As a smith does with silver,
The wise person
Bit by bit,
Moment by moment,
Removes impurities from herself.
Dhammapada v. 239, translated by Gil Fronsdal
This is another famous verse. It reminds me of a seminal teaching from Ajahn Chah: “Patient endurance is the highest austerity.”
Even with commitment, energy and clarity of vision, the process of uprooting our unwholesome impulses takes time and persistence. Sometimes people embark on the Buddha’s path with great enthusiasm and then are disappointed if a week later no progress is visible. But a smithy purifying a precious metal from an alloy knows that she will have to do the purification process many, many times before all the dross is worn away and she is left with the pure element. She’ll keep on doing it until she knows there’s nothing but silver left.
How do we know if our efforts are bearing fruit? After focusing on turning towards the wholesome and away from the unwholesome in our actions, speech and thinking for some time, what might we see? Perhaps a lot of frustration, but also an increase in awareness; failures to restrain ourselves, but more efforts to try; less confusion and more confidence when making choices; a greater ease in our generosity and kindness; increased interest in spending time with people we admire; less anxiety.
Most important of all, there’s a point where we become certain that this is the path we want to follow, when we set aside the attitude of “what’s in it for me?” and take up the attitude “what’s the best I can do for myself and others?”
It’s a long process, but the company is good.