fear of silence seems heartless, unnecessary, and uninformed.   The whole story is not printed here, but I more appreciate the old, busy monk who finally collapsed and then fretted that he wasn’t  See full.

This writing bothers me.

 

Indeed there is immense value in learning to be silent, in quieting the mind, and in learning to be alone with ourselves (and thus confront ourselves). Yes, of course. However, I do not agree that there is value in holding the selflessly occupied, worn out Australian monk out as a cautionary tale. He likely learned immensely from his dharma work. Much, much better to be busy doing for others than sitting alone in a cave. And I doubt that monk was able to become a monk at all without doing plenty of requisite silent meditation. 

 

The aunt who needed noise might have needed to find herself through getting comfortable with silence. Or, she might have just been lonely and seeking companionship. But sitting in judgment of her fear of silence seems heartless, unnecessary, and uninformed.

 

The whole story is not printed here, but I more appreciate the old, busy monk who finally collapsed and then fretted that he wasn’t doing anything than the writer who feels that it is lazier to be in the world doing things than sitting alone in a cave. In fact, why use the term “lazy” at all? What a loaded, unempathetic, guilt-inducing, judgmental pejorative. So is “workaholic.” 

 

The real laziness is holding oneself out as an example of “not lazy” by the example of sitting in a cave. Whether the writer wants to admit it or not, it is an escape that most people will never have the luxury of doing. The real, hard work is in being effective, active, selfless, and relational in a monumentally difficult world. Not the other way around. (And yes, to sit in silence, to understand ourselves, is of great value and an important step in preparing for the rigors of the world.)

 

We were not put on this planet to live in retreat from the world or to “just be.” Life is very demanding. Spending a lot of time alone in a cave does not impress me. A cheerful janitor who goes to work every day, whistling and singing a tune while cleaning up other people’s messes? That impresses me. (Even if he gets old and tired eventually.) So does a monk who occupies himself with the dharma until two or three a.m. every night. “Who is he now?” is an irrelevant question. Let’s take a look at what he accomplished, at the lives he touched, if we must ask that decidedly ego-based question. I hope the Australian monk can find peace in knowing he contributed value to a needy world.

 

I think the writer is wrong about what the nature of “escape” is but I’ll leave that objection for another day. I’ll just say that balance is important, yes. But if one is to err in one direction or the other (too much doing or too much being), I’d pick the do, not the be. I’d pick the giver, not the sitter.

Hide full comment.

On Mar 15, 2016 Micky wrote:

 I was recently given a beautiful truth during meditation that resonates with this:  "Explore the nuances of silence."  Facing now one of the worst things a parent must face, a missing child, I have been unable to meditate. I have been doing everything possible to find him, filling my days with "doing."  Thank you for this gentle reminder to take time be still again, to breathe out as well as in.



On Mar 13, 2016 david doane wrote:

Not finding space for stillness is escape from finding what is most important, that is, the real self, the soul.  In stillness we can also connect with the Soul or Oneness of all that is, which flows into compassion and peace that we so desperately need in this world.  It all starts with finding space for stillness.  Pascal said, "All of man's troubles stem from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone."  I frequently feel the need to just be, and frequently ignore that need as I am busy with some sort of doing, though I learned long ago that being is becoming, and doing is a way to avoid being.  Some doing is worthwhile -- the challenge is to avoid doing that avoids being.  Practices that help me become genuinely centered are meditation, being present and noticing what I am feeling in the moment, and paying attention to the process of my living rather than to progress or outcome.