Diligence

At Savatthi. Sitting to one side, King Pasenadi of Kosala said to the Blessed One: “Is there, venerable sir, one thing which secures both kinds of good, the good pertaining to the present life and that pertaining to the future life?”

“There is one thing, great king, which secures both kinds of good, the good pertaining to the present life and that pertaining to the future life.”

“But what, venerable sir, is that one thing?”

“Diligence, great king. Just as the footprints of all living beings that walk fit into the footprint of the elephant, and the elephant’s footprint is declared to be their chief by reason of its size, so diligence is the one thing which secures both kinds of good, the good pertaining to the present life and that pertaining to the future life.

“For one who desires long life and health,
Beauty, heaven, and noble birth,
[A variety of] lofty delights
Following in succession,
The wise praise diligence
In doing deeds of merit.

“The wise person who is diligent
Secures both kinds of good:
The good visible in this very life
And the good of the future life.
The steadfast one, by attaining the good,
Is called a person of wisdom.”

SN 3.17, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi

The Pali word here translated as diligence is “appamada”. Thanissaro Bhikkhu translates it as heedfulness. Both words capture the point of this verse – if we attend to our intentions and actions, in a continuous way, we have the best chance of getting things right.

We tend to be distracted by what we see outside ourselves: sounds, sights, others’ actions, etc. Certainly there are times to tune into what’s going on around us, particularly when driving, bicycling, sightseeing or moving around where there are others. But there is always another side to the equation: what’s going on inside of us? As we notice things outside, how are we reacting? Are we getting tense or relaxed? Envious? Delighted? Angry? Keeping track of our mind states as we go along, noticing rather than judging, will reveal the most meaningful information to us.

Thoughts lead to words lead to deeds and so on, around and around in a perpetual, relentless loop. If we don’t notice that we’re getting tired and anxious, we’re more likely to do something regrettable. If we do notice, we can make adjustments: slow down, breathe, rest, or go home.

Diligence doesn’t mean getting every action and word just right. It means steadfastly tuning our attention to both inside and outside movements, with a spirit of investigation and acceptance. From this, gradually, wisdom grows.

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