Paramita of the Month: Diligence

Our monthly paramita practice is that of diligence, or, as it is sometimes known, exertion. The teaching below comes from H. H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, as transcribed for us by David McKinney.

Rice Farmer

From “The Heart of Compassion”, H.H. Dilgo Khyentse’s commentary on The Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva.



Merely for their own sake, even shravakas and pratyekabuddhas
Make efforts like someone whose hair is on fire trying to put it out;
Seeing this, for the sake of all beings,
To practice diligence, the source of excellent qualities, is the practice of a bodhisattva.

To awaken and develop all the paramitas, diligence is vital. Diligence is the joyous effort and active determination to carry out positive actions, without any expectations or self-satisfaction.

Diligence has three aspects. The first, called “armorlike diligence,” is to develop a joyous courage and fortitude, which you wear like armor against discouragement. The second is “diligence in action,” which is to set about accumulating merit through the practice of the six paramitas without delay or procrastination. The third is “diligence that cannot be stopped,” an insatiable and unremitting energy to work for the sake of others. Diligence should permeate the practice of the other paramitas, and invigorate them all.

The first kind, armorlike diligence, is to put on the armor of a strong and courageous determination that you will never fall prey to obstacles created by the four demons (negative emotions, attachment to comfort, physical sickness, and death) but will persist, come what may, in your efforts to accomplish the extraordinary activities of a bodhisattva until you have established all beings in enlightenment.

The second kind, diligence in action, is determined perseverance in the actual application of that wish. Feeling a great joy to be able to practice, to travel the five paths and attain the ten levels, you enthusiastically undertake endless meritorious activities, particularly study, reflection, and meditation. Engaging in all this, sustain an indomitable courage and never fall prey to discouragement, laziness, or procrastination.

The third kind, diligence that cannot be stopped, is the insatiable energy to work constantly for the sake of others. Day and night, engage in every possible way, directly or indirectly, in your thoughts, words, and deeds, to benefit beings. If you are not able to help them directly, you should keep nothing in your mind but the benefit of others, and dedicate everything you do toward their attainment of buddhahood. Never feel self-satisfied because of the few good qualities you may have been able to achieve, and never be diverted from your aims by people’s abuse or other adverse circumstances. Just remain determined to continue constantly until you reach your goal.

Each of these three kinds of diligence has its opposite in a corresponding kind of laziness.

The first kind of laziness is the wish for nothing but your own comfort. It manifests as a tendency to sleep and idleness, to crave immediate satisfaction and comfort, and in so doing to ignore the Dharma. The antidote is to meditate on death and impermanence.

The second kind of laziness is a faint-heartedness. You feel discouraged before you have even begun trying to do something, because you think a person like you will never reach enlightenment no matter how hard you try. The antidote is to strengthen your fortitude by reflecting on the benefits of liberation and enlightenment.

The third kind of laziness is a neglect of your true priorities. You become stuck in negative and unproductive habits. Forgetting or ignoring deeper aims, you stay preoccupied solely with matters limited to this life. The antidote is to realize that all such ordinary concerns are invariably causes of suffering alone, and to cast them far away.

People work with great endeavor, day and night, to accomplish things that are merely for their own comfort, fame, and power–in other words, for things that in the long term are utterly meaningless. Of the hardships you may undergo for the sake of the Dharma, however, not a single one will be without meaning. The difficult situations you experience will help you to purify the negativity accumulated in many past lives and to gather merit as a provision for lives to come. They are sure to be meaningful.

Without diligence, bodhicitta and the activities of a bodhisattva will have no means to take root and grow in your mind. As Padampa Sangye said:

If your perseverance has no strength, you will not reach buddhahood;
People of Tingri, make sure you don that armor.

The Buddha Shakyamuni is renowned for having brought the paramita of diligence to its ultimate perfection. The power and merit generated by his endeavor over countless lifetimes could have brought him rebirth a thousand times over as a universal monarch, but instead he chose to direct all his efforts toward achieving enlightenment. As followers of the Buddha, we should use the story of his life and the stories of great saints of the past as inspiring models. Jetsun Milarepa, for example, displayed incredible endeavor, enduring many hardships to achieve his profound aims. Vairochana left for India in search of the Dharma at a very young age, undergoing fifty-seven unbearable difficulties to obtain the teachings and often coming close to losing his life. He and the other great translators of Tibet encountered tremendous hardships on their travels–the burning heat and the fevers then endemic in the Indian plains, the harsh animosity of local rulers, and so forth. Nevertheless they persevered and succeeded in bringing the authentic Dharma back to Tibet.

You are living today in countries where the Dharma has only just begun to take root, like a fragile new shoot in the ground. Only your sustained diligence will bring it to fruition. Depending on the effort you put into study, reflection, and meditation, and to integrating what you have understood into your spiritual practice, accomplishment may be days, months, or years away. It is essential to remember that all your endeavors on the path are for the sake of others. Remain humble and aware that your efforts are like child’s play compared to the oceanlike activity of the great bodhisattvas. Be like a parent providing for much-loved children, never thinking that you have done too much for others–or even that you have done enough. If you finally managed, through your own efforts alone, to establish all beings in buddhahood you would simply think that all your wishes had been fulfilled. Never have even a trace of hope for something in return.

A bodhisattva must have far greater diligence than a shravaka or pratyekabuddha, because the bodhisattva has taken the responsibility of accomplishing the ultimate happiness of budhahood not only for himself but for countless beings. As it is said:

The hero who carries the burden of all beings on his head has no leisure to walk slowly.


Since I and all others are tied by a hundred bonds,
I must multiply my diligence a hundred times.

To increase your diligence, reflect on how impermanent everything is. Death is inevitable and may come suddenly and very soon. Think how shallow and superficial this life’s ordinary concerns really are in that light, and how free you could be if you could turn your mind away from them. If you suddenly realized that in your lap, in a fold of your clothes, a venomous snake was hiding, would you wait to take action—even for a second?

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