On Diligence

From the blog post of: https://stillwatersanghamn.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/right-diligence/

Excerpt from a Dharma Talk by Thich Nhat Hanh, June 11, 2009.

I prefer the term right diligence rather than right effort. Making efforts can make you tired, but when you are diligent, you don’t need to be tired.

I don’t want intensive practice, I want regular practice, diligent practice. There are those of us who practice very intensively for a few weeks and then after that abandon the practice. But there are those of us who practice regularly, not intensive but continuously, that will bring good results. That is why I prefer the word diligence.

Why do you continue to do it? Because I like it. That is a good answer. Because I enjoy doing that. That applies to the practice. If you don’t enjoy the practice you have to make an effort, you get tired, and finally you abandon the practice.

You continue to do it because you like it. It is not because you have to do it. Why did you practice sitting meditation. The best answer is: because I like it. Why do you practice walking meditation? Because I like it. . . .

That is true diligence, right diligence. We know that right diligence brings well-being. The practices of mindful walking, mindful breathing, smiling, bring well-being, happiness.


There’s a very good reason as to why the quality of diligence is included in the Eightfold Path, the Five Powers, the Six Paramitas, AND the Seven Factors of Awakening in Buddhism. It speaks to the power of its incredible importance. Diligence is a critical component of developing a strong spiritual practice (whatever spiritual practice/religion we resonate with). And not just any kind of diligence, right diligence.

This morning, I was listening to a talk online by Sister Hoi Nghiem in our Plum Village tradition. She spoke about spiritual bypassing and described it as such: spiritual bypassing means that we think that we are practicing but actually we are not. She went on to say that if continue to run away from our suffering that we will never learn how to understand it, which is what is necessary in order to transform it.

The Sister is talking about right diligence. If we consider ourselves to be a practitioner in the Plum Village mindfulness tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh (TNH), we must cultivate right diligence in our daily lives, on a number of levels.

As the founder and program director of a weekly sangha, Be Here Now, since 2002, I have had the pleasure and fortune of being in continuous contact and relationship with many folks over our 16+ years of operation. One thing that has become clear to me is that the usage of the word diligence makes people shutter and scrunch their foreheads in mild to wild pangs of disapproval. Diligence is NOT sexy. If people are asking for suggestions or advice in relation to their practice and I use the word diligence at any point, the chances are good that they will mentally gloss right over that word and not allow it to penetrate and absorb. Or worse, they might just high-tail it to some other tradition or practice that doesn’t put emphasis on that quality all together.

As an aspiring Dharma-teacher-in-training, I am invested in finding creative approaches to such common obstacles and dilemmas. I am forever investigating for myself how to go about offering teachings in such a way that won’t send people off in an agitated huffy state of mind, body, and heartspace. Words matter. And I am interested in finding ways to talk about such things as diligence in modern ways and vernacular that maximizes approachability and minimizes the scare-factor.

As a student of Thay’s (aka TNH), I especially look to his teachings on this subject matter, to help inform me in the unfolding process of finding my own voice as a budding teacher:


From the The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by TNH:

We may appear diligent in our practice, but if it takes us farther from reality or from those we love, it is wrong diligence. (From the section on the Eightfold Path.)

The second power is diligence, the energy that brings joy into our practice. Faith gives birth to diligence, and this diligence continues to strengthen our faith. Animated with diligent energy, we become truly alive. Our eyes shine, and our steps are solid.  (From the section on the Five Powers.)

The Buddha said that in the depth of our store consciousness, there are all kinds of positive and negative seeds – seeds of anger, delusion, and fear, and seeds of understanding, compassion, and forgiveness. Many of those seeds have been transmitted to us by our ancestors. We should learn to recognize every one of these seeds in us in order to practice diligence. (From the section on the Six Paramitas.)

The Third Factor of Awakening is virya, which means energy, effort, diligence, or perseverance. Energy comes from many sources…In Buddhism, the source of our energy are mindfulness, investigation, and faith in the practice. When we look deeply, we see that life is a miracle beyond our comprehension. But for many young people today, life is meaningless…Making an effort at the wrong time or place dissipates our energy. (From the section on the Seven Factors of Awakening.)

Additionally, Thay goes on to write: The Fourth Factor of Awakening is ease. Diligence is always accompanied by ease. 


I have been described by many who know me as someone who possesses a great deal of diligence – and I too, would use this term for myself as well. And I see clearly that this quality has been passed down to me through my mother, my father, my grandparents, and most likely way on back down the line of my ancestors. The seed of diligence is strong within my store consciousness. I also see that I water this seed every day in my practice and because of this, it grows stronger and stronger.

Oftentimes it’s hard for me to balance these two realities, when it comes to finding ways to best approach how to offer my own teachings on the nature and power of diligence:

1. I have great confidence and faith in how my own personal practice shows up in support of my aspiration as a practitioner, which gives me a wealth of enthusiasm for wanting to share what I do, in an attempt to help offer encouragement and support to others along the path, which is my driving motivation. And one of my not-so-superpowers/superpowers is the art of right diligence.

2.  A vast majority of people will not be able to connect/resonate/actualize with all the ways that my own personal practice shows up. I’ve come to understand that my level of diligence is very uncommon – and not only is it uncommon but it tends to make others feels uncomfortable, as people then often start playing the terribly unhelpful comparison game and get caught up in the Three Complexes: superiority, inferiority, and equality.

Diligence, as a quality to develop and hone in our practice lives, is the key to bearing direct witness and experiencing the fruits of the practice. Reading the teachings will only get us so far. There’s even a way to sit in a sangha every week or sit in meditation every day on our own without progressing very much as a practitioner. So even if we are being diligent, we must be sure that we are practicing right diligence in our thinking, speaking, and acting. Otherwise, we may just be biding our time, verses actively engaging with the heart of the practice.





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