When a baseball outfielder races for a batted ball and makes a successful diving catch, everyone applauds him for making a fine play. But in reality, a fine play is when the outfielder guesses where the batter is likely to hit the ball, goes to that spot, and makes the catch with ease. This is a simple strategy, but it is the ideal way to play baseball. We learn from this that what at first glance appears difficult can be surprisingly easy, and that it can be rather difficult to carry out calmly what appears quite commonplace.
This reminds me of an anecdote concerning the thirteenth-century swordsman Tsukahara Bokuden. One day, as five or six of his young followers were walking along a road, a horse tethered by the road suddenly kicked at one of them. When the young man nimbly dodged the blow, his companions were filled with admiration. They returned to their training hall and told their master what had happened. Tsukahara frowned and grumbled, "You have not practiced enough." The young followers protested and said, "If that is so, then please walk along that road and show us how you would deal with the horse." Tsukahara agreed. When they came to where the horse was tethered, Tsukahara walked briskly down the road on the side across from the horse.
He then admonished his disciples: "A horse kicks. You never know when it will kick. So whenever you go near a horse be sure not to get too close. Keeping your distance as you go by is how to be prepared. This is none other than the secret of swordsmanship." The baseball anecdote and Tsukahara's admonition hold true for anything in life.
The Japanese Buddhist term shojin, meaning assiduity, includes the meaning of doing ordinary things in ordinary ways. It is not the doing of something that is especially difficult or that borders on the impossible. Doing commonplace things, slowly but steadily, always with vigilance, always conscientiously--this is true assiduity.
There are all kinds of mottoes to encourage assiduity in the workplace, such as "Every employee is a salesman," "Devote yourself to cost-consciousness," and "A debt of long standing is comparable to a tenfold decrease in sales." Each is important, but if one becomes overly inclined toward developing competent people, one will end up merely developing skills. Someone once said, "It is enough for a man to read books, keep company with friends, and polish his sword." If we adapt this recommendation for businessmen, it might be, "Continually expand your information network," and "Cultivate your job skills." These maxims alone, however, seem a bit bleak. Why not go one step further? "Constantly delve into yourself," "Cultivate your ability to consider others," and "Polish the sword that cuts off worldly desires."
With capable employees a company's short-term performance is sure to improve. But it is the nurturing of a solid spiritual framework among its employees that will guarantee a company a century of prosperity. It seems to me that good fortune over the long run depends on quite ordinary actions, such as greeting others first, keeping promises, and not complaining or making excuses. If one can unflaggingly do commonplace things every day, that is all that is necessary. More than being merely sufficient, it may even be called the secret of assiduity.
Before attaining enlightenment, the Buddha for six years practiced continual austerities at the risk of his life, but finally realized that this was not the way to truth. After bathing in a river, he ate the milk gruel a village maiden offered him. Not bathing in rivers and not eating nutritious foods had been part of his austerities. Renouncing asceticism and returning to the life of an ordinary person, he fell once again into contemplation and ultimately attained enlightenment. The essence of his teachings from then on was that by living in truth and doing the right thing, all people will find happiness, and the whole world will be at peace.
Many people want to work in their own way, but work means serving someone wholeheartedly. When you forget the feeling of being of service, what you do becomes mere labor and the joy disappears. An important point concerning work has been made by the late Etai Yamada, the head of the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism and chief priest of its head temple, Enryaku-ji, on Mount Hiei. He said, "The two characters shi and goto [compounded as the Japanese word for 'work'] have the following meaning: shi means 'take service under' and goto means 'thing.' Therefore 'work' means the hardships you endure and the pleasure you take in listening to the ideas of your employer, superiors, colleagues, and others as you carry out your duties." Another important element of assiduity is doing one's best.
Hibiya Park in central Tokyo is Japan's first Western-style park. It was designed by Seiroku Honda (1866 - 1952), Japan's first doctor of forestry. Honda enrolled in the school that later became the agriculture department of the University of Tokyo, but because he was largely self-taught, he had considerable difficulty with the subjects he had not studied. He fared worst in geometry, and in the first term he conspicuously failed it. To atone to his parents, he made up his mind to throw himself down a well, but was unable to go through with it. Though he was not to die, Honda determined to study as if he had. He got hold of a collection of one thousand geometry problems and determined to solve them one by one. Once he had started, he gradually became interested and began to understand them. He completed all one thousand. The next term he made perfect scores on the examinations and was so good at the subject that the professor told him, "You have a real genius for geometry, so you needn't attend my lectures anymore." This is an example of the rewards of assiduity. Doing one's very best is implicitly and explicitly accompanied by this sort of reward.
Over and above the eventual rewards of assiduity, there is a spiritual merit that one can savor right on the spot. That is the sense of satisfaction, the feeling of fulfillment, you feel when you can say, "I've done my best." Once you relish that deep satisfaction, you will want to experience it once more, and from then on, whether you are doing the same thing or something else, you will always do your best. When this happens, your work will become interesting and your life will take on greater value. You will feel an irresistible enjoyment in everything. There is no greater merit than this.
Assiduity does not mean trying to do something especially difficult, but working at ordinary things steadily, diligently, and to the best of one's ability.
Copyright © by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.