Effort and assiduity are the most fundamental ways to improve ourselves. The significance of these basic virtues is the same in study, work, management, and life in general, but because they are so basic, we on occasion neglect them. In the same way, despite the fact that air and water are absolutely vital for our existence, people do not seem to notice them.
Although we realize that we cannot accomplish anything by working halfheartedly, we often take the easy way out, thinking that it does not matter whether we apply ourselves today or tomorrow or neglect our work. The Buddha admonishes us to shun this attitude by way of the parable of a mythical bird in the Himalayas. The Himalayan nights are extremely cold, and the female of the species seems to cry all night long, "I'm dying of cold. I'm dying of cold." The male seems to cry through the night, "Build a nest at dawn. Build a nest at dawn." With no nest to keep them warm, the night is unbearably cold, and they wait for dawn to build a nest for shelter. However, when morning comes and the sun shines, they are carefree in the warmth of its rays. They forget about building a nest and pass the day leisurely. Predictably, when night falls, they suffer from the extreme cold and take up their cries again. They continue this until the end of their lives.
We should not laugh at their folly. There are many people who neglect to build "a nest for the spirit" in which they can always be at ease, no matter how the world around them changes. Engrossed in what is right in front of them, they tell themselves, "I'll get around to it sometime soon, sometime before long." They completely neglect to make consistent efforts toward that end. When things get tough, they become a bit more serious, but when things lighten up, they become neglectful again. They never build a nest that would give them peace of mind. Any nest they do manage to build is the kind that is blown away in the first strong wind or leaves them soaked in the first rain. This is the weakness of not being consistent. If only they were thorough, that nest would be a secure fortress lasting their whole lives. But they are unable to take that one step forward.
There was once a Standard Oil Company employee named John D. Archbold (1848 - 1916), whose colleagues never called him by his real name. Instead they always called him "Four dollars a barrel." The reason was that when he traveled and registered at a hotel, he would always write under his name "Four dollars a barrel, Standard Oil." He did the same when signing letters and receipts. When John D. Rockefeller, the president of Standard Oil, heard about this unusual employee, he was so impressed that he invited him to dinner. Archbold came to enjoy Rockefeller's confidence, and many years later he became the company's second president. That he came to be recognized and relied on by Rockefeller was neither chance nor mere good fortune. It resulted, rather, from his being so thorough in his daily efforts that he earned a nickname for it. There are many such success stories in America, but this one has a particularly valuable moral, that thoroughness creates the real thing.
Tettei, the Japanese word for thoroughness, originally was a Buddhist term. The Bodhisattva Universal Virtue appears in the Lotus Sutra as a symbol of the preeminence of thoroughgoing practice. He is always mounted on a white elephant, because an elephant crossing a river always steps firmly. Universal Virtue would have us understand that this kind of steadiness is important in carrying out any action.
During the early eighteenth century in Japan, there was an eminent mathematician named Noda Bunzo. Hearing of his abilities, Yoshimune, the eighth Tokugawa shogun, consulted Ooka Tadasuke, the commissioner of Edo, about giving Noda some appointment. Ooka summoned Noda and asked him, "I hear that you are quite learned in calculations, so tell me, what is one hundred divided by two?" From his bosom Noda took out his abacus, did the calculation, and replied, "One hundred divided by two is fifty, sir." Being careful enough to use his abacus even for a simple computation he could have done in his head is a fine example of thoroughness.
How can we become thorough? By always seeking and practicing. "Always" means never forgetting to do something. "Seeking" means a desire for self-improvement in the search for religious truth. And "practicing" means the actual translation of that desire into action. Doing these three things unceasingly is the secret of acquiring thoroughness. If any one of the three is neglected, thoroughness goes out the window. In short, thoroughness means not allowing oneself to be distracted, but pushing on without a pause. That is the secret of success.
With the spirit of thoroughness, that is, lways seeking and practicing, you are bound to succeed.
Copyright © by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.