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The best joyous effort

The best joyous effort

Part of a series of teachings on a set of verses from the text Wisdom of the Kadam Masters.

  • The importance of effort without pushing
  • How to be joyful in our efforts, enjoying the process
  • Being able to rest on completion of a project

Wisdom of the Kadam Masters: The best joyous effort (download)

The line in the Kadampa text that we’re on says,

The best joyful perseverance (joyful effort)
Is to be able to let go of the endeavor.

You might say, wait a minute, if I let go of the endeavor I won’t do anything. I think what it means here is endeavor is meaning “pushing.” In other words, when we want to do something sometimes we really push ourselves and set a very high standard and “I’ve got to do this, and I’ve got to get it done by this and such a time, and it’s got to go in these ways,” and our mind gets very rigid. And as a result we get completely exhausted during the project, we’re irritable at everybody, we feel no joy in what we’re doing, and we complain a lot. I think when it’s saying to let go of the endeavor it’s let go of that kind of pushing that we often inflict on ourselves to try and meet some kind of image of what a fantastic monastic is, or what a real organized person does, or something along that line. So let go of that kind of tense pushing.

I think you all know what pushing is, yes?

If we let go of the intense pushing then we can be joyful in what we do and we aren’t so goal oriented, we’re more enjoying the process of doing it. And that’s what Dharma practice is about. It’s not about accomplishing the goal and crossing it off our list, it’s about enjoying the practice as we do it and knowing we’re going in a good direction.

I also think, when it says to let go of the endeavor, means that when you’ve completed something to be able to rest, and not get so hung up in “I did this thing and now I need to tweak it here and tweak it there and make it better and better,” and we just drive ourselves and everybody else crazy.

One of the things Shantideva says in Chapter 7 when he’s talking about joyous effort is to be able to take a break and rest and feel the sense of accomplishment and fulfillment after we’ve done something. So to be able to do that is also letting go of the endeavor.

Another meaning , I think, of letting go of the endeavor is to be able to delegate things to other people. Sometimes we get, in our mind, like “Well, nobody else knows how to do this right.” If you’re in the kitchen. They put the spatulas in the wrong place. They don’t use the right kind of pot or pan. If you’re in charge of cleaning up. “I’d better clean it because they’ll use the wrong thing.” If you’re working on the website or you’re writing thank-you letters, it’s “Well nobody else can do it, they won’t use the right stationery, they won’t put the right thing on the website.” We get all this thing of we’re the only ones who can do it up to our own standards. And of course our standard is the one and only standard to follow. Everybody else is insufficient. LIttle bit arrogant. Little bit.

So there’s that kind of holding onto things we can’t delegate, and then there’s just the thing of “I’ve got to be in control, I’ve got to be in charge. If I delegate it to somebody I won’t know what’s going on. And maybe they won’t do a good job and then I’ll get blamed. Or they won’t do it in time.” And on and on. Never considering that if we delegate it maybe the other person might do it better than we do. What a thought to consider. And if we delegate it somebody else may really enjoy being responsible and may appreciate being trusted to be able to do that certain task. So I think we need sometimes to let go of the possessiveness we have of whatever thing we’re doing, whatever project we’re working on. We need to be able to share, to delegate. you know, when we need help, to ask for help. Nothing wrong with that. And people like to help. Well, most people like to help. And the ones who don’t will let you know. But a lot of people they feel very pleased when they’re asked to join in, and if you’re keeping everything to yourself then they can’t grow, and they can’t develop those kinds of talents.

In some of the monasteries I know of, especially in Taiwan, people rotate duties so that everybody learns how to do everything. And nobody gets attached to their job with a mind saying “I’m the only one who can do it properly.” That can be very effective. To share, to bring in other people’s knowledge and creativity. So, not to be so possessive with our projects, with our endeavors.

The whole idea is how to make what we do joyful, because our lives should be joyful. Samsara’s already bad enough, and we need to be aware of the misery of samsara, but within that misery to find joy in our practice of purification and creating merit, and learning the Dharma and so on and so forth.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.