Focusing, Not Begrudging Our Lives

Meditation practice requires focus that goes beyond the ability to center our mind on one spot and keep it there. We also have to stay focused on practice itself. This kind of focus is like an auxiliary practice or a practice wrapped around the practice.

Artur Rubinstein, the famous pianist, once commented that if he missed practice for one day, he noticed it. If he missed two days, his family noticed it. If he missed three days, his audience noticed it.

If we’re inconsistent, it’s difficult to maintain focus. We can get pulled away very easily by distractions. When we lay off for a while, it is just that much harder to get the focus back.

Busy lives make it harder. Balancing everything, making time for this thing and that, some of which we have to do and some of which we want to do, and then to also practice . . .

Even when we are practicing on a regular basis, it can be tough. I’m not the most disciplined person in the world. For instance, I don’t always wake up in the morning with a burning desire to sit and meditate. I want to watch the morning news, check my emails, go outside with my coffee, almost anything else. I’ve had to use every trick in the book to get myself in front of the altar. The hardest part is to not begrudge doing it.

I feel like more might be gained in those times than in all the others when my practice seems to flow naturally, when it’s not such a challenge.

If we’re not challenging ourselves in our practice, or letting the practice challenge us, then we’re missing out on great opportunities for growth. Robert Thurman said once that Buddhism is just a bunch of tools. But tools have little value if unused.

The kind of focus I’m talking about could also be called determination, perseverance,  commitment – there’s many words that match. A line in the 16th chapter of the Lotus Sutra reads, “Single-mindedly yearning to see the Buddha, they do not begrudge their lives.” Some translations have it as “they do not hold their lives dear” or “not caring for their own lives,” and “not hesitating even if it costs them their lives”.

I like the word “begrudge” because it has the connotation of “giving with reluctance.” So then to not begrudge your life means to not to live with reluctance.

And it means not to practice with it either. We are the Buddha we are yearning to see. But we cannot see this Buddha if we are reluctant, holding back, begrudging our practice or ourselves. When a begrudging attitude arises, we have to fight through it. Challenge ourselves. Stay focused. And to win over ourselves.

Only when you become skilled at churning, can you obtain butter. Likewise, you cannot ascend to the stage of wondrous realization without practice.

– Chih-i

‘Single-mindedly desiring to see the Buddha’ also means to see the Buddha in one’s own mind, to concentrate one’s mind on seeing the Buddha, and that to see one’s own mind is to see the Buddha.

– Nichiren

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