Ajahn Chah used to emphasize the need for steadiness in our practice, especially with our application of effort—finding a level that pushes the edge a little bit, but is also sustainable and doesn’t lead to our burning out. Sometimes we want to focus on tangible results, and it’s certainly gratifying to feel we’re really getting somewhere, that something’s really happening. But I think it’s much more important to focus on this kind of steadiness.
Steadiness requires patience. We need that patient quality of mind which is resilient and able to endure the different moods that come up—the highs of being exhilarated about the practice, and also the lows we inevitably experience. Moods oscillate like this; it’s natural. So to achieve steadiness, patience must be applied along with effort.
The Buddha uses the image of water dripping very slowly into a huge earthen jug, drop by drop. If we focus on the individual drops, it may seem like nothing much is happening, as if the jug will never get full. But if the water continues to drip, slowly but steadily, the jug will fill up over time. It’s unavoidable. In the same way, steadiness and continuity of effort paired together with patience will bring results in our practice, even if it seems like nothing much is happening.
There’s no need to aim for a sudden, spectacular impact or achievement. It’s tempting to hold onto the image of the Bodhisatta sitting under the Bodhi tree, resolving not to move until he had become enlightened, even if his blood dried up and his bones crumbled. We say to ourselves, That’s inspiring. I’ll try to do that.
Once when a monk said that to Ajahn Chah, Ajahn pointed back at him and said, “Maybe this Buddha trying to do that isn’t the same as the old Buddha.” What Ajahn meant was that the Bodhisatta’s resolve was the culmination of hundreds of thousands of lifetimes spent steadily and patiently building the pāramī.
So that’s what we focus on—this steadiness of effort and patient endurance. Put them together and let them work for you.
This reflection by Luang Por Pasanno is from the book, Beginning Our Day, Volume 2, (pdf) pp.118-119.