Everyone realizes that it is important to be deeply immersed in something. But some people take it into their heads to do first one thing and then another, and end up obtaining nothing at all. That is truly regrettable, because if they could just live their lives absorbed in one interest they would be able to accomplish great things.
I have heard that there is a saying in America, "Never buy a car made on a Monday." Apparently, there is a greater chance that a lemon with loose nuts and bolts will be produced on a Monday, because workers tend to slack off after the weekend. Slackness is not, of course, limited to the United States. The commentator Naoki Komuro wrote in his Sobieto Teikoku no Hokai (The Collapse of the Soviet Empire):
In the Soviet Union when one purchases a household appliance, one always tries to select one certified to have been made during the first half of the month. If it is made in the first half, you can rest assured that it was not made in a rush. You can assume it will work. But if it was made in the latter half of the month, there is a possibility that it will fall apart rather quickly.
The Russian worker thinks only of achieving the assigned quota, so in the first half of the month he works slowly. Then, in the second half, he hurries under pressure to reach the quota. Everyone knows the situation, so they try to buy the "early half" products.
The Americans' slipshod method and the Russians' rushed way of manufacturing show a common lack of enthusiasm for factory work. Without dedication, good workmanship can hardly be expected.
Japanese people are rather disposed to concentrate on their work. That Japanese products are known to be efficient, unlikely to break down, and long-lasting is because of workers' dedication. This may be partly a national trait, and I think the influence of Buddhism is significant. Buddhism places great emphasis on samadhi, remaining tranquil whatever happens and focusing one's thoughts on a single object. Though it was originally a Buddhist ascetic practice, Mahayana Buddhism teaches its application in all aspects of daily life, including work and study.
The Japanese most noted for advocating the application of samadhi in daily life was Suzuki Shosan (1579 - 1655), a learned priest of the Soto Zen sect who served under the great feudal warrior chieftain Tokugawa Ieyasu. In the section "The Daily Business of Farmers" of his moral essay Bammin Tokuyo (For the Benefit of All), Shosan writes:
Heaven set farmers the vital task of nourishing the world and its people. If they work their farms in diligent accordance with the Way of Heaven, with no thought of themselves; if they produce the five grains and worship the Buddha and the gods; if they make a great vow to save lives and provide enough food even for the insects; if they invoke the name of Amida Buddha each time they sink their hoes in the ground; if they put their hearts into each stroke of their scythes: then the fields in which they labor will be holy ground, and the grain they produce will be holy food. For those who eat it, it will be like a medicine that dispels and vanquishes delusion.
If they invoke the name of Amida with each stroke of the hoe or scythe, they will not be distracted and will be able to concentrate; they will be in a state of profound meditation as they work.
In another section, "The Daily Business of Artisans," Shosan writes:
A craftsman said to me, "I know it is important to seek the Buddha's wisdom, but I am too busy at my hereditary occupation to do that. How can I ever hope to achieve buddhahood?"
I replied, "All work is the Buddha's work. It is enough if you find buddhahood in the pursuit of your occupation. You must realize that whatever work you do is work that you are doing for the sake of others. . . . The Eternal Buddha divides himself into ten billion parts in order to benefit the world."
This is a truly wise perspective. You are one of those parts, and your work is the work of the Buddha. You do it to benefit the whole world. All work, of whatever nature, is the Buddha's work, and you can find buddhahood through the diligent pursuit of your occupation. All who throw themselves into their work with a desire to be of service to others will surely resemble the Buddha. Moreover, with the conviction in your heart that you are part of the Buddha and therefore doing the Buddha's work, you will naturally come to concentrate on it.
I believe it was Chekhov who said, "A human being must work. He must work by the sweat of his brow. Therein lies the significance, the purpose, the happiness, the joy, and the deep emotion of human life." As the amount of leisure time in developed countries grows, the number of working hours is decreasing. That is all the more reason why this degree of concentration on the job is important. If one simply tries to get through one's quota, one is bound to end up producing the equivalent of a "Monday car." Someone who falls into the habit of working that way will pass the weekend unenthusiastically as well, whether playing sports or reading. If one only halfheartedly works and plays, then one's entire life will be filled with indifference.
The potter Kanjiro Kawai (1890 - 1966) once said, "Work is the work of doing work." We are apt to feel proud of the amount of work we accomplish. Priding ourselves on our own accomplishments is important, but good work is the kind that does itself. People find it very hard to accomplish anything truly exceptional by themselves. At work we encounter people we do not get along with. We suffer and endure. We exert our utmost strength. With an invisible strength pushing us onward, we complete one job after another. Rather than boasting, "I did it," we should say, "The work is getting done all by itself; I'm just an assistant." When you really put yourself into your work, you develop this sort of modesty.
One more thing we must remember is that in raising children, the most important thing is encouraging their enthusiasm. Children tend to become absorbed in things more easily than adults. To interrupt that enthusiasm because it is inconvenient for adults is like losing an extremely valuable jewel. For example, when the French entomologist Jean Henri Fabre (1823 - 1915) was engrossed in observing insects as a child, if his parents had said, "What are you doing? Get right back to your studies," then he might not have become the author of the landmark Souvenirs entomologiques. When children become deeply involved in something, they should be left alone, because there is no telling how that enthusiasm will eventually germinate. Perhaps even more important than some future concrete accomplishment is the development of the habit of total concentration. It will become the child's mainstay throughout life.
Devote yourself to one thing at a time, and you will feel fulfilled, find true meaning in life, and achieve something great.
Copyright © by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.