The Five Aspects of Effort

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Good morning everyone. I'd like to welcome our speaker for today, Ron Nestor. Ron's Dharma name, So'ong Soto, translates as Friendly, Simple, Ancestral Way, which is an apt name for someone who dates back to the early days of our temple. back on White Way in the early 70s, where Ron held many of the positions because there weren't that many people practicing. When we moved here in the late 70s, Ron had the opportunity to train the growing sangha. So most everyone here who's held positions here has worked under Ron's tutelage, learning the various positions of responsibility. Ron's a board member. He's been later trusted by Sojourner Roshi as the nature of the Green Rock is through there, so he's authorized to teach. And in conjunction with that, he is a class coordinator. So all the classes that run through our temple go through Ron's close eye and attention to detail.


He lastly, in likelihood, is the manager of the Mindful Body, which is a yoga and massage studio in San Francisco. And he's married to a librarian in the Oakland library system, Karen. Please welcome Ron. That sounds like somebody I'd like to meet. Marie was going to originally give the talk this morning. She's not able to make it. Greg has a serious back problem and so they're having, you know, struggling two kids, two small kids. But so hopefully she'll take my original spot which is in May. In terms of public speaking, I had a dream last night not like this setting, but like eight or nine people sitting in a circle, we were all in a circle, and I was concerned that they weren't going to really get into what I was saying, so I started passing out chocolate.


No gaming idea. That's right, there's more candy in this practice. So I want to talk about effort this morning, and what kind of effort that we make in this practice, in this lay urban practice. And how do we, not so much trying to encourage everybody to make effort, but just to each person to look at what kind of effort we make and we may not articulate it so much to ourselves and we get used to it but to really consider what kind of effort what's the quality of the nature of the effort that we make in terms of practice just to be here this morning required effort from everybody


to keep paying attention to what I'm saying requires some effort. Everybody has to make some effort, but how is it for us? Effort is one of the, in many Buddhist lists of qualities, effort always shows up. And from all that I've experienced or read, with all these different qualities of effort, the one description that I like the best, or feel the most comfortable with, is Suzuki Roshi's. It is in Zen Modern Beginner's Mind, in his chapter, Right Effort. Just a short paragraph from that is, he says, usually when you do something, you want to achieve something. you attach to some result.


From achievement to non-achievement means to be rid of the unnecessary and bad results of effort. If you do something in the spirit of non-achievement, there's a good quality to it. So just to do something without any particular effort is enough. When you make some special effort to achieve something, some excessive quality, some extra element is involved in it. You should get rid of excessive things. If your practice is good, without being aware of it, you will become proud of your practice. That pride is extra. What you do is good, but something more is added to it. You should get rid of that something which is extra. This point is very, very important, but usually we are not subtle enough to realize it, and we go in the wrong direction.


So, just letting go of what's extra, that's the effort that he's talking about. And if you think about it, or if you don't think about it, and pay attention to it, when we're just sitting in zazen, what we're actually doing is that. whatever is extra, we're just letting go of it. We don't need very much to actually sit still and just be aware, to sit relatively straight, or however we need to sit in order to do it. It's not that we need a lot. And we don't need to be having all this stuff going on in our mind. We don't really have to have that happening. So, what's extra? We don't even have to ask the question, what's extra? Just pay attention. So I think in contrast to other practices within Buddhism, Zen is very much about this quality of letting go of what's extra, rather than accumulating what's good.


We still accumulate what's good in some way, The emphasis is not on accumulating something good, it's letting go of what's extra. So that's my understanding of this particular practice, the emphasis on effort. It's not all there is to it, but that's what I think is most important, at least to me. There's this famous saying from Dogen in the Genjo Koan that we've been studying for This particular excerpt from the Genjo Koan says, to study the Buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. So, this is actually, from one point of view of understanding this, this is like talking about effort. To study the Buddha way, which implies some effort,


And studying the self, which is our whole being, is to forget the self. In other words, to be able to let go of all that we're calling ourself or that we think of as ourself. And then when we do that, we can become part of everything. It sounds good. It's not easy to do it. or it may be easy, but it's hard for us just to be easy. And there's another teacher who was one of Chögyam Trungpa's teachers, Khenpo Gangshar. One of his practices that he encouraged people to do is very close to zazen, just a little resting during meditation, resting in whatever comes up in our mind and in our body.


Resting not like going to sleep, but resting like settling in whatever arises and then letting it go. So this is really what Zazen is too, except that there's the emphasis in his way of saying it, the words that he uses, is more like the word resting implies not trying not trying to change the state of mind that we're in by simply paying attention to what it is. This is true of Zazen as well, but he just puts a little bit more emphasis on it. So, resting, which means paying attention, which requires an effort to be aware, and then letting go. And not trying to change the state of mind that we're actually in. It sounds really simple, but it's actually quite difficult. If we're so interested in practice, that we're willing to come here, and some of us get up early in the morning, and people are very busy and have multiple activities in their life, willing to put that kind of effort in, and so here we are sitting down, you think that there's some dissatisfaction that causes us to do that.


to join into a practice like this where there's some suffering that we feel that we can do something about. So naturally we would think, well we should change our state of mind because our state of mind is causing us to suffer. So he's saying you don't need to change your state of mind, just pay attention. Don't try to change your state of mind, just pay attention. Your state of mind may change, but you're not trying to change your state of mind. And, again, it sounds simple, but if you really pay attention, it's not so easy, because we always want to be improving ourselves somehow, or are seeking pleasure. So, you know, Suzuki Roshi's comment on effort is is a little different than the traditional or older ways of expressing it.


And so I'd like to just go back to some of the traditional ways of expressing it in the sutras. And there's one sutra in particular that's called To Prince Bodhi. It's in the Middle Length Sayings. And it's a very simple sutra. It's not hard to understand. It's not complicated. And basically Prince Bodhi is a very wealthy, powerful prince and he comes to Buddha and they spend two pages going through inviting Buddha to come and give his clan a talk. So finally Buddha comes and sits down and they go through all the formalities and protocol and Prince Bodhi goes up to him and says, Venerable Sir, we have thought thus. Pleasure is not to be gained through pleasure. Pleasure is to be gained through pain. And Shakyamuni says, no, that's not the way it is. And he describes how when he was a young man that he went through various ascetic practices and was suffering and straining.


And then eventually he realizes that's not the way to go. His original effort was, for instance, I thought, suppose I practice the breathingless meditation. So I stopped the in-breaths and out-breaths through my mouth and nose. While I did so, there was a loud sound of wind coming out from my ear holes. It could have been heard. At least it was the ear holes. But although tireless energy was aroused in me and unremitting mindfulness was established, my body was overwrought and uncalmed because I was exhausted by the painful striving. In another one he says, because of eating so little, if I defecated or urinated, I fell over on my face there.


And then there's another part where he takes a nap, Buddha takes a nap, he's been out with the ... I think this is actually when he was considered to be a Buddha. They went out collecting alms, came back, it was a hot day, he lay down to take a nap, and somebody came up to him and said, Sir, isn't this deluded to lie down in the middle of the day and take a nap? And he said, no, what's deluded is all of our craving and hunger and greed and anger and delusion. Taking a nap is no problem. So he was encouraging the middle way. And then he goes on to articulate five qualities of what right effort is. And he goes through a whole... I won't take the time to go through how he said it. He sets it up like If you're driving an elephant, if you're an elephant rider, what qualities would be good for, and this is talking to Prince Bodhi, what qualities would be good for an elephant rider?


And they go through this whole little sequence, and he comes up with five qualities that would be good for if you're driving an elephant. And the five qualities are having faith in the Buddha, or also just having faith in your teacher, free from illness and affliction, honest and sincere, you show yourself as you actually are to your teacher and to your friends in Sangha, energetic and finally wise. So these five qualities Here are five qualities the Buddha is bringing forth. There could be myriad qualities, but he picks these five. And so I just wanted to bring them out as a way for us to see how we actually may be already doing this.


Actually a better word than effort is diligence. Diligence is used instead of effort often in these teachings. To think of diligence is more like actually we're already making some effort. It's a matter of sustaining that to some extent. And so the value to me of articulating these particular qualities is maybe not to take for granted so much what we're already doing, but to actually see how these qualities are all... I think we have some feeling for these qualities already, so it's not like, oh, you should start doing this. It's more like you might... I'm not sure how you... how we see these qualities of the beginner's mind, even though we may already be engaged with them and value them.


I wanted to do it in reference to make it more focused, not just make it so general, make it a little more focused. In regards to the third mark of the what's usually translated as no self, anatta, but actually anatta does not mean literally no self. What it means is not in itself, not in itself, which is basically what we say when we say all dharmas in their own being are empty. they're empty of their own being. So anatta in Pali technically means not in itself, which is a little bit different than not-self.


It sounds like there's nothing there. There is something there, but it's just not the way that we think there's something there. And sometimes I think, how can we talk about ourself, knowing that the self is not accurate, really, not true. And I'm thinking, well, there's the conventional self. We can talk about our conventional self, which is our feelings and our thoughts and all the stuff that arises in us, as long as we see the changeability of that and there's no single origin or there's no fixed quality to it. it's constantly changing, and it's influenced by more influences than we could ever understand or know. So there's the conventional self, and then there's the not-in-itself, which just ... there's the conventional self, which yes, we recognize our feelings and thoughts and so forth, are what we call our self.


Then there's the real self, which we understand that has no fundamental basis, no independent existence. All these feelings and thoughts fundamentally are not independent like we tend to think they are or tend to feel they are. So, going towards no-self or not-self Having a faith in Buddha is actually, I think it's closer, first of all we have to have faith in the teaching, but having faith in our teacher. And if we have faith in our teacher, then we can, it's encouraging. When you see a teacher who demonstrates not being self-centered, not being attached to their


likes and dislikes, or demonstrates more of that than we usually experience, at least in ourselves, it's inspiring. More so, to me, than any kind of reading or theory. If you see a person who evidences that, it's inspiring and encouraging, makes us want to make some effort, makes us want to rouse ourselves. And I think any good teacher has those qualities. you feel that they're not self-centered. It's not that they're perfect or that they have no ego whatsoever, but just they're less self-centered than I might happen to be. Every teacher who I've had experience with, including the current ones, have these qualities.


And I find that, I say, well if they can do it, why can't I learn something from that? Here's an example of somebody who's been able to live this way. It's possible. There was a student here one time, this was many years ago, who had the idea that enlightenment would eventually, if he came here and he sat, that enlightenment would come to him, transform his life, and he would be better off. And he was constantly looking for that experience. And instead all he found was himself just sitting there with himself. So he started to doubt the practice, you know, you would talk to me and say, you know, I think this whole thing may be a sham, that they're talking about enlightenment, but I don't think it exists.


I think that that's just, they're deluded. Because I'm not, you know, I'm just sitting here and I'm not experiencing what they're talking about. And he was a very sharp and nice guy, an intelligent person, well-meaning and helpful. But he just wasn't getting the experience of enlightenment that he was looking for, and he lost his faith. He didn't have any faith in the practice, so he would have no energy for the practice, and eventually he just stopped coming. And he'd been coming for years, I think maybe two or three, four years. And then, sitting in the community room one day, was talking with some people, and he came in with his orioke, and he handed it to me. I said, well, I'm through, thank you, I really appreciate it.


So he turned in his orioke, and he lost his faith. Illness and affliction, you know, There's some culture, could be some culture in our kind of strict Zen practice of don't baby yourself, don't worry so much about your body. I'm not saying we have that attitude here, but there are aspects of Zen practice which suggest that just let go of your body, don't fuss about it, don't worry about it, just be tough. Let go of your attachment to your body. Dogen said, I sloughed off, or we should slough off our body and mind, which suggests that, I mean, why does that suggest that we shouldn't take good care of our body, that it's self-indulgent if we take care of our body?


So there's always a question, you know, how, well, again, this is the Middle Way. So the effort also involves taking care of our body, but not to the extent that we're passing out chocolates to everybody. taking care of our body and so that we can function, that we can practice actually. The other side of this, I don't want to say it's perverse, but the extreme other side of it is there's a Hindu sage, Sri Poonja, died about 15, 20 And he ran into a, one of these Siddhas, Siddhus, what do you call it in India? Siddha. Siddha.


Who was out in the jungle practicing, kind of wild man. And this wild man had, he was the real McCoy. He wasn't fooling around. He had maggots in big sores in his leg. Maggots hung over his sores. And the street princess said, cut those out for you, you know, and heal your leg up." And this guy said, well, the maggots need something to eat too. So that's the other side of taking care of your body, just so you know. But he was doing therapy for the maggots. That's a Bodhisattva metaphor. And then, honesty and sincerity. It's interesting, Buddha would say to a major quality of making effort is honesty and sincerity.


And showing, he particularly said, showing ourselves as we are. In other words, not presenting ourselves to have some not presenting ourselves in a way to people so that they think that we're such and such a way, but actually they see us as we are. Hard to do, because we're all aware of our... I think the more that we practice and the more that we actually are aware of what's going on in our mind, the more we see our selfishness and greed and things that we would prefer not to have. not to inflict that on people, but also not to hide from people, not to pretend that we're sort of a totally smooth kind of person. Zen practice, one of the problems that Zen practice can be, particularly if we're not all living together and working in a monastery and seeing each other all day long, is that we come here and we're quiet, we're silent for a good deal of the time.


So we can kind of hide out in that silence, even maybe not on purpose, but we can be quiet and it's part of our culture to be that way, at least when we gather, especially for Zazen. So to be able to come forward and be willing for people to see our shortcomings without having to throw them at people is part of this. And in terms of the science aspect, Suzuki Roshi said, I believe that you're all deeply enlightened until you open your mouth. So it's true, you know, everything is very serene and calm and then we start talking and then we realize it's not so serene and calm as we thought.


The other one, another quality is being energetic. With an effort of course that involves energy. And an interesting way of understanding energy is Bernie Glassman, in an essay that he wrote that I talked about with the people who are sewing their rocklesses, is that in the Eightfold Path, energy is described as leaving the unwholesome behind and going towards the wholesome. And as Bernie Glassman was saying, and he actually lost that practice with him in the East Coast many years ago.


He was a Tetsugan Glassman, and he was the student of Maya Zungyon Roshi. And I don't think he's not being a formal teacher right now, but he seems to get around quite a bit. wholesome and unwholesome being able to bear witness to what we see means being able to be open to what we don't like and what's ugly and what's scary as well as what we do like. So it's interesting that combination of being open as a way of being wholesome It's not like trying to be wholesome, or trying to avoid being unwholesome, per se. His take on it is more, if we're truly open to what we're experiencing, that's wholesome.


And if we're separating ourselves, and separating ourselves from what we don't like, which we all do in subtle ways or gross ways, that's unwholesome. and just leave it at that. So that there's more to it obviously, but that's just one aspect. And from that comes energy. The energy of being part of things. A teacher that I've practiced with for a while, a little, I went to several sessions with Master Shen Yen, who had died several years ago, And in terms of energy, he said he was in Japan for several years going to, you know, studying in Japan.


He sat a seven-day Sushin with the monks in Japan. It was a very rigorous and freezing cold, really cold, no heat in the zendo, no issues about keeping his operas out of the way of the heaters, and the walls were made out of paper. all the way through the Sashin, and monks are going, Moo, Moo, just really out loud, how many, 30, 40 monks all doing a Moo practice out loud, the whole seven days. And when it was all over, he went up to one of the monks and said, you guys are so energetic, I can't believe it's so cold, and you're practicing so wholeheartedly. And the monk said, no, we were just cold. That's all. That's just our way of dealing with the cold. Nothing to do with you, per se. We're just cold. And finally, just wisdom, being wise.


Wisdom is something that I think beginners have as well as experienced people in Zen practice. And just to think that If you're a beginner, that there's no wisdom is not true. All kinds of people have wisdom, or are wise. Zen practitioners know Zen practice. And I think what we notice in somebody, what we call wisdom, is generally that they can, from my perspective at least, is that they get out of their own way. They're not full of themselves. they get out of the way, they're able to let go of what's extra. So Buddha is encouraging us to find out what is wisdom, what is insight, how are things, what's the way things really are.


So we work on this. We can read and we can listen to lectures, but reading and listening to lectures is a kind of opening or doorway, but it's not the same as directly experiencing. You can make a really good case for impermanence verbally, and it makes great sense, but to actually accept impermanence on a daily basis in our own life is not so easy to do. So wisdom is not so much a matter of just knowing about impermanence, it's a matter of actually accepting impermanence, and also accepting that our self is not in itself, that it's part of everything else. So, I'll stop there, and I just want to, before I


a couple of minutes. What's your first thought? My first thought, well I was thinking that everything contains its opposite. So effort contains ease. Ease contains effort. So if your effort is just effort without ease, then it's one-sided. So I was giving Zazen instruction this morning, in Zendo, during Zazen, telling everybody to make their effort has to be with ease. So to balance ease and effort is great effort, proper effort. Thank you for your thoughts. Thank you. You know what Sojourn is saying, actually as Thich Nhat Hanh says this too, in the seven aspects of enlightenment, there are joy, ease and effort. They're all seven aspects of enlightenment.


So, I totally agree. And that's what makes effort enjoyable, too. So, one or two questions? Ron, thank you very much. Could you say something about making effort, the kind of effort you're talking about here, when encountering words and letters? I say, let it sink into you. The effort to let it sink in. rather than... Yeah, or let it sink in, well, whenever it sinks in, but let it sink in without trying to be an expert that knows something. Yeah. So sometimes I'm teaching, you know, students and we read some text from India in translation And it contains this teaching about doing the effort without trying to get results.


And the students will say, why would you do anything? You lose your motivation. They really don't love that teaching. And sometimes with great effort, I come up with a good answer. But I would like to know what you would tell them. I'd say, find out how to really enjoy what you're doing. So that there's a carrot there which is enjoyment. Tricking them? No, just motivating them. Because they want to be motivated. It's not unnatural to want to be motivated. That's kind of the difference between Soto motivation and Rinzai motivation. They're different motivations. This will be the last one, Kate. I was just wondering when you talked about the practice of rest and resting in whatever it is, how that relates to breath.


Is there a breath practice or a breath aspect of that practice? That particular practice, no, because breath practice, well, Sojin says You don't have to... I'm going to be careful here. I can feel the... Sojin says, that, you know, when you're concentrating on breath and then you can be open, that you don't necessarily need to do one thing all the way through. It doesn't mean you should necessarily be mixing practices. I think he's talking about Shikantaza, right? So, there's different ways of looking at it, but if you want to just concentrate on breath, if you're determined that you're going to keep bringing your attention and mind back to your breathing during sitting,


then know that you would rest in your breath, but it's different than resting in whatever comes up. Of course, that's not true, because thoughts are going to come up anyway. So I would say, yeah, your breath is just primary, but as emotions and all kinds of thoughts are coming up as you're breathing, that you're aware of that and letting go primary focus, something like that. Can I just say that when I do, when I have a lot going on emotionally, my practice might be more towards the idea of resting in whatever is, because otherwise I'm trying to escape it, but I do find that bringing attention to my breath along with whatever is going on gives me an anchor so that I'm more able to let go instead of being kind of turning this into an object.


And also, I mean, if we just pay attention, I mean, we're sitting here paying attention, naturally your breath is there. I mean, it's a natural thing to be aware of, too. That's the other thing. about headquarters. Our ego is trying to arrange everything, but the breathing is just there, and everything that arises is just there. We still have to do some arranging though. I have to have permission from the dog. What do you think? I put the responsibility on you. Maggot therapist, no nice stuff. Maggot therapist, no nice stuff? Thanks for your tasty talk.