For both monastics and laypeople visiting the monastery, it is helpful to reflect on sustenance, what it is that sustains us materially. Laypeople offer food to the monastery, and we eat this food. They work some eight hours a day, five days a week or more, at a job that can often be unpleasant. It’s hard work, and they call it work because it is work. For most people the mind inclines toward not doing this work. People would rather be relaxing, sitting out under the sun and taking it easy, but they can’t do that. They have to work, because they have to support themselves and sustain their lives. Many people come to this monastery on a regular basis with food they’ve bought using the fruits of their own labor. We eat and depend on this offered food every day at the monastery, so we have a very direct relationship with the work laypeople do.
As a result, we have a responsibility to practice; our practice is why we are being offered food. Laypeople want to support the monastery so that we will grow in the Dhamma and lessen our greed, hatred, and delusion. Ajahn Dtun once said that we should be meditating at least eight hours a day, because that’s the amount of time laypeople put into their workday, and for many of them it’s even more than that. I think that at Abhayagiri eight hours a day of formal practice would be difficult, because we have a lot happening, especially in the mornings with our work period and chores. However, we can still think of this eight hours in the sense of making sure that mindfulness is present for that amount of time—actually, for the entire day. During this time we’re not simply following our moods and opinions, we are going against the grain and putting forth effort to decrease the defilements.
Some of us may feel dispirited when we hear about putting forth effort because it sounds heavy to us, and we may not want to put forth a lot of exertion. However, whether we like it or not, it is something we have to do; it is simply part of the deal, part of what monastic life is all about. If putting forth effort is something we don’t want to do, then monastic life might not be for us. It is a life of effort, and it requires resolution and struggle. We should keep that in mind.
But the situation is not bleak. In the beginning stage of making an effort, there is a hump we have to get over, but then it gets easier. There are three phases of effort. In the first phase, energy needs to be aroused, and this requires discipline and exertion. In the second phase, once energy is aroused and established, the effort maintains itself, to a certain extent, because of that established energy. The third phase is known as being unshakable, where nothing can stop the effort and energy until the goal is achieved. The first phase is the most difficult, because it takes a lot of strength and resolution simply to get things going. It’s like a rocket that’s leaving the atmosphere. It takes an enormous amount of fuel to overcome the pull of Earth’s gravity, but once it gets into space, then it can coast for awhile. It’s a bit the same with the energy and effort we put into our practice.
Through this entire process, especially the first phase, it is extremely helpful to hold the attitude and perception that making an effort is actually pleasant. If effort is exercised properly, the experience of effort is enjoyable, invigorating— something we can learn to delight in. If we don’t take delight in putting forth effort, then it is quite an unpleasant experience. So we need to learn how to experience the pleasant side of effort. We can start with a simple and direct reflection: In what way can I put forth and sustain effort so that it is enjoyable, fulfilling, and nurturing to both my practice and to my heart?
This reflection by Ajahn Yatiko is from Beginning Our Day, Volume One.