We’ve been talking about habits – how to cultivate wholesome habits and how to disrupt and abandon unwholesome habits. In an essay, published by the Buddhist Publication Society in 1985, Bhikkhu Bodhi makes an interesting observation about how human success requires both routine and vision, and that this principle is clearly applicable to reducing our suffering and increasing our mental clarity.
All human activity can be viewed as an interplay between two contrary but equally essential factors — vision and repetitive routine. Vision is the creative element in activity, whose presence ensures that over and above the settled conditions pressing down upon us from the past we still enjoy a margin of openness to the future, a freedom to discern more meaningful ends and to discover more efficient ways to achieve them. Repetitive routine, in contrast, provides the conservative element in activity. It is the principle that accounts for the persistence of the past in the present, and that enables the successful achievements of the present to be preserved intact and faithfully transmitted to the future.
Though pulling in opposite directions — the one toward change, the other toward stability — vision and routine intermesh in a variety of ways and every course of action can be found to participate to some extent in both. For any particular action to be both meaningful and effective the attainment of a healthy balance between the two is necessary. When one factor prevails at the expense of the other, the consequences are invariably undesirable. If we are bound to a repetitive cycle of work that deprives us of our freedom to inquire and understand, we soon bog down, crippled by the chains of routine. If we are spurred to act by elevating ideals but lack the discipline to implement them, eventually we find ourselves wallowing in dreams or exhausting our energies on frivolous pursuits. It is only when accustomed routines are infused from within by vision that they become springboards to discovery rather than deadening ruts. And it is only when inspired vision gives birth to a course of repeatable actions that we can bring our ideals down from the ethereal sphere of imagination to the somber realm of fact. It took a flash of genius for Michelangelo to behold the figure of David invisible in a shapeless block of stone; but it required years of prior training, and countless blows with hammer and chisel, to work the miracle that would leave us a masterpiece of art.
These reflections concerning the relationship between vision and routine apply with equal validity to the practice of the Buddhist path.
Full essay here: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/bps-essay_03.html
Ven. Bodhi goes on to say that on the whole, most of us prefer vision and find the ordinary routines of our lives (including meditation) a bit boring and tedious:
Thus we are elated by expectations concerning the stages of the path far beyond our reach, while at the same time we tend to neglect the lower stages — dull and drab, but far more urgent and immediate — lying just beneath our feet…Every wholesome thought, every pure intention, every effort to train the mind represents a potential for growth along the Noble Eightfold Path. But to be converted from a mere potential into an active power leading to the end of suffering, the fleeting wholesome thought-formations must be repeated, fostered and cultivated, made into enduring qualities of our being. Feeble in their individuality, when their forces are consolidated by repetition they acquire a strength that is invincible.
This is the warrior aspect of the path. We attend to what we are doing as continuously as possible, recognizing our actions, words and thoughts as wholesome or not. We can ask ourselves, “Is this activity in line with my vision, my best intentions?” It is not glamorous work, but it will get us where were want to go.