Recently in the book Moon in a Dewdrop, a translation of works by Soto Zen founder, Dogen (1200-1253), I read another text he wrote called the gakudō yōjinshū (学道用心集, “Guidelines for Studying the Way”) composed possibly in 1234. In it, Dogen provides a lot of advice about how to approach not just Zen practice, but the Buddhist path in general.
In one section, he criticizes other Buddhist movements of the time (without mentioning them by name) that espouse an “easy practice” as opposed to the traditional monastic Buddhist path:¹
People of the present say you should practice what is easy to practice. These words are quite mistaken. They are not at all in accord with the buddha way. If this alone is what you regard as practice, then even lying down will be wearisome. If you find one thing wearisome, you will find everything wearisome. It is obvious that people who are fond of easy practices are not capable of the way. (pg. 37, translation by Kazuaki Tanahashi)
Dogen makes a good point that if you find something wearisome, you’re not going to do it. You’ll just makes excuses and procrastinate. We have all done this in our lives, though, am I right?
It is better to examine one’s own preparedness!…After making the resolution, they [such Buddhists] want to be enlightened suddenly and want to become buddhas immediately. Without examining themselves and their own resolve, they think that such and such is the great teaching that will enable them to become a buddha easily. This can be compared to wanting to become a leader and deciding to run for president without first pausing to examine one’s academic record and experience. (pg. 346)
Yin-Shun in particular criticizes people who are eager to become a buddha quickly without actually putting the time and effort into it.
All of this makes a lot of sense for me, and is kind of inspiring in a way. The trouble though is that I have never been good about sticking with a particular Buddhist practice for long. I allow things like self-doubt, and doctrinal misgivings get in the way. Sometimes, I am just plain lazy too (and find Buddhist practice “wearisome” ;-p). Other times, I just overthink the issue because I am “detail-oriented”:
Recently though, I came to realize that the best Buddhist practice for you is the one you can stick with. Buddhist practice isn’t particularly easy, rubs against our worst instincts and the “payoff” can take a while. However, it’s a worthwhile investment in one’s life. If you can find something you like and can stick with without forcing yourself, you’re off to a good start. Sometimes the issue isn’t you, but a change in environment.
At the same time, there are no easy solutions either. It will take time and effort. There’s really no way around it.
¹ This is a common feature of Japan’s Kamakura-Era Buddhism. Due to social upheaval, and a frequent belief in the notion of “Dharma Decline”, that is the concept that even Buddhism as a religion is impermanent and subject to decline, a lot of Buddhist thinkers at the time sought Buddhist practices that would help people in the latter ages. Many of these schools of thought are now prevalent today in Japan if not the world as a whole.